We are happy to welcome Sylvie Granotier—author, actress, traveler—to this blog. She wrote La Rigole du Diable, which is now being translated. Here, she talks a little about what has influenced her life as a writer: growing up in several places, her father’s death, an encounter with Grace Paley, and finally settling down between Paris and Creuse, a remote area in central France and the setting for her latest novel.
I was born in Algeria before the French-Algerian war. My father was a military doctor, and I think that the dormant, or not-so-dormant violence surrounding my happy birth was to influence my writing later on. It was no accident that I chose the thriller genre.
I spent my childhood in Paris, my early teenage years in Morocco, and when we finally settled in Paris, I had unwittingly become a nomad.
At the age of 16, I passed my baccalauréat [French secondary education final examination, marking the end of high school]. The same year I won a first prize as a budding stage actress. Still, I had to earn a living because I had decided to live on my own and go to university, so I did odd jobs—supermarket cashier, bank clerk, teacher, babysitter. I studied a bit of philosophy, a bit of law and mainly French literature.
My father died in his forties, and as if an anchor had broken, I went on the road.
I fell in love with an American, who is still my closest friend, and we lived together for seven years. We lived in New York and San Francisco, had a spell in Afghanistan, and then came back to Paris where I became a model. That made traveling easier. I worked all over Europe, spent some time in Brazil and finally, totally by chance, because the director had seen my picture as a model, I was offered a part in a TV film. I hated modeling and was ecstatic to be back where I had started: acting. I acted on stage and did a lot of movies.
My life was soon to change again.
I had read Grace Paley’s short stories while in the States. She had never been translated into French. I wanted to do a stage adaptation and began by translating her in French. Well, I ended up doing the whole book Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. My translation got published and Grace came to Paris.
I admired and loved her even before meeting her, so when she seemed to like my small apartment better than a hotel, I was overjoyed to sleep on my couch and spend so much unexpected time with her.
We walked a lot around Paris and talked about living and loving and writing. She opened a door for me with a simple and beautiful statement: Literature is like a cathedral: it needs all kinds of masterpieces, just as it needs small stones of various sizes and qualities to stay standing.
I had never dared even think of becoming a writer, yet suddenly, the idea of producing a small pebble seemed possible. The dare—there always is one, I think—was to write a thriller, one of those books I loved, a page-turner that cures you for a few hours of all the worries and anxieties that darken our days and nights. Grace flew back to New York and I started my first novel: Courrier Posthume. Writing and getting published was hard work, but I loved every minute of it. I felt I now knew where I truly belonged.
Meanwhile I met my husband, a great stage actor, and we had two boys who are now both students—one in acting, the other in graphic arts. My husband and I are now separated, but I still admire and like him enormously.
So I wrote novels, went on acting, though less when the kids were small, and I got more and more engrossed in the process of inventing stories, finding the right way to tell them. From time to time I work on film scripts, because I love movies, but I’m very cautious. They demand a lot of time and energy, the same kind I need for my novels, which remain my priority.
I’ve published fourteen novels, written many short stories for magazines, and three years ago, I bought my house in Creuse. I’ve lived in Paris most of my life, and never tire of its beauty. My friends are here, my agent, my publisher. I love its museums and galleries, its numerous bookstores, the amazing variety it offers in terms of movies and plays. In Creuse, I’m in the middle of nowhere, a nowhere filled with nature both tamed and wild. I fell in love with that part of France 18 years ago. It is the only place, I felt, that could make this nomad sedentary. As with writing, I feel I belong in that mysterious place. Time flows at its own pace, nature overpowers our attempts to discipline it, it puts life back in the right perspective, for me at least.
It took me a few years to become intimate enough with this part of France to turn it into a character in the stories I invent. La Rigole du Diable [literally, Devil’s Creek] is a place near my house. It is beautiful and dangerous and seemed a perfect setting for the dénouement of my latest novel and became its title in French, mixing, as thrillers so often do, the devil [diable] with laughter [rigole means creek, but also laughter].