Sunday, May 31, 2020

Q&A with Jean-Baptiste Andrea

Jean-Baptiste Andrea, photo by Vinciane Lebrun-Verguethen
Jean-Baptiste Andrea is the author of the novel A Hundred Million Years and a Day, now available in an English translation by Sam Taylor. It was published in France last fall. Andrea also has written the novel Ma Reine, and in addition is a director and screenwriter.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Hundred Million Years and a Day, and for your character Stan?

A: I always find it difficult to track the origins of an idea. I remember the moment this particular one happened: I was just standing in my study and bang, the whole story hit me.

If I do a bit of forensic digging, it doesn’t come from nowhere, though. As a child, I first wanted to be a writer, and was told it wasn’t really a job. So, for a while I decided I would be a paleontologist instead. This new pursuit just lasted a few years, until everybody realized I only had good grades in literature studies and would probably never advance science.

Retrospectively, I wondered, “Why did I ever want to go from writing to paleontology, such  a different path?” I realized there was a logical connection between a writer and a paleontologist. They’re both storytellers. So, they’re not that different, except the former tends to deal with fiction, the latter with historical facts.

Stan was born out of this rather fertile common ground.

Q: You've said that the book tells the story of a man who, “for the first time ever...decides to follow his dreams. This is a book about the dreamers of the world.” What do you think the novel says about following one's dreams?

A: Very simple. The novel says, “Do it.” It’s not going to be easy, and you might not reach your goal. But success is not reaching one’s goal - that’s a Western vision of the concept of success, I think. Success is never giving up.

Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I tend to avoid research, because it’s very easy to get bogged down, and then to impose your work on your reader.

For me, and for the type of novels I write, research is a distraction. All I did was reopen my old “paleontology for dummies” manuals, and then check the latest discoveries, just to make sure everything would be accurate. But we’re talking about a grand total of three hours of research. 

A Hundred Million Years and a Day is not about paleontology anyway. It’s a personal quest, a man going deeper into himself as he ascends a mountain, in a reverse narrative movement. It's an adventure novel too, about nature and about friendship. The truth, if it’s to be found in this book, lies not in science but in emotions.

I wasn’t surprised by any single fact but like every time I read up about our history, I was awed by the sheer scale of it. It’s hard to grasp (unless you’re a Creationist, then everything becomes much easier).

Q: What has been the reaction to the novel in France, where it was published last fall?

A: It was amazing. Even better than my first novel, Ma Reine (My Queen), which had already enjoyed a very warm reception, to say the least. I was actually worried readers might try to hold me back, expect the same kind of novel from me. It didn’t happen.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My third novel. Won’t say more until it’s finished!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m a vegetarian, and I could sometimes be accused of loving animals more than humans. I’m not proud of it and I’m working on it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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