April – 16,901 words

It is the last day of the autumn school holidays here. During the holidays, there is very little time for writing between visits to the skate park, farm outings and my second job as Negotiator for the Two Small Countries that live in this house. In fact, I think the net total word count in my manuscript has gone down over the last fortnight due to the swathes of rubbish I have edited out.

We also have a new family member who is a great distraction and a lot of work. But also pretty cute (luckily!)

When I tell people I am writing a book, the first question I get is what am I writing. My current work in progress is a novel of historical fiction set three hundred years ago in France. It is the first serious thing I have written. Along with that comes learning how to move the action along, how to stay motivated (ie not play on the internet) and how to edit. It is challenging in a few other ways too. Basically, I have jumped in the pool and am hoping I can stay afloat.

The novel is set in France so it can make researching difficult. I have a good working knowledge of English history but not necessarily French history. Most of the books, articles and primary sources for the period are in French. I can read the written language but it does make skim reading difficult and the whole process is a lot slower than usual. The French Revolution, with its associated reams of information, happened about seventy years after the period I am writing about. There might be one useful book in the library next to fifteen tomes about the revolution. I am really enjoying learning about French history and society aside from “let them eat cake” and guillotines though. I will start posting interesting facts from my research on this blog.

My novel is set in a time when the last major bubonic plague to hit Europe swept through the south of France. I love apocalypse stories as much as the next person (maybe a lot more) but I cannot get past the fact that the bubonic plague is gross. I am finding it difficult to read about the symptoms, let alone describe them in gruesome (flesh-blackening, pus-disgorging) detail. A lot of the remedies employed at the time did not help much and probably even hastened death, like bloodletting.

On a side-note, watching The Walking Dead helps a lot with envisioning the bodies (got to be counted under research, right?).

However, I think a novel is most poignant if it focuses on the characters, their interactions and their reactions to trauma. So I should be able to keep the gruesome to a minimum.

It can be a solitary existence writing. It is different from other jobs, in that there is no ‘team’ to share the latest gossip or meme with, no ‘water cooler chat’, no meetings nor even any feedback on work done until the manuscript is finished. It is normally just me versus the computer. So feel free to comment or ask me any questions.


Books about 18th century France

I am currently writing a novel set in the early 1700’s in France. I am researching Marseille, Provencal culture and the events of the time to gain a thorough understanding of the life of the people I am writing about.

Find out more about my writing here.

It is especially difficult finding research material in English. The primary sources are obviously in French. Although there has been a lot of research done about the causes of the French Revolution, there are fewer specific sources about other facets of life at the time of the ancien regime.

This page is intended to help others in their research of the 18th century in the South of France and will be a work in progress, updated when I find worthwhile sources. Most of these are also inexpensive and available as ebooks.




The Smile Revolution, by Colin Jones ****

This book focuses on how the act of smiling was perceived in France and how this changed over the course of the 18th century. Makes reference to pieces of art as well as other primary sources.

The Great Cat Massacre, by Robert Darnton *****

This is a fascinating read and provides some good insights into the values and attitudes of the masses in France with examples from folklore and personal correspondence of the time.

Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason


The Huguenots in France, by Samuel Smiles


The Old Regime Police Blotter 1: Bloodshed, Sex & Violence, by Jim Chevallier *****

A look at the law in Old Regime France, with translated accounts of trials and punishments and comments from the author about the relevant law.


Beer, Cider and Spirits in Old Regime France, by Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy (Translated by Jim Chevallier) ****

An excerpt of the work by Le Grand d’Aussy on alcoholic drinks as viewed in France in his time (late 18th century)

The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France, by Sean Takats ****

A thorough look at the demographics, industry and job descriptions of cooks at the dawning of nouvelle cuisine. An enlightening read.

The Man with two Heads and His Friends from the Fair, by Jim Chevallier ***

Monologues inspired by true characters of the 18th century French fairs. A short read.

Primary Sources

Available for free in the public domain

Works of Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans

A collection of excerpts about life at court, taken from the four hundred letters sent by the mother of the Regent to friends and family in Europe. Full of court gossip but also some great insights into the prevailing behaviours and attitudes.

Memoirs of Jacque Casanova – Volume 21: South of France

This an entertaining account of the infamous lover’s time spent in the South of France . Bear in mind, it is one unique character’s view of the time and place (c. 1760’s – 70’s).

Le Cuisinier Moderne, by Vincent La Chappelle (French)

Available as a free ebook, this guide for cooks was written in 1736 and was one of the first recipe books in France.

I have translated recipes such as the one for Pigs Ears here.


The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

*** Asterisks are my (subjective) rating of the usefulness of the book as a research tool.