Why make up stories?

Spätestens nach dem Erfolg ihrer ersten Trilogie „Die gelben Augen der Krokodile“ im Jahr 2006 ist Katherine Pancol DIE französische Bestsellerautorin. Zehn Jahre später ist nun ihre neue Trilogie „Muchachas“ erschienen. Die Autorin verrät im Interview, warum die Romanfiguren wie eine Familie für sie sind und wie sie Menschen in ihrer Umgebung schamlos ,bestiehlt‘.

©Sylvie Lancrenon
©Sylvie Lancrenon

Dear Miss Pancol, the characters in your books are very real, as if they would really exist. How do you bring your characters to life, what does inspire you when you look for new characters and stories?
Rossellini, the Italian director, used to say : ,Why make up stories? Everything exists in real life.’  I completely agree with him. All my characters are made up from real life.  I just add a zest of imagination to make them part of the story. I steal details from people I meet, people I listen to; I mix them up and a new character comes to life. You just have to be patient until everything melts down and grows into something new.

I am like a thief with a huge bag. I look at people in the streets, in restaurants, listen to them and rob them. I watch the way they talk, the way they walk, the look in their eyes and it is as if I am entering their world. Real life is very inspiring. You just need to forget everything about yourself and become ‘the others’. And then it’s easy to ‘imagine things’ : The characters are shouting ACTION! and I become the director. It depends on the stages of writing.

How do you manage to write in such detail and so authentic about these subjects? Where do you get your information from?
I talk to people, I listen very carefully to them, I ‘become’ them and the words do the rest. I forget everything about myself and I become THE character. You have to go very deep inside yourself to catch feelings you did not know you had.

Hortense, Zoe, Josephine, Shirley and Co. were already present in your last best-seller trilogy. Was it your intention to bring them back again in your new book series?
I love them all. They have become my family, my friends. They are as real as my real family or friends. When I finish a book, I am exhausted. I wait for the next one to come. I know something is going to happen, something is going to grow inside me.  I am like a pregnant woman waiting for her baby to be born. I wait and wait. And one day, zzzzip! an idea comes and I just follow it.

When you finish to write a book series, do you still think about the characters and their destinies?
That is exactly what happened with the first trilogy. I finished The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles… and all the characters stayed in my head and my heart. I was dreaming of them, taking them everywhere with me. I was thinking ‘oh, that would be nice on Hortense!’ or ‘what would Josephine think of this?’. They were living inside me, I could not get rid of them. Usually, at the end of a novel, all the characters leave after a while. But this time, they did not leave.

The Muchachas-book series do not just portray the good sides of life, but the books also broach the issue of violence, fear and sexual abuse. Did you personally experience something similar or do you know people who had such kind of experiences?
Both, I should say. I think every girl, every woman has been threatened, manipulated or worse by a man. It is very easy for a man to abuse a girl. The physical power being on the man’s side, there is not much a girl can do. A very well balanced and educated man knows where to stop. The average man does not.

The truth is, I had no trouble finding girls or women to be interviewed about the violence in their life. They were all around me from every social class, every age.

Do you personally have a favorite character in the Muchachas-trilogy?
No. It is like asking a mother which child she prefers! Some make me laugh, some get on my nerves, some still puzzle me, but I love them all.

Have you already been to the places portrayed in your books, such as New York, London …?
Yes.  If I want the streets, the buses, the night clubs, the restaurants, the smells and the sounds of a city to exist, I have to go and spend some time there. It is physical, I need it. The places I do not go to, do not exist for me, because I cannot find words for them.

Is there a chance to see your Muchachas-characters in future books of yours? Or are the stories and destinies of the characters concluded in this last trilogy?
I am writing what could be THE END of it. I already felt that some characters were ‘done’ , like Joséphine for instance, and I knew some were not ‘finished’, like Hortense, Zoé, Alexandre and a few others. So I had to write an end for them too.

Are there new projects in sight?
Yes, plenty! But as I am superstitious I do not want to talk about it.

Once you said that you ,love to tell stories so that people can be inspired by it’. What is the most important message you wanted to tell your readers in the Muchachas-trilogy?
That life is never finished, you still have a chance as long as YOU WANT IT. Never give up! You always have something to grab, something which will make you a better and greater person. I deeply believe in life.

Das schriftliche Interview führte Tabea Hornung.