Rutherfurd on Rutherfurd
Q. You next book took you to Paris. Did your publishers say: "Give us another big city, Rutherfurd."
A. They asked if I had any other big cities in mind. And I said: "How would you feel about Paris?" And they said they'd feel good! But actually, the reasons why I suggested Paris were pretty personal.
Q. You had family there, I believe. Rutherfurds?
A. No, on the other side of my family. My grandmother was orphaned and lived with the family of her aunt, who'd married a Frenchman. My grandfather, who was also English, met her in France, where they married. Their children were sent to English schools, but were mostly brought up in France, and one of my aunts married a Frenchman whose family came from near Chartres. From that marriage I have fourteen cousins in Paris, and a huge extended family network of their cousins, mainly based in Fontainebleau. Knowing them, and their family stories gave me a wealth of personal material to work with.
Q. Back to the Belle Epoque and the days of the Impressionists?
A. Certainly. One old lady could remember the Statue of Liberty being built, not a hundred yards from the family apartment in Paris where I usually stayed. Another old man had been in the First World War and gave me a little lighter made in the trenches. That gift had a lot of sentimental value for me, and also features in the story. The same man had been a friend of Marc Chagall in the Paris of the 1920s. It wasn't only their memories, but the way they thought and spoke that was so helpful to me as a writer. And for a sense of atmosphere, there were family houses, like one in Fontainebleau that features in the book, where the family had been living - with the same furniture - since Napoleonic times.
Q. The story reaches its climax during the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II. Did that period also have resonance for you?
A. Yes. My Anglo-French aunt had a house in the Pyrenees, so that she could help with the escape route during the German occupation in World War II. Her son, my cousin Jean to whom the book is dedicated, escaped across the mountains joined the Free French, and advanced with them through Italy. One of my English uncles, who'd spent years teaching at the French army's Staff College in Paris, went to work with the French Resistance. He was betrayed and imprisoned by the Vichy, but he was able to persuade his French guards to go over to the Resistance - the whole garrison. I grew up knowing these people, and that sense of shared patriotism was part of the family identity. It still means a lot to me.
Q. You were often in Paris yourself since childhood. What's your most vivid memory?
A. The Paris Uprising of May 1968. I was a young teenager, but I managed to get behind the lines in the Latin Quarter. I saw it all. I also fell in love with a Frenchwoman. It was the most dramatic and romantic month of my life.