I discovered a beauty of a book on NetGalley. The Paris Connection by Lorraine Brown had a gorgeous cover and the title hooked me instantly. Ooh, Paris! Who doesn't want to read a romance set in Paris? It was such a great read that I couldn't put it down. I actually read it all in one sitting because I just didn't want to break the spell and, let's face it, I didn't want to leave Paris either.
Here's my five star review of the book:
This book was amazing. Not only were the characters and the plot great, but the setting of Paris was absolutely gorgeous and fun. The level of writing mastery the author shows is incredible. This is possibly the slowest slow burn romance I've ever read, and it was just perfect.
I felt like I was on the back of Leo's motorbike touring Paris and it was a lovely little literary vacation.
Hannah's character is fleshed out well. She has appropriate flashbacks that show us why she is the way she is and it's delightful to see her growth by the end of the book.
I loved this book so much I read it all in one day.
This is one heck of a debut. Will be looking forward to reading more by Lorraine Brown. I highly recommend grabbing a copy and escaping to Paris yourself!
SJ: I loved the slow burn romance of this book! Was it hard to hold off on that glorious first kiss, even though it was so worth the wait?
LB: Because the action takes place over such a short period of time – around 24 hours – it actually wasn’t too difficult to hold off on the kiss! I think there was so much going on, with the secrets being revealed, and the whizzing around Paris and the impending wedding in Amsterdam, that there was plenty for them to be doing while getting to know each other. And I wanted it to feel like they had really begun to know each other before they took their relationship to the next level. I did have to think a bit harder about how to create that romantic tension, though, and how to leave the reader wanting more. I wanted to really pull out those will they/won’t they moments in the later drafts and I think I learnt a lot about how to structure a romantic comedy from my brilliant editors in the UK and the US, who seemed to know exactly what was missing and what would ultimately make the reader keep wanting to turn the page.
SJ: I truly felt like I was on the back of Leo’s motorbike as he showed Hannah around Paris. It seemed as though you know Paris pretty well yourself, or is this a case of excellent research? LB: I know it pretty well – I live in London, so the journey from central London to central Paris by train takes just over two hours, so I’ve probably been 8 or 9 times. It’s always been quite eventful – I’ve had trips with college friends, city breaks with my boyfriend (which weren’t always as romantic as I’d imagined!), weekends away with my newborn son (he was ill and cried the entire time!) and once on my own for research, so I feel like I’ve explored lots of different sides to the city. I think it’s the perfect backdrop for a slightly edgy, romantic story!
SJ: The mastery of plotting and pacing blew me away. Especially for a debut! Have you written many other novels before successfully getting this published?
LB: I wrote one other novel before this, which got some positive feedback from agents, but ultimately did not get me an agent or a publishing deal. When I look back at it now, I can totally see why! When I started writing The Paris Connection, I knew I needed to do something different if I wanted to become a published author, so I thought a lot about the ‘hook’ of the novel – what was going to draw an agent/editor in, and ultimately make a reader want to pick up the book and buy it? I also spent much more time planning the novel and thinking about structure. So in other words, I took writing my second book much more seriously – I think the good thing about writing the first was that at least I knew I could finish whole novel. Before that, I hadn’t been able to imagine writing 90,000 words, it was such a daunting prospect!
SJ: How different is the final book from the manuscript you submitted?
LB: The book underwent lots of changes throughout the course of editing the novel, particularly as I was working with two editors concurrently, who each came with different ideas. Because the novel takes place over just one day, it was difficult to know how best to add in some backstory so that we knew enough about the characters to care about them, but not so much that it detracted from the main thrust of the story in the present. We toyed with the idea of flashback chapters, but ultimately decided to weave in the characters’ backgrounds more subtly throughout the novel. I also ramped up the Parisian aspect of the story in later drafts – I added in some of the quintessential Parisian sights, for example, as we really wanted readers to be transported to the city, and the first places they would think of would probably be the Eiffel Tower, the river Seine and the Champs-Élysées. The main struggle was having my main protagonists, Hannah and Léo, visit all of these places in a realistic time frame – it’s all very tight and I used a little artistic license and decided it was a particularly gridlock-free day for traffic in Paris!
