The Lollipop Shoes

Background

US first edition published under the title The Girl with no Shadow

The relationship between writer and characters is often quite a troubled one. At times it’s a kind of benign possession, with certain individuals conspiring to take over control of the plot from their hapless creator and take it wherever they want to go. In fact I wrote a story about this (it’s in Jigs & Reels), called Last Train to Dogtown, in which an author accidentally ends up in a village populated entirely by characters he has written out

Which is my way of saying that you can never be entirely sure if someone you thought was gone from your life may not suddenly return out of the blue, expecting you to drop everything you’re doing and give them your undivided attention for the next twelve months…

Some stories do that. Lollipop Shoes is one of them.

I distinctly remember, nine years ago, being asked if I would ever think of writing a sequel to Chocolat. At the time it sounded impossible. Perhaps because of that word “sequel”, which I’ve always rather disliked.

Besides, I had other books to write, other characters clamouring for my attention. There might one day be something else about Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk, but I had a feeling they weren’t in Lansquenet any more, and I had no idea of where else to start looking for them. As far as I knew, Vianne was gone, and until I found out where she was, then any chance of a follow-up (still less a sequel) was most definitely out.

But I’d always been fond of Vianne and Anouk. And I’d always thought that if they ever reappeared in some other tale, then it would be because my own version of Anouk (my daughter Anouchka, who was in many ways the prototype) had somehow shown me the way to the next level. The Lollipop Shoes is the result of that: not a sequel, but a continuation, based on the fact that people change, that children grow up, and that happy-ever-after is a phrase that lazy people use when they just don’t know what happened next.

The Book

Illustration for Lollipop Shoes by Sean Jefferson
This is a lovely illustration done for me by my friend, Sean Jefferson, of a scene
from Lollipop Shoes

Five years have passed since Chocolat, the story of a woman (or is she a witch?) who, with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk, blows into the stuffy little village of Lansquenet and opens her chocolate shop at just the wrong time – and in just the wrong place – incurring the wrath of the local priest and pitting Church against Chocolate.

Since then, things have changed. Vianne has another daughter, Rosette; Anouk has started secondary school; and the three of them are living in a rented chocolaterie in the Montmartre district of Paris. On the surface, life seems good; Anouk goes to school; Vianne has finally found a niche for herself. She is accepted within the community. She has learnt to conform; to blend in. The wind has stopped blowing – for a while.

But security has a high price, and Vianne has made some heavy sacrifices. She has given up her mother’s ways; the magic that she and her daughters shared. She has given up her identity, living now under the name of Yanne Charbonneau. She has even given up making chocolates – the demands of motherhood are just too much – and now orders her stock, just like everyone else. Most importantly, she has given up true love – in the person of Rosette’s father, Roux – and is considering marriage to her reassuringly conventional landlord Thierry, who promises her financial security and a home for her children.

Meanwhile, Anouk (now called Annie) is on the cusp of adolescence. A misfit and a loner at school, she hates Paris, resents the “new” Vianne, and desperately misses the intimacy they once had together. Rosette is nearly four years old, with physical and behavioural problems that are only exacerbated by her uncanny and disturbing Accidents…

Onto this stage comes Zozie de l’Alba, blowing into town on the Day of the Dead. Beautiful, passionate, bohemian and fabulously indifferent to convention, she befriends Anouk, moves into the shop, seduces half the neighbourhood with her effortless charm and little by little, helps Vianne regain, not only her skills, but her life –

But Zozie is not without an agenda. Little by little her influence grows – over Vianne, the shop, the customers, but most of all over Anouk, who sees in her an echo of her own mother, without all the fears that inhibit her. And as Christmas approaches and Zozie’s “help” becomes increasingly more questionable, it becomes clear that behind the charismatic façade there hides a cold and malevolent being, her power immense; her greed insatiable; her ultimate goal – Possession.

Q. & A.

Was it hard, coming back to Chocolat territory?

Surprisingly not – though I don’t really think I’ve come back at all. If anything, I’ve moved it forward – and though this book owes a lot to Chocolat, there are elements of Holy Fools; Five Quarters of the Orange; even Runemarks, which I was finishing as I worked on this.

You do like that multiple-narrator thing, don’t you? Why write the story in several voices when you could just do it in one?

I’ve always been fascinated by points of view, and by the idea of writing from the villain’s perspective rather than giving just a hero’-eye-view. This time I’m working with three voices; Vianne’s, Anouk’s and Zozie’s.

Wasn’t that kind of confusing?

A bit. The problem was that I wanted to differentiate the voices from each other, whilst at the same time trying to convey how very similar they are. In many respects, Vianne and Zozie are different sides of the same coin, shaped by life and by the choices that they have made. Anouk at eleven is pure potential; able to fall under either influence. I wanted to illustrate the point that good and evil are closer than you think; that choosing between them isn’t always straightforward; and that, when it comes to temptation, everybody has a price.

Sounds like something Father Reynaud might say. What about the Church in this book?

The church – or one of its ministers – played a sizeable role in Chocolat. In Lollipop Shoes, the conflict is an entirely personal one. Which isn’t to say that religion doesn’t crop up from time to time. But in this book Vianne is battling something more insidious than just an institution. She’s struggling with herself; her past; her guilty secrets and small betrayals. Most of all she’s fighting her worst fears – in the face of which we are all alone.

It sounds a lot darker than Chocolat.

