Big Thrill Interviews Laurent Guillaume

A while back, Big Thrill Magazine ran a really interesting interview with Laurent Guillaume by thriller writer Steven P. Vincent. Here are some highlights. Please do visit Big Thrill to read the full interview.

  • Can you tell our readers a bit more about WHITE LEOPARD?

 In 2009, a Boeing 747 unloaded some mysterious cargo in northern Mali and got stuck in the sand trying to take off again. The plane had just delivered several tons of cocaine that was headed to Europe and the Middle East. Investigating this case, we uncovered an extremely well organized network of Colombian and Spanish drug traffickers that settled scores with dollars or a chainsaw, depending on how much opposition they got. I had wanted to write a novel about the drug trade in Africa for a long time... 

  • What struck me about WHITE LEOPARD was your vivid description of Mali. Can you tell us about writing in a place you’re familiar with, but not actually from?

... It takes time to see what lies beneath the postcard, to see the stark reality of the people who live there. I hope that I managed to do this, although I’m sure I missed things. More than a mystery,  WHITE LEOPARD pays homage to the people of Bamako, a mixed crowd in overpopulated streets, who never stop smiling and feeling happy, despite the harsh conditions of their daily life.

  • You’ve written about things you’re familiar with–Mali and police work. Was there anything in WHITE LEOPARD that challenged you a little more?

The hardest part for me was to project myself into the mind of a protagonist of mixed racial background. In addition, I wrote in the first person, which was something new for me. This type of writing created a kind of intimacy with Solo, to an extent that I had not imagined possible...

  • Our readers are always interested in the writing process. You write full time, so what does your average day look like? How do you approach writing a novel?

...I get up at seven in the morning, eat a hearty breakfast and work out for a good hour. Back at home, I sit down in front of my computer and answer my email. Then I do some research, and when I feel ready, I open up Word and start writing. I generally write until four in the afternoon, when I read to relax and find a change of pace...

  • I’m curious about the process of working with a translator. Is it a smooth process or does it require some hard work to make it work and, ultimately, ensure a better book?

... As far as my understanding of English allows, Sophie did an excellent job. I’m not surprised, because throughout the process, she showed great rigor and a real interest in the topic of the novel: West Africa. I’m very happy with the result.

On Mali and Dreams

Hard-boiled noir set in West Africa

Laurent Guillaume, author of White Leopard, on Mali and dreams.

What is your best memory of Mali? The strongest image to stay with you?
That is a hard question to answer. I brought back many powerful memories from my four years there. But if I really had to choose one, it was when my son broke down crying the first time he set foot on African soil, and then that same kid with tears in his eyes when it came time to leave Mali four years later. We felt at home there. It changed my views on immigration.

What is it there that inspired you to write?
Mali is a country in which adventure is still possible. I had very powerful experiences with people there. One of my colleagues often said that in Mali nothing is certain, but everything is possible. That is pretty much the definition of what a novel is. When I was there, I had to renounce my Western certainties and adapt to another world. That is the world I wanted to recount.

Yet, the book does not describe a world that is easy to live in.
In this book, I tried to convey my love for Mali, without being soft on the county. I denounce two things that are eating away at all of West Africa: treason by the elite and corruption.

What lesson did you bring back with you from Bamako?
It's a piece of advice: live your dreams and don't put limits on yourself. Like in Mali, in life nothing is certain, but everything is possible.