THE SPACE BETWEEN WORDS

Michèle Phoenix

“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.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.

“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

During a stop at a country flea market,

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“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.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.

“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

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.

“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”

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?

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  • Thomas Nelson
  • Paperback
  • September 2017
  • 336 Pages
  • 0718086449

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$15.99

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About Michèle Phoenix

Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle Phoenix is a consultant, writer, and speaker with a heart for Third Culture Kids. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own advocacy venture under Global Outreach Mission. Michèle travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group.

Author Website

Praise

“Phoenix’s powerful and compelling novel reflects how the past can give us hope for the future. A surprising plot twist adds a bittersweet flavor. Fluid writing and seamless transitions from history to the present make this the author’s best book yet.”—Library Journal, starred review

“Michèle Phoenix beautifully entwines the lives of Jessica, a survivor of the 2015 Paris terror attacks, and Adeline, a victim of Protestant persecution in 17th-century France.”—BookPage

“Several scenes in The Space Between Words will leave readers without words, the ability of speech replaced by the need to absorb all the feels. Humor and warmth mingle with gut punches of emotion and stunning revelations. The link between past and present is woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story, connected by a sewing box that soon becomes the center of a deeply poignant tale. PTSD, terrorism, refugees (past and present) and religious persecution are examined honestly and authentically without bogging down — or cluttering — the plot. Readers are advised to keep the tissues ready for this read!”—RT Book Reviews (4 ½ stars, Top Pick)

 

Discussion Questions

1. After the Paris attacks, Patrick tells Jessica that fleeing back to the States would just be yielding to the terrorists. In your opinion, where is the line between caution and resistance? What would you have done?

2. When Jessica finds the sewing box, it feels like a coincidence. Only later does she realize how important that item will be to her healing. Can you think of “coincidences” in your own life that turned out to be divine appointments?

3. Why did Jessica’s subconscious need Patrick to be alive?

4. What different responses to grief are demonstrated by the characters in The Space Between Words? Are some healthier than the others? If so, why?

5. What compels Grant to pursue the Baillard’s fate? What compels Jessica to do so too?

6. When they drive past La Jungle, the large refugee camp on the coast of France, Jessica feels herself struggling, but can’t really identify the source of her emotions. Given her recent history, what do you think it is that gets to her as she sees those stranded children looking at her through the chain link fence?

7. Mona states that “broken finds broken,” implying that those who have been wounded or traumatized by life tend to associate with those who have experienced similar pain. In your opinion, is this true and is it always a detrimental thing? What does the novel indicate on that topic? Do Jesus’ incarnation and life contribute to our understanding of broken identifying with broken?

8. Adeline stays behind to teach her students rather than fleeing into the hills with her parents. Is this misplaced loyalty?

9. Most of the Huguenots showed tremendous courage and faith in the face of unthinkable persecution. Adeline mentions that some did recant their Protestantism in order to save themselves and their children. How do you view them? How do you think God does?

10. Connor’s Shiny Ninja sightings bring comfort to Jessica. Have you known people who’ve had similar glimpses of loved ones after they passed away? How do you explain them?

11. Mona states that “God layers good over the bad” and Grant expands on that by saying, “I want to believe that there’s a force for good in this world and that that force won’t let the bad have the final word. It doesn’t explain or undo the darkness, but it somehow covers it with light.” How does the Bible support this view? Looking back over the worst episodes in the world’s history, how do you see God layering light over the man-wrought darkness civilization has known?

Essay

THE MAKING OF SPACE
by Michèle Phoenix

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

Except in the case of The Space Between Words.

Though my previous novels had been conceived more spontaneously, this one is the first I’ve written under contract. You see, when Thomas Nelson purchased Of Stillness and Storm in 2016, I was asked to write an additional book too. A book for which I sensed not an inkling of theme or location or character. A book I committed to in January 2016 and would have to submit just eight months later. So the thrill of pouring out a first draft, free from looming deadlines and signed agreements, was replaced in this instance by a more intentional effort.

