Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Cathie Dunn, Author of The Shadows of Versailles

14 May 2021

Special Guest Post by Cathie Dunn, Author of The Shadows of Versailles

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Seduced at Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.

Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV at Versailles for the first time. Dazzled by the opulence, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. When she believes his words of love, she gives in to his seduction – with devastating consequences.

Many thanks for inviting me to your fabulous blog today. I’m so delighted to be here, and to chat about my research for The Shadows of Versailles.

Who hasn’t heard of Versailles, the luxurious palace King Louis XIV built from a former hunting lodge?

Versailles epitomizes a glittering court, with the king at its centre. The sumptuous furnishings made from the finest woods and fabrics, often imported from as far afield as Asia; the richly-decorated ceilings, depicting the king, his family and favourites in fabled surroundings; the array of paintings of all shapes and sizes; and the sheer scale of the palace and the gardens beyond – they are all meant to dazzle, to impress. And that’s what they did.

But beneath the dazzling glamour of the new palace lay personal ambition, greed, envy, and outright jealousy. Everything revolved around the king, like the Sun he was keen to represent, pulling everything into its orbit. But his approval did not come easily. Some courtiers had to work hard to gain his favour, whilst others got it for doing little. Favouritism ruled.

Then the Affair of the Poisons revealed links to Versailles, and the king could no longer ignore it. It reverberated across Paris and the court. I’ve been fascinated by this event ever since I read Anne Golon’s riveting Angelique novels, but only after reading The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley did I begin to read up further, and I found it utterly gripping.

I have since bought a range of non-fiction books, in English and in French, to discover more about the individuals involved in these unsavoury practices ranging from obtaining potions, poisons to black masses. I found those characters self-serving and ruthlessly ambitious.

For many years, the suppliers of poisons got away with it, even though there were suspicions about deaths of magistrates and other men of good standing. I guess the very idea of people being brazen enough to poison another person seemed a little strange at first. One was not in Italy, after all.

The court was so focused on itself, and Louis’ attention was on warfare – when it was not on the vast range of entertainment activities at Versailles – that the events unfolding in Paris did not enter directly into his world. But the case of the Marquise the Brinvilliers, executed in 1676 for poisoning her father and brothers, proved that it was not only the lower classes dabbling in silly pursuits, but also people of good upbringing could be that cold-blooded.

The actual Affair of the Poisons played out mostly over the late 1670s up to 1682. For a writer of historical fiction, this opens up unlimited possibilities. It’s so inspiring, as it takes you across two fascinating but very different places – filthy-rich Versailles and poverty-stricken Paris.

That’s why, in my series about the Affair of the Poisons, I take my characters (fictional and real) back and forth. I want to highlight not only the glamorous side of the court – often shown already on TV screens and in popular fiction – but also the darker elements that were operating in Paris, in the manner in which organised crime operates these days. I love writing about the chancers and plotters, the meddling midwives, apothecaries, and alchemists.

The Shadows of Versailles is about a young girl, Fleur, who finds herself seduced by a handsome courtier and promptly falls pregnant. But when her child is taken away after birth, her thoughts slowly turn from grief to revenge. Fleur’s path takes her from the glamour of Versailles, to a brothel in Paris run by a good-hearted woman where she earns a living by sewing, and back to Versailles to enact her revenge.

Meanwhile Jacques, a spy for the chief of police, tries to find out what happened to her new-born boy. His search takes him across Paris, and into dangerous territory.

The second in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter, due to be released later this summer, begins in the poor parts of Paris, but we will also revisit Versailles where we’ll meet characters from the first book again. The timelines cross over.

The sheer scope of people involved in the Affair of the Poisons over the years allows me to pursue a variety of plot ideas. Both Versailles and Paris are places full of intrigues – a paradise for a historical novelist! Add a touch of poison and murder, and you can give your characters free reign…

Thank you for hosting me today. It was a pleasure to be here.

Cathie Dunn

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About the Author

Cathie Dunn is an award-winning author of historical fiction, mystery, dual-timeline, and romance set in Scotland, England, and France. She has been published for ten years, but now all her novels are released under the banner of Ocelot Press, an author cooperative. The Shadows of Versailles is her fifth published novel, and she is currently working on the sequel, The Alchemist’s Daughter, and a dual-timeline story set in 9th-century Normandy. After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in the south of France. Find out more at her website and follow Cathie on Facebook and Twitter @cathiedunn

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