Thursday, September 3, 2020

Alexandra Joel

Alexandra Joel is a former editor of the Australian edition of Harper's Bazaar and of Portfolio, Australia's first magazine for working women. While occupying a number of other executive positions in the media industry she also contributed feature articles, interviews and reviews to national and metropolitan publications. She is the author of Parade: The Story of Fashion in Australia and Best Dressed: 200 Years of Fashion in Australia. Both detail the development of fashion, style and national identity. Her recent book, Rosetta: A Scandalous True Story, has been optioned for the screen by a major US-owned production company.

With an honours degree from the University of Sydney and a graduate diploma from the Australian College of Applied Psychology, Joel has also been a practising counsellor and psychotherapist. She has two children and lives in Sydney with her husband. She is a keen student of art, fashion, history and politics and is exceedingly fond of Paris.

The Paris Model is Joel's debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I knew immediately that my book’s title had to be The Paris Model. It evoked both the setting and the fabulous, high fashion world inhabited by my heroine. Fortunately, my publisher agreed!

Although the title takes the reader straight into the story, the book also depicts the early life of Grace Woods, who was raised on a vast sheep and wheat ranch in country Australia. Only after making a shocking discovery does she flee to glamorous post-war Paris in order to solve the mystery of her true identity.

Having become a model for the newly famous couturier, Christian Dior, Grace begins a complicated romance with the mysterious Philippe Boyer. As she is drawn into his dangerous world of international espionage, she not only discovers the dramatic truth of her origins, but also the meaning of bravery, loss and the enduring love between a parent and child.

What’s in a name?

As The Paris Model is inspired by a real person, I used her actual name, Grace Woods. I should add here that readers will discover there is more to her name than either they – or she – might first have thought.

The names of Grace’s parents are also real, as of course are the many fascinating individuals she encounters in Paris, including Pablo Picasso, Rita Hayworth, Julia Child and Jacqueline Bouvier, the future Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I would have been stunned, mainly because I loved books so much and was so in awe of novelists I never dreamt I could actually be one myself.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The start of the book is so much harder to nail down than the end. My beginnings never finish up being the beginning, because I always seem to jump into the issue or turning point that matters most to my leading character. However, as readers need to know much more before I make this sort of revelation, those passages inevitably end up being relocated somewhere else in the manuscript.

Endings are quite different. I find they come easily because by then I have lived my characters’ lives with such intensity that I just know how their story will conclude.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality or are they a world apart?

I really enjoy writing about strong, courageous women who tackle significant challenges – personally, professionally and even physically – though I’m not sure I’m as brave as any of my heroines.

I suppose that all my characters reflect some aspect of me, even the reprehensible ones, though it’s certainly a more hidden, darker side. They also reveal my fantasies: when it comes to one of my leading ladies I frequently think, ‘I want her life!’

Luckily for me, via writing, I’m able to walk in the footsteps of every one of my complex characters.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

History, travel, films, art… the list goes on, for you never know what will be the spark that sets you off on your next writing adventure.

When it comes to inspiring people, my father was a wonderful storyteller with an incredible imagination. To this day I can hear his voice conjuring imaginary worlds with verve and commitment. I hope I capture that vivid quality in my writing.

My mother was a very successful model, so I grew up seeing her swishing about looking incredibly stylish. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I always include fashion in my books, not just because of the sheer glamour but also because clothes say so much about an individual’s personality and the era in which someone lived. This is particularly important for a novelist like me who writes historical fiction. Another huge influence has been my two earlier careers, the first in journalism and the second as a psychotherapist. I have had the privilege of sitting in rooms with countless individuals, asking them questions and listening to their stories. There could be no greater inspiration for a writer.
Visit Alexandra Joel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue