Cops and Writers

Laurent Guillaume is a multiple-award-winning French writer and former police officer. In law enforcement, he worked anti-gang, narcotics, financial crimes, and served in Mali as an advisor to the local police. His first novel to be translated into English is a hard-boiled PI story set in West Africa: White Leopard. Here he tells us about how his life as a cop mixes with his life as a writer.

Does being a cop help to write a mystery novel?
It is both an asset and toxic. My novels necessarily borrow from reality, so being a cop is an advantage. But I also think it is a trap. In a mystery, the writer's main preoccupation has to be the plot.

>>>Be drawn in before you can spot what lies ahead<<<

In your novels, politicians are never very clean.
I think the quest for power has a negative impact on everyone who goes after it. Politics has the power to corrupt on many levels because it lives off of everything that is toxic in our society: money, dissimulation, and lies. One has to overcome so many obstacles to attain power that it becomes a kind of Grail, and overcomes its original raison d’être: public good. But there are politicians who are driven by a real sense of democracy, by honest political conviction and humanism. I like to believe that even the worst people can at certain times and under certain circumstances prove to have some purity. The opposite is true as well. It is just a matter of proportion.

You seem to leave the reader to judge. Is this done on purpose?
I don't like the idea of telling a reader how to think or what to like or not like about my novels. I don't judge, I tell a story. Moral judgments are for philosophers. All of my characters are made of shadow and light, like in life. You are free to love them or hate them for what they are. But I don't want them to leave you indifferent. Indifference is the harshest criticism.

Tell us a little something about the genre you chose for this book.
White Leopard
is what I would call a “hard-boiled African” thriller. I went back to the codes of the 1930s-1940s hard-boiled detective novel (tough, alcoholic PI; the femme fatale who brings him a complicated, perilous case; etc.) and then I transposed them to contemporary Africa. And it worked.

>>>If you long for Philip Marlowe's return, this one is just for you<<<

What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on real events or your own experience?
When I worked at the French Embassy in Mali, I was in charge of police cooperation, particularly with regards to drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, I worked on a case called “Air Cocaine” as a consultant for the Malian authorities. It didn’t take long to find some material for a good mystery in there. For that matter, a better part of the novel is based on real events.

What everyone ought to know about translation

I’ve been in the translation business for over thirty years and translated just about every kind of document you can name. I can assure that translating fiction is different from other kinds of translation, and that every book is an adventure in and of itself. I can also state with certainty that translation is rooted in something deeper and broader than foreign rights acquisitions and the mechanics of getting a work from one language into another. 

According to David Bellos, the author of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, “…the practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different—we speak different tongues and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same—that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist. Nor could anything we would like to call social life.”


The mechanics

It’s hard to follow that statement up with anything lofty, so I’ll talk about the actual mechanics. I approach a novel to translate in three phases: I read it, I do an initial translation, and then I do the real work. By this time, I understand the author’s intentions and I have a good feel for the author’s voice. This is when I kneed the English text and infuse it with the author’s voice; I adapt it so that the author’s intentions and story come through in another language and cultural context.  Sometimes, I spend time with the authors when I think more in-depth adjustments are needed in order for the story to reach the readers intact. 

After that, there are two more phases: editing, with our translation editor,  Amy Richards, whose astute redlining improves all of our translations. This is followed by a final go at the text.

Bellos calls translators matchmakers, because ultimately, they “find matches, not equivalences…in the hope and expectation that their sum will produce a new work that can serve as an overall substitute for the source.” He also says that “no translation can be expected to be like its source in more than a few selected ways…If meaning and force are kept the same and if in a limited set of other respects a translation is seen to be like its source, then we have a match.”

Of course, readers will not necessarily know how close the final result is to the source, so I would add that ultimately, for readers, what counts is that the end result is a good read. 

From the source

Julie Rose on translating The Greenland Breach

“The translation needed to be detailed—there’s a lot of info—but also spare, with all fat trimmed off, so as to not get in the way of the movement.”

