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ARCHIVES: Interview with Jean-François Vernay, conducted by Brian Feinblum

La république des lettres —
ARCHIVES: Interview with Jean-François Vernay, conducted by Brian Feinblum

What type of books do you write?


I started writing nonfiction books because I wanted to experience a theoretical approach to literature, and so I specialised in Australian fiction. My first book, Water from the Moon: Illusion and Reality in the Works of Australian Novelist Christopher Koch, is a monograph on a talented Tasmanian writer and my second book sells as a potted literary history of Australian fiction. A Brief Take on The Australian Novel (Wakefield Press, 2016) was translated by Dr. Marie Ramsland while I was working on my first fiction piece.

What is your newest book about?


There are two latest books which are companion pieces: a short fable and a literary essay. The fable, Un Doux petit rêveur, which came out last September, is the story of seven-year-old Benjamin, penned up in what American sociologist Erving Goffman calls “a total institution”. He has a friend – Fil, and the two tell each other incredible stories which fail to satisfy their need for wonder. Deep within his peninsula, the marooned child whiles the time away by embarking on mysterious adventures and – as the story unfolds – the reader realizes that something is not quite right with them. It’s a modern fairy tale about how incognizance and exclusion seem to be the instinctual responses and the easy way out to the difficulties we face in life.
Plaidoyer pour un renouveau de l’émotion en littérature, was published in March and is currently under translation by Dr. Carolyne Lee. It mainly deals with the way we generally tend to repress emotions in the process of reading and assessing books, which is a paradox because literature is all about feelings and subjectivity. I’m very pleased that this essay has just been longlisted for a Paris-based literary award:

What inspired you to write it?

I write about things that in my eyes deserve attention, things which are either neglected, disregarded, or simply ignored in life. Christopher Koch was a neglected writer in Australian academia when I first undertook my research on him. Then I realized that Australian fiction had little visibility in French-speaking countries and so my potted literary history Panorama du roman australien des origines à nos jours (Paris: Hermann, 2009) brought some awareness to the subject. My French fable, which translates as A Sweet Little Dreamer (2012), was originally meant to sensitize the general punter to autism and other predicaments that ostracize people while my latest literary essay is written as a plea (plaidoyer, in French) to encourage readers to embrace literature – which I regard to be the pap of life, for without imagination and ideas our civilisation would be extinct – at a time when less and less people allow their lives to be enriched by these unmaterialistic values. I want my books to be useful above all. They are not published to serve an attention-seeking ego. They are published to assist people in developing an inquisitive mind and reaching a state of awareness that will hopefully benefit society at large.


What is the writing process like for you?

The writing process, as I see it, is thoroughly discussed in Plaidoyer pour un renouveau de l’émotion en literature (2013). If you read French, I will encourage you to check this reference; if not, you might need to wait until the translation finds a publisher.

What did you do before you became an author?


I was a student.

How does it feel to be a published author?


Nothing special, it’s just part of the process of how the book will reach its readers. But if you’d ask me how it feels to make a positive difference in someone’s life, I’d say it’s the greatest reward a writer can get. Perhaps someone will take a fresher look at things, perhaps someone has loved the story I wrote or the way it was written, perhaps someone will take up a cause, etc. Who knows? These are the precious little rewards you get when you are published.

Any advice for struggling writers?


Keep your nose to the grindstone, vest your story with meaning and feelings, and believe in yourself.

Where do you see book publishing heading?


Let’s hope in the right eco-friendly direction.

Source: Brian Feinblum, “Interview With Author Jean-François Vernay”, 23/09/2013, online.

Postcript: Since the publication of this Interview, the translation of Plaidoyer pour un renouveau de l’émotion en littérature has indeed found a publisher. The Seduction of Fiction: A Plea for Putting Emotions Back into Literary Interpretation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan) will be published in August 2016 as part of the Palgrave Studies in Affect Theory and Literary Criticism Series. See web link below

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