Q & A

Here are some Questions that Faber and Faber put to all their authors.

At school I was terrible at . . . Maths

When I was a child my favourite book was . . .The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster (which was full of Maths).

I started writing when / because . . . I started writing at 16, when my parents left England for Australia. I moved in with my elder sister and her boyfriend and began to produce very gloomy short stories, featuring a great deal of rain, peripheral teenage sex and acute observations about the multiformity of kitchen stains. Why did I do this? To appease my emergent tendency to try and build sentences out of every new experience.

The hardest part of writing a novel is . . . For me, finishing. Not only is it hard to leave the imaginary world and the characters within it, it is hard technically for me to wind things up without betraying my initial ambition for the story. I have a tendency to fear the ending, and the unconscious desire to botch it (by having them all die in a hideous car crash) as if to do so is to elude inevitable failure by simply not trying hard enough.

I work best when . . . My children are out.

I wish I’d written . . . Anna Karenina

If I wasn’t a writer I would . . . Be a transplant surgeon or a country and western singer.

The most underrated writer is . . . Andre Dubus

My favourite short story is . . . ‘A Perfect day for Bananafish’ by J.D Salinger

The most romantic piece of writing I’ve ever read is . . . The love scene between the 36 year-old exorcist, Cayetano Delaura and his 12 year-old subject, Sierva Maria in Garcia Marquez’s ‘Of Love and Other Demons.’ (And the ‘fiacre scene’ in Madame Bovary).

My favourite bookshop is . . . Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France.

My literary five-a-side football team would include . . . If they were writing and not playing football: Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, Leon Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert and Cormac McCarthy.

The finest and most disappointing film adaptation are . . The finest would Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ and the worst would be Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ in the hands of Philip Kaufman and Daniel Day-Lewis.

If I listen to music when I write I usually put on . . . Never, ever do that.

I am kept awake at night by . . . Snoring (my own), children, or fear of death.

My guiltiest pleasure is . . . watching figure skating. And enjoying it. Even crying over it.

My favourite all-time TV show has to be . . .
Deadwood (HBO’s drama series set in a lawless gold prospecting town in 1870s America)

If I could go back in time I would . . . Be a divorced heiress in early 18th century France.

29 thoughts on “Q & A

  1. Hi Lucy,

    I have a few questions if you’re of a mind:-

    If Napoleon had won at Waterloo …

    My best excuse for avoiding working is …

    Literary kudos or Fame n’ Fortune? (You can’t choose both!) …

    Beatles or Rolling Stones? …

    France / UK / Other for retirement? …

    Three things still to do …

    I would like to be remembered for …

    Hope they’re not too intrusive.

    Feel free to ignore any / all of them (I wouldn’t blame you!)

    Warm regards,
    Gary

  2. If Napoleon had won at Waterloo … My imagination doesn’t stretch that far.

    My best excuse for avoiding working is … The children.

    Literary kudos or Fame n’ Fortune? (You can’t choose both!)… As the probability of literary kudos recedes, I fear I’ll have to settle for the ‘F’ words.

    Beatles or Rolling Stones? …Beatles

    France / UK / Other for retirement? …Other (Don’t know where yet)

    Three things still to do …The Menopause, A great novel, Death.

    I would like to be remembered for …A great novel.

    Thanks, Gary. Your questions made be smile.

    L

  3. I have read A PERFECT DAY FOR BANANA FISH to many people many times, aloud and with meaning and purpose.

    Love the Malkovich story too. Curious Mr. Smith promised some story but didn’t come up with it…. would love to hear that too!

    M.

  4. Having discovered The Secret Life of France by accident (Daunts in Marylebone High St) and just finished reading it I want to tell you how much my wife and I enjoyed it and how much it taught us. We too live in the Cevennes and I too just now am in the excellent hands of the French medical service. I hope they are doing you as much good as they are to me and that you will be fully back in action soon. Meanwhile many thanks and congratulations once more on a marvellous book. (You can read a review I put on Amazon).