Sophie Weiner, who translated White Leopard among other titles, on translating in general:

“Translation is all about making creative choices to solve verbal and cross-cultural issues. Aside from blatant mistranslations in meaning, there is no such thing as a wrong translation. A translation will never be an exact copy of the original, and it doesn’t aspire to be one. In my opinion, its purpose is to bring people in contact with new and sometimes challenging worldviews.”

Sally Pane on seeking out places in the book on a trip to Paris:

“I thought I had fallen for an imaginary destination [Clos Bretonneau in Montmartre Mysteries] on this scavenger hunt ‘Cooked up’ [sorry!] by authors Alaux and Balen, but I was happy to discover the real thing. Once I stepped into it, I understood why they chose the unusual little gem as the backdrop to the mystery.”

Jeffrey Zuckerman on Paris, after translating The City of Blood:

“Paris feels too beautiful for cutting-edge science research, so well preserved are its cobbled streets and yellowing façades. Building restrictions keep nearly every part of Paris less than 121 feet tall (with only a few skyscrapers and the Eiffel Tower), and many blue street signs are lovingly repainted. This scheme is so entrenched in the French mindset that a recent futuristic film, Renaissance, envisioned a Paris that has its streets replaced with thick glass and expanded not by building up but by digging deep underground. But how does this love for decrepit buildings mesh with science labs that need to be sterile and clean? Or with police investigations that require state-of-the-art technology? These were questions in my head as I translated The City of Blood for Le French Book, and I was delighted to find answers in the book’s pages.”

Writing Life: Meet an Author

Today, we have a few words from Anne-Laure Thiéblemont, author of an upcoming mystery set in Paris art circles: The Collector. Anne-Laure is an reporter and trained gem specialist, known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. She currently works as a magazine editor, and splits her time between Paris and Marseille. She shares her thoughts about the upcoming release.

Art reporter and gem specialist, author of The Collector, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

Books have the quality and advantage of circulating independently of the author.  Now, The Collector will be coming out in English and it will be released in August. I love that month more than any other. It’s the month I always plan to be at the beach. I swim and I write. That is all I do. I don’t need anything more than a few square meters right next to the water. Then, writing can take me anywhere. Being a writer is a state of being on vacation without being on vacation.

I like the way thinking, meditating, imagining, and writing bring out other ways of being in the world. Then, as a writer, what I enjoy most is meeting readers. It’s not the reviews, the promotion, the prizes. No, it’s the possibility of meeting someone who enjoys the universe I created.

I worked as a reporter for a long time, but I needed to find a more personal mode of expression. I always wanted to write a novel and the character of Marion Spicer had been tapping on my shoulder for a long time. She kept saying, “Tell my story.” And the topic of the book was important enough to me to spend three years writing it. Sometimes you can get tired of a story. It can run its course quickly and putter out. But you know early on if you have a protagonist that has enough of a structure to lead you further, and even to dictate the course of the story.

This is what happened. It wasn’t easy for me to write a mystery. But Marion's story was a mystery, so that is what I wrote.

Is he really a Mossad agent? David Khara on his Protagonist

In a recent interview, French thriller writer David Khara talked about the protagonist of his Consortium thriller series, the Mossad agent Eytan Morg. But is he really a Mossad agent? Find out below. Read the full interview here—in it he also talks about how he writes the books and more.

The Protagonist: A Mossad agent?

  • Eytan works for Mossad at the beginning of the series, but he insists on the fact that he is Polish. In The Bleiberg Project, we learn he was born in a little village in Poland.
  • Eytan considers himself a shield against barbarism and fascism, and he works with people who hunt war criminals.
  • Being Jewish is the reason he was sent to Warsaw’s Ghetto, but religion means little to Eytan, since no god showed up to save him as a child.
  • In The Shiro Project, we learn that Eytan leaves England in the 1950s to join Mossad, but in The Morgenstern Project, it becomes obvious that Eytan works with Mossad, and not for it. 

His Future

  • Has Eytan ever been in love, or even shared someone’s life? I think you’ll have to wait for the next books to find out.
  • David is currently working on a thriller that deals with tax evasion and nuclear material trafficking. "Once I’m done with it, I’ll start working on Eytan’s return!"