A Writer’s Sunny Apartment in Paris

Photography by Holly Gibson

This week on the Journal we had the pleasure of meeting Oliver Mol, an Australian writer living abroad in Paris. Along with his partner Holly Gibson, a talented photographer who kindly captured this story for us, Oliver resides in a beautiful apartment overlooking Montmartre. We spoke to Oliver about the incredibly personal process of writing his most recent novel Train Lord, some of his favourite spots in the City of Light and what’s coming up for the rest of the year.

Oliver reads in bed, resting on 100% Linen duvet set in Chestnut.

On finding the apartment… 

Holly and I moved into this apartment four months ago, which felt and feels like a miracle. We had just relocated from Tbilisi to Paris, and we spent the first month looking at a lot of horrific and expensive apartments that we weren’t qualified for anyway. To rent an apartment In Paris, generally, you need a French bank account, and a French guarantor, and French pay slips and since we had none of that we had resigned ourselves to finding a sublet.

I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere so nice. We are filling the space with plants, and I recently just finished my first short story in two years.

At the last minute, however, we found this apartment in Montmartre. Immediately, we fell in love with the light, and the wooden floorboards, and the marble fireplaces, and, absurdly, the windmill you can see from the front window that sits over two galleries next to a cobblestone street. We felt, suddenly, that we had the slim chance to be secondary characters in an Amelie or Midnight in Paris remake, and we jumped at the opportunity. The owner, who is Irish, and a journalist, asked us if we had a French guarantor and French bank accounts and we responded, enthusiastically, No, although after explaining that Holly was a photographer and I was a writer, and offering a generous bond, I suppose she took pity on us and offered us a lease. The apartment is 42 square meters, and I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere so nice. We are filling the space with plants, and I recently just finished my first short story in two years.

The table is dressed with an IN BED 100% Linen Table Cloth. 

On Oliver’s favourite things in the space… 

The plants! I recently picked up an Alocasia Frydek, which has these tremendous green leaves and which I am in love with. Holly also recently bought a vase at the market for my birthday, which is holding some dried flowers. 

On the bedroom… 

The bedroom is one of my favourite spaces in the house, mostly due to the window that overlooks a garden, and then, between two buildings, you can see Montmartre and Paris which, at sunset, can be bathed in terrific light. I enjoy writing in there because the space feels peaceful, which is something I have learned to value over chaos in recent years.

On his career as a writer… 

I have been writing for more than fifteen years, and in that time have published two memoirs: Lion Attack! and Train Lord. Writing is not linear, and is often tremendously difficult, but every now and then you translate exactly the image or thought or scene you were intending, and you fall in love with writing all over again. However, I don’t mind that writing is tremendously difficult, and in many ways feel lucky to have a vocation that can accompany me throughout my life, much like a best friend, but like all relationships my attitude to writing has taken work, and to paraphrase the brilliant Amanda Lohrey: one of the key lessons I have learned is simply, through the highs and the lows, to hold your nerve. I have been fortunate enough to win the Scribe Nonfiction Prize For Young Writers, and to have received a Marten Bequest Scholarship through the Australian Council for the Arts, but learning and relearning this lesson, along with publishing two books, has been a highlight above all else.

An IN BED Organic Cotton towel in Oxblood & Peach hangs in the window of Oliver & Holly's apartment. Holly wears an Organic Cotton towel & robe in Toffee.

On the process of writing Train Lord… 

Train Lord is a book about the 10-month migraine I suffered, and the job I worked on the railway as a Train Guard for Sydney Trains when there were no other options. It has been described as rude, having what one English reviewer called gutter language, but also funny, healing and beautiful. In many ways I felt like if I didn’t write this book the narrative would be trapped inside me and a part of me or the writer part of me would die. I wanted to take something horrific and attempt to make sense of it, or at the very least to make it tangible, and even, yes, beautiful. I had been working on the railway for two years, had saved 25,000 dollars, and decided I would move to Barcelona and spend every last cent trying to write the book. Shortly after I arrived I realised I wasn’t eligible for the visa. Three months later I moved to Albania, then settled in Tbilisi, Georgia where I spent six months attempting, on paper, to make sense of that traumatic time in my life. I returned to Australia with half the manuscript done and five-hundred dollars left, shortly before Covid. I spent the next three months living with my parents, meditating and wim-hof breathing every morning, writing every day, and running every evening, and not drinking or partying at night. That routine helped me achieve a state that some might call flow, and three months later I finished the book. Then I received the Marten Bequest Scholarship that would return me to Georgia, and a short time later Penguin Michael Joseph bought the book, both of which saved me financially, and which I felt and feel extremely grateful for.

In many ways I felt like if I didn’t write this book the narrative would be trapped inside me and a part of me or the writer part of me would die.

On Train Lord being part memoir and part fiction….

I suppose I knew it was going to be impossible to explain what a 10-month migraine felt like, but I knew I wanted to get the reader as close as possible to the experience, not in order to harm them, but to make them understand. I reasoned that if they could understand my experience they might understand the millions of other people who suffer invisibly, which would help a large proportion of people feel less alone. In one part of the book, I tell a story that elicits a certain feeling of sorrow or heartbreak or loss or loneliness in the reader, but then I tell the reader the story isn’t true. I wanted people to understand the betrayal of chronic pain, those moments when you think you are better only to discover that you are not, but more than that I knew fiction could be used to produce certain feelings that something as unknowable as a 10-month migraine could never. In the end, I wanted to illuminate the emotional truth of chronic pain. I imagined the migraine was a sun and each chapter was a planet wrapped in glass that had been smashed orbiting that sun. In the end, the reflections from those broken planets would produce a composite of the migraine experience. I knew art could never, truly, completely, represent so called reality, but I wanted as best as I could to depict that experience emotionally. I don’t know how I could have written the book any other way.

On advice for aspiring writers looking to explore personal themes and experiences in their own writing… 

Read, and read widely. Write until you find the quiet truth of your story, and then trust that eventually your story will find its form. Don’t forget to use humour, especially when writing about despair. Never forget the power of metaphor.

Read, and read widely.

Oliver wears IN BED 100% Linen Long Sleeve Sleepwear Set in Kohl and carries a 100% Linen Market Bag.

On time spent outside of writing… 

I love rock climbing because it scares the hell out of me. Never have I felt more alive than when I am clinging to a rock. 

On living in Paris… 

Everyone in Paris keeps saying that Paris is having a moment. Perhaps it is because New York and London have become so expensive. Paris is expensive too, but it is possible to do it cheaply. For example, one of my favourite places in Montmartre, Chez Ammad, does cheap pints. A terrific place to spend the afternoon.  

On looking ahead to the rest of the year… 

In August, I am performing my theatre adaptation of Train Lord at Edinburgh Fringe. I have performed that show at Adelaide Fringe and Sydney Fringe, but Edinburgh Fringe is the main event. This will be the last time I perform Train Lord, which feels momentous. Please come! 

@train_lord (instagram)
@Oliver_Mol (twitter)



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