The Paris Affair is Australian author Pip Drysdale’s third novel. We had a chat to Pip Drysdale about the novel, writing, acting and more. Below you’ll find a transcription of our telephone call.
PIP DRYSDALE’S INSPIRATION FOR THE PARIS AFFAIR
What inspired you to write The Paris Affair?
It was like a number of things. I really wanted to write about from the perspective of a character who didn’t want love because my other two characters very definitely did want love and marriage and kids and stuff. So, I wanted to write a different kind of character. And I thought it was really interesting to put a philophobe, which is essentially what Harper is, in the city of love, so someone who doesn’t want love or doesn’t believe in love in the city of love.
I really wanted to make her fascinated by true crime because I know that I am and I feel like a lot of women and I feel like part of the reason that we’re so fascinated by them is because the world can be a dangerous place and you will pick up tips and tricks from it and a little red flag. So, I’m like, “Oh God. I didn’t think that a guy would think of doing that. I better just be careful of that.”
I wanted that to play into it and I wanted to test the bounds of it, like I was wanted to write a character who saw all of society scripts and narratives for women. And she knows she’s cool with everyone else doing it. But it’s not for her and I’m not good with that, you know, and I wanted her to be really unapologetic about that.
Instead of the way that it usually is women, if we do things our own way, we have to issue a whole heap of disclaimers and apologies and all “I’m really sorry. It’s just not for me.” And you have to be really sweet about it. I want to try the character which she was allowed to be exactly who she was, and unapologetic in the way that a man can be.
And I wanted to put it in Paris because I had Paris very much on the brain at the time and I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris. And I’ve always been interested in these really postcard perfect spots of Paris. But I found that once I’m there beyond the week I started noticing the cracks in the veneer and I wanted to bring that up. You know, less than amazing things can happen in these postcard perfect parts of Paris, right? So, it all kind of came together to be the story.
WHY THE PARIS AFFAIR AND NOT THE AFFAIR OF ANY OTHER CITY?
I was going to ask you why you set The Paris Affair in Paris and whether it was just because of that juxtaposition of the city of love and someone in the city of love that just doesn’t want isn’t looking for or interested in it.
It was a little bit that. I really enjoy like French cinema and I really love French thrillers. And I kind of wanted to draw on that a little bit. So you see what I mean? I’ve got all these different stimuli that make me want to write that story.
That’s the thing. The story that unfolds in The Paris Affair could take place in any city.
Yeah, totally. What did become quite interesting was once I started writing it and I started really investigating how the French authorities investigate missing people, I discovered that actually France was the perfect place for it because they don’t investigate missing people unless you’re a minor or unless there’s obvious signs of foul play.
So, if I’d known that going in, that would have made me want to write it in France anyway. That was one of those wonderful, serendipitous moments that happened when you write novels where you just realise subconsciously there’s this reason you want to do it but you don’t know what that is until it reveals itself.
Yeah. It’s quite disturbing that that’s the case, that they don’t investigate unless things like, you know, are really obvious, like a trail of blood, for example!
I know that they don’t even check the DNA.
The French authorities are very, very lax in some respects [apologies to my French readers].
Good if you want to run away from your family. Not so good if you get caught by a bad guy!
RESEARCHING THE PARIS AFFAIR
What kind of research did you do for The Paris Affair?
I went and lived there. I mean I’ve been over to Paris a few times. The last time I went there for almost three months, and I actually lived in the apartment that Harper was living in and travelled her route to work a few times on the Metro so I could get a feel for it, took a lot of dodgy video and photos.
And, you know, I just spent time getting it into my brain, you know, where she lives, how many stairs and, you know, all sorts of bits and pieces and exactly what you can see out of the window and a lot of that information – a lot of my research, photography and stuff is up on Harper’s Instagram page, which is New.GirlinParis – I made an Instagram page for her.
Plus, it’s not exact because I don’t think she’d actually have photos of Harper’s stuff. I had to be very vague about the story because I don’t want to give anything away but it’s quite fun to add little snippets of Paris, which is always good.
Apart from research about what her apartment would look like, what her walk to work would be, etc..
Her perfume… I pretty much just get completely into the head of the person. I do whatever I need to do in order to get them, you know.
So listening to lots of true crime podcasts, which you said you already do a bit of anyway?
And I already had what one I loved called which is called My Favorite Murder. And they call women who are super into true crime “murderinos” which is why I mention that word a couple of times in the book and in the inscription is “to the lovers, the dreamers and the murderinos”.
