Marie Medevielle just finished her second term with teacher Inge Lamboo. The course has been such an inspiration for her that she’s now leaving behind her job as creative writer at a communication agency in Amsterdam to dive deeper into her passion and do a masters degree in creative writing in London. We are going to miss her but we’re also so proud of her for going for it and wish her all the best. We sat down with her recently to talk about what scares her, what inspires her and what she’s learned during her time with us.
Q: What led you to creative writing?
A: I am first and foremost an avid reader. I didn’t read as much in university, mainly because the mandatory books I had to read were for the most part very analytical essays. But when I started working as a creative writer for an ad agency here in Amsterdam, I started reading again, a lot, much more than ever before actually. I guess I was just more inspired by the creative environment I was in. It all comes down to storytelling: how do you tell someone’s story, how do you tell a brand’s story? That’s why I love fiction in the first place, because it is to me both an escape and an inspiration. This is my work toolbox. I live with and through the characters of the books I read. I learn from them, trying to understand their thoughts and actions, more than I do from reading essays or articles about the why’s and how’s of human behaviour. And understanding human behaviour as well as knowing how to tell good stories are the keys to what we do at an ad agency.
Because fiction and storytelling are such a huge part of what I love, I registered for my first workshop with the need to step out from the purely commercial application of my writing, and share this passion with like-minded peers. Both are totally complementary (fiction storytelling and storytelling for brands) but I wanted to develop my writing technique much further.
Q: What does your writing process look like?
A: I wish I could say I have a process! So far the only thing I know about the process is that it’s painful but wonderful. I am still trying to figure out the right time and places to be productive when I write. I am also a bit nomadic, so it’s not like I have a room somewhere I can always go back to. It can be that one place inspires me one day but definitely won’t the day after. I like movement. This applies to my writing especially.
What’s been working the best so far is to go outside to a bar or a cafe that does not offer a free Wi-Fi connection. I do not take my phone with me, I order a cappuccino, sit and write. We distract ourselves so unnecessarily in so many ways nowadays, with Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, emails, iMessages, this news app, that news app, the weather app, this pic, that video…
But the satisfaction I feel when I get through writing a piece is absolutely empowering. I might sometimes spend three hour to get one page done, and then ten more hours editing it. It sounds gargantuan, but I really believe this is they key: write, cross out, rewrite, write again, stick to it. I’m deeply convinced that’s the only way to get somewhere.
Q: Where do you get your material from? What inspires you?
A: When I first started, everything I wrote was very personal because it was inspired from my own experiences, almost exclusively memories of my young childhood in the south of France, growing up in the countryside with my mother, my grandmother and my brothers. I also wrote a lot about the year I spent in New York when I was 20. However, I realized very quickly that, first, when it came to sharing these pieces with peers in class, I got very uncomfortable having them comment on bits and pieces of my life they did not know about, even though their focus was on style, tone and technique. It was still my life! When you don’t have much experience as a writer, it is difficult to separate the emotional content from the “box” you put it in, and you might end up taking things too personally.
The second issue I had is that my life isn’t quite as exciting as Indiana Jones’. Not that you need it to be to be a writer, but some kind of eventful happenings do help provide you with material to fuel your writing. At first I often felt stuck with the same themes, and I did not know how to make them more universal. From then on, I decided to let my imagination lead the way. Instead of telling my stories, I would just tell stories. In the context of the workshop, I let myself be inspired by the tones of voice and the narrators of the sample pieces we studied.
From the perception I have of the narrator we’re looking at, arises very often different types of characters and voices that have nothing to do with my own life, but who I infuse of my own thoughts. I have read a lot of books by Terry Pratchett lately for example. He gives thoughts to little beings that have nothing to do with humans (or so it seems), to chests, trees, plants. Unconsciously, I let myself be inspired by him and I wrote short pieces in which I gave a voice to non-human things. This was so liberating. I can still talk about subjects and feelings dear to my heart, learning, growing, traveling, love, death, but when the character/narrator I use is physically so different from me, it becomes much easier to let go within my own practise and I dare to approach new themes in a more experimental way.
I also use movies as writing material. I watch them obsessively, taxonomically, the same way I read books. Real life and movies sometimes mingle: I start a story based on something I experienced but expand it with inspiration from films I’ve watched, and bring the whole thing in a direction that has nothing to do with my own personal life nor with the movie itself. I reckon we all store stories we hear about (or watch) in the magic box of our imagination. What’s important is to find a way to open up the box from time to time, and use it as a filter to watch view the world we live in – and write about it!
Q: What do you have squirrelled away in your experience library that you think you might draw on one day for your writing?
A: I grew up on a farm in the south of France, and my brothers and I are the eighth generation of the family to have inhabited these walls, where my mother and grandmother raised us. We found official wedding documents dating back as far as the second Republic in France (1840’s). The house is full of pictures of ancestors of ours who we can’t put a name to anymore because even my grandmother does not know who they were; we still have a letter stored in a small metal box somewhere, written by a lieutenant in 1914 and sent to my great-great grandfather to announce to him his son had died on the battlefield. You can imagine how special a place it is. My dream is to one day develop a feature or a mini-series that would encapsulate this story, to bring all the old fellas back to life!
Q: What’s it like to write in English as a second language?
A: Writing in a language that is not my mother tongue has actually helped develop my writing—a lot!—as odd as this can sound. Because English is a second language, I feel more free to experiment with it. As a result, I just write much more in English. I couldn’t picture myself writing only in French, and I would never be a writer if it was only in French. I’m too anal when it comes to it. But I love the combination of both languages.
