Friday, December 4, 2009

INTERVIEW: Claude Izner - French Author of Murder on the Eiffel Tower: A Victor Legris Mystery

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Claude Izner, who is actually the nom de plume of two French sisters, Liliane Korb born in 1940 and her sister Laurence Lefevre born 1951 who wrote hugely successful books.

After colorful and separate careers they started working together as secondhand booksellers on the Right Bank of the Seine in Paris many years ago. They are experts on nineteenth-century Paris.

The sisters have been writing together for over ten years. Their early novels written together were targeted at younger readers, and the two sisters turned to detective fiction since 1999. They jointly write the popular Victor Legris series of crime novels. Legris is a bookseller in the late 19th-century Paris, who is also an amateur detective. The books were originally bestsellers in France.

Liliane initially worked as chief editor before becoming a bookseller. She has participated in writing several of audiovisual performances and plays.

Laurance becomes a bookseller at the same time as her sister in 1970’s. Alongside her work as publisher she wrote two novels for adults in which from the society of men of letters an award.

E.I. Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Please tell us more about Laurence Lefèvre -- one of the women behind the Claude Izner num de plume?

C. I. When I was a teenager ? Well, I was a rather lonely person, who liked to dream and above all to read, all sorts of novels, plays and poems. Not only mystery stories, but also science-fiction, XIXth century english litterature such as Dickens and the Brontë sisters, American novels (Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, Richard Wright, Carson Mac Cullers,etc...), Russian novels (Tolstoï, Dostoieveski) or plays (Tchekhov), and so forth. But also comics (Tintin by Hergé !)

And who liked to go to the movies. I still do !

E. I. What is it about the art form of writing detective mystery that enchants you the most?

C.I. Lilian and I like to give us challenges : will we be able to invent a mystery and to solve it ? It gives us a frame inside which to put everything we are fond of, humour, tenderness, popular language, and of course a little fear (not too much !) And our love for old Paris.

But we wrote many other kind of books, in particular for children, so we do not consider ourselves "crime specialists"!

E.I. How do you imagine audience as you are writing your detective novels? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

C.I. We do not imagine our audience, let them forgive us ! We think that we must first entertain ourselves, in order to please other people. We talk a lot. We make "sketches" exactly as, I think, a painter. We try some "tricks", if we are not satisfied we cut them off, we try other ones ! It is long and tiring but worth while! It thrills us.

The walls...I live in a small flat, so the papers are in drawers or on the table where my computer awaits me!

E.I. What was your biggest challenge in developing the character of the Parisian bookseller, Victor Legris in your book “Murder on the Eiffel Tower”? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story? How did you overcome these challenges?

C.I. The bigest challenge ? To make Victor and Tasha, and all the characters around them, as real as possible, To re-invent 1889 Paris so as to insert in all that stuff a non-realistic story - as are almost all criminal stories!

We had no ideas of what would come off the magical hat ! It was like building a house : you have to put a brick after another...and look at the result : is the house a solid one ?

E.I. How much of Victor Legris life is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with any of your characters?

C.I. Nothing is planned. Of course, each year we write a book taking place in a chronological suite, from 1889 to 1900 (we are now in 1898). We know that some changes will happen in Victor's and other characters'life, but we invent by and by ! We try to ignore where we go, to be "fresh" and inventive...except with the central plot which is the main bone of the skeleton...and the biggest challenge !

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “Murder on the Eiffel Tower” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans?

C.I. The page that I would choose would be the first I wrote, the very first of the series, which begins in the american edition p.5 by these words : "Wearing a tight new corset that creaked with every step, Eugénie Patinot walked down Avenue des Peupliers.". I wrote it in summer, without any documentation except an old map of Paris, and without guessing what would be Eugénie's fate ! We still know this phrase by heart ! Then, some weeks later, Lilian wrote the prologue.
And the adventure began, for us !

E.I. How do you weave so much suspense and elements of information into your stories and yet you keep them so fast-paced?

C.I. It is for us a mystery ! We choose a short part in one year, we invent a plot, a plan, chapter after chapter. Then we search in old newspapers and books what happened during these weeks. Then...the ideas some !

We have to try to put some order in all these informations ! We like a fast rythm. Do not forget that Lilian was a film editor, and that we both loved cinema, especially old films (for instance americain classical ones). We are "visual", we have to see the scenes.

E.I. Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

C.I. Without characters, no plot. Without plot, no book ! I do not know if we are more gifted for this or that. I think that in fact we could manage with any plot, because we could fit it to our own mind, which is a fantaisist one !
We for instance love Hithcock and his "Mac Guffins" !

Anyhow, the plots...they is a limited number of them ! What gives savour to a story ? The characters, the way you show them, the way they think and talk, the errors they make, as Victor, who is not a great sleuth ! This is our authors' small credo...

E.I. You are well known in Internationally as a former chief editor before becoming a bookseller, you also participated in writing several of audiovisual performances and play? What is one thing you would change if you can do it all over again?

C.I. It is Lilian, not I, who was a former chief editor. She worked with great documentarists such as Jean Rouch, Joris Ivens, also with Peter Brook, Maurice Pialat, among others. Maybe she would have liked to direct movies, but it is very difficult, many reponsabilities. Writing is more simple, no producers, no comedians...

I, myself, do not regret the life I had, selling old books gave me freedom.

E.I. Your book has been translated into different languages and has been published all over the world and now a bestselling author. Do you ever feel pressure or insecure, or are you able to separate all that from your own creative process?

C.I. It seems a dream, being translated : we never thought this could happen ! But we stay the same as before. We still doubt of ourselves. Of course, we separate our anxiety (it is rather frightening, even if exciting) from the writing process. When the book is finished, now, we sometimes pity our translators, so many jokes and popular expresssions !
Maybe, being "Claude Izner", that is a third person, helps us to feel more secure !

E.I. Ms. Lefevre, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

C.I. Advice ? I do not consider me a teacher...All I would say is : be yourself, forget the teachings, read a lot, create what you like., do not be sure to be the greatest writer, be humble and believe in yourself at the same time. Choose to write science fiction, or fantasy, or love stories, or criminal investigations, or poetry, if this is what you prefer. Do not be too serious ! Do not hope to change the world...but be happy if some people appreciate you.

There is not one unique way, life is a rainbow even if the sky is often very cloudy. Choose your colour and try to feel joy, because life is also very short...

Photo of Claude Izner (Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefèvre)by Monika Katz

To purchase their books please visit AMAZON

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