Secrets and Showgirls is a book that falls neatly into the historical fiction genre because the setting, the major events and even tiny details such as what people wore and ate are entirely accurate and meticulously researched.
But the characters and the central plot are all fictitious and I use them to show how people lived through an extraordinary period in history — the German occupation of Paris in World War II.
Admittedly there are thousands of books written on the occupation of Paris, but I wanted to take a different perspective; I wanted to look at occupied Paris from the bottom up, so to speak. So my story follows the trials and tribulations of a cabaret whose colourful characters have to find a way to survive, as did the famed Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère.
The cabaret in my story is called Le Prix D’Amour — The Price of Love — and it’s managed by the very dapper Monsieur Maurice and features a variety of dazzling performers and, of course, the sassy, glitzy showgirls. Alongside the performers are other characters including musicians, black marketeers and even a convent of nuns.
With the threat of invasion, Monsieur Maurice decides that there is only one way his little company will survive — it has to play to the invader. After all, why were the Germans so keen to occupy Paris? Because this was one of the great cities of the world, almost unrivalled for its sheer, sparkling glamour. And what do soldiers want? Wine, women and song!
This is Maurice’s tactic and it proves so successful that the German Military Governor decides to adopt Le Prix as his favourite cabaret. Maurice sighs with relief. But Maurice’s relief is short-lived. He quickly realises that there are those in his company who have dark secrets which could see them all arrested by the dreaded Gestapo. And, as the strict rationing begins to bite, Maurice is forced to deal with the black market, which also makes him a target of the Gestapo.
On top of this, he discovers that someone is spying on his cabaret and that this someone knows far more about his performers than he does. It’s a deadly mix and promises a very untidy end unless Maurice can protect his people. Secrets and Showgirls is a story that portrays the dark tension of the occupation, but at the same time, is full of the dazzling vibrancy of the cabaret.
This is history, but with a sparkle at the edges, with touches of pathos, but plenty of glittering colour.
About The Author
Catherine McCullagh began her career as a history and language teacher before taking a left turn and joining the Australian Regular Army where she spent the next twenty years as a teacher, linguist and editor. She then took another left turn, leaving the Army to establish herself as a freelance editor, primarily in military history.
Fifteen years later, inspired by the extraordinary stories that surrounded her, she embarked once again on a new career, this time as a writer. She has published two non-fiction works, Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of Australian Army nursing, and War Child, a poignant memoir which she ghost-wrote with Annette Janic.
Catherine’s first novel, Dancing with Deception, was published in 2017 and, along with War Child, was highly commended in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards. Secrets and Showgirls is her second novel, but by no means her last.