Marc Levy

Q&A with Marc Levy

I was quite a shy and reserved child. Writing allows you to express in words the ideas that you feel unable to say aloud. My father was an art-book publisher and a great reader, and he passed on his love of reading, and of great works and writers, to me. The idea of writing for myself only began to take form much later on, but it quickly became obvious it was my passion.

I got my chance as a writer in a slightly unusual way, and luck played a large part in it. When I started to write the manuscript that would eventually become If Only It Were True , I had no intention of writing a novel – and I certainly had no idea that it would be published. I wrote the story for my son, or rather for the man that he would become one day. I hoped to give him the manuscript when he reached the age at which I wrote it. It was my way of telling him to always pursue his dreams and to never let anyone take them away from him. My sister, who is a screenwriter, encouraged me to send the manuscript to a publishing house – Robert Laffont. They got back to me 8 days later saying they wanted to publish the book. A few weeks after that, Steven Spielberg rang me to say that he wanted to adapt my story for the screen. And so I resigned from the architecture firm where I was a director and I dedicated myself to writing. Since then I have written 16 more books, and I remind myself every day how lucky I am.
My ideas come from everyday life. I like to watch and listen to what's going on around me. But the idea for a story is not the same as the story itself. I carry the characters around with me for a long time, whilst their personalities develop and the plot takes shape. When I've finished my research, when I can answer the question 'What is this story really trying to say?', that's when I'm ready. Then I have my little ritual : I begin by looking for the cover, then I organize my office, keeping only the essentials, finally I get settled, I have several lucky objects, particularly a little photograph of my grandmother, Lili, who watches over me, and then, I begin to write.

There are so many, both French and Anglo-Saxon, but to name just a few : Salinger, Gary, Hemingway, King, Prévert, Hugo, Giono.

Romain Gary. I would love to have been able to speak with him – I would have learnt so much. I would also like to work with certain contemporary writers.

I like a variety of literary genres. I read an eclectic range of books; I've never wanted to confine my love of reading to a single genre.
And it's the same with writing. From novel to novel, I've tried to vary and even, at times, to combine genres. Comedy, fantasy, adventure novel, writing is a realm of limitless freedom. I'm too frightened of boring my readers by always doing the same thing, and besides, I too would get bored by constantly re-writing the same style of book. So each time I find myself exploring new horizons, setting off in different directions, and there's still a lot of uncharted territory to discover...

Probably Ethan Daldry. I don’t know why exactly, but I would really like to have been friends with him, to be able to chat with him for hours, sitting on a bench, looking out over the Bosphorus or the Thames. I often feel very close to my characters and I’m always sad to leave them behind when I finish one of my books.
My novels have been translated in 49 languages. Publication dates vary because of the necessary delays of the translations. In general, a novel published in France comes out a year later abroad, sometimes later because the foreign editors don't necessarily publish my novels in chronological order.

For me, reading and writing are synonymous with freedom. Those privileged moments in which you feel an intimate connection with a book afford a very personal kind of freedom. I read a wide range of works, I’ve never wanted to restrict the pleasure I derive from reading to a single genre or to conform to the opinions of literary critics who tell you what you should and shouldn’t read.
And it’s the same with writing – with each book I’ve made a concerted effort to never limit myself to one genre and to never tell the same story twice. I enjoy alternating the tone of my books: comedy, fantasy, thriller or adventure novel. I would be too afraid of getting bored, or boring those who are kind enough to read my work, to always write within a single genre. With each book, I am able to explore new horizons – and there are still many lands I have yet to discover…But all my books do have two things in common: none of them are reflective introspective, they all tell a story and the sole purpose of that story is to showcase the characters involved. For me, each new novel is an opportunity to encounter new characters who, by the end, feel like friends.

I get butterflies and I’m always full of doubts – is the book really finished, have I missed anything out or written a part badly, why publish it?
That a single sentence could touch a reader, even more, that readers remember characters from my novels… I always miss them when I’m finished writing it.

Actually, there aren’t many jobs where you spend your time on only one task during an entire year. I am a craftsman, I love my job, and I love to work. I am passionate about my job, which is fun and exciting. Each new novel is an opportunity for me to discover a new world and new characters who I’ll always think of as friends.
No, I don’t write for a specific audience -- I wouldn’t even know how to define who that would be. I know that for my first few novels, the readership was mainly women, but then it grew more diverse, especially with London Mon Amour and Children of Freedom . I am lucky to have a readership of all ages, cultures, and nationalities.

I never thought I’d be that successful; I couldn’t even imagine any success at all. I was writing a story for my son and would have never thought that my first novel would carve out the path that it did. Nowadays I still don’t really understand my first novel had. But there is no miracle recipe; that would be too easy. Believe me, before one of my books is published, I never know whether it’s going to reach an audience. I work a lot and am never sure of how it will play out, as writing is a craft. I try to do is convey values that have been passed on me through my stories and characters. Many people share these values, but they don’t always come up everyday life.

Not at all, I don’t really care about success. I want to stay a free man. I am very conscientious about my work, but don’t really take myself seriously. And I have been living abroad for so long that when I’m walking down the street, nobody recognizes me. That puts things into perspective!

Whenever a book is adapted, the story is entrusted to other authors, screenwriters and directors, whose talent cannot be limited to filming the pages of a book. Structural changes are inevitable – a book can take hours to read, but a film has a time limit. Unlike in a film, there are no budget constraints on the story told in a book. For an adaptation to be faithful, what matters is not the cuts that are made, but whether the director wishes to stay true to the characters in the novel. This was the case in the adaptations of London Mon Amour and Finding You, but not in the case of If only it were true .

In a way, I 'sketch' the outline of all my characters, preferring to leave it up to the reader to imagine them as he or she pleases. Books give everyone the freedom to visualise a character, and I think that the novelist's job is to make things felt rather than to show them. I'd like to think that if you were to ask different readers about how they see a certain character, each would have their own description, and I like that idea.

I spent six years at the Red Cross and I could never repay to the Red Cross all that it gave me. I hear those who say that today's world is individualistic, and it's true that society isn't the first to reach out to you, but this doesn't stop you from reaching out to others. When I joined the Red Cross aged 18, I was immediately given a place in society. Nowadays when I support various charities, it's also my way of participating somewhat in the society I live in. That said, I also dream of going back out to work on the field.
I like living abroad. Being in contact with people of a different culture and who speak another language is always very enriching. In addition, it's a daily lesson in humility: nothing is ever a given. Every day you must forget your habits and reflexes, and adapt to the customs of the country where you live, even if they sometimes don't make any sense. I’ve always felt drawn by New York and its energy, its cultural diversity, eclecticism, and dynamic feel… I’ve already lived there, and wrote several chapters of my books there. And it’s not because you live abroad that you love your own country less… On the contrary, often the things you miss have even more prominence in your life. French people living abroad are also ambassadors that help foreigners discover and love their country.
Yes, out of respect for those who are generous enough to read my work and take the time to write to me. So I find it normal to take the time to write them back. I'm not saying that I always write back straight away! When I'm writing, for example, I'm very focused on my novel and I inevitably have less time to read letters or emails from my readers. Even if I'm a bit late, I always make up for it by sending a little note in the end. This connection is very important to me.

Yes: my wife, my agent – who is also my best friend – and Emma Peel, a former officer in the British secret service, who now works as an editor.

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