Thanks for your time Manu. Where are you from?
I grew up in Lorraine, France. Where I grew up was pretty cold and I don't have particularly excellent memories of the place. I was pretty intense as a teenager and didn't always do the right thing... from a legal point of view! In a few words... I was troubled.
Although troubled as a youngster, did you write?
Yes. When I was eight, I wrote my first poem and even though I was young then, I knew I had felt something while writing it, something special, something hugely satisfying. The poem was based on a poster of a shepherd and a flock of sheep, and I was writing about the confidence of the sheep that was accompanying the shepherd. It was naive but it was truthful. I wrote it because I hadn't organised a present for my grand-mother who was coming over for Christmas. It also had a paradoxical influence on my writing: a French teacher made a point across to us pupils that, at our age, we would only write because of a love for someone. I completely disagreed with that idea which motivated me to write about things other than love.
Troubled and, as you say, not always law-abiding (!) yet you managed to move away from that world.
At the age of seventeen I went to Mexico on an exchange programme. After a year in Mexico, I went back to France and pursued a Master's in English and a Master's in French as Foreign language in Nancy, Lorraine. After one year at university, I obtained a European scholarship to study for a year in Portsmouth, England,
I had a couple of working holidays where I learnt German. Instead of doing military service, I did voluntary service as a French teacher at the local Alliance Francaise in Nairobi, Kenya, for a year. I came to New Zealand to get primary resources for the topic of my doctorate in English. I only completed the first of my doctorate. In New Zealand, I worked as a French assistant in four schools in Rotorua and, at night, gave French and Spanish lessons at the Polytechnic. This is where I met my wife to be. Twenty years later, I'm still in New Zealand, at least until this coming Monday where I'm returning to France with my wife.
From that early poem did you continue to write?
For my whole life, I have been meaning to write! Sure, I wrote bits and pieces, but instead of fully dedicating myself to writing, I did loads of different jobs, the longest one being a teacher of French. The bills and mortgage needed to be paid, our two girls needed to be raised, the house needed to be renovated. So I always put off the act of writing, although I knew I would turn to it one day.
Have you written anything since?
A few years ago, I wrote an e-book for language teachers, and that was my first writing engagement. I enjoyed the experience but I knew it wasn't going to be my style of writing. However, about a year ago, my wife and I talked about having another adventure. Our two girls are adults now and we've always wanted to go back to Europe to travel. So I have decided to resume my long-burning passion and give writing a go. I plan to make a living out of it, but initially I'm going to do the Writer's Bureau Course as I do not pretend that I know how to write. That should take me about five months and hopefully my writing articles should provide some income. But I plan to write a play and a novel by the end of this year. I know my topics, as one of them is actually a novel I wrote in French about ten years ago. I will translate it into English and modify it, as I know now that some things need to be changed... like the first and last chapter. While I'm doing the course, and writing my play and novel, I will also put out a video on social network (Instagram, YouTube channel, website, Facebook) with some pictures, music and short pieces of my writing that I have been able to write since my retirement from teaching. I basically want to build a literary profile so the day I meet a literary agent and he asks me who I am, I can refer him to my social activity.
In English or in French, or both?
I've decided to write in English even though I'm French, because the English market is bigger and I believe that my style in English might make me stand out as I'm not an English native. We'll see...
From not writing much at all, to all these projects and plans now that you have retired from teaching, that's a huge lifestyle change. What inspires you to write?
What really inspires me is a sense of beauty with meaningfulness. I love a metaphoric language allied with alliterative musicality but all this beautiful language cannot happen with a deep meaningful message. So the short prose/poetry/songs I have been writing over the last two months are mixture of a wide variety of styles. I'm trying my hand at all genres to see which one I'm best at and like best.
Do you have a writing process?
The writing process for me always starts with an image or a sound that then gets fraught with an emotion, and then there's a desperate need to nail what I mean. Writing is like knitting. I thread the ball of metaphor - as I am right now - and then if musicality happens to enhance my finality, then I play with the colours of sounds. The idea is to get a piece of clothing that keeps people's imagination warm or that has the lightness of summer.
Do you have a particular place to write?
No, as long as I have a computer and the memory of an emotion, I can write anywhere. When I start writing my play and novel, I will do a lot of preparation beforehand and won't shy away from editing four or five times. To me a longer piece of writing is the same as a short one, except that a shorter piece doesn't require a plan.
Aside from your plans so far, any other goals?
My ultimate goal is to write plays and movie scripts because I like dialogues. I don't believe that poetry will earn me anything, but bigger projects will.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why?
My three favourite books are The Power Of One by Eckhardt Tolle, Petits Crimes Conjuguaux by Eric Emmanuel-Schmidt and Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine. I'm sorry that two of those books are in French.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
To me, writing means freedom, self-fulfilment, self-accomplishment, creativity, escaping from what I don't like into a world of my liking, letting go of my imagination, turning outside beauty into words, transformation, transcendence, reaching out to my pebble of spirituality. The other part of my writing is about activism, which means that I want to entertain people, but I also want them to learn something in the process and change the world for the better.
Thanks so much Manu, and thank you for your wonderful contributions to HAPPY. Don't stop writing!
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