Source: Review copy
Publication: W&N on 22 July 2021 from W&N
In 1999, after publishing three cult novels, celebrated author Nathan Fawles announces the end of his writing career and withdraws to Beaumont, a wild and beautiful island off the Mediterranean coast.
Autumn 2018. As Fawles’ novels continue to captivate readers, Mathilde Monney, a young Swiss journalist, arrives on the island, determined to unlock the writer’s secrets and secure his first interview in twenty years.
That same day, a woman’s body is discovered on the beach and the island is cordoned off by the authorities.
And so, begins a dangerous face off between Mathilde and Nathan, in which the line between truth and fiction becomes increasingly blurred…
I’m thrilled to bring you an extract from the highly acclaimed novel, The Secret Life of Writers. I am desperate to read this book. I’m waiting for the special Goldsboro Books edition to be delivered, but in the meantime, I’m hearing so many great things about it and I knew I had to have it as soon as I read the blurb.
Today I am sharing an extract with you, and I hope you will find it as appetising as I do.
THE ESSENTIAL QUALITY IN A WRITER
Tuesday, 11 September 2018
The wind was slapping at the sails in a dazzling sky.
The dinghy had left the Var coast a little after r p.m., and was now flying along at a speed of five knots towards the Isle of Beaumont. Sitting near the helm, just beside the skip per, I was bewitched by the spell of the breeze from the sea, completely transfixed as I gazed at the dusting of gold that glittered across the Mediterranean.
That very morning, I had left my studio near Paris to catch the 6 a.m. high-speed train bound for Avignon. From the historic city of the Popes, I had taken a bus to Hyeres, and then a taxi to the tiny port of Saint-Julien-les Roses, sole departure point for ferries over to the Isle of Beaumont. Because of yet another delay – the umpteenth – on the French railways, I had missed the one and only lunchtime shuttle by five minutes. While I was roaming around the quay, dragging my case behind me, the captain of a Dutch sailing boat who was getting ready to fetch his passengers from the island had kindly offered to take me with him.
So here I was, a young man who’d just turned twenty four, at a tricky time in my life. Two years earlier, I had graduated from a business school in Paris, but I hadn’t bothered looking for a job to match my skills and experience. I’d really only done this degree to reassure my parents, and I didn’t care much for a future played out to the tune of management, marketing and money. Over the last two years, I had juggled the odd job here and there to pay my rent, but I had devoted all of my creative energy to writing a novel, Crown Shyness, which had just been turned down by a dozen publishers. I had pinned each of my rejection letters to the noticeboard above my desk, and so profound was my sense of despair – matched only by my passion for writing – that every time I drove a pin into the cork, it felt as though I were plunging it straight into my heart.
Thankfully, I never remained depressed for very long. Until now, I had always managed to convince myself that these failures were merely the precursor to success. To bolster this belief, I clung on to some illustrious examples. Stephen King often talked about how thirty publishers had turned down Carrie. Half the publishers in London had found the first Harry Potter book ‘far too long for children’. Before becoming the world’s bestselling science fiction novel, Frank Herbert’s Dune had been knocked back around twenty times. And as for F. Scott Fitzgerald, he had – apparently – papered the walls of his office with the one hundred and twenty-two rejection letters sent by the magazines to which he’d offered his short stories.
But the cracks were beginning to show in this strategy of positive thinking. Despite mustering all of my willpower, I had difficulty getting back into writing. It wasn’t blank page syndrome or a lack of ideas that left me paralysed. It was the pernicious impression of not making any progress in my chosen field. The feeling of not knowing exactly what direction to take. I could have done with a fresh pair of eyes on my work. Someone who was benevolent yet uncompromising. At the start of the year, I had signed up to a creative writing course organised by a prestigious publishing house. I had pinned all my hopes on this workshop, but I was quickly disillusioned. The writer leading it – Bernard Dufy, a novelist who’d seen his finest hour during the 1990s – presented himself as a stylesmith, to borrow his own expression. ‘All of your work has to focus on language and not the story,’ he kept saying the entire time. ‘The narrative exists purely to serve language. A book should have no other aim but the quest for form, rhythm and harmony. Language is the one place you can still be original – because, ever since Shakespeare, there’s been no more stories left to write.’
The 1,000 euros I’d forked out on this writing course – for three sessions, each of four hours – had left me furious, and penniless into the bargain. Perhaps Dufy was right, but personally I thought precisely the opposite: style wasn’t an end in itself. The essential quality in a writer was knowing how to captivate their reader through a good story. A narrative that was capable of wrenching them out of their own existence, and thrusting them deep into the intimacy and reality of its characters. Style was simply a means of connecting a nerve supply to the narrative and bringing it to life. Deep down, I didn’t care about the opinion of an academic writer like Dufy. The only opinion I’d have liked to have, and the only one that would have been important, in my view, belonged to someone I had always idolised: Nathan Fawles, my favourite author.
Guillaume Musso is the #1 bestselling author in France, and his novels have been translated in forty languages and have sold over 33 million copies worldwide. He was born in Antibes, South of France, and currently lives in Paris.