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This blog was featured on 11/26/2018
Louise Penny on Setting, Character & Creating Suspense
Written by
She Writes
November 2018
Written by
She Writes
November 2018

Kingdom of the Blind, the latest Chief Inspector Gamache novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny hits shelves this month for fans anxiously await her 14th book in the series. To mark the occasion, we rounded up some of Penny’s best interviews filled with insight into her books and personal life, along with her deep love for Canada.

“I am a killing machine but a happy one – I get all my resentments out in my books,” Penny said in an interview. But there's much more to them than death.

"My books are about many, many things, probably least of all murder," Penny said. "They're about life. They're about choices, and taking responsibility for what you do. But really, I think at their heart, they're about love and friendship."

This excerpt was originally published on CBS News. Read the full interview  here.

On Being Published

As an aspiring writer for decades, Penny was surprised to find that being published was not the greatest reward for her.

“I thought the reward was having a book published because it had been something I’d dreamt of and it didn’t happen for me until I was well into my 40s, so I was overjoyed to have the book. I thought that was the prize… but it turns out that the prizes are the friendships that I’ve made."

This excerpt is from a video in which mystery writers Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny discuss their writing, their careers, and their friendship at a Politics and Prose event in Washington, DC. Watch the full discussion here.

On Setting

Setting is alive in each of her books, engaging a reader’s senses in order to become fully immersed into her stories. Deeply layered settings are the result of the thoughtfullness behind them, and they're much more than geography to Penny.

“Setting is a character. In my books it was obvious to me right from the get go that I wanted there to be no doubt that my books are set in Canada, and I think within each of the books, within each line or two there is some reference to Quebec or Canadian something. They are firmly rooted. It gives me such joy because they are among other things – probably least among other things – they are about death. They are love letters. They are letters to my friends, to my family, to where I live, to the place where I found home. They are letters to home, and to belonging, and to friendship.”

“There’s a line that I think I’ve used in at least one of my books, and I can’t remember where it comes from, ‘History is geography spread over time.’ I believe that, and the character’s history is a function of the geography that they live in – so what a joy to be able to reflect that geography to all sorts of people. And not just the geography, but the scents, the cuisine, the climate – for the first four books I wanted each of them to be set in a different season because I wanted a sense of, if you read them in order, what it’s like to live through a whole year in Quebec.”

This excerpt was taken from a Politics and Prose event. Watch the full discussion here.

On Creating a Community

“I wanted to write books that I would read, that my eight year-old self would read,” she said. “I had to love them. I created a village where I would live, populated with characters I would befriend and a main character I would marry.”

This excerpt was originally published in the New York Times. Read the full interview here.

"I created a village I would choose to live in. I populated it with people I would choose as friends; many characters are friends and are inspired by real people. I realized that this was a wonderful moment in my life, that I am like anybody else and everybody is like me. We all want the same thing: we want friends, we want love, we want companionship, we want a sense of belonging, we want to feel safe. By safety I don't mean that nothing bad will ever happen, it means that when bad things inevitably happen we will be able to recover from it because we have a community there behind us. Three Pines isn't immune to bad things at all obviously. But what it has is an ability to recover from them to move forward."

This excerpt was ordinally published on the CBC. Read the full interview here.

On Building Suspense

Thoughtfulness is the reocurring theme behind each of Penny’s books – thoughtfulness about the setting, and the character, and the emotional standing of the readers as they relate to her work.

"You have to care about the character,” she says. “There has to be something at stake. If a complete stranger is threatened, you hope as a human being you care about this other human being, but there isn't that spasm deep down that might occur when someone you care about is in danger. What I hope to do is create caring first, so that there is a consequence to whatever is going to happen; not an intellectual one, but one that you feel in gut. To do that, you need a relationship with the character so that they feel like friends or, at the very least, acquaintances. What I try to do is drop that fourth wall, have readers feel, not that they're voyeurs, but that they are actually walking through the action with these characters. I want people to be almost yelling at the books, 'Stop it! Don't open that door! Don't go in there!' What's important to me is that there be an emotional resonance to what's happening, that it not simply be a cat and mouse intellectual game."

This excerpt was ordinally published on the CBC. Read the full interview here.

On Transitioning Her Books to French

Penny’s novels were translated into 23 languages before they were finally translated into Quebec French in 2010, partly reflecting the cultural divide in the province.

“My books are love letters to Quebec – the language of my characters is French, and I wanted my characters to live in that language,” she said, referring to the belated translation of her books into French. “The translation meant so much to me because I wanted my friends and neighbors to be able to read them.”

This excerpt was originally published in the New York Times. Read the full interview here.

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