That’s right; if Chocolat was milk chocolate, then Lollipop Shoes is seventy percent. There’s still quite a lot of humour there, but it’s quite black humour – closer in tone to Gentlemen and Players than to its predecessor.

But it’s still about magic and chocolate – right?

Of course there’s a lot of both in the book. But Chocolat was never really about chocolate – it was about people and how they respond to concepts like pleasure, temptation, guilt and love. The chocolate was a means to an end, representing tolerance and forgiveness – as opposed to the ideal of self-denial expressed by Reynaud, the misguided priest who believes pleasure to be a fatal weakness that must be purged for the soul’s good.

In Lollipop Shoes, chocolate still represents these things, but it’s also now tied in with the concept of memory and self-expression – a bit like the recipe book in Five Quarters of the Orange, which is also briefly revisited in this story.

So what about the magic, then?

I was quite careful in Chocolat to avoid too many overt references to magic. I wanted to convey the idea that magic (whatever you think that is) is not a supernatural gift, but something that anyone can learn, and to allow for the possibility that Vianne’s skills may be nothing more than an extraordinary sense of compassion and kindness – the kind of thing we call “charm” or “glamour”. Lollipop Shoes is a little more explicit. In this book, magic is everywhere, although there are still “rational” explanations if you choose to look for them. As Zozie would say; it’s magic if you want it to be. If not – it’s your choice.

Zozie sounds pretty cool. Did you base her on someone in particular?

Well, of course, she has to be cool – she’s the image of temptation in all its forms. The word Anouk keeps using is “fabulous” – which of course means “from a fairytale” – and her name comes from the French “sosie”, the word for “double” or “mirror image” – kind of appropriate, I thought, as she is the personification of Vianne’s dark side. My editor Francesca (who’s pretty fabulous herself, and no mean hand at shopping) says she’s a mixture of Mary Poppins and Cruella de Ville. Anyway, I’m not quite sure where Zozie originally came from, but I based some of the physical side of her on my friend Joolz Denby, who inspired the phrase fuck off, I’m fabulous; who takes me shopping to Harvey Nicks in Leeds and has taught both Anouchka and myself everything an evil adventuress needs to know about make-up, fashion, clothes and – Yes. Shoes.

Aha! Now we’re really getting somewhere. Tell me more about the shoes.

Don’t get excited. I’m not Imelda Marcos. In fact, writing books not being what you’d call especially high on the glamour scale, I spend 99 percent of my time in trainers or boots. However, I do find shoes uniquely fascinating. Their shapes, their colours, the psychology of footwear in general. And I’m constantly fighting the urge to buy shoes I know I’ll never really wear – just because they’re irresistible objects of beauty. I have a big glass trophy cabinet in my house, and because I don’t anticipate ever getting any trophies, I’ve filled it with pairs of hardly-worn shoes. Beats Royal Doulton, any day.

So what is this thing about shoes, then?

Well, it struck me as I was writing this how often shoes crop up in fairy stories. The Red Shoes. Cinderella. Puss in Boots. The Elves and the Shoemaker. And so often the shoes have magical properties, suggesting that our modern fascination for all things footwear may actually be very old… Zozie’s shoes are an expression of her; they’re wild, colourful, impractical and more than a little dangerous. In fact, all shoes in this book represent different aspects of the personality, from Zozie’s bright-red jewelled heels to Vianne’s sensible Paris flats.

Sounds like another one of your urban fairytales. What’s the attraction?

I’ve always been fascinated by folklore and fairy-tales. They form the cornerstone of much of our European literary heritage. Of course, these stories were originally written for adults, not children; and their bleakness and cruelty of their symbolism reflects the kind of world for which they were written. I believe that the reason these stories have endured for so long (and are still providing the inspiration for a new generation of writers) is that human nature hasn’t changed very much over the past 500 years or so. We still need to believe in magic; we still hope for a happy ending; for good to triumph, for love to redeem us and for monsters (whether they be dragons and werewolves or paedophiles and terrorists) to be overcome.

I’ve noticed there’s a lot of Mexican folklore in here. Why?

Chocolate came from South America, and the cultures of Mesoamerica are so closely linked with the history of chocolate that it seemed like a pity to leave it out. Besides, I wanted to create an opposition between Zozie’s form of very aggressive paganism and Vianne’s gentle European style. So I brought quite in a lot of Aztec and Mayan folklore. They’re terrific stories, and somewhat neglected over here, but I’ve been fascinated with them since I was a child – not least because of their horribly gruesome content – and I thought Anouk would be drawn to them too.

Was it hard, writing about your daughter?

Well, I’m not actually writing about my daughter, though she and Anouk have a lot in common. What I’ve done is to take aspects of her – and of myself – to create a mother/daughter relationship that makes sense to me. The book itself is fiction, of course; but even fiction needs a kind of emotional grounding. That’s why I wouldn’t have chosen to write about the mother of an adolescent until I actually knew first-hand what it was like. I’ve borrowed a few things from Anouchka; some interests; some physical traits; some vocal mannerisms and some gossip from school. But Anouk and Anouchka are two quite separate beings, and there are at least as many differences as similarities between them.

I have to ask – What about Roux? Please don’t say you’ve left him out of this book.

Don’t worry. He’s in there.

Hey! – does that mean there’s going to be another movie with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche?

I’d say that depends on Johnny and Juliette… As for movie deals, it’s probably way too early to even be thinking of such a thing. Light a red candle if you think it’ll help…

Want To Know More?

Meso American Myth & Legend

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