Thomas H. Cook :: The Chatham school affair (VO)

The Chatham school affairCould you tell us about your childhood and how you came to writing thrillers ?
I was born in a small town in Alabama, which is in the Deep South of the United States. I come from a working class family, so I was among the first of my family ever to go to college.  My grandmother used to read true crime articles to me when I had asthma. Perhaps that is where I came first to have an interest the subject of crime. However, I have written several books that are not crime novels, and certainly not “thrillers.”

Are the southern states of the US an inexhaustible source of inspiration for thrillers ?
I don’t think they are any more inexhaustible than any other part of any other country. People everywhere commit crimes, and people everywhere are interested in crime.

How and when do you write ? In the evening, the morning, on a desk…
I begin writing early in the morning and I usually write until late in the afternoon, thus a full day of work. I usually do not work on weekends.

Could you tell us about your next novel to be published in France, Au lieu-dit noir-étang (The Chattham school affair) by éditions du seuil ?
This is one of the favorite of my own novels. I like to say that writing a lot of books is like having a lot of children, truth be told, you do not really like them all the same. That said, I have to repeat that Au lieu-dit noire-etang is one of my favorite novels. It is a true mystery in the sense that it is as much about the mystery of life as it is about any particular crime.  And it has a genuine twist at the end.

The unspoken and rumors are the strongest  aspect of your novels , how can you reach such narrative force ?
I try to make my novels unfold in exactly the way that life unfolds, that is to say, organically. I try to make my books about characters, rather than events, which I think may explain part of their appeal in France, as opposed to the US. I see a great many French films because I am studying French, and I have noticed that most of them are very intense character studies. They are exactly the sort of stories that I write, stories that involve, as you say, the secret the unspoken.

Red LeavesTake for instance another of your novels, Red Leaves. Family pictures lie ?
Tell us about Eric Moore ,one of the characters of this novel . Eric Moore is a man who believes that he has pretty much all that can be expected out of life. He has his own small business, a wife he loves, and who, presumably, loves him. He has a son who appears to perfectly normal, a little moody, but otherwise unexceptional. Then one day his life begins to fall apart, and he begins to see the fragile structure that holds it up. I loved writing that book, and I am really pleased that it has been so successful in France, even to the point that it has been optioned by Jean-Pierre Jeunet for a film.

Your novel Into the web  tells about the  return of the cursed son, and of the terrible past that strikes him : can we learn from the psat ? Your send a very strong message through that novel.
I think the past if about the only thing from which we can learn.  I know we can learn from books, and from the experiences of others, but I suspect that it is from looking back on our own lives that we may learn the most.

What do your family think about your novels ? How do they feel about them ?
My wife is my first reader, first editor and she contributes more than anyone else to the making of my books.  She has one of those amazing minds that can look at a book from every angle at once, from the story to the passage to the line to the word.  My daughter has read several of my novels, and she also often offers insights and criticism.

Do you have a striking anecdote about one of your novels ?
I was told that when EVIDENCE OF BLOOD was being filmed in Canada, a homeless person came wandering up to the film site and asked what movie was being filmed.  The director said, Evidence of Blood.  The homeless man nodded, then said, “No way it’ll be as good as the book.”

Are there any projects to turn your novels into movies ?
I currently have five books under option to be made into films.

Red Leaves, Instruments of Night, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Last Talk With Lola Faye (to be published in France soon), and Mortal Memory (recently published in France)

Who are your favourite writers, and why ?
I read anything Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Alice McDermott or Barry Unsworth write.

Into the webYou’ll come back to visit us at Quais du Polar in 2012 , what do you like in France ? 
I have been to France many times, and have visited a great many parts of the country. I love the language, the food, the beauty of the countryside and the people, who have always treated me with great kindness. I have been studying French for over a year, and am now taking classes at the Alliance Francais in New York, and so, the next time I am in France, which will be in March for the literary festival in Lyon, I hope that I will be able to speak French considerably better than when I was in Toulouse a few months ago.

What topic in the news makes you angry  ?
Terrorism and religious bigotry.

What is your favourite movie ?
Let me mention some French movies that I love.

The Clockmaker, The Two of Us, The Army of Shadows and The Battle of Algiers. I also think that The Sorrow and the Pity was one of the greatest documentaries every made

What are your favourite music style and song ?
I like most types of music: classical, jazz, folk.  I love movie soundtracks, as well.  I do not listen to rap or to heavy metal.

If you could show me a place you like in the US, which would it be, and why ? 
It would be New York City or Cape Cod.  New York City is unique for its pace and excitement.  Cape Cod is physically beautiful and very serene.  They could not be more different but they are both wonderful.

Can you add a last word for your french readers ?
My last word should be one of profound gratitude for the support French readers have given my work. They have been much more enthusiastic than my American readers. They have not only bought my books in great numbers, they have continually written favorably about them in newspapers, magazines and on blogs. I can’t thank them enough, and I truly hope that those of my books that are soon to be published for the first time in France will find the same favor. I think they will, because I think the ones to be published in France over the next few years are among my best. So, thank you, and Vive la France.

Thanks for your patience and for answering my questions, I long to meet you again in Lyon.