I have known Geneviève Damas for some years, but have had no time to read any of her books, I must admit. I went to see her while she met her readers at the “A livre ouvert” bookshop on 15 February this year. She was interviewed by Jean-Claude Vantroyen, a literary critic at “Le Soir”.
Geneviève Damas is a Belgian writer who won two famous prizes, both prizes for the book Si tu passes la rivière, (éditions Luce Wilquin): the “Prix des cinq continents de la francophonie” and the “Prix Victor Rossel“, the Belgian equivalent of Goncourt.
We had about 60 minutes to hear about her writing style, how she “struggles” with the music of the words and whether her books are written by following an initial plan and structure. She shared some of her writing secrets and said that the inspiration is her guiding light. To my understanding, she crafts her books like a painter. Before sending them to the printer, they look like visual compositions where the characters find themselves their way to the plot and to the end of the book. What I also noticed was that, throughout the book, she needs to defend each of her characters, so their thoughts, feelings and actions just get life as soon as they are released from an elaborated imagination exercise.
The public also asked questions. Is there any border between the real world and fiction? Does her real life serve as inspiration for her books? In one answer she pointed out that there are writers who simply write their books easier. She mentioned one who just does it and one review is enough before going to the readership hands. She said she is not this kind of writer. Her work requires polishing and mental effort to build the book context and bring her characters to life.
The magic moment of the evening was when she has been asked to read some lines from her latest book Histoire d’un bonheur. She once more proved her acting skills and for some moments we had the character just in front of us.
She also commented on the writing styles in general. Quoting Paul Auster she said that even when writers place complicated metaphors within some philosophical layers the readers eventually keep the book story in their minds, be it a life experience or an imaginative happening.
She considers her acting background and her passion for theatre an asset to her work. That enables her to imagine a story that is valid on both paper and scene. While writing she noticed that she has been borrowing something from her acting style, that is the need to make a character credible. This is something that she always keeps in mind. In her view a writer is like a performer who bears in mind that both books and plays could be either the first or the last artistic endeavour that some members of his or her audience come across. A challenging mission and creative exercise of both writer and actor.
I am going to “cross the river” and read Si tu passes la rivière. I will be back with a review.
Related information: Histoire d’un bonheur (Blog article in French)