Translated and shortened version of the interview clips with 2014 Nobel Laureate in Literature Patrick Modiano, 6 December 2014.
What made you become a writer?
Patrick Modiano: I think I became a writer because I didn’t know of anything else to do. Maybe some incident from my childhood influenced me. I remember reading James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans when I was only six years old, and I didn’t understand much of it, but I still finished it. Possibly that reading obsession influenced me so much that later in life I became a writer. When I was older, after I had studied a while, I even tried to enrol to study medicine but failed a science exam. I started writing as it was the only thing I knew. And it just continued, I was launched and … it was like a snowball effect.
How do you work? How does an novel originate?
Patrick Modiano: I quickly realised that it is difficult to get started when writing a novel. You have this dream of what you want to create, but it is like walking around a swimming pool and hesitating to jump in, because the water is too cold. Once you get started you have to write every day, otherwise you lose the momentum. When I was younger I just put off the writing until later in the day, but now I write early every morning, to get it done. I can only write for a few hours at a time, after that my attention fades.
Do you know the end of your novel when you start writing?
Patrick Modiano: To know the end is always difficult. That is why I have always envied some crime writers who can foresee the end. Not knowing the end is hard, because you are obliged to continue without knowing where you are heading, though towards the end you do get a feeling for in which direction you’re going. Knowing when and where to end is always a delicate matter; you have to find the exact moment in which to cut, to stop yourself.
Who or what is your source of inspiration?
Patrick Modiano: I have to see an exact, real life, place in front of me. A realistic place, a street, a building where it is all happening and from which I can then continue dreaming. One of my books starts in the tube with a girl believing she sees her mother whom she hasn’t seen for a long time, and then follows her.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Patrick Modiano: At my time I improvised, so it is difficult to give specific advice. Best advices are the mundane ones, not too precise ones, rather indications. Encourage aspiring writers to continue writing when things are going against them, when it feels hard. Explain the typical obstacles that occur and encourage and reassure them to continue, never to give up.
What were you doing when you heard you had been awarded the Nobel Prize?
Patrick Modiano: It is a bit strange, but I was walking in rue d’Assas very close to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris when my daughter called me and told me the news. Rue d’Assas happens to be the street where August Strindberg* lived when he was in Paris. So, I don’t know, but it is a curious coincidence with this Swedish connection.
* August Strindberg, 1849-1912, was a Swedish writer.
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Their work and discoveries range from the formation of black holes and genetic scissors to efforts to combat hunger and develop new auction formats.
See them all presented here.