I’m actually re-reading an old Australian classic–Picnic at Hanging Rock. I’m writing a book about the story behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and have uncovered all sorts of startling anecdotes and insights from those who knew Joan Lindsay. A lot of the novel does seem to be based on Lindsay’s life, so I thought I’d re-read it to play dot-to-dot with the information I’ve found.
Can you tell us about your new book, Paris: A Guide to the City's Creative Heart?
Paris: A Guide to The City’s Creative Heart is a fresh look at Paris through design-tinted glasses. It’s a lovely, visually rich collage of the city’s most inspirational destinations, from bookstores, vintage boutiques and paper stores to design museums, whimsical galleries, gardens, architecture, and of course its most interesting neighbourhoods and quartiers, all photographed in glorious detail. It uncovers hundreds of intriguing places and destinations overlooked by traditional guides, but it also acts as a visual inspiration/sourcebook, complete with ephemera, mementoes, notes and photos. The book was intended for creative professionals who travel to Paris for either work or leisure and want a guidebook that offers both a joyous sense of place and a real feeling of intimacy, wrapped up in a tactile package of pleasurable Parisian layers.
What is the process that goes into creating a book like this? Is there a clear vision at the start?
Absolutely. The vision came about because I’ve written several books on Paris, and am always asked where the best places to go are. I wanted to write a ‘creative guide’ to the city, so everyone could benefit from the insights that journalists have. Together with my publisher, Mary Small at Plum, we planned the book, section by section, and then I flew to Paris to photograph it over 10 days. We wanted to create a book that really inspired people and so everything from the copy to the images, which were fresh and quite often whimsical and quirky, is filled with ideas and inspiration.
How many photos did you take for this book, and how do you choose which ones make the cut?
I took 6000 photographs over 10 days, working from 6AM to 10PM. I was constantly shooting, even while walking from one place to another. Some of the best shots–and ideas–in Paris are the unexpected ones, so you have to keep your eyes and mind open! I think Grace Coddington once noted this as well. This 6000 was culled down to 2000 or so, which was then culled to several hundred for the book. The selection was entirely down the Plum’s editors. It would have been too difficult for me to choose!
What's your personal history with Paris?
I have lived or lingered in Paris for more than 20 years, for both short and long periods, and for both business trips and pleasure (although in Paris, even the business is pleasure). I first discovered it in my early twenties when I broke up with the Queen Mother’s equerry and fled to the city to mend my broken heart. What’s that saying? Living well is the best revenge…
What is it about Paris that you think inspires so much creativity?
Paris has a history of creativity that goes back centuries. Aesthetics is part of the French way of life–you could even say it’s an integral element of their collective anatomy–and they take it very seriously. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I do know that it’s a firm part of the city’s spirit and day-to-day life. You only have to look at the architecture, the gardens and the beautifully planned lines of sight everywhere, which cleverly direct your gaze down, around, up and across Paris, to see how talented the French are at great design. To them, everything needs to be beautiful. They get very upset if something’s out of place!
If you had one day to show someone around the city, what would be in the Janelle McCulloch tour of Paris?
I’d start by walking down to the Pont des Arts bridge on the Seine at first light and watching the city wake up. The crisp, delicious morning light is the best light to photograph Paris in and the Pont offers the perfect vantage point to do it. Then I’d stroll to the 6th and one of the cafes in the cobblestoned, pedestrian-only Rue Cler, an open market street that’s always bustling with locals, life and energy. After a coffee here, I’d persuade my friend to pop into the new and used bookstores in the area, which have made this quarter a haven for publishers, writers and media types for decades. (More details on these in the book.) Then we’d wander through the gorgeous greenery of the Luxembourg Gardens to watch Parisians at play before heading for extraordinarily beautiful Le Bon Marché department store to peruse the design ideas, unique gifts and Art Deco architecture in the new, top-floor La Maison d'Edition department. It would be lunchtime by now so we’d stop at Ralph Lauren’s new restaurant on Boulevard Saint Germain for a chic French salad and wine, then grab a taxi to the Marais to visit the must-see Carnavalet Museum (free), a sublime ode to Paris captured through maps, models and replica interiors. (It also has a lovely garden.) From here, it’s a short walk through the Marais to Merci, a fab Parisian store full of whimsy and wit. We’d be tiring now, so I’d advise that we grab the Metro to Notre Dame to climb the towers and see the beautiful (and quintessential) view of Paris as the pink twilight falls over the city-although the top of the Eiffel Tower is also lovely for sunset delights. Then I’d head back to the hotel for a shower before heading out one last time–dressed to the nines–for dinner at the historic Grand Vefour restaurant in the Palais Royal. (Hopefully my friend is paying.) Afterwards, we’d wander through the Palais Royal and the Tuileries and down to the Seine to see the boats, the lights and the magic of Paris. If we had energy–and my ‘friend’ was a male, I’d finish the evening with a kiss under the enchanting lights of the Pont Alexandre III Bridge. But we probably wouldn’t have the energy, and my friend would probably want to skip the prolonged romance and go straight home to bed.
Having worked widely as a writer, editor and journalist for many years, is there something that stands out as a career highlight?
Many, many things, including the sights, cities and islands I’ve been privileged to see, including Harbour Island in the Bahamas, Shelter Island in the Hamptons and Lord Howe Island. But while the travel is magical, the real highlights are the people you meet, and I’ve met some incredible and memorable personalities. I’ve met amazing architects, charismatic movie stars, inspirational hoteliers, truly great designers and writers (including many I admire), and unexpectedly fabulous characters, such as a 80-year-old Parisian who owned a charming antique map store in Paris, and a legendary 90-year-old cowboy and former Hollywood star who was still kicking around in Palm Springs. It’s the people who stand apart in my memory, even more than my bestsellers, my magazine career and all the overseas travel.
And as someone who is intimate with French culture, do you have a favourite cheese?
This is a terrible thing to say but I hate cheese! Will I be banished from the country now?
What are you working on next?
I’m finishing writing a book about Picnic at Hanging Rock, or the story behind the story, and also a book called How To Live An Elegant Life: Following in the Footsteps of Chanel, which looks at French style, where it comes from (it’s largely due to Chanel), and how we can emulate it. Both are out in 2012.
Paris: A Guide to the City's Creative Heart is a Shearer's Book of the Month for November, and is available at 15%off the RRP until 30/11/11.