As a writer, there are a few questions I often get asked. I thought that, compiled, they would make a good introduction.
Why did you choose to write in English?
A combination of factors led me to writing in English. First, I had an incredible English teacher when I was sixteen – a woman called Mme Sémichon – who gave us short stories to read, and made us write and perform short pieces of dialogue. Thanks to her, I began to understand in greater depth the workings of the language, and for the first time I saw its beauties, the possibilities it offered. English is, in many ways, more flexible, more adaptable than French. With English, you can put a noun and an adjective together and create a new adjective: a blue-eyed girl. You can turn a noun into a verb, and everyone will understand: I googled it. And, perhaps most amazingly, there are a multitude of verbs for the act of looking – gaze, watch, glance, glare, stare, gape, peer – when French mostly has one, regarder. I liked the precision of English, its sharpness (did you know that, when a book is translated from English into French, it grows on average 25% longer?). Of course, there are also things that are possible in French but not in English – words that are more precise in that language, too – but English grammar still delights me.
The other thing that led to me writing in English was fanfiction. I always loved to watch TV series (some favourites include Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Good Wife, and Castle) and, once I began watching these shows in English, it seemed strange to write about them in French. Castle and Beckett spoke English – and so, when I made up my own stories about them, I did it in that language.
Do you also write creatively in French?
I used to, but I haven’t done it in a long time. I still read novels in French (a favourite at the moment is Marie-Aude Murail’s YA series, Sauveur & Fils) and I write cards and letters to friends. I’m really interested in translation – I have a few projects, from French to English and from English to French, which at the moment are mostly fledglings – but I don’t know if I will go back to French for my creative writing.
Any writers who inspire you?
The dreaded question: there are so many! When I was in my teens, Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials was a big influence on me. I remember reading about Will and Lyra, completely captivated; I also remember thinking, perhaps for the first time: ‘I wish I could do that with words. I wish I could write words that would make someone else feel the way I feel, right now, reading The Amber Spyglass.’ Among French YA writers, I loved Pierre Bottero, Danielle Martinigol, Malika Ferdjoukh, Erik L’Homme. Their books allowed me to step into different universes, to travel into space and sit on the back of dragons.
More recently, I discovered Elena Ferrante while reading for my PhD. Her Neapolitan tetralogy is one I will read again and again. Tessa Hadley’s novels and short stories always transport me. Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace is a wonder. And I always return to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, because the premise of that novel is so unexpected and fascinating, and Ursula has become a friend.
Any words of advice for a budding writer?
Be joyful. Experiment. Don’t be worried about the result. This is something fanfiction did for me: it gave me a supportive platform where I could share my work and get feedback, practice and improve. Read widely, too – there are so many books out there which will teach you something. Read and write; write and read. Don’t compare yourself to others. Think about what interests you as a writer: what are you passionate about? What is an important question you want to explore? I read somewhere, once, that all writing should seek to answer a question. For me, that’s true.