Girl on Paper

April 2010

You often say that your novels come from an image that haunts you. What image did Girl on Paper come from?

For this novel, it started as an idea floating around, which then more firmly planted itself in my mind. It was the idea, one I firmly believe, that one chance encounter can change the course of a person’s life. Even, or especially, when two opposing temperaments literally ‘collide’; two people who, at first glance, don’t have anything in common, and who finally realize they desperately need one another.

From this starting point of wanting to write a novel about an impromptu meeting, the first image appeared to me quite clearly: a house on the beach in California, a stormy night, an aimless writer and a naked woman, who falls onto his balcony, as if she were an angel sent from heaven…

Girl on Paper is the story of Billie, a heroine that pops out of a novel into the life of her creator…and turns it upside down. How did you get the idea to bring to life a character from a novel?

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I saw for the first time Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo where an actor emerges from his film to liven up the ordinary existence of a restaurant waitress. It’s after watching that movie that I started to question the links between real and imaginary, a subject which has fascinated me ever since.

What objectives did you have in mind when you tackled this new novel?

Actually, I have been carrying around the idea for this novel for a long time. I waited until it, and I, were ready before I started writing. I’m passionate about comedies from the American Golden Age, the famous “screwball comedies” (such as Bringing up Baby, with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn) from the forties, which combine social commentary, humor and emotion. They each begin with a confrontation between a man and a woman who are immediately repulsed by each other, yet somehow forced together. I wanted to bring the rapid rhythm, choppy dialogue, and verbal sparring from these movies (as well as those that followed in their footsteps, such as Billy Wilder with The Seven Year Itch, Richard Curtis with Notting Hill, and the Farrelly Brothers with There’s Something about Mary) into my novel.

At the same time, I wanted to write a story with a humorous tone, and a very feminine, independent and eccentric protagonist, who would erupt like a tornado into the slightly sad life of a dislikeable character. And that’s how Billie’s character came to be: she is the catalyst for action, she imposes structure and decisions on Tom, the narrator. Out of all the characters I have created over the past ten years, Billie is my favourite. And probably the most colourful. The one, finally, that I miss the most after putting my pen away…

This new novel is therefore not only a romantic comedy, but also a thriller, a road movie and an exploration of literature. Do you purposefully keep your novels on the brink of different genres all at once?

I always write the sort of books that I would like to read. And it’s true that, since I was a teenager, I have always had eclectic taste when it comes to reading, from great classics to ‘genre literature’ such as fantasy and thrillers, as well as modern, especially foreign, fiction. My imagination is also fuelled by the theatre, film, and American television series which, for the past few years, have effectively addressed life’s big questions through the medium of entertainment: the frailness of our existence in Six Feet Under, the quest for truth with House M.D, or social morals with Lost…  This diversity of cultural taste comes through clearly in my work. More than paranormal elements or love, it seems that this colours my writing: a certain freedom and pleasure in mixing genres to address serious issues in a light manner, but on a solid narrative foundation.

Tom, the writer, is suffering from writer’s block, incapable of writing a single line, despite his writing being his whole life. Has that happened to you? Are you ever scared of the blank page?

Not really. I seem to have the opposite problem: too many ideas!

On a more serious note, the real difficulty, for me, is to not let the story that I am inventing consume me. When I’m writing, I am so absorbed by the ups and downs my characters are experiencing that I forget to live my own life.

Philippe Djian wrote, “No woman of sound mind can enjoy for long sharing her life with a writer”. Unfortunately, he was right!

You have a strong relationship with thousands of readers who write to you, send you e-mails. Do you think about them when you write? What would you like them to feel when they read this new novel?

I see the connection between myself and the reader as an “epistolary love story”, a relationship based on trust and communication. My success is purely the product of word-of-mouth. More than that of the press or the media, I owe it to my readers. It’s because they truly appreciate my stories, and recommend them to others, that my books have touched so many people.

So when a new book comes out, I feel a mixture of nerves and fear of letting them down, since it’s a time that represents a form of validation of my work.

It’s an essential moment, since I don’t write for myself. I write for others, and I see fiction as a means for communication. Every day, I thank my readers for their faith in me, and I try to earn it by working honestly and with humility. Receiving their letters, and meeting them at signings justifies all of my efforts, and erases all doubt. A simple ‘thank you’ wipes out the thousands of hours spent in front of my computer!

