Marc Levy: Life has more imagination than me

I remember the first Marc Levy book I picked up six years ago. ‘Finding You’ – was only 230 pages, but it was so shattering that I still remember the feeling of emptiness that caught me after I read it. It turned into its creator’s symbol – I’ve talked about it and Marc so many times, I’ve lent it to so many friends and relatives, that when mentioning his new book everyone’s asking: “Who? The author of ‘Finding You’?” I remember the second novel I picked up – I was impressed by the back cover resume: “Steven Spielberg is working on the novel’s adaptation for his next movie”. Wow, I don’t doubt it. Marc Levy’s first published novel – ‘If Only It Were True’ – is a real page turner too. An incredibly deep, fast-paced novel, filled with such a fresh humour, and not surprisingly translated into 49 languages. I remember Spielberg’s movie too. Although not a bad piece, it crippled the novel’s idea to such a great extent that I still remember my emotional correspondence with Marc the next day. I found his site on the internet and wrote about my impressions – my excitement from the book and my disappointment from the movie. He replied immediately and I was amazed by this well-mannered, down-to-earth and warm-hearted man…

It’s very difficult to classify Marc Levy’s work in brief. Starting with the fact that he has had a new story published every year since 2000 – his characters are thoroughly different with all kinds of professions, you just fall in love with them and you won’t like to forget them afterwards. Stories about love, nobility, new beginning, adventure, social responsibility. Stories with a lot of life philosophy, irony, humour. Skillful structures, compelling plots, fine dialogues. Thriller, drama, romance, fantasy – there is no inaccessible genre for Marc Levy, he just creates with the same virtuosity in all of them… So when I finished reading his last novel which was translated into Bulgarian some weeks ago I decided it was about time to invite Marc Levy to bgstoryteller. The world’s most widely read contemporary French author spent some of his precious time sharing about his creative experience with aspiring Bulgarian authors.

Special thanks to Graham and Valentina Hazelwood for the English proofreading!

Marc Levy: “Writing requires a lot of discipline and passion.”

An interview by Valentina Miziiska


Your first novel ‘If Only It Was True’ has been filmed. But the movie is so much different. The novel is deep, passionate, philosophical and the movie is so light, superficial and frivolous, at the edge of comedy. How does it feel to see your idea almost damaged? What’s the feeling of being poorly understood?

I didn’t participate in the film adaptation of the novel or scriptwriting or choice of actors. It was my first novel and the adaptation rights were acquired by Steven Spielberg for Dreamworks. Meeting Steven Spielberg remains an amazing memory. Now about the movie itself, well, I would say this. A Director is also an author, I don’t believe a director wants to film the page of a book. Add to this that a book tells a story in many hours, while a movie is limited to 90 minutes. So the movie was made into a family comedy, for the American public, and it became very popular in the States. Yes, it’s very different from the book, and it didn’t capture the sensibility of the character, and skipped a big part of the purpose of the story, but when you see on a big screen, right after the Dreamworks’ logo, the title of your first book, if you are not happy then, you might never be happy. And who knows, maybe one day, another director will adapt this book and will make a completely different movie.

Which of your stories surprised you the most (as far as it concerns the inspiration in the beginning compared to the final work)?

I don’t believe I have a favorite one, they are all so different. With each book I’ve made a concerted effort to never limit myself to one genre and to never tell the same story twice. I really enjoy starting each book with a complete new beginning, writing once a comedy, or thriller or a saga, or an adventure novel. That’s all the magic of being a writer, traveling into different continents of words. Each book is for me a way to explore new horizons – and there are still many lands I have yet to discover… each novel is an opportunity to encounter new characters who, by the end, become friends.

Your stories are ideas centered, but your characters are so well developed and they get under the reader’s skin. Do you have a formula for that?

No formula. I just spend a lot of time with them, I learn about their life, I spy on them, I listen to them, until they become friends.

Your stories are very complicated; there are many twists, a lot of suspense. Do you have a complete strategy at the beginning of the writing process or do you just write and wait to see where the story would take you?

Ideas come from everyday life and life has more imagination than me. I like to watch and listen, I like to observe the world around me. The smallest thing can be the spark of an idea. But an idea is not yet a story and might never become one. I leave with the characters around with me for a long time, whilst their personalities develop and the plot takes shape. When I’ve finished my research, when I can answer the question, ‘What is this story really trying to say?’, that’s when I’m ready to embark in a journey.

A new book every year. What’s the writing process behind that? How long do the research/writing/editing take? How long do you write each day?

A long, long time. Writing requires a lot of discipline and passion. When I write, I write 15 hours per day, seven days a week and for about four months. It’s like diving deep into the big blue. Nothing else exists. You live in an imaginary world, where almost everything becomes possible.

The editing part takes me another month, and the research can take many years, 10 years for example before I wrote ‘Children of Freedom’. Of course a comedy requires less research, while some other books like ‘Another idea of happiness’, or ‘Replay’, needed a lot.

How do you do your research? Do you have a team for that?

I always start with the research. Each new novel is an opportunity for me to discover a new world and new characters. And some of my characters are very far removed from my everyday life… In ‘The First Day’ and ‘The First Night’ I choose an astrophysicist and an archaeologist as my protagonists. Crazy, I know! The construction of their lives and personalities did not come naturally. I did a lot of research, just to understand what it was that they were doing, but it was really exciting and I learned a lot.

I believe a team would be useless. First of all, I love too much this part of the process. And also, you need to learn your story’s subject and its environment and you end up finding a lot of things that you were not searching for. So if you were to ask someone to do your research, you would lose a lot of material.

How do you manage writer’s block?

You walk, breathe, try to understand why you are blocked, what doesn’t work in your story, you look around you, listen the small voice in your head and then you go back to your desk.

How do you realize you need to stop revising and your manuscript is final?

You never do, you never think that your book is finished, you are never totally satisfied with your work, and you never want to leave your characters, but your publisher does it for you.

Who are your favourite authors?

They are too many to just name a few, and there is more each year. I believe ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ both opened up my social conscience and my eyes to the man I wanted to become someday. ‘The Little Prince’ opened up my imagination and filled it with dreams. Then I would say the 3,000 or so books that followed helped me in each step of my life.

What is your current project?

I recently published a book in France, ‘La Dernière des Stanfield’. Another of my books, ‘Elle et Lui’ is being published in the States in early September under the title ‘PS from Paris’. I am actually working on a movie script, and I will start a new novel later this coming October.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Anyone reading your book is making you an amazing gift, so be always humble while you write.

And the worst advice?

Think about who you write for.

What’s your advice for followers?

Look at what you are writing and never look at yourself while you write.



Here are some links where you can find more about Marc: