I was lucky with this book as I had the ideas for the actual plot and the higher concept – ie, the emotional point – at the same time. I knew from the outset that it was about one girl finding her identity when I hit on the idea of her ‘trying on’ different lifestyle and personalities first.
Having worked in the fashion industry as a fashion writer, I had had access to a highly-desirable and closed world that I knew would fascinate my readers and I had been mulling over the idea of setting a book in the big fashion cities London, New York, Paris anyway. I had been trying to work out how to have a character in each city and somehow thread them together, but having one girl moving between the three cities in a linear way made much more sense.
It meant I had to give each city a very strong, standalone identity – the mood of Paris had to feel different from London, which in turn had to contrast with New York. I used iconic emblems like Manhattan’s yellow cabs, London’s red buses and Paris’s bikes as quick visual references and thought a lot the different urban sounds and the changes of the seasons. But more than anything, I relied on the support cast of friends – Kelly in New York, Anouk in Paris and Suzy in London – to become a living embodiment of each city: how each girl dressed and exercised, the décor in her home, what she ate and drank, the clothes she wore…every detail had to reinforce the identity of the city she lived in.
Amidst all that, I also had to show Cassie finding herself, her way. I used her mistakes, partly for comedy purposes but also to highlight who she wasn’t, so that the journey towards who she really is becomes partly a process of elimination.
One of the trickiest aspects of the book was getting the timeline right. With roughly each third of the book based on a different city, it was hard work getting the pacing just so. On the one hand, over-arching everything, I’m documenting a woman’s emotional recovery from her marriage breakdown – that is therefore necessarily slow and erratic; nobody gets over a ten-year long marriage in even a year, much less a few months; But on the other hand, I had only about eighteen chapters per city to build up a new life for her: new job, home, look, social life, her relationship with her friend to flesh out…Each segment therefore had to feel authentic and dramatically compelling, but it also had to coincide with the bigger emotional journey.
Paris was by the far the hardest segment to write as there was bound to be a lull after the rebound excitement of New York – Luke really super-boosts Cassie’s immediate recovery – and before the resolution of the plot, ending in London. So the question I had to focus on answering there was, what she was supposed to learn about herself in Paris? I knew she wouldn’t just glide into another relationship and it took me a long time to really get to grips with the character of Claude. I didn’t quite know what I wanted him to be for her, but when I did – and the twist of it surprised me as much as it will you – he broke my heart as well as hers.
Title: Christmas at Tiffany’s by Karen Swan
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 596 pages
In the wake of a heartbreaking betrayal, a young woman leaves the Scottish countryside to find her destiny in three of the most exciting cities in the world—New York, Paris, and London—in this funny and triumphant tale of fulfillment, friendship, and love.
Ten years ago, a young and naïve Cassie married her first serious boyfriend, believing he would be with her forever. Now, her marriage is in tatters and Cassie has no career or home of her own. Though she feels betrayed and confused, Cassie isn’t giving up. She’s going to take control of her life. But first she has to find out where she belongs . . . and who she wants to be.
Over the course of one year, Cassie leaves her sheltered life in rural Scotland to stay with her best friends living in the most glamorous cities in the world: New York, Paris, and London. Exchanging comfort food and mousy hair for a low-carb diet and a gorgeous new look, Cassie tries each city on for size as she searches for the life she’s meant to have . . . and the man she’s meant to love.
Karen Swan began her career in fashion journalism before giving it all up to raise her three children and an ADHD puppy, and to pursue her ambition of becoming a writer. She lives in the forest in Sussex, writing her books in a treehouse overlooking the Downs. Her first novel, Players, was published in 2010, followed by Prima Donna and Christmas at Tiffany’s in 2011.