Q: What was the inspiration for Sarah’s Key?
A: I have always been interested in places and houses. And how places and houses keep memories, how walls can talk. Many of my books explore that theme. One of my novels (La Mémoire des Murs, the Memory of Walls) describes the rue Nélaton, in the 15th arrondissement, not far from where I live in Paris. That is where the great Vél d’Hiv roundup took place on July 16th 1942.
Q: How much did you know about what happened before you started writing?
A: I realized I didn’t know much about what happened that day. I was not taught about this event at school, during the 70’s. And it seemed to be shrouded by some kind of taboo. So I started reading and researching.
Q: And what did you learn? How did it make you feel?
A: As I progressed through my research, I was moved, appalled by what I discovered concerning the Vél d’Hiv roundup, especially about what happened to those 4000 Jewish children, and I knew I had to write about it. But I also knew it could not be a historical novel, it had to have a more contemporary feel to it. And that’s how I imagined Julia’s story taking place today, linked to Sarah’s, back in the 40’s.
Q: Please share a few words about the writing process.
A: Writing Sarah’s Key was a powerful experience. Researching those dark times of France’s past, the Occupation, the Vichy years, was tremendously enriching. But sobering, too.
Q : Are Sarah and her family based on people who really existed in 1942 ?
A: No, Sarah and her family come out of my imagination. But my daughter Charlotte, who was 11 years old when I wrote this book, was a major source of inspiration for Sarah. Sarah’s brother’s destiny is also an event I imagined, although I do believe it could have happened in real life.
Q : Are you Julia Jarmond ?
A: No, although many of my readers think so ! Julia is American, I am half- English, half –French. I have a wonderful husband who has nothing to do with Julia’s arrogant husband, Bertrand. I do not have a daughter called Zoe, but a son named Louis and a daughter, Charlotte, who are now 19 and 21. The only thing I have in common with Julia is that we are the same age and are both journalists.
Q : How long did it you take to write Sarah’s Key ?
A: It took me one year to research it, two years to write it, and two years to get it published.
Q : What sort of research did you do to write Sarah’s Key?
A : I read everything I could concerning the round-up. (That book list is at the back of Sarah’s Key in its French version, or on that book list is here) I went to Beaune la Rolande and Drancy, several times. And I met Vel d’Hiv survivors, which were unforgettable moments.
Q : What language did you originally write Sarah’s Key in and why ?
A : I wrote it in English. I felt that writing about such a sensitive French subject would somehow be easier for me if I used my “English” side, which gave me a certain distance. My father is French, and my mother is British and I grew up in France, USA and UK, learning both languages at the same time. All my previous published work is in French, but since Sarah’s Key, I write in English.
Q : How many languages has Sarah’s Key been translated into ?
A : I believe it is now 38, which never ceases to amaze me.
Q : Did you like the movie directed by Gilles Paquet Brenner, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Mélusine Mayance as Sarah ? (released in the USA in spring 2011)
A : I did, very much so, and I thought it was very faithful to my book.
Q : What is your new book about ?
A : A Secret Kept has just been published in the USA, I wrote it in English. It is the story of a modern man confronted with a dark family truth, and who will meet love in an very unexpected way. It is about love (a first for me !) , death, parents, children and secrets…
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Irène Nemirovsky, Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe. And Paul Auster, Joanna Trollope, Anita Shreeve, Penelope Lively, A.S Byatt, JM Coetzee, Maggie O’Farrell, Tracy Chevalier, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sarah Waters.
Q : What first got you interested in writing?
A: I first started writing when I was 11 years old, in 1972. I was already a book worm and several books had inspired me : Anne Frank’s diary, “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier and the “Young Vistors ” by 9 year-old Daisy Ashford. For my mother’s birthday, I decided to write her a short novel and she was most encouraging when she read “A girl called Carey”, the 80 page, hand-written story in English, of a poor little rich girl in 19th Century London. I wrote a book a year for my family. I was already then firmly convinced I was going to be a writer. But I did not seek publication till 1992.
Q : Describe your writing process.
A : I take notes when I am preparing a novel and while I am writing it. I write early in the morning and late at night. My first readers are my husband Nicolas and my close friends Laure, Catherine and Julia, who have more or less read everything I’ve written, even the unpublished stuff ! It takes me a year or two to write a novel.