Friday, May 18, 2018

The Making of Space by Michèle Phoenix

Michèle Phoenix

How often do you struggle with your own creativity? How do you handle deadlines when your imagination fails you? 

Author Michèle Phoenix shares what she did and her fascinating experiences in England and France.  ~ Dawn

The Making of Space

There’s something exhilarating about writing a book. It’s a mystifying and fascinating process, a creative élan that galvanizes the writer and makes the task more enjoyment than effort.

Except in the case of The Space Between Words.

As part of a two-book deal, Thomas Nelson gave me just eight months to write it—a story for which I sensed not an inkling of theme or location or character. Three months later, still lacking inspiration, I holed up in my aunt’s apartment on the outskirts of Paris and hoped a week of uninterrupted solitude in the country where I grew up would foster creativity. I wrote feverishly for the better part of six days, but the hundred and thirty pages that emerged were not worth reading.

So I clicked delete.

And for reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote to Kathleen Rodgers, a novelist I follow on Facebook. I’ve never met her, yet without questioning the impulse, I introduced myself and asked her what she did to “write under the gun.”

I received a response within just a few hours. “Last Saturday, I wanted to hang up a forty-year career and walk away,” she wrote. “But I kept telling myself to trust the process and just keep at it. Just work. Just write. I look for the magic when I feel stuck, unable to focus.”

With kindness and grace, Kathleen led me back to the magic of passive inspiration and gave me the courage to pause with expectation.

For the remainder of my time in France, I used pastries to soothe my literary lostness and distracted myself from a nagging sense of failure with random YouTube viewing. On my last day there, I stumbled across a clip of former late-night host Craig Ferguson speaking about his show on the History Channel.

“History is psychotherapy for the entire human race,” he said.

That got my attention. Since I was just a stone’s throw from Paris, a city devastated by the 2015 terrorist attacks, those recent events seemed an apt place to start. Then I remembered the stories I’d learned, growing up in French protestant circles, about the St Bartholomew Massacre in which tens of thousands of Huguenot protestants died.

I wondered if a survivor of the Paris attacks could somehow find solace and healing through connection with someone who’d lived through comparable horrors centuries before.

I took off for England soon afterward to visit my friend, Renée. We sat at her dining room table as I told her about my literary challenge, and she countered discouragement with hope. “Wouldn’t it be fun if a story that started in France made a detour through England?”

I’m not entirely sure what combination of Huguenot-related terms I used for my last Google search that evening, but when the name of a small church in Sandhurst, Kent appeared on my screen, along with an article describing an historic piece of Protestant history hanging in its sanctuary, I knew I’d found the link between the past and the present—and between France and England.

After that, writing The Space Between Words became something of a treasure hunt. My mom arrived a couple days later for a previously planned vacation and wasn’t in the least perturbed when she learned that our established itinerary was about to be sabotaged by the hint of a new story.

The pastor of Sandhurst Baptist Church welcomed us warmly, then introduced us to the page of an ancient Huguenot Biblethat had come to the church under mysterious circumstances. We left the small town certain that what we’d uncovered would become a driving force in The Space Between Words.

Our next stop was Canterbury, where a friend’s clerical collar and persuasive skills granted us access to the cathedral’s Black Prince Chantry, a sacred place for The Strangers who fled from France to England under threat of extermination. Two crucial characters exist because of that rare privilege.

Four days later, my mom and I stared at the “No Trespassing” signs placarding a gate in the enchanting village of Holford. The warning didn’t deter us. We climbed over the fence and spent a long time in the peaceful glen that afternoon, exploring the remnants of an old silk mill believed to have belonged to Huguenot refugees. The novel’s final scene takes place in that mystical space.

The Space Between Words flowed onto the page from that point on, surprising and sobering me with unsuspected turns. I wrote on airplanes and in cafés, in stolen moments and midnight hours, submitting the manuscript one day ahead of time despite its taxing genesis.

Whoever said that writing is therapeutic was right. But not because it’s a streamlined process in which chaos conveniently coalesces into story. No, writing is therapeutic because it teaches us to value mystery, to cultivate vulnerability and to trade control for the unpredictable and immeasurable magic of creativity.

“There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned.”

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.

During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.

Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is an international educator, writer and speaker. After teaching at an international school in Germany for 20 years, she launched her own international ministry advocating for the children of missionaries. In her spare time, Michèle writes novels, which have been published in the United States, Canada, Norway and Poland. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

To connect with Michèle and learn more about her work, please visit:

The Space Between Words: