'The Paris Apartment' offers rich characters with equal parts hope and heartbreak.
When a modern woman inherits a Parisian apartment undisturbed since WWII, she discovers that it may hold the key to unraveling her cold great-grandmother's secret life—a past of sacrifice during a mission to protect those she loved.
As the heiress to a wealthy Parisian family, Lise Allard grows up immensely privileged, but barely knowing her absentee parents. Instead, she finds her own sense of family among a close circle of friends. Yet when war breaks out and Paris is occupied, she sees her friends taken away one by one. Heartbroken, Lise vows that she will do whatever it takes to help defeat the Germans.
When Aurelia Leclaire's great-grandmother passes away, the last thing Aurelia expects to inherit is a tiny Paris apartment untouched for over half of a century. But even more shocking is the massive collection of priceless jewelry and fine art secreted inside. When she discovers an unknown painting cherished by Lise, she realizes that it may be the key to unlocking her great-grandmother's story.
Art appraiser Gabriel Seymour is contacted by a woman who claims to have found a painting by his great-great-grandfather. While unearthing its story, Gabriel and Aurelia discover a hidden cache of weapons, encrypted letters, and faded passport photos revealing intertwining family connections and betrayals from the past.
The Paris Apartment is perfect for fans of The Paris Orphan, The Lost Girls of Paris, and The Alice Network.
We chatted with Kelly about writing in multiple timelines, about the unsung heroes of WW2, and about bringing Paris to life on the page.
Q: Where do you like to write the most?
Before March 2020, I had a little office I’d built in my basement that I loved writing in. With my entire family now working from home, I’ve rather lost my domain (and the best WiFi) and find myself most often writing at the kitchen table. Which is quite fine – with busy kids, I’ve spent years writing in random places (hockey arenas and pools most often) so a niche carved out in a different corner of the house is no bother. All I need is my laptop and somewhere to balance it.
Q: When do you like to write the most?
I love to write in the mornings – I find that is the most productive time of the day. But I am happy and grateful for any and all of the hours I get to write.
Q: When it comes to drafting, do you prefer writing on a computer or freehand?
While I write exclusively on my computer, drafting and research notes I do on paper. I’d probably consider myself a visual learner, so creating and seeing mapped out timelines, ideas, and plot points in a notebook is extremely helpful. I also like the ease in which I can keep those notes open beside my computer as I write for reference.
Q: Are you more of a plotter or pantser?
I would consider myself a bit of both. However, I am definitely a plotter when it comes to defining both the internal and external conflicts for each of my characters before I start writing. Having that framework established beforehand allows me to keep the pace and direction of my story while allowing me the freedom to enjoy being an occasional pantser within it.
Q: Stephen King has a great line in On Writing that says “the scariest moment is always right before you start. After that, things can only get better.” That scary pre-start moment often inspires procrastination in writers. Suddenly, you have to clean your entire house, do the laundry and play Candy Crush for an hour before you can actually start writing. Is there anything you need to do before you can actually sit down and work?
I don’t have a particular ritual before I start writing, though I confess to procrastinating in the form of house cleaning from time to time if I need to stew on a problematic plot or scene. My house sparkles then, or at least the part that was cleaned before I seized upon a solution.
However, that doesn’t happen nearly as much as the laundry pile would probably like as I have adopted the habit of moving on to a different part of the book or scene if I run into a block. Most of my novels are not written in any sort of linear fashion which allows me to work on one part of the book while my subconscious works on another.
Q: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what music? Is your choice of music inspired by the project you’re working on?
While I can shut out kids, dogs, flying pucks, and random conversations around me while writing, I have a really hard time concentrating if there is music playing. I’m not sure why, exactly, other than I usually love singing along to popular music (to the mortification of my children). Occasionally, I’ll put on a classical album (Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky are my favorite) but nothing with lyrics.
Q: Some writers believe you have to write every single day. Is that true of your process? How often do you write/how long for each session?
The idea of writing every single day is fantastic but not realistic for me. I do try to write every day during the week for at least 4-5 hours but I juggle writing with other work and events and don’t get to sit down in front of a computer every day, especially during busy weekends. However, each time I finish writing for the day, I try to park on a downhill slope, with notes in my manuscript about the dialogue, action, or the scene that comes next. That way, when I open up my computer again, I have prompts and reminders waiting for me which help me to jump right back in.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring author?