  5. Hi Lucy,

    Just finished reading your book whilst enjoying a week in Brittany with my French girlfriend and her family. I have to say, being a non – French speaker and still being relatively new to French traditions and culture, the book was a life saver.

    Every-time I needed an English rest-bite to get away from the confusion caused by my adopted French family your book was the saviour.

    There is so much I have been able to relate to, from French Vanity, to the French love of turning a ‘blind eye’. It’s been a reassuring read and provided me with a good understanding of our moral differences. Your Film and musical references have also provided good talking points and new discoveries for myself and my girlfriend.

    Are there any plans to publish the book in French? As I would love for some friends to read the book.

    Thanks

  6. hi lucy ,
    thank you so much for this book , i learned so much about my own country , and the english point of view of it , even if my partner is english and we live in england..
    i gave the book to my friend who is able to read in english , unfortunally my mum and sister aren’t, would you be able to tell me if there is a french version of it yet …
    When i finished reading it , i just wanted to meet you to hug you ( not so french manner!!!)) and talk about it more& more …
    thank you..
    A

  7. Having emigrated to Southern France 17 years ago with wife + two daughters I must confess that this is without any doubt the best foreign book on the subject. Too bad, it was not available at that time. But then we would have missed all the new discoveries which you describe so well. Thank you so much.

    J.C. Liesecke, LtCol German Army ret.

  8. I read the Secret Life of France last summer. I used to work in the Pyrenees many years ago and always had ‘mixed feelings’ about ‘the French’. Your book clarified so many things and when I went on holiday to the South of France and Corsica last year, I viewed people differently and felt more at home with the locals as a result of your perceptions. So, thank you. I have now just completed Greater Love, which I enjoyed immensely. I put it forward as a book club book and so far I have had very positive feedback. I really wanted to go and be looked after by such a warm and loving family in the Moroccan mountains! I just wondered, and I am not very religious, but just curious, did you paint the muslim traditions in such a beautiful light as a result of your comments about Sarkozy’s comments about religion? Was your attitude brought about by anti-Sarkozyism or have you been truly won over in some romantic way? Just wondered …. Anyway, I thought the book was fab. Thanks again

  9. Dear Suzanne

    Thank you for writing. I’m so glad the book helped you to enjoy the French more.

    Thank you, too, for reading ‘Greater Love’ and for suggesting it to you book club. To answer your question about the Muslim characters in the book, they were certainly not born of any political views I might have. The sheikh and his family were mostly inspired by French Muslims I had met and spent time with, as well as people I encountered while on holiday in the Atlas. As for the minutiae of their traditions, that was a mixture of research and conjecture. I just worked on the assumption that all religions have embedded inside them something worthy and beautiful and that there are plenty of people out there whose humanity draws them to those aspects of their religion rather than to the dogma and the prejudice.

    Anyway, I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it and that it may yet live a second life!

    Warmly,

    Lucy

  10. Lucy,

    Just finished an article in a late July issue of the New Yorker about Elisabeth Badinter. Have you written anything about her? Any comments. The article is quite complimentary, with a few caveats.

    Love you and hope to see you and Ben and the kids soon.

    Gros Bises.
    /chase

  11. I’m a Pole living in UK. In many parts of the book you could substitute France and the French with Poland and the Polish, especially in the chapters about health and education; it opened my eyes to many cultural differences I couldn’t see or identify before.
    But … I think you’ve compromised some facts for the sake of style, especially when you wrote that Poland (Estonia and Lithuania) slaughtered around 90 per cent of their Jews. From among all nations it was actually the Polish people who saved the most Jews, over 6000 of them were awarded Righteous among the Nations. There were instances when the Poles killed Jews, there’s no denying that, but it were the Nazis who killed them in Ghettos and in Nazi (not Polish!) concentration camps in Poland. Living in occupied Poland was a different story than living in occupied France, the terror actually was directed against the Polish as well.
    Estonia … 25% of Estonians were killed during WWII by Nazis and Soviets.
    You may have the point with Lithuania, where actually it were the Nazi collaborators who played a big part in the exterminations of the Jews.

  12. I was actually being unjust to the Lithuanians, the Estonians and the Polish did collaborate as well. You are, however accusing my nation of killing 3 million Jews.

