Crispy Cereal and Old Scotch: A Conversation With Laurent Whale

By Kathy Harney

 Photo by Antoine Mottier

Laurent Whale is a French science fiction author of four novels and several short stories. In 2005, he received the Merlin Award for Hélas Elias; earlier this year he was awarded the 2011 Prix Rosny Aine award for Les Pilleurs d’âmes. I met Laurent online and was so intrigued with reviews of his work that I took on the slow process of translating one of his books. (Verdict: Completely worth it.)

You translate other author’s books from English to French; will you ever write a novel in English?

Now and then I play with the idea, but the prospect seems to drift away as time goes by. But never say never. I enjoy the translation work. Diving into someone else’s world is exciting. There also is something in being responsible for making work accessible to the non-English speaking. It’s like unveiling an unknown masterpiece. I find it thrilling.

Where does your inspiration come from?

A mix of everything, really. Could be a reaction to the news, or something I heard – or even misheard. A place I’ve been to or an ambiance. Rain, snow, sun, nature, the ocean, storms. A situation or a subject I want to debate on. I don’t have such things as messages to pass on to my readers. I just react, and then you can take what you want from my novels. But they remain adventure stories. I am convinced that life lies in popular literature.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?  What did you do before then?

Sometime in 2003. I was swapping mails with a lady friend of mine and, page after page, it became a novel. A sort of crazy space opera with sex and death rays in equal doses – luckily it never was published! It was then I found out I could put stories in writing. I’ve always read a lot. Mainly American science fiction, but also French and others. There are as many [types of science fiction] as there are countries. The Russians are pretty hot on the genre as well. Prior to writing I was playing in bands and working as a salesman for companies as fun as IBM (Incredibly Boring Machines) and others of the like. I still own a few guitars but just step in for the occasional jam these days.

What is your work schedule when you are writing?

None whatsoever!  Anytime I can settle down enough to sit at my desk. Although it seems I tend to work more when traveling. But I suppose early in the morning and very late at night is a general trend. In fact, mostly when I feel like it.

You were born in England but have lived most of your life in France.  Where does your heart lie?

Difficult question. Probably more in France now. But I still feel a twinge for Albion, perhaps just pure nostalgia, I don’t really know. I’ve only been there a couple of times since I left there definitively in ’89. Nonetheless, I spent a lot of happy years over there. Those were my rock n’roll days!

What are you listening to these days?

Green Day, Jesse Johnson, Scott McKeon, Alain Bashung, Cocoon, Calexico. Also some Cuban bands and some garage stuff. I have an extensive record collection but strangely enough it remains largely unruffled most of the time. I write in silence, or with the sound of the ocean, or a storm outside.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Reading, traveling, visiting friends, riding my motorbikes, and playing music. But I suppose these days my favorite thing is riding to the sea in charming company.

You’re a voracious reader.  Are you able to slip easily into another author’s world? Any particular genre you are drawn to?

Science fiction is my first choice, but I read a lot of thrillers and adventure books. Detective stories too.  At times, classical literature, but very seldom. I spend a lot of time going through documentation and watching documentary and encyclopédic channels on cable TV.

What are you currently working on?

Several things. A new space opera ordered by my publisher.  The “remasterization” of my latest novel (which was released in July of this year) but my contract says I can’t tell you why!  Also proofreading of my first novel (2006) which is being republished in paperback this coming September.  Working on my second novel (2007) to be republished next year with its follow up never published before.

Do you base your characters on real people or only your imagination?

It largely depends on the inspiration of the moment and the subject. There is always a bit of yourself in any text you write. Sometimes I include friends or relatives as main or secondary characters.  When I “make” a new character, I give him or her a personality which can be drawn from people I know.  With the notable exception of my latest book (Les étoiles s’en balancent) it’s only been rare. This time, most of the characters come from real people. It is also fun to make them evolve into something they would have liked to be or never dreamt of! But it remains at a private joke level.  The reader would never know about it.

What matters the most to you?

Having crispy cereal in the morning and a good supply of old scotch for the remainder of the day!  Seriously, being happy, I suppose.

To purchase Laurent’s work, visit his publishers’ websites:

Le chant des psychomorphes (2006) and Les étoiles s’en balancent (2011): http://www.riviereblanche.com/catalogue.htm

Les pilleurs d’âmes (2010): http://www.adastraeditions.com/boutique-68728_les-pilleurs-ames.html

Paperback edition of Le chant des psychomorphes (2011): http://www.diffusion.lokomodo.fr/Editions-Lokomodo.html

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Kathy Harney is a corporate fire-fighter by day and collage painter, gallery director and freelance curator by night. She appreciates life in a very hyper sort of manner, after a bout with cancer, and loves the ocean, laughing, not being sensible, Paris, and music that disturbs her in a good way. She’s often found reading, observing, being curious and asking way too many questions.


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