When I translated the prizewinning, international bestseller The 7th Woman by Frédérique Molay, I had the opportunity to discuss with the author how she mixes reality into fiction. I share those revelations below, and would be most interested in knowing how other writers out there weave reality into their fiction, or are inspired by it.
Molay told me that all of her stories stem from encounters, things she has read in the papers and heard about.
“Before I start writing,” she says, “I do real fieldwork, exploring settings, visiting places, interviewing people to make my characters--the Paris elite Criminal Investigation Division detectives, CSIs, medical examiners, judges-- more lifelike. I find it fascinating to meet people who talk to me about their work with enthusiasm and sincerity, who show me what they know how to do. Isn’t that one of the characteristics of crime fiction? Mixing reality with imagination? And my research is an enriching moment before I dive into the solitude of writing, where I live exclusively through my characters. Sometimes my research gives me a cold sweat, like when I attended human dissection at the medical school for the second in the Nico Sirsky series.”
The first in Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police, series--The 7th Woman--introduces readers to the team at the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, an elite unit of top crime fighters headquartered in an epic building at 36 Quai des Orfèvres, right down the street from Notre Dame and communicating with the Palais de Justice. Frédérique Molay managed to obtain an interview with the head of the division, who took a liking to her and showed her the ins and outs.
“When I spent time at 36 Quai des Orfèvres, my pen did not leave my notepad as I jotted down all the details that would allow me to translate how things work there and the prevailing atmosphere. Police officers were constantly interrupting us, I listened to how they talked. I soaked up the relationships that existed, their attitudes. I remembered anecdotes and then used all this information to write the story.
“Nico Sirsky certainly mirrors the police detectives I had an opportunity to meet there. And, I’ll admit that I tossed in a touch of inspiration from comic book superheroes, who make me dream. I tried to give Nico Sirsky the calm, determination, and fine mind that I perceived in the real chief of police, who was heading up the Criminal Investigation Division when I visited it. He had really impressed me with his stature, his vivacity and his humor.”
How did she do it? “I began by writing up a short biography, which grew as I continued to write the story. The idea was to pay homage to my father’s family and more especially by my paternal grandmother’s Ukrainian origins. His first name comes from Nicolas Gogol, who according to my family mythology is one of my ancestors! There is no certitude in that, but I don’t need to look for truth in it, the dream is enough. I preferred the short version, Nico. I thought it would convey more mystery. He is tall, blond with blue eyes. He is a strong and handsome man with a heart.”
Did she succeed? “When the chief of police read the manuscript (anonymously) he realized it was written by a woman, but he thought the author was a police officer. That means I reached my goal.”
Frédérique Molay has been called "the French Michael Connelly," and her book The 7th Woman--an edge-of-your-seat police procedural--is now available from Le French Book. It won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller. For the launch, Le French Book is giving away a trip to France, French wine and lots of other gifts. We've also dropped the usual list price for a limited time. Check it out at www.the7thwoman.com.