Crime fiction’s ‘French porn’: Martin Walker’s Writing Life interview

Martin Walker’s series of crime novels about the chief of police of a small town in the beautiful Perigord region of France are a delight. When we met at a recent “British Crime Fiction Night” in Darmstadt, Germany, he described the books as “French porn – wine, food, women – in a crime fiction frame.” Martin’s bon vivant personality matches the playfulness of his fiction (Though he's a Scot by birth, he divides his time between Washington DC and his vineyard in France). Yet he’s also a former foreign correspondent with the British newspaper The Guardian and his novels have significant undertones of social commentary, as you’ll see from the interview here. By mixing the pleasures of France – the “porn” – with its dark underside, the Bruno novels remind me very much of the terrific Inspector Montalbano series, where the Sicilian setting is the beautiful backdrop to a detective who enjoys a good dinner as much as nabbing the villain. So here’s Martin Walker, the Andrea Camilleri of the Dordogne.

How long did it take you to get published?
Not long at all. My first book, non-fiction, was commissioned. My first Bruno novel sold as soon as my agent offered it.
Would you recommend any books on writing?
No. Just read and read and read and get a feel for what works.
What’s a typical writing day?
There isn’t one, but whether on a plane or a train or at home or in a hotel I try and do at least a thousand words a day.
Plug your latest book. What’s it about? Why’s it so great?
The latest book is ‘The Dark Vineyard,’ third in the Bruno series, which is about fraud in the truffle market in France, which traces back to China and to consequences of France’s 1954 defeat in its failed colonial war in Vietnam. Along the way, it involves militant Greens, a lot of wonderful French food and the complex romantic life of my hero, Bruno. I think it’s my best Bruno novel yet, because he seems to grow as a character with each book and my portrait of modern France gets richer. While writing it, I more than once had that magical experience of a character doing something I had neither planned nor expected, as if Bruno was taking on a life of his own.
How much of what you do is:
a) formula dictated by the genre within which you write?
None.
b) formula you developed yourself and stuck with?
Quite a lot; I have a hero, who lives in a small French town and spends a lot of time cooking, hunting, eating, drinking wine and teaching rugby, with a cast of characters that changes only moderately with each book. It’s a much more liberating formula than you much think.
c) as close to complete originality as it’s possible to get each time?
Within the constraints of the series, I try for something very different each time. So far we have had the murder of an old Arab immigrant that is connected to the Vichy era; globalisation as a big US wine company tries to muscle in; China-Vietnamese gang wars in Europe and illegal immigration; and the 4th Bruno novel will include archaeology and Basque terrorism.

Read the rest of this post on my blog The Man of Twists and Turns.

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