Cathie Dunn | The Shadow of Versailles | A Dark Side of Paris’s History

I enjoyed Cathie Dunn’s wonderful novel Love Lost in Time, and so have been looking forward to our chat about her “Affair of the Poisons” series. Firstly, here’s a blurb and more about the first novel, The Shadow of Versailles:
Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.
When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.
Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.
Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.
Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons.
Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?
Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!
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So, Cathy, if you could go anywhere for a year to be inspired for your next book, what setting would you choose and what would you write?
Oh what a wonderful question to start with! There are so many fascinating places; so many stories to write. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived in or near places where my novels are set (Edinburgh and Carcassonne are but two), but I would really love to spend a year in Paris, with a ticket to visit Versailles, the Louvre and other historic buildings as often as I wanted.
I want to learn more about the dark side of Paris in the 17th and 18th centuries, the places where plots, uprisings, and executions happened. And I’d love to go on the trail of the real Affair of the Poisons. Where did people live? What was the area like, then? Oh, imagine the city archives. Paradise!As I’ve envisaged at least 5-6 novels in my Affair of the Poisons series, a year in Paris would be my dream.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal and why?

I’m really a cat person, so it would have to be a feline. My favourite wildcat is the lynx, so that would be my spirit animal. Elusive, yet persistent.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Their lives serve as a true inspiration, and I owe them so much for leaving a legacy for us historical fiction writers to expand on. And where very little is known (for example, in case of Bellon, the first count of Carcassonne and protagonist of Love Lost in Time, my award-winning dual-timeline mystery), they allow us to create stories around them.
But where you have much knowledge, in case of King Louis XIV, you have to take great care as an author to get the details right. Doing our research is crucial, even if those characters play a fictional role in our stories.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I tend to start with the rough outline of a plot, then dive into my research. I consult books (who doesn’t love buying history books?!) and online sources, but I’m careful to read widely, as chroniclers and biographers tend to have their ‘preferred’ line of narrative. The winners rewrite history, remember?
After starting, I dip into my research matter as I work my way through the novel. My characters tell me where they want to go (which doesn’t always correspond to my original plan), and often sub-plots emerge from a lovely tidbit you discover during further reading. I love it when that happens.
Then, on editing, I cross-check dates where I’ve included real characters, to ensure I haven’t placed them at the wrong end of the country by accident. It’s surprising how often you find out later that a scene doesn’t quite fit where you want it to go.
Tell us more about writing your most recent novels. What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
I’m very careful when using historical figures that are well known. In the case of The Shadows of Versailles, I included a range of courtiers who were involved in the Affair of the Poisons in one way or another. Of course, I could not leave out King Louis XIV. So I had to check carefully the dates where he featured, to ensure he was indeed in Versailles and not inspecting his troops, for example. I had to move a chapter by two months when I discovered such an incident.
Whilst we write fiction, we have to be careful when dealing with famous persons. We owe them a great sense of accuracy and authenticity, and not change their characters beyond recognition.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Sometimes, I have a name in my head. Fleur, the heroine in The Shadows of Versailles, was such a name. Then I found ‘Blanchefleur’ listed as a real girl’s name that was fashionable in the 17th century, so that would become her full name which only her mother used.
I also consult relevant records and lists of names specific to certain time periods. It can be confusing, though, when your fictional characters carry a popular name, as most likely a real person already holds it. But there are ways to circumvent duplication.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I keep a close eye on reviews, and I love to quote from them in my social media posts. I’m very proud of my good reviews, and happy to share them.
As regards dealing with bad reviews, when I received my first ever 2* review, a good nine years ago, I cried buckets. I thought readers hated that book. But as a book reviewer, I know that tastes vary, and not every book meets every reader’s expectations. It’s part and parcel of being an author. We can’t win all the time.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There are two scenes in The Shadows of Versailles where I cried as I wrote them. One is after Fleur gives birth to her baby boy, and helplessly has to see him taken away. I have no children, but the mere imagination of having your child removed, to never see it again, was heartbreaking.
The second scene was when I sealed Fleur’s fate. It had changed from what I’d first envisaged for her, but that’s the way Fleur wanted to go, so I let her. But it hurt.
Thank you very much for hosting me, Liz. I’ve enjoyed answering your fascinating questions. I hope your readers will like my answers.
My pleasure! Here’s more about Cathy and how to get in touch with her:
Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.
Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic descriptions of the past.
Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors. After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.
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