In France for the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, Grace Kelly just wants to escape the flash-bulb pops and overlapping questions of the paparazzi. When British press photographer James Henderson chases her into the struggling boutique of Sophie Duval, the perfumer offers to hide Grace from prying eyes and cameras. This encounter, which is the first link in Meet Me in Monaco’s chain of events, forever entangles the lives of photographer, movie star, and perfumer.
Weaving together James’ and Sophie’s stories with Grace Kelly’s took not one author, but two. Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb were already successful authors of historical fiction when they first worked together on Fall of Poppies, a collection of short stories set in the aftermath of World War I. They got along so well while working on Fall of Poppies that they “fell into collaborative writing without planning to,” the pair told Spine. With the anthology of World War I stories in mind, Gaynor and Webb developed the idea that would become their first co-written novel, Last Christmas in Paris.
“We had a fabulous time working on the first book together, so we realized this might need to be a partnership that lasts.” The two authors started talking about ideas for a new book. Since both Fall of Poppies and Last Christmas in Paris were set during World War I, they immediately decided they wanted to do something that had nothing to do with war. “We started thinking about a summer book; something charming and fun and filled with glamour. So, naturally, the south of France came to mind, and Grace Kelly quickly followed!”
After deciding to begin the novel in France during the year Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco, Gaynor and Webb found their story in a pair of characters: photographer and divorced father James Henderson and brilliant but struggling perfumer Sophie Duval. To center on a perfumer, however, the authors needed to learn more about making perfume. “Early in our research for the novel, we focused on the perfume-making process. The discovery of the head, heart, and base notes which make up every fragrance jumped out at us as the perfect way to structure the novel thematically.”
For those not familiar with perfume terminology, scents in a perfume are grouped into three categories based on when after application they can be sensed. Head notes provide the initial impression of a perfume and evaporate quickly, heart notes make up the main body of a perfume and emerge in the middle of the dispersion process, and base notes diffuse slowly and linger long after the other scents have evaporated. Gaynor and Webb felt that these notes “reflect the phases of falling in love, both for Grace and Rainier, and for Sophie and James. The idea of the mellowing over time of emotions, and scent, lent the right tone to the book.”
With their ideas fleshed out and their research underway, the two authors began writing. Here’s how they described their process: “We do all our work via Google Docs to start, assigning ourselves a character or characters, and then we take turns in writing the first draft, dividing the writing time every other day or every few days. We also schedule plotting phone calls via Google every other week, sometimes more often. When we get stuck on something or need to make a big decision, we brainstorm. Sometimes, one of us plays devil’s advocate to make sure our characters’ motivations are sound and the direction in which we’re headed makes sense. After we’ve done a couple of reads, we both edit every single page so the voices and storylines are consistent.”
With Meet Me in Monaco out on July 23, the duo is again hard at work, immersed in the writing of their third Gaynor and Webb book, Advice for Lady Adventurers. “It’s a coming-of-age tale in the vein of Thelma and Louise about two feuding sisters who follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly’s race around the world in order to secure their inheritance, only to encounter the Nazi occupation in Europe at the start of World War II.” They are also writing their next individual historical novels, which they hope to share news about in the coming months.
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