Q&A with Marion Brunet

Marion Brunet, born in 1976 in the Vaucluse, is a well-known Young Adult author in France. Her YA novels have received over 30 prizes, including the 2017 UNICEF Prize for Youth Literature. She is also author of this month’s You’re Booked Book of the Month, and sits down with us to talk about Summer Reckoning, her writing process, and how to be a better writer…

How would you describe your writing style to someone who’s never read your work before?

It’s hard to be objective about one’s own style. I think it’s stark and when I write from a subjective point of view I like to mix colloquial language with more poetical, singular expressions.I like to work on one scene at a time, I find it maintains the tension, it’s visual and physical. Moreover, the characters are at the heart of my writing process; it’s through to them, their personalities and their feelings that my language takes shape.

What is your writing process? What does your typical writing day look like?

When a project comes to my mind I make notes but don’t start writing immediately. I mull over it for a while and allow the characters to gain some substance, the plot to take a direction and an ending to take shape. Once I have a viable framework I start writing. It’s difficult for me to keep to a regular and strict pattern because I do many things at once, like reading manuscripts and holding workshops. But whenever I manage to get several days’ work in a row I am naturally more productive. I like working at home, at a large table in the middle of the flat; I smoke and drink lots of coffee, I prefer silence, I stop for lunch or to have a drink but then get back to work.

Author Marion Brunet.

Have you always been a writer? Was novel-writing something you’d always known you would do?

I’ve been a special needs teacher for almost fifteen years. My first novel was published in 2013. But I’ve been writing more or less consistently since I was a child. Although I’ve always dreamt of becoming a novelist, I was never sure I’d make it until my first novel was published.

“I was never sure I’d make it until my first novel was published.”

Where do you draw inspiration from for your settings and characters?

It depends on the novel. There’s always an initial scene that pops up surprisingly. Sometimes it opens the novel, sometimes it ends it, but it’s always somewhere in the book. This scene and the characters featuring in it give rise to a story, and flesh out the characters.

The setting is something else again. In some of my novels I did everything I could to remove any hint of a specific location, because I thought the lack of landmarks would give my story something more universal. Then I discovered that the opposite could be even more powerful: using a location could give the story more colour and a specificity that would not prevent its universal appeal.

For example, Summer of Reckoning takes place in the South of France, in a disadvantaged area, marginal to the large cities. Even so I’m sure English readers will relate to it and draw parallels between the world of my characters in France and their possible British “cousins”.

How do your characters develop? Do you find that your characters take on a life of their own when you are writing? Or are you always completely in control of what they say and do?

A bit of both. I start off with a concept of my characters but they sometimes surprise me as the story proceeds. Sometimes, a detail I imagine leads me to invent the origin of this detail, and that’s how the story of a character develops, often way beyond what I had imagined in the beginning.

When you are not writing, what do you do to relax?

I read, drink, go out. Oh, and I also watch TV series – from which, incidentally, you can learn a lot about the dynamics of fiction!

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Fin de siècle, by Sébastien Gendron. It’s crazy, funny and desperate.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring writers?

Write as much as possible, everywhere, all the time. Read.

Merci, Marion!