Writing The Paris Collaborator
The Paris Collaborator
by A. W. Hammond
On sale May 2021
German Occupied Paris, August 1944.
The days before liberation. Auguste Duchene, a former English and German teacher, finds missing people. He does this to survive in a time of increasing scarcity. After finding a stolen child, his notoriety grows, and the French Resistance approach him to find a priest who has disappeared along with the cache of weapons he was hiding. At the same time, Duchêne is approached by a German Major to find a missing German soldier. To fail at either task would have deadly consequences for Duchene and his daughter, Marienne.
As the pressure mounts, Duchene must determine if the cost of survival is worth betraying all he holds dear.
A few years ago, I received the original typed report about a night patrol, written by my journalist grandfather who fought in North Africa during WW2. The narrative style of the correspondence brought a fantastic sense of tension and authenticity to his wartime experience. This sparked my interest in WW2 and planted the seed to write a historical detective story around a regular people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
A teacher as a detective?
Duchene is not a policeman or a private eye. He is not an investigator by training. If given the option, Duchene would not choose this profession – he's been forced into this line of work to survive. Between food shortages, a hostile occupier and a French puppet government, Duchene is getting by in the only way he can. He is unassuming, speaks German, is widely read and has a keen eye for detail – attributes that allow him to move through occupied Paris without creating waves while providing him with the necessary tools for investigation. Perhaps Duchene would realise how well suited he is to this new career – if he wasn't so preoccupied with surviving the next 48 hours.
With this new novel, there were some new and interesting challenges:
a city that I have only ever visited but never lived in
cultures and languages that are not my own
the precise historical setting of Paris in August 1944.
The historical challenge was solved through research and patience. First-hand accounts, photography and film, and texts by historians contributed to this piece of the puzzle.
I re-visited two of my favourite French writers – Pierre Lemaitre and Guillaume Musso – to gauge how much "Frenchness" is actually in their novels. I used Google Maps to plot the car trips and walking time across Paris from the book's locations. I sought the advice of French speakers and friends who'd lived in the city.
And finally, I took liberties – small ones here and there – where a writer's prerogative could be reasonably argued. It's fiction after all and who's to say that where clear history or precedent doesn't exist, I can't just make stuff up!