What would you like them to say after reading Girl on Paper?

This book stands out for me. I wanted it to be full of optimism, and light. I want them to feel that. It tells a story of love, but also, of writing, reading, and certain characters from my previous novels appear in cameo roles in this one.

But most of all, I can’t wait for my readers to discover the main protagonist, with whom I fell in love as I wrote: the famous Billie, who I miss so much since I finished writing about her adventures…

Call from an angel

March 2011

Your new novel, Call from an Angel, begins with the fortuitous encounter between a man and a woman. Can you tell us how this idea came to you?

Call from an Angel was born from a funny encounter: four years ago, in the boarding lounge of the airport in Montreal, a woman accidentally took my phone and slid it in her bag.

She mistook it for her own phone! I quickly realized what happened, and my imagination immediately grabbed on to the incident: what if the story had continued…

During the 7-hour flight back to France, I wrote the first pages of a crash encounter between a man and a woman, who switch mobile phones without realizing it. When I arrived, I filed the pages away, taking them out every now and again, thinking of them often: I couldn’t get Madeline and Jonathan out of my mind, and I knew that one day, I would write their story.

Call from an Angel opens with Madeline and Jonathan exchanging of mobile phones. Such a plot would not have been possible ten years ago, would it?

Let’s look objectively at what we save in our phones: smartphones are so much more than a diary, they  save our conversations, our arguments, the things we love… they are charmed objects, an extension of ourselves, an archive of our personal lives, through pictures, videos and emails.

Beyond this sociological phenomenon, this technological progression is also an endless source of dramatic tension for the novelist: it allows us to easily make characters meet, speed up the pace of our storytelling, creating new twists and new conflicts.

You have endowed your main character, Madeline, who lives and works in Paris, with a strong personality… Can you introduce us to her?

Madeline is a young Englishwoman, who has a lovely flower shop in Montparnasse. On the surface, she leads a very orderly life, and has just gotten engaged to her boyfriend. However, behind this harmonious facade hides a painful past: a few years earlier, Madeline was one of the top investigative officers in the Manchester police force. She left her job as a cop after a traumatizing investigation that ended grotesquely.

She firmly believed  this case was closed for good, until she met Jonathan.

Your male protagonist, on the other hand, Jonathan Lempereur, is a French head chef working in the States, who has nothing left to lose…

I don’t know why, but I love putting my male characters in the darkest places, without so much as the possibility of letting themselves fall over the edge, and forcing them to take action to reestablish some form of balance in their lives.

Jonathan is a real artist, who owned one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world. After a painful divorce, he lost both his livelihood and his creative inspiration. When our story starts, he runs a small French bistro in North Beach, the Italian quarter of San Francisco. He shares a flat with his friend Marcus, an eccentric and phlegmatic Canadian who brings a touch of colour to his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching the world of fine dining. I can see all the things my creative process as a fiction writer has in common with that of certain chefs such as Ferran Adrià, Joël Robuchon or Pierre Hermé: the desire to reinvent yourself, the search for originality, while respecting certain traditions, as well as the constant fear of not delivering work that gives pleasure and satisfaction.

Madeline is the strongest character in the story. Was it difficult for you to put yourself in a woman’s shoes?

On the contrary, I really enjoyed it. Gabrielle and Billie, the main characters in my previous two novels, were also women. With CALL FROM AN ANGEL , enjoyed juxtaposing Madeline, a tough character, with Jonathan, a modern father who accepts his own softer side. In certain scenes, blurring the lines between the genders creates unexpected twists, and a peculiar chemistry that gives a couple all their flavour. Clashes between the two characters are a fantastic way of writing convincing dialogue, and moving the plot forward.

Despite their differences, Madeline and Jonathan have something in common: to overcome loss, they both completely changed lives after their traumatic events. And yet, events seemingly long buried in the past will resurface: do you think it is impossible to escape your past?

That is one of the topics tackled in the novel: the necessity to confront who you really are, at any given time during your life, to face the truth head on, and face your fears.