How long does it take you to write The Paris Affair?
That one I think I did the first sentence in mid-August and it was at the printers by I think it was October [of the following year]. I can’t be absolutely certain.. The thing is there are periods in between where you’re not actually doing the writing, you’re waiting for an editor to get back to you. So it’s not very long to be honest, basically fourteen months because I think it was at the printer’s by October I’d say like fourteen months approximate.
Ok, was writing The Paris Affair faster than your other books?
It’s faster than The Sunday Girl. Because that was my first one. So that one took longer mainly because I didn’t have a publisher when I started and I’d never written a book before. So that one took a little bit longer but probably the same amount of time ultimately, it’s just that there was more time looking for an editor to look at it. From first sentence to publication it was three years, which is actually damn fast for a first novel. So, that was good.
HOW PIP DRYSDALE GOT INTO WRITING
What led you to start writing? I’m so sorry for my unoriginal questions by the way!
People always ask me this one. I should have just made up a lie by now but I don’t want to lie! The thing is I’ve always told stories differently. Like I write songs for a while. I’ve always been very creative and always told stories and ultimately got to the point where I feel like I really got back into reading. I really started loving books. And I was at this point where I had time on my hands and I had this idea for a story that sounded fun to me.
I kind of just started writing it and I didn’t really know…,people at the beginning kept saying “how are you going to market it?”, “how you can get an agent?”, “how you can get a publisher?”. And I really didn’t think about any of that, all I thought about was “how can I write a book? A book I really freaking love”. And then I had one and I got input and stuff and changed it. And when I was trying to get published and I got published and I got a 2 book deal and it just went from there. So it was an organic thing.
Did you did you study writing or anything like that before?
I studied English at uni and did it a tonne of creative writing? Basically, I did every creative writing unit I could and every film unit I could. And French and stuff like that. So, I had been doing creative writing for quite a long time.
So, you already had that training?
Even when I was a kid, I tried to write and was very into stories and English was the thing that you always got on your report card:. the English teacher who really loves you. I think it was one of those things where I think I always had a bit of a thing for it. But I don’t know. Sometimes the thing that is natural to you takes the longest to come to if that makes sense, I don’t know why. I covered everything else first.
Yeah, maybe you were resisting it some way?
Oh yeah. I resist everything that makes any sense!
It’s more of a challenge to do things the difficult way. I can relate! Do you create the characters or the story first?
They kind of come together but I’d say that the character drives the story a lot of the time. I was trying to deconstruct this for Booktopia, who asked a similar question. I was trying to deconstruct it because they evolve together. You will realise something. And then you’ll see how the character reacts to that thing in the story – you’ve already come up with the plot and you will use that and that will tell you something about the character. And then you will bring that back from the beginning.
But I’d say the character matters more because for example, with The Paris Affair, a lot of the plot rolls as a result of who Harper is and what she wants in life, and what she feels about things and love and what society expects of her and how committed she is to her job. So, I had to have her as that character to begin with. Otherwise, there would have been very different scenes she would have been in. I could have still done it, but it would have been very it would be a different story.
Do you ever create protagonists that you dislike?
No, the thing is that in order for me to write a protagonist, I have to love them. So, if I don’t love them, when I start, I have to keep getting to know them until I can write them properly because then I love them. I think the only way you can write a first person narrative is if you can really, really feel for the protagonist. And honestly, I’m quite empathetic; I can feel for almost anyone and but I think you have to have huge compassion and understand why they’re doing it. And you have to feel like it’s you, and get why they are behaving the way they are. And until I’m at that point, I can’t really do the book justice.
Given that you need to kind of step into their mind and into their persona, do you find that there’s a bit of you in each of the characters that you write, or each of the protagonists that you write?
There are tiny bits of me in every character. I mean, they have to be. I wouldn’t say any of them are me, but there are pieces of me in all of them.
And so which parts of Harper are you?
Oh my God. I won’t’ tell you that! [laughs] Haha, I’m not dumb!
Haha We’ll just leave that one right alone then! Going back to how you always told stories and written stories, were you also an avid reader as a child?
Yeah, I was. I was a huge reader. I was really into Famous Five, Faraway Tree, Secret Seven, lots and lots of books actually and anything with fairies. I think my first love with fairies. I was definitely before my time because fairies weren’t as loved as they are now. I feel like I was just a little bit too early. If I was born now, it would have been ideal! So, anything with fairies and anything with spy stuff like, you know, Famous Five, Secret Seven so that pretty much put me on the road…
So you’ve always had the air of mystery, I guess, in what you’ve even like to read?