  13. As a non-french, non-english reader, I regard “the secret life of France” as a little gem for those interested in the English worldview, as you put it on your blog. In my opinion, not only does it ilustrate us about the French, but it also discloses much of your own country´s mindsets. Thanks a lot, I could not put it down until I finished the last sentence.

  14. As you have stated in your book that Poland killed 90% of their Jews , why should I give any credence to any content of your book.

    Was this a deliberate slur, or just a lack of historical perspective on your part ?

  15. Dear Piqued,

    What I actually wrote was this: “In Poland the Holocaust took more than 3 million Jewish lives and 8 per cent survived, while in France seventy-five thousand Jews died and 72 per cent survived.”

    I think you’ll find that these figures, taken from Serge Klarsfelt’s research, are accurate.

    Ewa’s point sprang from a sentence in the book that has since been changed because it was not clear. I did not mean to suggest that the Polish population killed 90% of its Jews.

    Here is the corrected sentence:

    “Compared to Poland, Estonia and Lithuania where around 90% of the Jewish population was killed, France – even with the complicity of Vichy – was one of the countries in Nazi-occupied Europe where the largest number of Jews survived.”

    Best wishes

    Lucy

  16. Lucy, thank you for your reply. I suggest Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder to understand Ewa’s point about comparing living in occupied France to living in occupied Poland.

  17. Bonjour Lucy
    I have just finished your excellent ‘the secret life of France’ on kindle and now realize that you have updated it and wonder whether it is worth going for that one too? I have just reviewed it on Amazon. Also because I had withdrawal symptoms (love your writing style) downloaded ‘heads and straights’ which I read in a couple of hours. Particularly interesting because I worked for your father at PRADS for a short interlude in an earlier life and found him absolutely terrifying at the time because I was pretty hopeless at the job and was always incurring his wrath!
    Keep on writing.
    Jenny vandy

  18. Wow, Jenny. How extraordinary that you worked for my Dad! I think he went by the name of GW and was indeed terrifying. Not for his daughters, by the way. His threats of coming upstairs with a slipper if we didn’t go to sleep were met with gales of laughter. When were you at PRADS? Was it in the days of the Afghan coat, or the sober suits?
    To help you decide whether you invest in the revised edition of SLo, it has four fairly lengthy new chapters that cover the period from the fall of Sarkozy, through the DSK affair and into Hollande. The more personal stuff includes an account of leaving Paris for the wild, my (very different) life in the Cevennes, and having cancer in France (which I’ve tried to keep light).
    I’m starting a writing course on Memoir today and feeling terrified.
    Take care
    Lucy

  19. I remember your father wearing smart grey suits which suited his thick prematurely grey hair but I think he sometimes wore the Afghan coat too. Always a black brief case…… There were three of us girls dealing with clients and sorting out press releases – should have been simple and certainly the two other girls found it so but I nearly always managed to send out press releases on the wrong headed paper and because he was in a glass partitioned office in the same room as us I can always remember on more or less a weekly basis, noticing him looking dreadfully upset and agitated during a ‘phone call from one of his clients and his furious gaze focusing upon me. He would then lob something at the partition ( a shoe usually) and he would then beckon me into his office for a terrifying “discussion”.
    I stayed about 6 months and hope that I didn’t contribute to the downfall of PRADS! I think I was there in the early 70s but have sort of blanked most of that experience out of my mind for obvious reasons! I remember the Jenson (red I think?)
    You definitely resemble him facially Lucy.
    I will order the new SLOF in book form but how will I know ( on Amazon) whether it is the revised edition or the one I have already read on kindle?
    ‘Bonne chance’ with the course and enjoy it!
    BW
    Jenny

  20. Sounds like somebody should have taken him to an industrial tribunal. (They probably did). What a nightmare, Jenny. I’d like to apologise on his behalf.

    I’m not sure about the Kindle edition of the revised version of SLoF and can’t find it on Amazon. I just sent an email to Faber asking them and will get back to you with the answer.