If we keep lying to ourselves, we stop living. We just exist in a vegetative state, without ever achieving real bliss. At the start of the novel, Madeline and Jonathan are both “fugitives” from their own lives; Incapable of facing their past failures, they have been “coasting” for the past two years. But neither running away, nor numbing themselves, can help free them of their sorrows…

The novel, which begins as a romantic comedy, becomes a thriller with complex, dark and bitter ramifications. Why did you choose to make the atmosphere evolve this way?

I had just finished writing Girl on Paper, a novel which I enjoyed writing just as much as my audience enjoyed reading it. I owed it to myself to maintain such a demanding standard, and to challenge myself by delving into a style that wasn’t necessarily expected of me. Of course, each of my previous novels use suspense, but this one never crosses over into the paranormal.

More importantly, I just wanted to mix up genres and build a plot combining the mysteriousness of an investigation, the nerve wracking pace of a thriller, and a love story portraying the evolution of modern relationships. While I wouldn’t call it a crime novel, but how about a romantic thriller?

Without revealing the ending, can we say that both Madeline and Jonathan will survive, and that the conclusion lets us hope that they will meet again… And could this be the first installment of the adventures of a couple that will reappear?

 It’s possible, but I’m not yet sure… In the final part of the novel, Madeline and Jonathan form a resourceful and engaging pair of investigators. I often find it hard to separate myself from my characters, and I can’t rule out that we might meet them again, on another case. Their love story is blistering: it is born from the heat of the investigation, and who knows if it will survive. It would be quite interesting to meet these characters again, a year or two later. It all depends on my imagination, and the demands of my readers.

7 years later

March 2012

Your new novel opens with a quote from Alfred Hitchcock. Was the English “master of suspense” a source of inspiration for the book?

Actually, I began writing Seven Years Later… with the intention of using some of Hitchcock’s obsessions to build a structure in which I could play with the rules of suspense. Hitchcock’s quote about his heroes being ordinary people to whom strange things happen gave me the idea to start with this couple from New York, Nikki and Sebastian, who used to be head over heels for each other but have now been divorced for seven years, and to bring them back together to deal with the mysterious disappearance of their son. At first they think their son has simply run away in an act of teenage rebellion, but when they start looking for him, the couple gets sucked up into a much more complex and sinister situation than they had expected.

And so this story that starts off as a family drama takes a sharp turn, becoming a thriller when Nikki and Sebastian find themselves accused of murder. They flee from the police despite their innocence and slowly come to learn that their son’s disappearance is just the tip of the iceberg.

While the novel is clearly a thriller in its themes and structure, it has many humorous moments…

It’s true, especially when it comes to Nikki and Sebastian’s battle of wits, fueled by the unspoken love they still feel for one another. Humor can provide welcome breaks in a suspense novel so that the mounting tension isn’t pushed artificially for 400 pages.

And here again, Hitchcock’s couples are perfect models. Just think of James Stewart and Grace Kelly’s complicity in Rear Window or the glamorous alchemy that brings Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint together in North by Northwest.

Speaking of the couple, your novel could also be read as a contemporary “re-marriage comedy.”

That’s actually another important reference for me. I’m a big fan of the Hollywood screwball comedies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, often starring Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, which laid the foundation for the romantic comedy genre. I love their steady rhythm, the dynamic dialogue, and the role-reversal where the woman becomes the  driving force of the plot. Of these films, my favorite are the “re-marriage comedies,” like Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday or Leo McCarey’s The Philadelphia Story, which tell the story of a divorced or a separated couple who spend most of the film going through a kind of initiation, a cat and mouse game that enables them to get back together in the end.
This is exactly what happens to my main characters, Nikki and Sebastian. After a particularly rough and traumatic divorce, each of them went to great measures to rebuild their respective lives as far removed from the other as possible; but when their son disappears, they have no other choice than to work together. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, they are forced back into the intimate context they had tried so hard to forget.

I find the theme of reconciliation to be much richer and more complex than what you find in conventional romantic comedies about the beginning of a relationship when everything is still new and exciting. In the reconciliation scenario, the couple already has a shared past and each of them knows the other’s weaknesses. The narrative almost becomes a pretext for creating situations that will enable the couple to reinvent themselves and find a new balance.

