Writing, a French passion? Survey in the writing workshops of the Paris Book Festival

More and more French people are writing: there was already one in five ten years ago, the health crisis has further amplified the phenomenon, to the point that the Gallimard house has started in 2021 with a tweet inviting applicants a “suspend submission of manuscripts”overwhelmed as they were by the influx of editorial projects: up to fifty a day after confinement.

Who are these Frenchies who are tickled by the feather? Why are they writing? Survey at the Paris Book Festival, which this year organized writing workshops and masterclasses with successful authors such as Franck Thilliez, a polar star made in France.

This Saturday in the early afternoon, they wisely sit in the creative workshop room. They are waiting for him, a small smile of satisfaction on their lips. They thought to reserve, the others will stay at the door. Upon arrival, applause, murmurs of admiration, laptops raised for the photo.

Franck Thilliez is among the top three of the most widely read writers in France. “He’s my favorite thriller writer”breathes Emmanuelle, a Bordelais who made the trip to Paris especially to “discover” the book festival. “When I saw that he was doing a MasterClass I signed up, I thought he was going to explain to me how he writes, and talk about his inspiration”adds the young woman. Right behind her, Brigitte says that she came a bit by chance. “The manuscript of my first novel is with the publishers”he says, crossing his fingers.

Emmanuelle, from Bordeaux, attends the MasterClass of Franck Thilliez, author of crime novels, Paris Book Festival, April 23, 2022 (Laurence Houot / FRANCEINFO CULTURE)

Franck Thilliez attacks his MasterClass. “Fifty minutes is not long, so I won’t go into details”The writer begins “but I will try to give some clues for those who want to start writing a novel”. First, “you have to organize yourself”Franck Thilliez says, “because it is important to always maintain a connection with the story you are writing, with the characters, and if that connection is maintained, even when you are not working, your brain will work”.

The writer continues to evoke the importance of the idea and the characters. “Write preferably about your favorite topics, it will be easier”he advises. “Have fun with this sentence: what would happen if… for example, a man comes to the office one morning and nobody knows him. Try to imagine that an event comes to shake up everyday life”suggests the author of thrillers. “It’s also important to create empathy between the reader and your characters”.

Writer Franck Thilliez offers a MasterClass at the Paris Book Festival, April 23, 2023 (Laurence Houot / FRANCEINFO CULTURE)

“I know that some writers don’t like to do this kind of thing, I like to share my know-how”trust franceinfo Culture. “I have already done writing workshops, I think that can be very useful, to trigger the process. Many times people want to write, but they get blocked, they don’t dare to start because of the gaze of others”, points out Franck Thilliez. For his part, he learned everything on the job. “I had never imagined publishing a book one day. Fifteen days before I started writing, I didn’t even know I was going to want to write. On the other hand, I have always liked to be told stories, in the movies or with books”.

“I was fascinated by the ability of writers or directors to elicit emotions from a distance, like fear, like excitement. I think that’s what made me want to write.”

Franck Thilliez, writer

at franceinfo Culture

“Finding a good story, that’s what you have to start with, and if you want to know more, I’ll be publishing a book soon with Robert Le Plaisir de la Peur, in which I develop everything we’ve discussed today.”concludes the author of before being attacked by selfies and dedications.

Akim, 29, also writes suspense novels. “It’s interesting to see how others work”confess. “I started writing a few years ago, and I always got stuck on the fifteenth page, and then in 2019 I finally managed to turn the corner and find a publisher, but for a few weeks I signed up for an online writing workshop, it’s always good to be advised, to improve”confesses the young man, who says he has confidence for the future.

“These training courses to learn to write have existed for a long time in Anglo-Saxon countries, but they are still frowned upon in France”, explains to franceinfo Culture Céline Zufferey, who the day before organized a writing workshop in the same place. The young author has been a trainer for four years to desire to writea Swiss distance learning organization. “I think it’s because of the figure of the damned poet, this idea of ​​the inspired writer and that’s it, as if that were enough”adds this novelist trained at the Swiss Literary Institute.

Céline Zufferey novelist and trainer at Desire to Write, April 22 at the Paris Book Festival (Laurence Houot / FRANCEINFO CULTURE)

“It is still strange to see that there are conservatories to learn music, art schools to learn painting, but nothing to learn to write. Maybe it’s because we all learn to write in school, but creative writing is something else again, and it can be learned.”insists Céline Zufferey, who has published a first novel save the furniturein 2017 published by Gallimard.

In front of her this Friday at the book festival, an almost exclusively female audience, who fan themselves while waiting for the start of the session. “We have students from all backgrounds, of all ages, a little more women than men. Many times it is about people who have reached a stage in their life, retirement, for example, and who decide to dedicate time to their passion”explains Hélène Auboyer Treuille, director of marketing for desire to write.

“Writing is a solitary exercise, and many times you feel alone, it is important to be able to exchange”

Céline Zufferey, author and trainer at Desir d’crire

at franceinfo Culture

“We offer a framework, a method and advice. The students have exercises to do, we read them and give them feedback in a systematic way”, explains the coach.

“I came because we are writing a book with my brothers and sisters”says Audrey Ndoza. “I saw this workshop proposal in the festival brochure so I signed up. I saw that the training organization offered literary diagnoses, I’m interested”she explains.

After having read and explained some sources of writing on the theme of the object, Céline invites the public to get going. Topic : “to describe an object, to talk about a character, you have a quarter of an hour”. Noses turn up to find inspiration. The temperature rises a bit. “The figure of the writer is so heavy that a large part of my students, most of whom have been writing for a long time, have never talked about it with their loved ones, and do not even admit that they are in training.”Celine Zufferey says.

The workshop is coming to an end. Céline invites guests to share her text. Hands go up, words fly, here “Paul’s Toothbrush”The nail “Lady Gate”or even a stranger “archaeological object”and to finish, “a pen”“A perfect text to conclude this session”smiles Celine Zufferey.

“I didn’t dare to read my text”says Melissa, an 18-year-old high school student visiting the festival with her teacher. “I am the only one in my class who has taken this workshop. I write poems”the teenager whispers. “I have been writing since I was 14 years old and I am always looking for information, advice to improve. It was very interesting to think about this topic of objects” He concludes enthusiastically.

Hélène and Agnès have come to take the temperature, they are giving a writing workshop writing colorsin Pontoise, in the Paris region. “It’s always interesting to see how others do”Helene explains. Also curious, Nada is also a facilitator of writing workshops, which she offers from the Airbnb platform.

Writing workshops and training are flourishing in France. This trend responds to an increasingly widespread inclination for writing. “In five years, the number of students enrolled in our training has increased by 50%”explains Hélène Auboyer Treuille.

“A lot of people feel a strong need to express themselves. Writing a novel is hard, it’s an important project. Often we start to write a novel and after 40 pages we get stuck because we don’t hear the wrong notes right away, like in music “, Celine Zufferey says.

“Not all of our students will become writers, but we are here to help them complete their already huge project.”the novelist concludes.

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