The Scent of a Novel by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor

The Scent of a Novel
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[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have authors Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor guest post on the site today. Take it away ladies!]

Scent is a difficult thing to write about, and yet it is arguably one of the senses which has the power to immediately transport us to a particular time, or place, or person. The scent of our mother’s face cream. Lazy summer days perfumed with cut grass and the rich earthy petrichor after warm rain. A favorite perfume we wore as we first fell in love. At any moment in our harried and busy lives, we catch a whiff of a familiar smell, and we’re transported to another place and time.

Setting a novel in the south of France provides a kaleidoscope of aromas to conjure on the page. What could be more evocative than fragrant fields of lavender and violet, the salt-tinged air as dusk falls over the ocean, or the aroma of freshly baked brioche from the local boulangerie? As authors, we try to capture the essence of the location where our story is set, and infuse all the location-specific sensory details into our narrative. It’s one of the most important aspects in making a story come alive. Perhaps with historical fiction, this element is even more important in order to take the reader on a journey through time. 

Early in our research for Meet Me in Monaco, we read fascinating accounts of many French couture and perfume houses who vied for Grace Kelly’s attention as she made preparations for her royal wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier. Of particular interest to us was that she met with female representatives of those businesses. Of course, every woman has her trademark fragrance and we wondered: what if an ambitious young parfumeur caught Grace’s attention? What impact might a future princess have on that young woman’s life, and vice versa? 

Sophie Duval, our fictional heroine in Meet Me in Monaco, is a perfumer; an expert in capturing the essence of memory and emotion through scent. Sophie runs a struggling artisan family-owned perfumery left to her by her beloved papa, and when she is chosen to create a special fragrance for Princess Grace’s wedding, her fortunes change, but not only in relation to her business. Yet how were we to fully understand the passion and skill required of someone like Sophie? We are novelists after all, not celebrated perfumers! Reading about perfume and scent wasn’t enough. We quickly discovered we needed to go to the source of our heroine’s inspiration in order to find our own.

We followed Princess Grace’s footsteps to the Cote d’Azur and to Monaco. The cliffs of Monaco, we discovered, are filled with gleaming homes painted in bright summer colors and dotted with palms. An exquisite sight to behold. Its streets are winding and lead to the Rocher, or the Rock, where Rainier’s pink palace sits. 

Our research also took us to the beautiful flower fields and historic Provencal town of Grasse, world renowned for its perfumes. We traveled through the town’s narrow winding roads that crisscross a hilltop overlooking a valley, and lost ourselves in the cobbled pathways of the old town among the many beautiful perfume and soap boutiques that line its streets. To step inside the famous perfume houses of Molinard and Fragonard, whose history goes back centuries, brought goose bumps, a sense of place, and plenty of inspiration. We knew then, we must set Sophie’s fictional perfumery called, Duval, right in the city’s heart.  

During a fascinating, in-depth tour of the factory, we learned about the intricacies of perfume-making, which offered insight and detail that went way beyond any book-based research. We got to view equipment, learn about production, and spend some time combing through the variety of scents that are most popular in the region. But the highlight of our tour was a wonderful perfume-making class, which involved sampling over a hundred different scents to make our own unique formula. The perfume-making process is, as it turns out, incredibly complex–an artform and a science. We learned how different layers of scent make up the so-called head, heart, and base notes of every fragrance; each level of scent evaporating on the skin at a different rate. This particular aspect of perfume-making wasn’t only a scientific fact, but also gave us the perfect way to structure our novel – the head, heart and base notes reflecting the phases of falling in love, both for Grace and Rainier, and for Sophie and James. The idea of emotions and scent mellowing over time lent the perfect tone to the book, and also allowed for some stunning page design for each new section header of the book. The art of perfume bottle design is almost as complex of the art of making the perfume itself!

For co-authors living on different continents, spending a week together on the Cote d’Azur was essential, inspiring, and – let’s be honest – enormous fun! We enjoyed the local foods of fried squash blossoms and pastis and plenty of delicious rose wine and seafood, as much as we enjoyed our research. We truly discovered the heart of our novel on our trip. We concluded our trip with a visit to the St. Nicholas Cathedral where Grace was married and which is also her final resting place. The visit proved incredibly emotional, and a fitting conclusion to our time in the Cote d’Azur. We were ready to settle into the narrative and depict a well-loved and talented woman, our minds infused with fragrant memories of Grace’s home.

About the Authors:

Hazel Gaynor is the acclaimed New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author of A MEMORY OF VIOLETS and THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, for which she received the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY, was an Irish Times and Globe and Mail bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. In 2017, she published THE COTTINGLEY SECRET, and LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb). Both novels hit bestseller lists, and LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Hazel’s most recent novel, THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller. Her latest novel MEET ME IN MONACO (co-written with Heather Webb) will be published in July 2019.  For more information, visit www.hazelgaynor.com 

Heather Webb is the international bestselling author of six historical novels set in France, including her latest Last Christmas in Paris, which became a bestseller and also won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR award. In 2015, her novel about famed sculptors Camille Claudel and Rodin called Rodin’s Lover, was a Goodreads Top Pick. Next, check out her novel inspired by Grace Kelly’s royal wedding called Meet Me in Monaco, co-written with bestselling author Hazel Gaynor. To date, Heather’s novels have sold in a dozen countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit. https://www.heatherwebbauthor.com/

Meet Me In Monaco by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor

Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s whirlwind romance and unforgettable wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb take the reader on an evocative sun-drenched journey along the Côte d’Azur in this page-turning novel of passion, fate and second chances…

Movie stars and paparazzi flock to Cannes for the glamorous film festival, but Grace Kelly, the biggest star of all, wants only to escape from the flash-bulbs. When struggling perfumer Sophie Duval shelters Miss Kelly in her boutique to fend off a persistent British press photographer, James Henderson, a bond is forged between the two women and sets in motion a chain of events that stretches across thirty years of friendship, love, and tragedy.

James Henderson cannot forget his brief encounter with Sophie Duval. Despite his guilt at being away from his daughter, he takes an assignment to cover the wedding of the century, sailing with Grace Kelly’s wedding party on the SS Constitution from New York. In Monaco, as wedding fever soars and passions and tempers escalate, James and Sophie—like Princess Grace—must ultimately decide what they are prepared to give up for love.

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