We all know that Simenon is the father of Commissaire Maigret, a fat policeman in the French Brigade Criminelle with a penchant for staring down suspects, and that all through the 20th century he was considered a literary phenomenon.
But exactly how phenomenal is not so well known.
For example, I didn’t know that he had written some 250 novels in his lifetime, plus 150 novellas as well as three autobiographical novels. Or that it took him about 10 days on average to write a book. Or that he regularly wrote (and published) three books a year.
I recently watched on ARTE TV 7 a documentary that cobbled together a series of interviews with Simenon and snippets of the numerous films that were made from his books.
It was an eye-opener.
What was nice about this documentary is that you only got Simenon talking about himself and his work, no silly comments from an off-line voice. Simenon even regaled us with a couple of old childhood songs (saying that was the advantage of growing old, you could remember them). He sang in a croaky voice totally out of tune and laughingly admitted to having no ear.
Here’s the link to ARTE if you want to view the film: click here. And I hope for you that the link works – it doesn’t here in Italy where I live, I have no idea why. Instead, I found this video on YouTube, done in 2003 by Arte to celebrate Simenon’s 100th anniversary (born in 1903, he died in 1989). It does work and provides a lot of the same info:
Before I get to the gems he dropped about himself, here are some breaking news of my own about Luna Rising, not really a genre novel…Sorry about that Simenon! We are compatriots, I’m Belgian too, but we haven’t followed the same path, I don’t write detective stories (grin). Actually, my Luna Rising is the ultimate cross-genre novel, starting out as a paranormal romance and ending as a techno-thriller when Tony Luna, an American computer whiz kid finds his start-up under attack from the Russian and Sicilian mafia in an unholy alliance. The stakes rise when the woman he loves is kidnapped in Moscow… (Hello Simenon, here I get closer to you!)
BREAKING NEWS: AMAZON COUNTDOWN DEAL for Luna Rising, the Full Saga (volumes 1-3) starting today 27 February at 99 cents and climbing by one dollar each day, $1.99 on 28 February, $2.99 the day after etc until it’s back to its original price of $4.99. Don’t miss out on the deal, get your copy before the price goes up! Grab it here
Back to Simenon’s gems:
- Family and religion: By the time he was 12, he realized he couldn’t stand his family or the Catholic religion, he saw them all as victims of the system and that was something he didn’t want to become, in short, he was (nearly) a born rebel;
- Politics: He never got interested in politics because he felt politicians didn’t have power; the real power in his view, was always in the hands of big corporations and big banks;
- Writing pulp: Colette was his mentor, the first critic of his works and she told him off for writing in a literary form; “make it simple” she chided him, “no extra words, no unnecessary descriptions, read pulp fiction!”; he did, he read every cheap book he could lay his hands on, and within months started to produce his detective stories – the Maigret series, some 75 books – saying that they were really easy to write: the plot was pushed forward by the Commissaire himself!
- Writing speed: He wrote on an old typewriter, hitting the keys as fast as he could and never going back (in those days, corrections were a time-consuming process): he liked Bach fugues and all his life, wished he could write at that speed, keeping the rythm!
- Branding and Book Promotion: He launched his first Maigret book through a fantastic PR operation: he rented a theater and threw a huge party in Paris that he called the “bal anthropométrique” asking his guests to put their thumb on real police ID cards (!); it was reported the next day in the Figaro, and voilà, his book became an instant success!
- Literary Relationships: He didn’t like literary types – he felt they were a closed group, a mutual-admiration society that he never wanted to belong to yet he became great friends with André Gide , the grand old man of French letters. Gide astounded him with the first question he asked when they first met: “Where did you first get the idea for your ‘personnage’?” Simenon thought he meant “character” and that he was asking him about Commissaire Maigret; but that wasn’t the case at all. Gide wanted to know how he, Simenon, had come across the concept of his image – the image he projected in the literary world!
In fact, I think that is what is most interesting about Simenon: he is not only one of the founding fathers of genre literature but also a master at “brand” building.
He certainly does look like everybody’s idea of a detective and a writer rolled into one!
What all this suggests for today’s digital writer is:
1. If you can, don’t stay entirely digital – try to create social events in real life with real, physical readers!
2. Pick a persona and stick to it, brand building is a daily job.
3. Read in the genre you’ve picked to write in and read as extensively as you can;
4. Write fast, write a lot (Simenon was capable of writing up to 80 pages a day) and don’t edit anything before you’re finished so that you don’t lose the momentum.
And one last thing: good luck!
What’s your take on Simenon’s lessons for fellow writers? And as a reader, do you enjoy him?
Photo credit: see Georges Simenon Wikipedia