“I was born in Toulouse, France, in 1967.
One evening, when I was 45 years old, I was watching a movie on TV with my husband. An American hero was single-handedly saving the world, leaving behind a path of death and destruction. Classic.
A quarter of an hour into the film, suddenly, without saying anything, I got up and sat down in front of the computer, with the sound from the TV in the background. I opened a page, and I started to write the story I had been telling myself since... forever!
The fact is that I've been telling myself stories for as long as I can remember. But I thought that, on the one hand, everyone did that, and on the other hand, it didn't matter. Besides, I didn't allow myself to tell myself stories for years, thinking it was ridiculous!
Anyway, there I was, sitting at my computer, typing at breakneck speed, struggling to keep up with my characters’ dialogues running through my head, seeing them as clearly as if I were at the movies. Before dawn, I finally decided to go to bed, because after all, I had a job to feed my family!
Happy at last, I continued writing my story the next evening, and the next, and so on every night after that. I was alone in my head, with my characters. It felt good.
Finally, after a few months, I said to myself, “I have to organize all this.” So I divided it into chapters, working in my own way, feverish, fulfilled. In the meantime, I realized that I was missing some historical details. I started to do research, reading tons of books written at the time of my story, some by well-known authors, but most of them unknown: testimonies of places, thoughts, and ways of life from that time period.
A few months later, I wrote the words THE END and, astonished, I said to myself, “I think I have just written a novel!” I was happy knowing how much I had enjoyed writing it and happy that I had worked like crazy for this: Louise, Part 1, Mistress Mine was born!
At that point, a question arose that I hadn't seen coming: what should I do with it?
I gave my novel to my mom who read it and said:
“Oh, that's it? I thought you would have written something more intellectual!”
“Well, … thanks, Mom?”
After that, I didn't bother anyone else until my godmother called me:
“I heard you've written a book? Can I read it?”
“Sure, why not?”
She loved it. She told me that I have to send it to publishers, that I'm a great novelist, that I remind her of Alexandre Dumas!
Then one of my sisters also gave me her verdict:
“Well, it's a good story and quite a page-turner, but here are some contemporary authors who are much better than you. Learn from them!”
Bam! Some people make you come back down to earth very quickly!
Anyway, my husband said to me:
“Send it to publishers!”
I had a few manuscripts printed and bound. Louise is a big novel, so it was expensive. I sent them off with a return envelope: 19€/shipment. For us, it was a big deal. But I did it anyway...
In the meantime, I felt so sad to have left Louise! With a big void in my heart, with a terrible feeling of idleness, I opened a new blank page on my computer, convinced that Louise, Mistress Mine was the only story I had in the stock of my imagination.
I was wrong! As easily as I had written Louise, Mistress Mine, I wrote, to my astonishment, Louise, Part 2, Where are you roaming? More work, new background research, and a year later, I had finished.
In the meantime, manuscript mailings continued their incessant back and forth, and my pile of rejection letters was growing implacably. But I didn’t care— I loved working on telling my stories. Once again, I thought I had given everything I had.
But then I wrote Elfie. I was off on new adventures, and I was having a great time!
My manuscripts came back with or without rejection letters, all of which sounded the same... except for two: two editors who had really read my novels wrote me a manuscript letter explaining their refusal. They appreciated the qualities of my novels— the writing, plot, subject matter— but did not have the courage to take a risk on an unknown author, especially a long novel or serial format, even though they are real page-turners. That made me feel good: my novels don't fit in the boxes, but they have value.
Physically exhausted, I was working during the day and writing at night. Emotionally exhausted by the rejections, which I must admit, were discouraging. Financially exhausted by the mailings, I stopped submitting my manuscripts. And that was such a relief!
Without the pressure of submitting, I then wrote the long novel Calixte, divided into two parts: Calixte 1, The Sound of the Sun, and Calixte 2, The Smell of the Snow. This one required a lot of rewriting and even more concentration than usual, partly because of a nasty character whom I don't like... because he's mean! I find it hard to deal with a bad guy living inside my head every day. And partly because of the construction of the book which was a real puzzle to make the story easy to read.
