Louis Bayard (V.O.)


December 2010


Lire l'interview en français

Hello Louis Bayard, could you tell us more about yourself and your career?

    I’ve been a professional writer since 1995.  Prior to that, I worked in politics – I was a press secretary (attache de presse) for  U.S. Representatives in Congress.  In addition to novels, I write reviews and essays for the Washington Post and Salon.com.    I live in Washington, DC.  I have two sons, aged 10 and (nearly) 8.

What brought you to writing?
    Reading.  I think all writers begin as readers.  We want to have the same impact on other readers that our favorite authors had on us. 

In a general way, where do you find your inspiration?
    From other writers.  And from the need to pay bills—that’s a strong inspiration.  I suppose, too, my own life inspires me, although not always in conscious ways.  Without really intending to, I find myself writing about the themes that are strongest in my own life: love, family, identity, etc. 

 Your new novel “La Tour Noire” has just been published (Le Cherche Midi), could you present it to us?
    It’s a historical mystery featuring Eugene Francois Vidocq, the great detective of early-19th-century Paris.  It concerns the supposed fate of le Dauphin Perdu, Marie Antoinette’s son, who may or may not have died in the Black Tower.

In your novel you are doing a very realistic description of Paris in the beginning of the 19th century, why did you choose in particular to write about the France of that period?

    Vidocq drew me there.  I wanted to catch him at a particular stage of his career, shortly after his rise to prominence but before his decline into scandal, and I ended up in the Restoration – a period that is not very well understood in America.  The more I learned about it, the more intrigued I was.  A time of supposed peace, but with the memory of violence still fresh in people’s minds and the possibility of violence ever present.  A time of societal forgetting in which nothing has been forgotten.

Vidocq is a very colourful character, what brought you to make him become one of the main characters of your novel?
    It was Edgar Allan Poe who introduced us.  In the course of writing my Poe novel, “Un oeil bleu pale,” I reread “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (en francais, “Double Assassinat dans la Rue Morgue”) and there comes a point where the detective, Dupin, makes a slighting reference to one of his predecessors: a gentleman by the name of Vidocq.  I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of him, but I was struck by two things.  1) Dupin felt the need to surpass this Vidocq (much as Sherlock Holmes would one day seek to surpass Dupin).  2) Vidocq needed no further identification.  Poe expected his readers to know who he was.
 And once I learned more about Vidocq’s life and career, I couldn’t believe he wasn’t equally famous today.  He’s at the root of everything – the first modern detective and the first detective novelist.    So it seemed highly fitting to pay him homage by putting him in a detective story of my own devising.

In “Un oeil bleu pale”, it is another real character that you dragged in the fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, could you explain this choice?
     Hm.  “Dragged” makes it sound like he wasn’t willing to come with me.  He was more than happy to be exploited.   I chose Poe because he has had such a profound influence on my own writing and on literature in general.  And, as with Vidocq, I thought it would be amusing to plop him in the middle of a detective story – the genre he helped to create – and have him fend for himself.
What pushed you to use in your novels people who have actually existed?
   I think it gets back to that relationship between reading and writing.  I see all my books as a kind of homage to the writers who’ve influenced me: Dickens, Poe, etc.  Inevitably, either these authors or their characters become grist for my mill.

In your novels you skilfully combine the detective/police and historical genders, what are your influences?
    Among mystery writers, my favorites include Ruth Rendell (esp. her Barbara Vine novels), Richard Price, Iain Pears, Martin Cruz Smith, Dorothy Sayers, Elmore Leonard.  But I read widely in every genre.  In fact, I’ve come to distrust the whole notion of “genre.”  I think a good story is a good story.
Both in “Un oeil bleu pale” and “La tour noire”, your novels take place at the beginning of the 19th century, would you consider writing a book which would take place in the present time?
    Actually, the book I’ve just finished – “The School of Night” – has a contemporary story, set in Washington, DC, which grafted onto a historical narrative.  In addition, my first two books (currently out of print) were modern-day romantic comedies.  One of them, “Endangered Species,” was translated into French, I think.
What would you like to say to readers who don’t know your novels yet?
    Get going!  Vite, vite!
What are your projets/plans?
    I’m happy to say that I’m returning to France for my next book.  Alsace-Lorraine will be the setting, and that’s all I can say, I’m afraid.  (I get superstitious about revealing the storyline, especially when I still don’t know it!)  I’m also going to be teaching creative writing for the very first time at the collegiate level.
Thank you very much Louis Bayard, we will leave you the last word.
    Well, thank you all for reading, first of all.  La prochaine fois que nous parlerons, peut-être, il sera en français.

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