Write the book. It sounds obvious and a little silly maybe, but the only way you become good at anything is by practice. You can’t fix or improve upon something that doesn’t exist. The only way to learn to write is by writing.
Q: Where do you normally find story inspiration?
My main source of inspiration by far is history books and memoirs. There are so many extraordinary real-life stories of extraordinary people. It’s not hard to find inspiration in their achievements and lives.
Q: What made you want to explore the stories of these characters through the lens of this Paris apartment?
The idea for The Paris Apartment started percolating in my imagination over the years after I read about two real-life events. The first was the 2012 discovery of the Gurlitt Hoard, which was a Munich apartment filled with artwork stolen by the Nazis. The second was the discovery of an untouched Paris apartment abandoned by Madame de Florian before the Nazi Occupation and not discovered until after her death seventy years later.
Those two events, coupled with my interest in the historical roles of women in combat during WWII, served as the lens through which I chose to tell this story. The character of Sophie was inspired by real SOE agents like Virginia Hall, Nancy Wake, and Pearl Witherington Cornioley. The character of Estelle was inspired by women such as Helene Lefaucheux, Suzanne Hiltermann, and Germaine Tillion, all courageous members of the French Resistance.
Q: With writing historical fiction, how much time do you spend in the research phase? What does that process look like for you?
I spend quite a bit of time at the beginning of each book researching the framework of my plot idea. The who, what, when, where, why, and how are the components I try to have defined with as much historical accuracy as possible before I ever start writing. This includes gathering and examining resources like texts, letters, maps, archived photos, declassified documents, and memoirs in an effort to get a balanced understanding of the real history parameters and the plausibility of my fictional plot. This is a process that is generally measured in months - and produces a plethora of ideas that I might use or tuck away for later books. The smaller details, such as menus or fabric types, vehicle models or hair styles, I’ll research as I go.
Q: The Paris Apartment weaves in and out of 2017 and 1942. How does writing in two very different time periods impact your writing process?
Writing two separate narratives takes some careful planning and structuring. How much information to reveal to the reader in each? How to move a reader into the past and present without it being jarring or disruptive? How to avoid repetitive storytelling? I am hopeful I managed all those considerations.
Q: Did you prefer writing one timeline over the other?
I enjoyed different things about writing both timelines. My first love is history so stepping back in time into the world and lives of the women and men who lived during the Occupation and experienced it first hand was as humbling as it was rewarding. Writing in the present had its own pleasures – I was able to use all the modern conveniences in my story (this was a first for me) and experience my own travels in the City of Light all over again in my imagination.
Q: There are so many unsung heroines from WW2. What made you want to shed light on this little part of history?
When I started my research into the women who served their countries for The Paris Apartment, I was introduced early to the biographies and memoirs of women in combat on the Eastern European front, where the war had come to the cities and towns with unspeakable savagery. I read about snipers Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Roza Shanina, tank gunner Mariya Oktyabrskaya, and Stalin’s female air force pilots who would fly over thirty-thousand combat sorties during the course of the war and produce the world’s only two female fighter aces, Lydia Litvyak and Yekaterina Budanova.
Yet on the Western Front, where The Paris Apartment is set, there were no female snipers or tank gunners or fighter pilots. Here, the government stubbornly maintained it was not appropriate for “life-givers to be life takers.” It wasn’t until 1942 that the first women would enter the war on the Western Front in a combat capacity, with the majority of the women recruited by the SOE joining the F (French) Section. Many of these women would be pursued and hunted by the Nazis behind enemy lines and paid the ultimate price for their service. Others survived and reading their memoirs and stories, I was both moved by their courage and came to appreciate the extent of the obstacles that they overcame to serve their countries.
Q: Paris is such a rich setting—in both your timelines—what was your favorite part of bringing this city to life on the page?
Friedrich Nietzsche once declared that “an artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” The incomparable art and artists that Paris is so famous for were some of my favorite parts of bringing the rich setting of the city to life in both timelines.
In the past timeline of The Paris Apartment, my characters experience the staggering scale of the art theft perpetrated by the Nazis. While one can never compare a life to an object, my characters see the stolen hoard representing the great mass of lives torn apart, and the loss of irreplaceable history of families and countries. In the present timeline, my characters discover a collection of what they believe might be stolen art and join the effort to return what was once lost to its rightful owners. The legacy of those efforts, inspired by true stories, was something I very much wished to include in this novel.