In short, I finished Calixte and realize that this novel is even longer than the others! I didn't even bother to send it off to publishers who are more than a little reluctant to take a chance on this kind of format with an unknown author who is no longer a spring chicken!
Because it has to be said: age matters.
But then, why did I start writing so late in my life?
My life has not been a long quiet river! What life is? When I was young, I was lost without knowing it. When I was thirty-three, and my two children were one and two, I not only realized that I was lost, but I also understood why.
I started suffocating at night, my heart was racing and beating too fast. I woke up in pain thinking I was having a heart attack. But my physical heart was fine and my body was fine.
So one day I pushed open the door to a psychologist:
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“I don't want what happened to me to happen to my children,” I replied. “When I was 11 years old, I was assaulted by four young men in a pedestrian tunnel under a railway line.”
Of course, there’s more to it than that. It takes weeks and weeks of crying and handkerchiefs to get this kind of thing out of you.
Then I burned both my arms and ended up in the hospital. I went back to the psychologist who told me, “Well, now that's done!”
“What's done?” I asked.
“When you can't go after the people who hurt you,” she explained, “you go after yourself.”
Damn, if she had told me that before, I would have knocked down a wall with an iron bar! It would have saved me from spending six months with my arms skinless and bandaged while having to take care of my two small children still in diapers.
But finally, I was happy. I had laid down on the side of the road the burden that was suffocating me, that was preventing me from being me. Then, it took me a few more years to regain possession of this "me". I had misunderstood myself for more than two decades, so it took some time!
You know what happened next: I started writing the stories I liked. No, not right away... I started by listening again to the music I like: classical music, Beethoven, Rossini, Verdi... It was with Beethoven in mind that I wrote Louise.
Moving forward in my own reflections, I realized that if I had had more confidence as a girl and as a woman, first of all, I would have been able to talk about what had happened sooner, and secondly, I would not have downplayed the significance of an assault that paralyzed my life for so many years.
Around that time, I was watching a TedX Talk one evening with my daughter, and we came across Naomi McDougall Jones, an American actress and filmmaker who was calling out male supremacy in Hollywood. She explained that if we women and girls see only male heroes, and actresses playing only secondary roles to the men, we would never in our whole lives feel like we have the right to be the main characters in our own lives, to be the decision-makers in our own lives.
I was struck by this fact. I sent an email to Naomi, telling her that I wanted to support women's cinema. This was followed by an exchange of emails and Skype calls. We got to know each other a little. Naomi and other women were in the process of setting up THE 51 FUND , an American production company for films written and directed by women with female lead roles. She invited me to be part of the adventure. I said yes. What an adventure! Since then, I became Founding General Partner of THE 51 FUND. Since then, we’ve had our fair share of obstacles in the way, including COVID. But last year, we had good news to announce: Cusp , produced by THE 51 FUND, was selected at the Sundance festival 2021. I am very honored and happy to participate in this beautiful women's project.
As for my novels, I was asked why their main characters were women. You’ve just read part of my answer. But I would rather ask the question: Why is it that male authors are never asked why their main characters are men?
And why the 19th century? There's no mystery there— it’s because I've always loved that century! A personal preference, that's all. Everything about it inspires me: the music, painting, literature, poetry, clothing, horses. Perhaps it’s the romantic side of myself that I’m finally embracing?
Another question I was asked: how do I make a living? One might be tempted to answer with a question: Why is it anyone else’s business?
But I will answer:
I was an independent entrepreneur for twenty years with my husband. We ran a very small local business consisting of my husband and myself, plus a few extras when needed. A small family business is not just about money as some people who have never had a business may think.