The plot takes place over a very short period of time. In a matter of days, your characters are plunged into several unfamiliar worlds: the slums of Brooklyn, the Paris underworld, Rio de Janeiro and the Amazon… Why did you choose to tell the story this way?

Because omnipresent danger and the unknown reveal certain things about my protagonists’ personalities. We learn, for example, that Nikki has guts. She’s a warrior, aggressive and physical, whereas Sebastian is more level-headed, more cerebral and much less action-driven.

This friction and the conflicts it generates allowed me to showcase opposing forces, which is always interesting in terms of dialogue and character presentation. Then, as the plot develops and the danger becomes more intense, each of them reconsiders their position with regards to the other and undergoes a transformation bringing them towards reconciliation. This is what will ultimately allow them to find their son.

You’ve enjoyed enormous success since 2004, and in 2011 you were the best-selling French novelist. With the title of your latest novel, Seven Years Later…, seeming to echo the title of your first success, Afterwards…, should we read this as an allusion to the progress you’ve made?

It’s true that 7 Years Later… was largely written in 2011, seven years after the success of Afterwards…. It’s just a little nod to Afterwards…. Those intervening years were very intense, bubbling over with great creative energy, and I got to meet a lot of readers in France and abroad.
But I’m always thinking about the future, and all the more so because I never get tired of writing – on the contrary, I get more and more pleasure from it. I know that I’ll keep writing for many years to come because I have so many ideas for future novels in store and because I’m excited to explore new creative territory. I like the idea that in this technological age flooded with screens and beset by short attention spans, simple words on paper can still make people dream and experience strong emotions.

The last three books you’ve written don’t include the supernatural element that played an important role in your first books. They are more in line with detective novels. Have you given up the supernatural for good?

It’s true, I prefer writing suspense novels at the moment. They allow me to entertain the reader while addressing certain themes that are important to me –family, relationships, the changing world, social disorder– in a more mature way than I was able to do with the supernatural. But I still get the most pleasure from playing with genres. I think that’s what makes my work unique: playing with the codes of a given genre and trying to approach it in a new way. I’m also very careful that my writing not become mechanical – I’d rather die than write the same book twice. The pleasure of writing is, at least in part, contingent on being innovative and being able to surprise yourself.

Have your writing methods changed over the years?

I’d say I have a firmer mastery of my craft. My stories have denser plots and my characters are more nuanced. What hasn’t changed is my love of writing novels that are fun to read and that provide an escape from daily life. My priority is still to write an addictive story whose narrative draws the reader into the world I’ve created.
That said, the creative process remains something of a mystery: there’s a spark, bursts of inspiration, and interlocking ideas that build up little by little to form the story’s framework…

As for the writing itself, my writing style requires me to lay a solid foundation and pay close attention to plot coherence. I’m now much faster though when it comes to writing; I more easily let the story unfold on its own and am more confident about finding solutions when I get stuck in the process. I aim to include as many twists and surprises as possible.

Spontaneity and confidence in writing is relatively new to me. They imply a greater degree of uncertainty in how things are going to turn out, but I’d even say they also add something more instinctive and joyful to the writing.

Next

February 2013

Your new novel Next begins with a woman and a man exchanging e-mails in two different time periods. Where did you get this idea?

It took root a few years ago when I read an article about a website that would allow people to write messages that would only be sent on a specific date.  It could be the next day, the following month or even half a century later!

I found this idea very rich and began imagining the story of a woman who wrote a long letter just after being left by her lover, who would receive it only 10 or 20 years later.

After lying fallow for a while, the plotline changed quite a bit, but the initial breeding ground remained the same: the creative possibilities that arise when our lives mix with new technology.  I’ve often explored the notions of time and space in my novels.  Today, with the Internet, our thoughts, our photos and even our memory can become tools for distorting time and space at any moment, giving a novelist like myself infinite possibilities!

Your novel is very much set in the modern world but also takes small steps into the supernatural.

More into the fantastic as defined by Tzvetan Todorov, who describes it as a moment of hesitation by someone who knows only natural law when faced with an event that appears supernatural. I certainly inherited this from the books and series of my childhood: from Stephen King to Richard Matheson (Bid Time Return) and Ken Grimwood (Replay) along with episodes of The Twilight Zone that are crawling with alternative realities and parallel universes!

