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My Writing Journey: While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart

Writing.ie | Magazine | Historical Fiction | Interviews
While-Paris-Slept

By Ruth Druart

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My writing journey started before I even knew I wanted to write a book, with the setting. I arrived in Paris in 1993, newly married to a Frenchman but speaking only a little French. I had a lot to learn about France and its culture, but what struck me the most were the constant reminders of World War II. Wherever I went I came across plaques remembering Resistance fighters killed on that exact spot, or plaques on the walls of buildings mentioning Jewish families who’d been taken away, never to return. Often fresh flowers could be found lying nearby. I became intrigued by this time in history, imagining how different people would have coped with the occupation. Some would have resisted, others collaborated, but I imagined that vast majority were just trying to get by and survive. I began reading personal accounts about this time. I read Helene Berr’s Journal, which is the diary of a young Jewish woman living in Paris during the occupation. I also read Le Silence de la Mer, by Vercors, an account of a German soldier who was billeted with a French family, who refuse to speak to him. Then I went onto read harrowing accounts of the Holocaust, such as The Night by Elie Wiesel.

The inspiration for the story came six years later, shortly after the birth of my third son. I remember the moment vividly when I was sitting up feeding him in the middle of the night. I loved this time when it felt like the rest of the world was asleep, and I could just relax and enjoy these precious moments of intimacy with my new-born baby. It was a great time for freeing my imagination, and the seed of an idea grew in my head. By the time I had finished nursing my son, the story was complete. I knew there and then that I would be compelled to tell it. Themes that were close to my heart, such as parental love and sense of belonging ran through the story, cumulating in a terrible moral dilemma.

Now I had to learn how to write!

Early on, when I had a few pages ready, I showed them to a valued friend. Her response was, “I don’t think that’s how you write a book.” She was absolutely right. It was terrible – a fine example of ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’. I was grateful for her honesty and we laughed about it, then I tried again. I also started looking for writing groups in Paris where I live, and I found one on Saturday afternoons at the iconic bookshop – Shakespeare and Co, where anything from ten to twenty people would gather in a little room upstairs over-looking Notre Dame. Often the feedback was encouraging, but sometimes it was brutal – all part of the process, and as the writer you have to know how to sift through it. I also attended a couple of writing retreats in Devon run by the Arvon Arts Foundation, which were brilliant, not least because of the other amateur writers like myself. There was so much energy and creativity in these groups. Then I found my perfect group on meet-up here in Paris. Being part of a group was essential for me, and when I felt embarrassed about reading my work out in front of strangers, I just told myself, you’ve written this for an audience, so there’s no point being shy about it now.

When I thought it was as good as I could make it, I sent it out to about five agents. When I read Sheila Crowley’s (Curtisbrown) profile, I knew I had to try because her statement said she was looking for stories that moved her, that made her cry. Every time I read the ending to my book I cried, so I dared hope that it might make someone else cry too. It worked! She requested the whole manuscript, then she wanted to meet me in London. I was straight on the Eurostar, and she and her assistant took me out to lunch in a French restaurant. I was so excited, I hardly tasted the food!

What I hadn’t realised back then was that this was only the beginning of the journey towards publication, and together we worked on strengthening some of the characters and expanding several chapters. The 90,000 words I had steadily grew to 110,000 words. During this time, I carried on teaching four days a week at the International School; a job which I loved.

Fifteen months later, I was still perfecting the book, and I was beginning to doubt, once again, whether I would ever make it as a writer. I felt frustrated that I was teaching more than I was writing. Every minute I wasn’t writing felt like a minute wasted. Then one morning, before school started, I decided to take the plunge and ask right there and then for a sabbatical year, quickly before reason set in and I changed my mind.

Two days later Sheila Crowley left a message on my mobile for me to call her back. As soon as I had a free lesson, I phoned her. I nearly dropped the phone when I heard the news. I had a two-book deal with Headline. Would I Iike to take it?

“Yes! Yes!” I screamed down the phone. “Take it! Take it!”

The following week I was in London meeting the lovely team at Headline and my wonderful editor, Sherise Hobbs. They’d all read my book and loved it! It meant the world to me, and I’m still walking on air, waiting for publication on March 4th.

P.S. A tip for writers

Writing is rewriting. Don’t be put off when you reread your work and you know it’s not hitting the right note. Keep at it until you find the rhythm and the magic in the words. If you want it badly enough, it will come. Also show it to people, a wide selection of people, not just your friends, but other writers, published or not, it doesn’t matter, they know what you’re trying to do. And listen to all their feedback, while resisting the temptation to defend yourself or your work. Take it all in because you are ultimately writing for an audience, so you need to know what they think.

(c) Ruth Druart

About While Paris Slept:

On a platform in occupied Paris, a mother whispers goodbye.
It is the end. But also the beginning…

Paris 1944
A young woman’s future is torn away in a heartbeat. Herded on to a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.

Santa Cruz 1953
Jean-Luc thought he had left it all behind. The scar on his face a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi Occupation. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door.

On a darkened platform, two destinies become entangled. Their choice will change the future in ways neither could have imagined.

Beginning on an ordinary day and ending on an extraordinary one, WHILE PARIS SLEPT is an unforgettable read.

‘What a book… Emotional and heartrending…absolutely phenomenal. I was on tenterhooks throughout. A wonderful achievement’ Jill Mansell

Beautiful. Powerful. Unforgettable. A stunning portrait of the brutality of war and the tenacity of love. In the tradition of Virginia Baily’s Early One Morning and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Ruth Druart grew up on the Isle of Wight, moving away at the age of eighteen to study psychology at Leicester University. She has lived in Paris since 1993, where she has followed a career in teaching. She has recently taken a sabbatical, so that she can follow her dream of writing full-time.

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