“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 53: The Sunday Novelist

I just read an inspiring story about a biology teacher from Lyon, where I spent the first weekend of April this past year with my students.  He won the prestigious Prix Goncourt for his debut novel, L'art Français de La Guerre.  This prize isn't about the money--you get all of 10 euros--but you are guaranteed to sell about 400,000 copies of the book after the announcement is made.

The author's name is Alexis Jenni.  He's 48, and he describes himself as a "Sunday writer."  He has no intention of quitting his day job.

Mr. Jenni wrote two novel manuscripts before he wrote this one, but he had no luck with them.  This novel, which is 700-pages long in manuscript form, took him five years to write.  He sent it to just one publisher, Gallimard, and they took it.  And then this November, he won the grand prize. 

I read about him in the current issue of France magazine, and then found this article in The Guardian.  Allson Flood of The Guardian wrote:
A journey through France's military history in Indochina, Algeria and at home, Jenni's 600-page novel is told through the eyes of Victorien Salagnon, a war veteran who becomes a painter, and the young man he teaches to paint in exchange for writing his story. 'I saw the river of blood which flows through my peaceful town, I saw the French art of war, which never changes, and I saw the turmoil which always happens for the same reasons, for French reasons which never change,' writes Jenni in the novel. 'Victorien Salagnon gave me all of time, through war which haunts our language.'

The teacher/Sunday novelist/Priz Goncourt winner also writes a blog, the title of which, Voyages Pas Très Loin, voyages not very far (rough translation) is totally in keeping with the spirit of this blog, especially this week.  I just became a follower/member.  I love synchronicity. 

A dear friend who fits in the making of art into a very demanding, full-time job, told me that on Sunday afternoons beginning at 3 PM she makes art or crafts projects with a friend for three hours.  "It's easy to find reasons to cancel," she told me.  "I have a paper I have to write for a conference, and so much work coming up this week.  But once I get out of the habit, it's easy to just stop going.  So I have to just do it." 

This same friend rented a studio twenty years ago, before she had her own studio and I had mine.  On Saturdays, from 9 AM to noon, she used to share it with me.  Every Saturday morning, no matter what, I would write and she would make art.  Were it not for these sessions, I wouldn't have published at all.  That's because when I first started teaching, I had no time at all to write.  Not even the pre-dawn hours.  I had new courses to prepare, endless reading, and the grading was out of control, so setting aside these Saturday mornings helped me so much.  Everything I wrote and published those first two years on the job came, or began, from those morning sessions.  I wrote a lot of short-short memoirs and stories then (funny how we find the form that fits our time constraints), and I could always complete a draft in the three-hour time allotment.  Then I'd tweak and revise later.  I also wrote chunks of longer pieces that I could spend a few minutes of each day working on as the week progressed. 

There were always papers to grade on Saturday mornings, but I put them off to the afternoon.  And I would put off recreation--bike rides, and adventures in cross-country skiing--until Sunday.

But if I happened to live in Lyon, it would be difficult to devote all of Sunday to writing.  A world UNESCO site, Lyon is just a spectacular city.  When I was there with the students, a few of us spent much of the day on bicycle exploring the Rhône and the Saône rivers.  My bike ride in Lyon is one of my happiest memories of being in France last year.  The warm air, the spring flowers, the river view of people picnicking and smooching: it was all so romantic and festive.

Lyon is the second most prosperous city in France and is rated something like 38th overall in the world on livability.  There's a Roman amphitheater, a festival of lights, deep ties to the history of film (the Lumière brothers invented the cinematographer here), but get this: Lyon is the gastronomy capitol of France.  Need I say more?

I love the little bouchons, traditional restaurants with local wines, that often have strange puppets in the window.

If I lived in Lyon, I would have to wake up very very early to be a Sunday writer, so that I could write my minimum requirement of pages, but make it out of my art cave in time for Sunday lunch.  But then
It seems that every door opens into a captivating courtyard
the ruins of the Roman amphitheater in the distance
again, I operate very well on the rewards system.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Who could resist a restaurant with this window?
Your table awaits you. 


  1. quietly enjoying these posts. Nice to hear about the things that inspire and feed you.

    1. I love your wit, Sara. I do enjoy writing about being fed!

      Thank you so very much for reading and for commenting. It means a lot to me.