In my work, there are also more movie-related references, such as the Hitchcock-style ordinary hero who gets himself into a situation he cannot control or someone who suddenly begins worrying about the true nature of their spouse or someone close to them. These are themes found in Hitchcock (Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt) but also in some Barbet Schroeder films that made an impression on me in my youth (Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female).

Next is also a novel about true love and taking it to extremes.

This is a question throughout the novel: just how far can true love make us go? It’s also a novel about relationships and the doubts we can have about the person with whom we share our life.
Emma, my female protagonist, a young sommelier in New York, falls in love with Matthew, a professor of philosophy at Harvard who appears to be in an ideal relationship with his wife: they have good social standing, own a home in Boston, have an adorable daughter…

But when Emma delves a little deeper, she discovers all sorts of things she never should have known and puts her life in danger.

From this point forward, the plot becomes a complex psychological suspense. You manage to manipulate each of the characters one by one and even the reader by changing perspectives and pretenses. Lies and appearances play an important role…

I wanted to build the plot like a race into private life, carried out by characters whose true nature is progressively revealed as the story unfolds – characters constantly pulled between their dark and light sides. Some of the themes from my previous novels are present.  However, this novel, more than the others, really delves into the minds of the protagonists: their motivations, fears, anxiety. This is perhaps the novel that I took the most pleasure in writing.  It’s the one in which the protagonists take the most risks.

In spite of the tension, you often mix humor in with the suspense.

Yes, thanks to a crowd of side characters that I enjoyed sketching. They make the story richer and more diverse and bring humor and spontaneity to it.  We cross paths with a charismatic and mysterious businessman who is a mix of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, a touching and sharp art gallery owner and a young French hacker who’s run away from his family and who will form a odd pair of investigators with my female protagonist.

Finally, another “character” also plays an important role: Boston and its surrounding areas, where the majority of the novel takes place.

Yes, and it is no coincidence.  Boston is not only the cradle of America but also home to many prestigious universities and research institutes.  In Cambridge, there is Harvard, where Facebook was born, and MIT, which is a sort of laboratory for the future in the areas of science and technology.

This city reflects the theme of my novel in that it is a symbolic bridge between the past and the future. The setting seems natural.

Central Park

April 2014

Though your novels regularly feature chance encounters, the one in Central Park is without a doubt one of the most unusual.  Where did you get the idea?

I’ve had this idea of a man and a woman who don’t know each other waking up handcuffed side by side in my head for a long time. It first came to me while I was on a trip to Hong Kong. I wanted to set a sort of challenge for myself: throw my characters into a situation seemingly impossible to get out of and to get them out of it without using any tricks. In other words, I wanted to create a completely rational plot that didn’t rely on any use of the supernatural techniques I have used in the past.  I quickly wrote the beginning, but it stayed in a drawer for over a year and half until I found an idea strong enough to move the initial concept forward.

What was the trigger for moving forward with the story?

As is often the case for me, working at length on developing the characters is what did it. I believe that the strength of a novel relies as much on its characters as it does on its plot. The characters, their past, their traits and their paths give a story its flesh and blood. They bring emotion to the story and create empathy and sympathy with the reader. In this case, I knew I had a story when I wrote the part about my female protagonist’s difficult past.  Her own past could even have made an entire story.  This thus led to a new way of writing the story: adding flashbacks to the main narrative.  As a result, the reader discovers this character’s past little by little, alternating with what’s going on in the present, creating a double crescendo and strengthening the suspense.

Indeed, the main plot takes place in “real time”: the story begins in Central Park at 8am and ends the same day in the state of Maine.  This tight pace places the reader right next to the characters movements.  Why do this?

To give an original reading experience to my audience. Ideally, Central Park should be read in a short space of time. By compressing the action, I wanted to bring my reader on an emotional roller coaster made of plot twists, surprises, suspense, red herrings and changes in direction.  Hitchcock had a delicious saying that sums up his desire to pull his viewers into the action: the “menage à trois”. In reference to Notorious, he says that in filming he gave the audience the great privilege of kissing Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman at the same time, a sort of temporary menage à trois.  This is exactly what I was trying to achieve: making the reader feel like he or she is also handcuffed to the characters.

