How did you become a writer?
As is often the case with authors, reading preceeded writing.
I fell in love with novels at the age of ten. My mother was a librarian, but books had always bored me up to that point in my life. To be perfectly honest, I only liked comic books! Then one day, I read a story that thrilled me: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. From then on, I spent the major part of my summers sitting in a corner in the library reading, instead of going to the beach! At that age, children are fearless, and I didn’t hesitate to throw myself into reading marathons. I remember reading War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Sentimental Education and Madame Bovary one after the other... From this love of reading, my desire to write was born.. The trigger was a short story contest organised by my 10th grade French professor. I wrote a romantic story imbued with supernatural elements that was halfway between Stephen King and The Wanderer. And I won... I was so surprised that my stories interested other people that it encouraged me to keep writing.
Do you feel you were predisposed to be a writer? Is writing a necessity for you?
Anaïs Nin once said she believes we write in order to create a world in which we can live. This is definitely the case for me. Writing is an extension of reading, which is my favorite way of escaping reality, daily life and its difficulties.
The frustration I experience in the real world is actually what drives me to write. It is what inspires me.
How do you find stories for your novels? Where does your inspiration come from?
In his book, On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King astutely writes: "Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky." A writer's job is to sort them out and figure out, among the stream of ideas, which ones might become novels.
I have many sources of inspiration: my own experiences, current events, other works of fiction in all forms. I also enjoy people watching: in restaurants, cafes, the metro, in shops... Like Bacri’s film, I call it my “Taste of Others”. It helps me get a feel for atmosphere and to catch situations, dialogues, emotions... As soon as something captures my attention, I write it down on my computer or in my notebook, and at some point, the ideas come together, and a plot eventually emerges.
I have to say though that the creative process remains very mysterious: a spark, flashes of light coming together, ideas that piece together and, little by little, come to form the foundation for a story.
How do you construct your stories? How do you work?
I always keep one basic principle in mind: write books I would like to read. There is no recipe for it! It doesn’t work, and it corrupts the pleasures of writing. Rather than follow a schematic set of rules, I try to tell an “honest” story, one that expresses what I feel at the time.
As for the actual writing process, for the type of novel I write, I absolutely have to build a solid foundation and make sure the plot is coherent. For my first novels, I spent a few months refining the structure of a book. I needed to know where I was going, even if I didn't always know how I was going to get there.
Putting together this structure, as intricate as the mecanism of a clock, could be very time-consuming: working on chapter flow, slowly giving clues, laying plot twists and dividing scenes as if in a film...
At the same time, I work a lot on my protagonists. I have to know them through and through in order to identify with them so that over the course of the writing process the mysterious alchemy leading to the true expression of emotion takes place.
Over the years, have your writing habits changed?
Like a craftsman, I have a much firmer grasp of my art.
My stories have much denser plots and my characters are more nuanced. But I remain very attached to making sure my readers take pleasure in reading my novels and see them as an escape.
My priority is to make the story addictive and I use a modern narrative style, pulling the reader into my world, so that I can move much more quickly into the story. I let the plot unfold and trust myself to find a good solution when things get stuck, making sure to include plenty of twists, turns and surprises.
Being spontaneous and trusting my gut are rather new for me. Though this leads to more uncertainty, it also means I have to use my instincts which his frankly delightful! The most exciting moments are actually the surprises. When characters try to escape my control and take over, things happen that I might never have imagined.
What are your writing habits? Where do you work? Do you listen to music? Do you write on paper or on the computer?
My work day is similar to an artisan’s. I try to write every day and to be disciplined about it without getting caught up in overly strict rituals.
I try to work everywhere: at the office, in cafés, on trains and planes. In fact, I’ve noticed that many of my ideas come to me when I am waiting in airports or when I’m abroad. I write one chapter after another (always on a Mac and with finely-tuned word-processing software) and then I go through a long correction process on paper, then back to the computer, and so on and so forth, with as much back and forth as is necessary.