    All best wishes

    Lucy

  21. Don’t worry Lucy all really funny in retrospect, long, long ago too!
    Look forward to finding out about your revised edition. Would buy the actual book anyway not on kindle this time as my husband would enjoy reading it too!
    Best wishes
    Jenny

  22. Hello Lucy all the way from South Africa. A slightly odd request if I may. I have in my possession a cutting from the FT Weekend of 24/25 March 2010. which contained an excerpt from The Secret Life Of France. The reason I have hung on to it for so long is that it has a most compelling photo – presumably from the book – of a group of riders on white horses preparing to herd bulls through the streets for a “fete votive”, and I have long wanted to track down and purchase a copy of that photo for blowing up and framing. The attribution in the article is Marc Aubry; Alamy, but a search of the Alamy website turned up nothing. Can you help me? Should I take it up with your agent or publisher?
    Kind regards
    Paddy Kell

  23. Hi Paddy.
    So sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I initially thought the photo in question was by my husband, Ben Nason (as he’s taken images of Fetes Votives) but it is, as you say, by Marc Aubry whom I don’t know. The image didn’t appear in the book (there were no photos in Secret Life of France) and I’m afraid I have no idea how you might get your hands on it. You could try the FT…
    Sorry not to have been more helpful.
    Warmest wishes,
    Lucy

  24. Thanks Lucy I’ll try the FT. Their website is extraordinarily unhelpful in that regard but perhaps a phone call will unlock some doors. In the meantime I have downloaded your book and look forward to reading it.

    All the best
    Paddy

  25. Hi Lucy,

    My name is Maeve, I’m 22 from london and studying French at university. As an aspiring journalist and (at least before reading your book) with ambitions to one day move to France permanently, I found the Secret Life of France incredibly compelling and excellently written… Your style of writing is ‘impeccable’, and reading your book has genuinely inspired me in more ways than one. I feel like I have lived this book, and almost as if I know you, it really is bizarre and there are few books that have had such an effect on me. I have just spent the last year living in France on my year abroad, in Carcassonne (quite close to where you live in the Cevennes I understand) and I can relate to your social, cultural and even political observations of “La vie française” so well. The pursuit of beauty, to the lack on kinship between women, to the deplorable amount of bureaucracy, and ESPECIALLY your remarks on the education system. I have just spent the year teaching in a lycée and I can say, hand on heart, that I am tout à fait d’accord with your opinion on the system. Weirdly enough, my ex boyfriend who I have broken up with fairly recently and who I was with for 3 years, is at Oxford and hence I spent a lot of my time living in the oxford bubble. It is such a particular way of life, which you can only really know if you have lived it, and I found a lot of your remarks about oxford rang true with me.

    I have been reading aloud excerpts of your book to my girlfriends whilst reading it, and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing and commenting on whether we agree with certain aspects and what we have experienced personally in relation to the life you have lived in France.

    But to stop fan-girling and get to the point, I am writing my dissertation on the concept of Laïcité, which I found to be one of the most perplexing and nuanced parts of my séjour en France… In fact I have just come across one of your blogs about secularism in schools which I am excited to read. You reference laicité quite a lot in your book and I feel that we see eye to eye on it, in that we perhaps agree with the underlying principle but that in practice it is stifling and makes religion a complete taboo in modern day french society. (I certainly noticed that working in my lycée.)

    I am currently au pairing for a french family in the Dordogne for 6 weeks, before I return to London, but I was wondering if there was any chance at all that you would consider meeting me for a kind of informal interview on your views on Laïcité, in more detail, either in France or in London.

    My email is maevecampbell646@gmail.com, if you would like to get in touch, I would be incredibly grateful and would love to meet you in person.

    Hope to hear from you if your internet is up and working in the beautiful farmhouse in the Cevennes (I’m sure it is as I’m aware that you wrote Secret Life a good few years ago now), and that you’re not still getting too many powercuts…

    I am writing to you from my personal wordpress blog page (maevewritesblog.wordpress.com) so if you want to have a look at my writing, feel free to, there’s quite a few with French themes…

    Regards,
    Maeve Campbell

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