Yeah, I find it really interesting. I was also really into Sweet Valley High. I was also into romancey ones so I feel like that’s why I write what I write because they kind of meld together.
You didn’t spend all of your time growing up in WA, did you?
No, I grew up and I was in Melbourne for a while and I was in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
It must have been quite interesting for you growing up between two very different cultures as well.
It was really interesting and I think you grow a lot and I think your world views change. I think everything changes you. Every experience you have, I never look at it from only a first world perspective. I look at things and I look at governments differently. And I understand the way things work differently.
ADAPTION OF BOOKS FOR TV AND FILM
Yeah. So your second book, The Strangers We Know, is being adapted for TV. How do you feel about it and how active are you in the project?
I absolutely I’m thrilled about that. I’m not very active at all at the moment because we’re still waiting for the final go ahead. So like, they do stuff behind the scenes. And I didn’t I didn’t I didn’t tend to get told about it until that things are happening. So it’s still going ahead. But it’s all secret squirrel basically. It’s all moving forward. Obviously not as fast as I want it to be.
Do you think you’ll have an active role once things have moved on?
I’m hoping so because I really want to learn about TV, like I really do so if I can I definitely will.
Because you said you studied a little bit of film at uni..
Yeah. I love film. And I get really shocked when people get weird about writers watching TV and think they should only read books, because to my mind, they’re both stories. They are just different means by which to tell a story. I think it’s inter-related. I’m not weird about it or snobby about it at all. Books, TV, film, it’s all just a way to tell stories. And that’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. So, I love film and TV.
If The Paris Affair were to be made into a film? Who would you like to have playing Harper?
Oh, I don’t know. I’m not a casting director…
I think… do you know that girl Emma Mackey who’s in Sex Education. She’s like the closest character I’ve ever found to what I was envisaging for Harper so mayber her, I literally do not.
ACTING AND ITS INFLUENCE ON WRITING characters
You mentioned it took you a while to actually come to writing your first book, even though you’ve always kind of told stories and you’ve always enjoyed writing them. You’ve also acted, you’ve also sung what would you say is your first love.
Oh, definitely writing. I mean, now. The thing is, I was writing when I was seven, like I was trying to write a book when I was 7 so maybe writing when I was 7 so maybe writing then too but I was also trying to write a song.
I was always the girl in high school where if they needed someone to play something out, they’d pick me and another girl. So I don’t know, I, I think for me, writing suits my personality really well, because while I’m quite good at talking to people, I am essentially introverted and I like being in my own space and being able to focus. So that part of being a writer really fits me. It’s not like I have to go out and actually perform in front of people, which, if you’re having a bad day, is not the easiest thing to do.
So, from that perspective that. I don’t want to go back to doing the other things at all. I do play music at home and I did read my audio book, which is kind of like acting, and that was fun. So, there are little ways that I do it. I think the acting definitely comes in handy when writing a novel because you get into the mind of the character and you kind of imagine how they’d be behaving and you can almost feel what their mannerisms would be like. I don’t know if I’d be the same if I hadn’t done that. I don’t know, because it’s you know, you never get to live both lives so I don’t know how I’d approach it if I haven’t done the acting.
That would be a very good foundation for writing a character and getting to understand the characters, having to portray them.
You have to have empathy to play a character. And it’s the same like I have to find that empathy for my characters before I can truly do them justice on the page. You can read the judgment. If I was all judgy, you can feel that, you know, and then it’s not real because people – they might judge themselves in little ways but they tend to think that they’re doing – they have reasons for doing things, right?
WHAT AND HOW PIP DRYSALE READS
What’s your favourite novel and who’s your favourite author?
I don’t have. I really don’t. I read things for different reasons. One author I will read because it’s a lot of fun to read and another one I will read because the descriptions are just extraordinary and I’m blown away by them and another one I will read because they’re great at making me tense.
I read a lot for work. Often, if I’m doing a panel, I will read the other author’s books because it feels like it’s better to have read them and then you know who you are talking to.
I read a lot for what I’m writing because I need to understand things. For example, my new one is in New York but I can’t go to New York so I’m reading things set there to help me get into the mind space of it. Even though, I have lived in New York so I am using that. I don’t read the same way that I did before I started being a writer. I don’t read as much purely for pleasure. It’s become part of the job. Almost like when you watch things and you can see the lighting guy on the other side of the frame.