The city of New York is also a separate character in this real-time investigation.

It’s more a “playing field” for the action. The characters crisscross the town and go through some very well-known areas – Central Park, of course, Midtown, Chelsea – as well as areas we don’t usually see in novels – the Red Hook docks in Brooklyn, the amazing Greek neighborhood in Queens, sometimes called “Little Egypt”…up to the end of the novel when the action becomes a sort of road movie, traveling up through the blazing forests of New England.

It’s hard to summarize this novel with all of its surprises…

Suspense, surprises and unforeseen events are indeed key to my narrative style. I’ve always considered that a novelist’s most important quality is the ability to captivate his readers. Moreover, today, we cannot help but notice that novels have to compete more and more with other forms of fiction: movies, but especially TV series and digital entertainment.  Readers and the rest of the general public consume a lot of fiction and are thus more and more familiar with certain codes.  I therefore try to do something innovative with each novel and offer readers a story with a sharp, thick plot so that they don’t feel any sense of “been there, read that” or “been there, done that”.

You’ve often said that you build your novels on two levels: one where the reader can be swept away by the story and the suspense and a second where you introduce certain themes.  What themes did you address in Central Park?

This novel is first and foremost about a quest for identity.  From the onset, the reader discovers Alice and Gabriel’s personalities bit by bit, though they seem out of reach.  These are above all characters who question their actions and themselves: who am I really if I can’t even remember what I did the night before? Who’s hiding inside me? Do I have a dark side?

As you keep turning pages, omnipresent danger and fear of the unknown push them into a corner and force them to reveal their true nature, peeling back their old clothes to bare each complex and sometimes contradictory layer and facet.

Your thriller is bathed in mystery. This novel is dark and gripping, but humor is nonetheless very present…

It’s true that the opening scene – a pair of complete opposites forced to work together – is one of the archetypes of romantic comedy.  Though I chose to pull this story into the realm of the thriller, the dynamic between my characters and their antagonisms (Gabriel’s nonchalance, Alice’s energy and determination…) pepper the narrative with humorous dialogue, reinforcing the chemistry that immediately formed between them. As both a reader and a viewer, I’ve always admired creators who are able to combine humor, suspense and fear.  I’ve often mentioned my fascination for certain movie couples created by Hitchcock (notably in Rear Windowwith Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly), Howard Hawks (His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) or Roman Polanski (Frantic with Harrison Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner).  In literature, Stephen King is a master of humor even in the most horrific stories. He agrees with Hitchcock who often said that in the best thrillers, humorous breaks in the narrative are a necessity.

The end of the novel is completely unexpected and the dramatic framework very precise, like the movement of hands on a clock.  But beyond the element of surprise, the ending is very emotional and its effect remains with readers long after putting the book down.  How did the first readers react?

They were of course surprised and most of them read the end with a lump in their throat.  Mostly, they persuaded me to reveal as little as possible in my interviews, so as to preserve the reading pleasure for others!

It is now 2014. Ten years ago, in January 2004, Afterwards… had just been published, marking the beginning of a decade of success.  How have you experienced this rare period in the life of a novelist?

I’m not usually a big fan of anniversaries, but this one is significant. Rights to Afterwards were sold in seven languages before it was even published and the launch in France was modest at first, but word of mouth quickly made it a success. Over the years, its popularity has not faded and it has become a long-seller: over 2 million copies sold in France, translations in 24 languages and a film shot in New York starring John Malkovitch… Most importantly, this novel marks the beginning of a wonderful adventure because it was followed by nine other successful novels, giving me the immense pleasure of having a multitude of chances to meet my readers.  As Paul Auster says, “Books are irreplaceable, because they’re the only place in the universe where two strangers can meet on absolutely intimate terms.”

English translation unavailable for .

A Mix-Up in Heaven

April 2005

After the great success of Afterwards… A Mix-Up in Heaven, your second novel published by XO, is coming out. Can you introduce the subject of this new book?

 A Mix-Up in Heaven is a love story and a thriller with a hint of the paranormal.

The main idea is quite simple: What if love could overcome destiny?

