My Inspiration for “The French Impressionist”

A Facebook post and a sleepless night led to the writing of a 250-page novel. No, really.

I struggle with insomnia. A lot. At times I toss and turn, and other times I give up trying to sleep and sit and read with food in one hand and a book in the other. One night, several years ago, insomnia struck but I didn’t feel like reading, so I turned on my computer. Social media isn’t really the best way to induce sleep and relaxation, but it was 2 a.m., I was wide awake and I was out of cheese sticks, my go-to I can’t sleep and I’m hungry snack. So, Facebook it was.

Then, I saw this photo:

The photo was linked to an article about a long-forgotten apartment that had been recently found in Paris. You can read it here.

I adored the photos of the inside of this apartment. The furnishings spoke of wealth and a rather lavish lifestyle, and I immediately became obsessed with the idea of finding my own lovely time capsule. I imagined what my first impressions of such a find would be. What would I see? Smell? Hear? What kinds of furnishings would I find? What books would be on the shelves? What clothing would be in the closet? What would everything left behind say about the person who had lived in that apartment?

The article explained that a Madame de Florian had inherited the apartment from her grandmother, a woman named Marthe de Florian, who had been an actress and a socialite. She was also at one point known as the muse for an Italian painter, Giovanni Boldini, though she had many other admirers as well. Art historians were able to definitively identify the painting of the woman in the pink dress as one of Boldini’s works, and it sold at auction for nearly 2 million euros.

This story captivated many people all over the world, and in fact more than one book has been written about this subject. For example, here is one book that offers a fictionalized account of discovering the apartment and learning about the life of the woman who used to live there. (See Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey).  I was also inspired to begin to write about this forgotten apartment as well, but I didn’t want it to be the entire focus of my story. Instead, a long-abandoned apartment next door became the mysterious backdrop to the emotional journey of my main character, a young girl named Rosemary.

The real world is full of people, places and events that can inspire stories. This often happens for me. I take a grain of an idea (like an abandoned apartment found in Paris) and start to ask myself questions. Who would be involved in finding something like that, and why? How was the apartment discovered in the first place? What would the result of the discovery be? When I learned about the apartment in Paris, I already had what I call the “inkling” of a character in my head. So, I immediately put that fledgling character, Rosemary, into a situation where she was the one to discover an abandoned apartment, asking myself the above questions. Eventually, my novel The French Impressionist came about.

Try this today: if you are an aspiring writer, read the article I mentioned above about the apartment in Paris, and then try writing a short story about finding a long-abandoned place, like an apartment, an amusement park, or an entire building. The internet is full of photos of abandoned places—some of them call to mind stories that could be romantic, fun, or deliciously creepy. Your story could take place in Paris or anywhere else you like. (I actually set my story in Nice, in the South of France). If you feel like sharing, post your story in the comments section. Have fun!



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