Writing in English has allowed me to face my own vulnerabilities; and I strongly believe that vulnerability arouses creativity. When I sit in class with native English speakers, of course I envy their amazing vocabulary and lyricism. But I like English because it challenges me, and because it forces to be concise, creative and efficient in what I want to say. In English, I have to write differently, meaning I have to think differently, say complicated things in much simpler terms. This has proven quite successful so far.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that my reading in both French and English follows this logic. When it comes to French writers, Proust is my guru. I absolutely love his page-long sentences—though I understand why so many people hate it, fair enough. But I love those sentences because I have the luxury to be able to smoothly surf them, and once you’re on that wave, it’s endless. In English though, I like to read texts in which the rhythm is more hacked, abrupt, concise, although with a content just as dense. My reading in English taught me to tell more, with less words. That is something we’re not really good at, we French… My writing in English results from this: I like to write in a very cinematic way. I do not like to spend too much time or use too many words to describe a feeling, like I used to in French. I just love finding creative ways to show it.
Q: What’s been the scariest thing about taking a workshop and what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
A: Having someone read my text out loud the few first times was dead scary. I was almost offended! When you start, someone reading your own text never sounds good enough to you, because he/she won’t necessarily convey the way you think your text should sound. You lose control, yet you have to go with it. Better even, you must take it in and learn how to accept it, so to understand why their tone differs from the one you had in mind while writing the text, and think of what you could have done better or otherwise.
I had to learn how to trust my peers and be more tolerant with myself. I had to understand and remind myself I was not there to show how good I could be or was. I was there to learn about what could help me improve, and my fellow classmates, all of them, have been fantastic at helping me understand this.
But I think what I actually learned the most from was giving feedback. It requires from you to sharpen your reader’s eye. Reading a text and commenting almost instantly on its structure, its characters, its narrative form, its tone of voice, its style, asks from you to be really alert. Basically, you’re learning to read as a real writer, and that’s the only way to become a better writer, in my opinion. This training and this sharpness is something I can a apply to my own writing every day, my own reading but also to my work.
Q: What’s your writing superpower? What’s your kryptonite?
A: I don’t think “superpower” has anything to do with writing. Talent is involved, but that’s only maybe 10%, max. Everything else is work, sweat, perseverance, discipline. And more work. Tears? Maybe. I guess this is why I call it a painful process. Writing is not about super powers, not about super hero writers, not about the magic light we see in our head one day that makes us the next Stephen King. I wish. But nope. Writing—at least writing as I experience it—is about catching inspiration when it passes by, and use the craft to make something out of it: shape it into words that give colours and substance to our feelings and thoughts, and work with those words, search them, try them, edit them, mould them, twist them, change them, delete them. Until we come close to small satisfaction, if we ever do, until the last coma, the last point; and until we decide to edit it all over again.
Q: Who’s on your list of favourite authors? And your most hated list?
A: Proust is probably number one on my “fav’s list” as I said. It might sound classic and old school, and very French, but what can I say? I love him. It took me a while to get to understand his writing flow and get into it, but since I’ve started, it has not stopped. I’ve learned more about psychology with him than from any psychology essay. I’ve learnt more about philosophy than in any philosophy class. I’ve learned more about people than I ever did studying sociology for five years. He’s one of the finest people watchers I ever “met”!
In English, I have read a lot of Terry Pratchett, as I said as well. He’s the one who got me started with reading English a lot. I love his children’s books particularly, for the simplicity of the structure and narrative but the complexity of the thoughts unveiled between the lines. I have also read a lot of Bukowski, because I love the rawness and brutal honesty of his text. He uses the term “juice” when he talks about a text. I love this idea. I think it is a great image. A good text is probably one you want to squeeze until absorbing its quintessence, its pulp.
There are many other authors I love, the list is long and does not really have any logic in it, from Murakami to Palahniuk, from Faulkner’s experimental writing to the quirkiness of a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, but also the dystopian sci-fi of Ishiguro or disturbing fantasy of Clive Barker, or more classically Jane Austen. Add to that some beautiful songs by Serge Gainsbourg or all the screenplays by Kenneth Lonergan, and you’ll understand that the list is too long and diverse and would probably look like a book if I was to pay tribute to all the people that inspire me.
Q: How has writing had an effect on other aspects of your life?
A: Writing is the core of my life. Period. It’s my passion, it’s my drive, and it’s my work. I have a life-long love story with words and I’m afraid it’ll be the only true one that will last for ever! Writing—and, very complementarily, reading—brings a lot of balance into my life. Writing and reading are the core of what I do in both my personal and professional life, for the sheer and simple reason that this is that one thing that makes me want to get out of bed every day, and keeps me happy, and helps me be happier.
Q: What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve in the next year?
A: A couple of months ago, I decided to apply to do a creative writing masters in London. Needless to say my experience of the workshop has played a major role in this decision, both influenced by my fellow students and my teacher. Spending time with classmates to write, read and discuss my readings and writings outside of work has given me the strong urge to take my writing to its next step, and look for ways to develop myself not only as a creative writer in an agency but actually as a fiction creative writer , with the intention of being able to write for film & TV more specifically. I got accepted to two programs in London, one that’s purely creative writing related, the other more specifically focused on screenwriting. I’m stoked. Since I love them both, I’ll just do both! It means I’ll be dedicating the coming year to developing my craft much more in depth, with the strong intention being to work within the film and/or TV industry right after that, and the secret dream to cross the Atlantic and give LA a shot one day.
Originally published: 5 July, 2017