SJ: What inspired you to write a romance based on a train splitting in the night?
LB: My inspiration came from a story my brother told me about 15 years ago, way before I was even considering writing a book. He and his girlfriend were on a train travelling through Eastern Europe and she got up to move seats because she couldn’t sleep and when they woke up, they were in completely different countries! They found each other again and all is well, as they are still together and have three children, but I remember thinking that it would make a fantastic beginning to a film or a book. I also adore the movie Before Sunrise, written by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It’s the most perfect romantic movie, in my eyes, about two people who meet on a train and take a chance on each other. I’ve always thought there was something romantic about train journeys. And I love the realistic dialogue, which is something I tried to achieve with The Paris Connection. I wanted their conversations to feel like something you might overhear on any station platform.
SJ: What is your favorite attraction in Paris?
LB: I particularly love the Montmartre area – it’s the loveliest village-like part of Paris where you can really imagine what life was like in the city a hundred years ago. And it’s all set on a hillside, so you’re wandering around these steep little streets, climbing up hidden staircases, or suddenly turning a corner to find a cute, cobbled square. Plus it’s brimming with all the things I love about Paris, like bistros with their tables set out front, patisseries with the most gorgeous cakes in the window and boulangeries with a range of delicious breads like you couldn’t imagine. And then at the top of the hill is the most beautiful church, the Sacré-Coeur – it feels really magical inside and the view from the steps (where I set one of my chapters) is just spectacular.
SJ: As an American Anglophile, I love reading books by UK authors like you. I see that The Paris Connection is titled Uncoupling in the UK. What factors go into the decision to retitle a book for a foreign audience? (As an aside, both covers are just gorgeous!)
LB: Yes, I got very lucky with my covers, and I love them both, too! In the UK, we’re quite familiar with the idea of a train dividing and going in two different directions, which could also be described as the carriages ‘uncoupling.’ I think my UK publisher liked this play on words, with the idea of a train splitting as well as relationships ending and beginning. In terms of The Paris Connection, my US editor felt that American readers would look at the title and instantly know that they were going to be transported to Europe. In the absence of being able to travel anywhere at the moment, I hope this might be quite an appealing prospect!
SJ: Who are some of the authors who inspire you?
LB: I adore Sally Rooney and think the way she writes about modern relationships is so truthful and painful and compelling. I also love David Nicholls, Marian Keyes and Taylor Jenkins Reid, who just draw me into their characters’ lives with their brilliant storytelling.
SJ: If you could take a trip anywhere right now, where would you want to go?
LB: So many places! Anywhere, in fact! I miss Paris of course, but if I could go somewhere right this second (with no restrictions), it would have to be New York. I’ve only been once and the trip wasn’t long enough for me to explore everything, so there’s still so much to discover. I’m obsessed with cities, actually, and love to spend hours planning which hotel to stay at, where to eat out, which shops to go to, which galleries, museums, parks etc. I also spent some time in LA (I used to be an actor!) and would love to go back there again, too – and it’s got the added bonus of sun and the beach!
SJ: Do you have a favorite scene from The Paris Connection? What is it and why is it extra special to you?
LB: Oh that’s such a good question. I think my favorite scene (or sequence of scenes) is the wedding showdown towards the end of the novel. I’ve been to enough weddings to know that emotions are always highly charged on the day (not helped by the copious amounts of alcohol on offer, I’m sure), plus you’ve got this group of people thrown together in a room who might not always get along. I used some of my own experiences of attending weddings, plus some classic wedding scenes I’ve watched on TV and film over the years (Carrie’s failed wedding to Mr Big in Sex and the City sticks in my mind!) as inspiration. In The Paris Connection, the wedding was a chance for all the tension and confusion of the day to come to a head. I really enjoyed my characters having all this pent-up frustration and guilt and anger – it was a joy to write.
SJ: I know The Paris Connection is JUST about to come out in the US, but do you have any new projects coming soon?
LB: I have written a second book, which is set in London and is another modern love story about two people who live opposite each other in an apartment block on Hampstead Heath. I’m just re-drafting it now, so we’ll see how it turns out!