I don’t do that now. I can watch a movie or something and totally get engrossed in it. But when you do it for a job, you start noticing the mechanisms with them.
When you’re acting you tend to watch it in terms of performance. It’s wonderful when you can actually watch it without seeing those sorts of things. But I do notice the internal mechanisms in writing now in a way that I, before I think I didn’t before.
Do you think that you learn from reading other people’s books?
I bloody hope so!
THE NEW BOOK
You mentioned that you’re writing a new book, which is set in New York. How’s that going?
Good. it’ll be out at the end of 2022. So, I’m just getting into it and getting into her mind and understanding what she wants and why she feels the way she does. Trying to find pieces of myself that resonate with that so that I can use those. So that’s the process.
Can you tell us anything about what the book is about?
Not really other than that it’s within my genre, which I suppose is a psychological thriller with a dark humour/romance thread. I don’t bloody know what you call mine! It’s my kind of book. It’s set in New York and it’s out in late 2022. That’s literally all I can tell you. I can’t give it away. Honestly, at the beginning, when you’re writing a book, you feel like if you start telling people about it, you’re going to give away something totally vital and things could change.
THE WRITING PROCESS
Do you plan out the whole story or do you find that as you’re getting to know the character, the story kind of follows?
I plot it but for me, it’s definitely not a case of I plot it out and then I just write what I plotted. I wish it was that easy and maybe it is for some people but for me it’s not. I plot it out but then I start writing and I realise that there are things I didn’t take into account because once I’m actually embodying the character, I start recognising things that are more internal and you can’t see on the page until you’re actually writing them. And at that point I have to recalibrate and go, “okay, so that’s not going to happen like this, this is going to happen like this because she has a moral dilemma. I don’t want her to have.” That just happened to me!
How many drafts do you normally go through or is that just an impossible to answer question?
It’s probably impossible because I don’t go the whole way through a draft before I start editing. By the time I get to the very, very, very end of my first draft, it’s probably not my actual first draft as well. I’m kind of been going through and altering things as I go to see if it works. So, I can’t answer that. Different books take different numbers of drafts. As many as it takes really.
In the digital age, are people reading less? And what are the challenges in publishing and selling books in the digital age? I mean, at least you’ve got eBooks and you’ve got Kindles and audio books.
I don’t feel that people are reading less, to be honest, I don’t feel like buying less, paper books, I sell more paper books and I do eBooks. I haven’t noticed that, but then also I have never been publishing in a time before eBooks so there’s nothing for me to truly compare it with. I feel like if I’ve been doing it ages ago, like before e-books – I don’t even know when they came in – but before ebooks and was writing now, I’d probably be able to give you a better gauge.
EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS
Of course. And how did you go about finding your first editor and publisher?
First editor, I found a literary consultancy and they gave me feedback so that I could make it better. And then I looked for an agent and didn’t find one. And then it was serendipitous. I posted something on Instagram and a friend asked to see the chapter and I sent it to her. She asked if she could send it to her friend who worked in a publishing house and then there was loads of edits and stuff, huge amount of hard work, but eventually they signed it.
How does it feel when someone else comes in and tells you, you need to cut this or you need to work on this? Is that, does that sometimes feel a bit personal?
No, it was a real relief actually, because usually they are right. I mean, I think it would be horrible if they were wrong, but for the most part they’re professionals. So mainly, if someone comes in and says “this spot’s working but this spot isn’t, but what about if we try doing something like this?” Often when I get feedback, I won’t do what they actually said, but I will take it on and know what problem there is and I’ll fix it in a different way, one that feels right to me. And it will usually make it better.
I feel like you can either look at it like it’s about me, the author and my ego, or it’s about the book and making the book as good as it can be. And I definitely do that one. I’m all about making the book as good as it can be. So, I try to get it as great as I can by myself but then if my publisher or agent comes along and says “what about so and so”, I’m freaking relieved because it means that someone’s paid attention and actually then probably pointed out a blind spot.
We thank Pip Drysdale for her time and granting us this interview to chat about The Paris Affair and more.
You can purchase The Paris Affair at all good booksellers. Take a look at our link below for a comparison of prices inclusive of delivery across various major retailers:
Don’t forget you can see Harper’s views of Paris from www.instagram.com/new.girlinParis
What’s your favourite genre to read? Which books have you read that were set in Paris?
If you’re interested in books in English or in French for adults and kids alike, take a look at the following articles: