Simenon wrote over four hundred novels. He was most well-known for his Inspector Maigret books of which there are 75 plus 28 short stories. So he was extraordinarily prolific. What does he have to tell us about writing?
You might think that such a prodigious gift might have come with a happy temperament but no.
“Writing is considered a profession and I don’t think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.”
Not a happy bunny then.
But what about how he did it? Six novels a year that is.
- he started with names which he got from a telephone book and a map of the place where the book was to be set and something that was worrying him
- it took him eleven days – eight days writing plus three days for revision
- before he started he’d get his doctor to check his blood pressure
- he would line up four dozen freshly sharpened pencils on his desk and put a Do Not Disturb sign stolen from The Plaza Hotel, New York on his study door
- for each book he had a lucky shirt which had to be washed each day
- he wrote a chapter a day
- if he fell ill during the course of writing the novel he’d throw it away and never return to it
- usually at the end of the book when his doctor checked his blood pressure it would be lower than at the beginning
- when each book was finished he always had the impression that it had not succeeded and wanted to try again
- he knew nothing about the events of the novel when he began. If he had it would have been of no interest to him
He always wrote by hand because
“I am an artisan; I need to work with my hands. I would like to carve my novel in a piece of wood. My characters – I would like to have them heavier, more three-dimensional. And I would like to make a man so that everyone looking at him would find his own problems in this man.”
And finally when asked if he ever changed his writing in response to criticism of it.
“Never. I have a very, very strong will about my writing and will go my own way. For instance all the critics for twenty years have said the same thing: It is time for Simenon to give us a big novel, a novel with twenty or thirty characters.’ They do not understand. I will never write a big novel. My big novel is the mosaic of my small novels.”
When he died, world-wide sales stood at 500 million copies in 55 languages, written in a vocabulary of no more than 2000 words.
Rowan Atkinson is due to take on the role of Inspector Maigret in the next television version. Quite odd casting to my mind but maybe that’s because the bearish figure of Michael Gambon suited the role so well. It will be interesting to see what Atkinson makes of it.
Have you read much Simenon? What do you think of him?