It is a lot of work, of emotional, physical and financial investment, challenges, worries, hopes, disappointments. You have to have a strong will to survive it. It's all about human relations and having faith in what you do— and you must keep the faith (or else go crazy!) when the income is below expectations and does not cover all your working hours. Unfortunately, many restaurants and bookstores in France have experienced this since the pandemic hit in 2020.
On this subject, I also go to bookstores, mostly second-hand, because I read mainly 19th century authors and I buy editions as old as my wallet will allow! Because, yes, booksellers have good advice. I discovered some 18th century French authors that I had never heard of.
But the book market is a jungle, I realized this in spite of myself.
On the one hand, publishers as entrepreneurs are very, very skittish!
My novels, apart from Violette and Napoleon, are considered "long" nowadays. Until recently, I was “unknown,” and my books are not easily pigeonholed. So publishers think I'm hard to sell. This I understand. In short, I realized that a publisher will only be interested in my work when I am well-known. That in order for my novels to end up on bookstore shelves, I must first be known on Amazon, and sell books there. See the vicious circle?
So I have to manage on my own, which I am happy to do— it's my dream, it's my life. After searching in many different directions, it turns out that Amazon gives me, as an indie author, the most visibility, and for free. In fact, it's either Amazon or nothing.
I only mention this because in France, some self-righteous people with clout are railing against this online behemoth and forcing everyone into a thoughtless and dictatorial intransigence. Basically, according to them, if you are not "against" this website, then you must be a bad citizen.
(On this subject, it might be a good idea to ask the question: who puts their books on sale on Amazon, apart from an independent author like me who has no influence on bookstore sales? It's the publishing houses! They say they support bookstores, but they sell directly on Amazon.
I think that booksellers should first and foremost turn against the publishing houses that put their books up for sale on this site behind their backs. Amazon can only sell the products that are offered to them. Moreover, thousands of small, local French companies use this platform to sell, in France and abroad, what they could not do alone. And the more they sell, the more taxes they pay in France...
Well, there you go, that was the big parenthesis.)
In short, in 2019, having suffered from osteoarthritis for fifteen years, and our work being very physical, the doctor told me that if I didn't stop this work, I would lose my arms! I had to stop working in our small business, which meant closing down the business and putting my husband out of work. My husband and I agreed to close the business on December 31, 2019, without having found a buyer and without unemployment income to live on afterwards. (In France, bosses get nothing when they are out of work.)
But we had a plan: my husband was going to find a job that would be enough for us to live on (we're not greedy materially, thank goodness!), so I could devote myself to my writing and find a readership.
Unfortunately, it was terrible timing: the first lockdown meant that all the job interviews were canceled (My husband is a chef). Finally, he found a job from June to October 2020, 350 miles away. It was better than nothing. When he came back home, he started looking for another job for the winter season, but the lockdown hit again, and restaurants were banned from opening. It was hard on the bank account and hard on morale.
But my school age children, my husband and I have a huge asset: love and hope.
And besides... I write love and adventure novels, I have to get my inspiration from somewhere, don't I?”
Finally, in 2021, three amazing things happened:
First of all, CUSP, the feature documentary produced by THE 51 FUND, with Gabrielle Dubois and other investors, has been a huge hit and is now available on SHOWTIME. It won a special Jury Prize for emerging filmmakers at the SUNDANCE Film Festival in 2021. Congratulations to directors Isabel Bethencourt and Parker Hill! CUSP won the Jury Prize for best full-length independent American film at the Champs Élysées Film Festival , and was selected for the Austin Film Festival 2021 held in Texas.
Next, Gabrielle Dubois and THE 51 FUND produced three new films by women filmmakers in the fall of 2021, which is quite a feat! Unfortunately, the #metoo movement has not changed anything, and women still need money and support to get their stories out and let their voices be heard.
Finally, after the two-book Louise series, the six-book ELFIE series is now being translated into English. For this novel that addresses more feminist themes, Marybeth Timmermann, a longtime translator of Simone de Beauvoir, has been chosen. There is no doubt that Elfie will soon gain a wide audience in both the UK and the USA!