In conversation with... Liam Callanan

Hi Liam! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Paris by the Book. Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Paris by the Book is about a young American woman who travels to Paris in search of her husband, who disappears one day from their house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. The police are convinced that he’s drowned, but she’s not so sure—and neither are their daughters. Clues lead them to France, and specifically a bookstore that they wind up taking over.

Writing this brief synopsis was, I have to say, almost more difficult than writing the novel itself! I’m glad the publisher employs people who are much better at this than I am. Here’s their take: “Twelve weeks before Leah Eady arrived in France, her husband disappeared. Early one morning, he walked out the door and never came back. All he left behind was a scrumpled note in a cereal box, leading her to the bustling streets of Paris. Once she arrives, she discovers a mysterious unfinished manuscript written by her husband, and set in the very same city. Hoping to uncover more clues, Leah takes over a crumbling bookshop with her two young daughters, only to realise that he might just be closer than any of them ever imagined...but what if he doesn’t want to be found?”

There, that’s better.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did something that you were not expecting?

A: This answer I’m going to have to do on my own. And the truth is, I didn’t have it figured out. And maybe I will borrow someone else’s words again. I very much like the E.L. Doctorow quote that writing is like driving at night—you can only see as far as your headlights, but that’s far enough to get where you’re going. I wasn’t entirely sure where this novel would end up when I began it—which, in many ways, meant that I experienced the book (at least the first draft) as readers will, uncertain of what would happen next.

Paris is not just a setting, it is a character in its own right. The main character of the book, even. Why Paris?

A: Two other books have prominent cameos in this book, and they’re both children’s books: Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline, and Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (which was actually a film first). Both of those books, particularly in America, I find, are how people ‘visit’ Paris for the first time. Those books, along with so many other Paris literature and film, generate this myth of what Paris was and can and even should be. It’s a powerful magic: when I first took my youngest daughter to Paris, she suddenly stopped in the middle of a sidewalk, put her hands on her hips and declared: “I’ve been here before.” And she had, in the pages of her favorite books. It fascinates me, that identification people have with Paris, the way it looms for so many people worldwide as a one-of-a-kind destination. My own unscientific study reveals that there are more cities in the United States named for Paris than another world capital. There are dozens of Parises here, including one just down the road from my house in Wisconsin. (I don’t think many Parisians would recognize it, though—it’s rural, mostly open green fields.) In any case, that pull Paris has on people—particularly through books—was something I felt I had to explore.

If this novel could be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Leah?

A: I’m keeping my own preference a secret! But I will say that names that readers so far have mentioned include Jennifer Garner, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Rachel McAdams. Anyway. It’s fun to think about. I’ve not had a movie made from my work yet, but this one seems particularly filmable. And I have to say that I think Leah’s an amazing part.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: That’s a good question. And it is tricky to answer this without giving anything away, but I’ll try. There’s a scene in a hospital; that was indeed particularly difficult to write. It was, first, technically difficult—I had to have a physician help me with all the details, and I actually visited the Parisian hospital I wrote about (which made for the oddest Parisian tourist itinerary ever). But writing this scene was emotionally difficult as well. I find hospitals anxious spaces in real life, and that was even more the case on the page. Still, and this may not make any sense given what I just said, I love that scene.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Again, without giving too much away, there’s a reference to an unfinished book manuscript in the novel, left behind by the man who disappeared. I think it’s described as being tens of thousands of words long. It is, in fact, that long, and I know that because I wrote it—and eventually deleted it, though at one point it had been slated to be a kind of book-within-the-book. Cutting it was the right decision, but a difficult one—all those pages!

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I am, but I don’t usually describe what lies on the horizon, because it always seems to change as I write (see: driving at night, above).

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: It’s a wonderful time to be an author but it’s also a wonderfully distracting time as well. I severely restrict my social media time; otherwise, it would overtake my entire writing day. Truth be told, though, even if I didn’t restrict my time I don’t think I’d be more active than I am. I’m incredibly jealous of authors who are on social media all the time and use it so well. That seems to me the literary equivalent of unicycling.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring Writers?

A: Read widely and ceaselessly. And avoid adverbs.

Thank you for your time!

De rien!
In case you missed it, you can click here to read my thoughts on Paris by the Book and find out how you can win a copy of this novel!

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