The questions people ask writers… Research in Paris

So, do you do a lot of research?

Apart from, “Where do you get your ideas from?” that has to be the question writers are most asked.

And the answer is, for me, yes, actually.

Quite a lot.

Pinterest, Google, Youtube

Even before I put finger to keyboard I scour Pinterest, seeking ideas for locations, looking for photographs of places and characters as I build my storyboard. This is the one I’ve created for A Harrington Christmas (it’s a working title!)

Mostly, after that, it will be diving into Google as questions crop up? What is the temperature in Nantucket in March? What is the time difference between Paris and Singapore? Is there already a restaurant in London called any of the half a dozen names I’ve come up with — and yes to every one.

Getting Things Right

And then there are legal questions. The book I’m working on is the first of a mini series by three different authors, with a set-up devised by an editorial team.

I’m writing the first book and I knew straight away that the inheritance situation they had suggested could not happen.

I knew it was wrong, but I had to find out exactly what the reality was before I could raise it with the team. (Yes, it was changed!)


Sometimes there’s a language issue. An Italian count, a Arab sheikh… I speak a little of both languages but I have to get it right.

Fortunately, although this book is mostly set in Paris, both my British characters speak fluent French and I haven’t felt the need to use French expressions. As they are speaking French, throwing in a “mon dieu” would be out of place. Whew.

Location — Paris

macarons in ParisBut this book is set in Paris, in November. It’s just across the channel, two and a half hours on the Eurostar, and begged for a research trip.

It would be rude not to…

So, hotel and tickets booked, my daughter and I set off for a weekend to see the Christmas windows, visit Pierre Herme and buy macarons, visit the Christmas fair in the Tuileries, eat in bistros and soak up the atmosphere.

Christmas in ParisBreakfast served to us on the train, a taxi to the Rue St Honore, lunch in a bistro, a stroll past the designer windows with their elegantly restrained window decorations. Mostly.

red decorated Christmas tree, ParisThe Galleries Lafayette windows are spectacular animations and this is their idea of a Christmas tree!

Then, purely for research purposes you understand, a dinner cruise on the Baton Rouge.

Good food, a constantly refilled glass of wine, the buzz of conversation and there, right there, was the Eiffel Tower as we drifted slowly past. [Video below]

Will it find its way into the book? Maybe. Some of it. But research is like an iceberg. Most of it is beneath the water.





13 thoughts on “The questions people ask writers… Research in Paris

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Liz, you have all the luck writing moderns! Us historical writers mostly delve into books for research. Though I know Louise Allen does loads of trips. I did want to visit Weymouth while setting a book there but didn’t manage to. According to report it looks very different now anyway than it did in 1782!

    1. Sophie

      That’s fascinating, Liz. The Birdwatcher makes a Spring Migration Visit to Weymouth most years, taking me, and I’ve often wondered about Wyke Regis, which is a sort of semi-detached suburb on the western edge of Weymouth. Is that where George III and his family stayed? We’ve never stopped there – bird-watching is a full time activity and we’re generally en route for Portland Bill where I go a bit peculiar imitating fulmar-flying. I must look in Louise’s book on Georgian seaside resorts.

      1. Elizabeth Bailey

        They stayed in Weymouth but I don’t think Wyle Regis was called that then, as I recall from my research. Yes, Louise’s book was immensely helpful and she put me onto a contemporary source, John Byng, whose couple of pages really gave me so much info for my particular time.

  2. Jan Jones

    Excellent post, Liz. As you say, only the tip of the iceberg will make it into the book, but if the rest of the iceberg wasn’t there, solidly under the water, the top bit would float off and not be believable.

    1. Liz Post author

      I remember the days of staggering from the library with an armful of books, Jan. The ‘net has certainly made things a lot easier, although I miss that connection with the wonderful librarians.

  3. Sarah Mallory

    Writers’ problem – we are always asking questions, and need the answers before we can finish our books – even if none of it ever gets onto the page! Wonderful post, Liz, thank you. Paris sounds sublime and I am sure all that research will result in another super book. I am currently writing a book set in Scotland, and it is raining (sigh)….

    1. Liz Post author

      It’s so easy to get drawn down the google hole searching for answers and staying there all day as you find more questions! So much more fun than applying the fingers to the keyboard.

    1. Liz Post author

      I saw a long queue and assumed it was for a bus, but no, people were queuing for newly baked bread. The queues were actually longer on Sunday for fresh macarons… The French have their priorities right!

        1. Liz

          I agree. The decs seemed elegant rather than bling, and I didn’t hear any Christmas music in the stores. The Christmas fair kin the Tuilerties was manic, though. Just like Wintef Wonderland in Lkndon, but more crowded. Definitely one to give a miss.

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