Q1: Hello, Curtis, and welcome to my blog! How about we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself? How and when did you start writing?
The seasons turn, the world grows old,
The woodland goes from green to gold.
I hate suet. Rice is better.
I mustn’t forget to post that letter.
That’s the opening verse of my first ever poem, called Autumn. It goes on a bit longer but I’ve forgotten the rest. It was called Autumn because Mr. Roberts, the English teacher, asked us to write a poem about autumn. I’d never thought of writing a poem before, but I knew you had to find words that rhyme and while I was at it, I unwittingly threw in a bit of post-modernist subversion. Mr. Roberts really liked it. He was the first teacher to encourage me to write – others followed. Whether they were right to do so is questionable: you catch a bug that you’ll never shake off. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any different, so yes, I’ll say they were right.
I must admit that The Sally Effect, the literary novel over which I laboured for twenty-odd years, was rather difficult to read. The agents I sent it to said, ‘Love the writing but, um… Maybe get rid of twenty-nine of the characters and reduce it to just the one volume, preferably slim?’ It did eventually get published but then the publisher went bust. (I like to think that’s not a relation of cause and effect.) I intend to return to it one day, but in the meantime I’ve found a similar pleasure in writing in a specific genre, crime.
I’ve spent most of my life in France, the last twenty-five years in Provence. When I retired a couple of years ago, I said to myself I’d keep on doing research into Second Language Acquisition – that was the field I was in. But I never did. The free time went into writing up all the ideas that were scattered in a dozen notebooks in my desk.
Q2: Who are your favorite authors and do you think they’ve influenced your work?
I’ve had different favorites at different times of my life. Currently it’s Julian Barnes, Kate Atkinson and Haruki Murakami. I try not to be influenced, but if I managed to combine in a single book what makes each one of them so good, I could happily die. Which means I might be around for quite a while yet.
Q3: What are your biggest achievements? You can include professional and personal ones.
Writing and publishing is an ongoing achievement. It takes a lot of perseverance, but the more you persevere, the greater the satisfaction. As far as my own writing goes, I’m never truly satisfied, but I like to know I did the best I could at that moment. And I’m proud of With Our Eyes Open – that’s an anthology of short stories submitted to a competition I run, now in its second year. The theme was a journey, and I was blown away by the quality of the submissions. The announcement for next year’s competition will come soon, so keep your eyes open!
Q4: Your book Perfume Island is coming out soon; tell us about it. What is it about and what kind of audience is it aimed at?
I lived in Mayotte, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, for two years. It’s a part of France, fifty miles from Comoros, one of the poorest countries in the world. So the situation is tense, to put it mildly. I knew there had to be a story in there, and probably one that Magali Rousseau, my very recently qualified Private Investigator, would get mixed up in. And sure enough, as soon as she gets there, the story starts with a bang. Well, actually, no, because it wasn’t a gun, but a young girl hit by a car. Driven, unfortunately, by Magali’s friend and lover, Charlotte. The question is, why did the girl run out into the road like that? As Magali seeks an answer to that, she delves deeper, at the risk of her own life, into the disturbing reality of Mayotte.
Most of my readers are female, and of course, fans of mystery stories. It’s not cosy mystery – the themes are quite dark. But at the heart of it lies the relationship between Magali and Charlotte.
Q5: I know this book is the second in the Magali Rousseau series; do people need to read Book 1 first or can they go straight to Perfume Island?
There are a few references to events in the first book, One Green Bottle, but they’re standalone books so it’s quite possible to start with Perfume Island. One Green Bottle is the story of Magali’s first case, where she hunts for a serial killer who murdered Charlotte’s son. Although it’s not necessary to start with that, it’s not a bad idea, especially as I offer it free. So before deciding if they want to go on to the second, people get to know not just the characters, but my writing.
Q6: What can we expect from you in the future? More Magali Rousseau or something entirely different?
A couple of more Magali Rousseau stories, the first, Mystery Manor, scheduled for July next year. After that… who knows? I have many ideas jostling for attention, each begging to be picked. The current frontrunner is about the spread of a virus. It’s set in Cambridge, where my daughter lives – which has no bearing at all on the story, but when I go over to stay, I can do lots of research. So at some point, I dare say Magali will step aside to make room for other stories and characters.
Q7: Who is your biggest supporter and what would you like to say to them?
Difficult to pick one out without ruffling feathers. And the ones I’m thinking of know how much they’ve helped. So all I can say is, ‘Thank you. I’ll do my best to maintain the standard which led you to support me in the first place.’
Q8: If you could give other authors one piece of advice, be it about writing, editing, promoting their work or increasing their audience, what would it be?
The only piece that applies to all those is ‘be patient’. Both in writing and publishing. The longer I leave a piece, the better it gets when I come back to edit it, which I do many times – though of course at some point you have to decide that it’s finished. As for promoting, it’s a long-term process and a steep learning curve. I did practically nothing for the launch of One Green Bottle, but since then I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how to prepare the launch of Perfume Island.
Q9: Thank you for doing this interview, Curtis! Lastly, can you tell us where we can find you?
My thanks to you, Dilyana. Though I do my best to support other writers, I’m still a long way from your level of help and commitment!