By February, I was beginning to get antsy. Still nothing on that blank document staring at me from my laptop’s screen. Still nothing stirring in the recesses of my subconscious. Nothing but the crescendoing static of responsibility and deadlines.

In April, between ministry trips, I holed up in my aunt’s apartment on the outskirts of Paris and hoped a week of uninterrupted solitude would offer enough respite to foster creativity. The town was home to me, as I’d spent fourteen years of my life growing up there, and I trusted that nostalgia would fuel my imagination. I wrote feverishly for the better part of five days, but when I reached page 136 of the emerging manuscript, realized that the fraught story about heart transplants and cell memory was nothing worth publishing. Nothing new or truly interesting. Just sterile words on a computer screen.

So I quit. And I clicked delete.

And for reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote to Kathleen Rodgers, an accomplished novelist I follow on Facebook. I’ve never met her. We’ve never interacted even in writing before that day. Yet without questioning the impulse, I introduced myself in a message and told her about my dilemma, then asked her what she did to “write under the gun.”

I received a lengthy response within just a few hours. It was compassionate and supportive—and just what I needed to hear. Kathleen wrote, “Last Saturday, I wanted to hang up a forty-year career and walk away. 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. If I’m not laughing, crying, getting goose bumps, feeling anger, shame, grief, joy, curiosity, pain, hunger, thirst, fear…then my readers probably won’t either. You know all this, but it’s so hard when we have that deadline hanging over our heads.”

Such freedom-giving words.

With kindness and grace, Kathleen had led me back to the magic of passive inspiration and given me the courage to pause with expectation. It was time for me to stop striving.

For the remainder of my time in France, I used butter-dripping 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 Craig Ferguson, the former late-night host, speaking about his new show on the History Channel.

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

That got my attention. I pondered the concept for a while. Could it be that the only way to make sense of the present is to investigate the past—to find connective tissue between different times and circumstances in order to learn from those who came before us?

Since I was just a stone’s throw from Paris, a city devastated by the terrorist attacks on the Stade de France and the Bataclan concert hall, those recent events seemed an apt place to start. The country was still reeling from the shock, the national trauma a nearly palpable force.

I pondered how France’s history might inform an understanding of present-day horrors and quickly remembered the stories I’d learned, growing up in French protestant circles, about the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes that had led to Huguenot extermination, the St Bartholomew Massacre, the Tour of Constance and the enduring faith of its tortured prisoners.

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

Though I was excited about the juxtaposition of modern terrorism and historical persecution, I needed an element that would connect the present and the past. But when my most determined efforts yielded nothing, convicted by Kathleen’s words, I committed to let myself rest in the discomfort of uncertainty.

I took off for England soon afterward to visit my friend, Renée. This kindred spirit sat with me at her dining room table as I told her about my literary challenge, then countered discouragement with hope. She somehow knew that if we just did some Googling, something would emerge. “Wouldn’t it be fun if a story that started in France ended in up taking a detour through England?” I mused.

I’m not 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 on its sanctuary’s wall, I knew I’d found the link between the past and the present—and between France and England.

My mom arrived a couple days later for a previously planned vacation in the Land of Cream Teas 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 ancient French item hanging under an arched window. (A few minutes into our encounter, we were astounded to discover that we’d already met twenty-six years before—a story too lengthy to summarize here.) Shaking our heads at the serendipity of it all, 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. Nelly Durand and Captain Corb exist in this novel because of that rare privilege.

Four days later, after more research into vestiges of Huguenot history in southern England, my mom and I stared at the “No Trespassing” signs placarding a gate in the enchanting village of Holford. My favorite travel companion and adventurer didn’t hesitate for a moment. I watched as the seventy-seven-year-old former-missionary climbed over the rain-slicked fence with surprising agility and disappeared down an overgrown path. We 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—wondering what we’d learn if the crumbling walls could speak.

The Space Between Words unfolded naturally after that, surprising and sobering me with unsuspected turns. I wrote on airplanes and in cafés, in stolen moments and midnight hours, and submitted 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.