The story begins with an encounter in New York which leads to love at first sight between Juliette, a young Frenchwoman who dreams of becoming an actress, and Sam, a doctor, broken by his wife’s suicide.

Afraid of giving in to love, they part ways without declaring their feelings to each other. Juliette gets on a plane bound for Paris, but the flight crashes into the Atlantic leaving no survivors…

However, their story is far from over…

Why? I will let the readers enjoy the surprise of discovering the answer in the book. Let’s just say that the novel tackles questions about the part chance and destiny play in our lives. To what extent are we really in control of our lives? Is everything just chance, or are certain events predestined to happen, no matter what we do?

We can recognize in this novel, your own style and atmosphere. How would you define these elements?

I try to write books that I would want to read. I therefore set myself the task of eternally inventing. I like my stories to be original, I want my readers to live and die with my characters, to laugh and cry along with them, and to feel happier after closing the book than they were before they opened it…

There is nothing worse than a book that bores you. Readers put their faith in us by choosing our book over so many others, and the least we can do as writers is not to disappoint them. This is why I try and pay special attention to the rhythm of my story, to make sure it’s a page-turner, and that once you start reading it, you can’t put it down.

The paranormal often makes its appearance in your characters’ lives…

The paranormal elements in my books are a tool I use as a symbol to evoke what really fascinates me: relationships between people, their emotions, the meaning we give to our lives…

At the start of my novels, the characters are firmly based in reality, until a certain event happens that throws them off balance – an event that can’t be rationally explained away. From then on, there are two possibilities: either it is all happening in their imagination, or it’s really happening. And it is this uncertainty, for readers and the protagonists, that really gives flavor to the story.

As a writer, therefore, I use paranormal elements, and the questions it raises, as an effective dramatic tool, but it shouldn’t be taken as esotericism!

A Mix-Up in Heaven is a powerful and original love story. When Afterwards… came out, you mentioned that your novels would always have a romantic theme…

And I still believe they should! After all, love is what makes life interesting, don’t you think?

In Save Me, there is a three tiered love story:

Firstly, we have love at first sight between Sam and Juliette. Love crashes down on them just as they both decided to put their romance lives on hold.

Then we have Grace and Mark, whose relationship is all about what is left unsaid, and the path of a man who, by waiting too long to say how he feels, lost the woman he loves.

Finally, there is the story of motherly love between a mother and her daughter, who she hasn’t seen in ten years.

How do you construct your stories?

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.

More often than not, I know I’ve got a topic for my story when an image comes to me again and again. With  A Mix-Up in Heaven, it was that of a couple in Manhattan: a man and a woman, facing each other through a snowstorm. All I knew was that a few seconds earlier, they had never met, and that this encounter would change their lives.

And from that one picture in my mind, everything progressively fell into place, with a lot of work. I don’t believe in an all-powerful muse of inspiration: I never wait for it to come before I start to write, it’s through working that I am inspired.

In general, I spend a few months refining the structure of a book. I need to know where I’m going, even if I don’t always know how I’m going to get there.

At the same time, I work a lot on my protagonists, I draw up detailed biographies so I can get to know them well. Even if most of this information doesn’t make it into the book, it is essential for the creation of believable characters.

After all that preparation, I start to write, and if everything goes well, the characters start to take on a life of their own, and divert from the path that I have drawn up for them. That’s how twists and turns come about that I could never have imagined at the start! For a writer, that is the most exciting part: when characters try and escape, and make their own choices!

Your novels have a very visual quality. Your previous novel, Afterwards… received an award as Most Adaptable Novel, and will soon be made into a film. How is the adaptation progressing?

Movies are a great source of inspiration for me, and it seems natural for the construction of my plot to resemble that of certain movies, with a certain visual quality, a clear cut structure, and suspenseful development of the story. For certain sequences, I drew inspiration from TV series such as ER, 24 or Alias.

However, a novel has to remain a literary exercise. In particular, I’m referring to the character development of my protagonists, which is always richer in books than in films.

As to the adaptation of Afterwards… It is progressing nicely. The film rights have been bought by Fidélité, who produced, among others, Podium, and François Ozon’s films.

The script is being finished up as we speak, and filming will begin in winter, in New York, in English, with an international cast.

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