Georges Simenon is a name that may not be familiar to many readers but his most famous creation certainly will be, especially to crime readers. Simenon was the creator of the Belgian detective, Maigret. There are a number of very interesting facts about Simenon’s life.
One of the most amazing things about Simenon was his output. He wrote seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories about Maigret alone between 1931 and 1972. But that’s not all. In total, he published over 400 novels. I’ll repeat that again for the struggling writers amongst you. FOUR HUNDRED NOVELS! How is that even possible, I hear you cry?! Well, that brings us to the second interesting thing about Simenon. He had a very intriguing work regime as revealed in this very interesting article from bookforum.com
Famously, two days before starting a novel, he would consult a map of the place where the book was to be set, search through his collection of telephone books for names of characters, and establish the cast – ages, backgrounds, family ties – on the back of a manila envelope. Then he was ready, as he told a Paris Review interviewer in 1955:
“On the eve of the first day I know what will happen in the first chapter. Then, day after day, chapter after chapter, I find what comes later. After I have started a novel I write a chapter each day, without ever missing a day. Because it is a strain, I have to keep pace with the novel. . . . All the day I am one of my characters. I feel what he feels. . . . And it’s almost unbearable after five or six days. That is one of the reasons my novels are so short; after eleven days I can’t – it’s impossible. I have to – it’s physical. I am too tired.”
The following anecdote – taken from Deirdre Bair’s review of Simenon, a Biography by Pierre Assouline – says as much about Hitchcock’s droll sense of humour as it does about Simenon’s work ethic:
“In the latter years of Georges Simenon’s prolific writing life, when he had already published close to 400 novels, Alfred Hitchcock was said to have telephoned, only to be told by Simenon’s secretary that he couldn’t be disturbed because he had just begun a new novel. Hitchcock, knowing that Simenon was capable of writing one novel — or two or three — every month, replied: That’s all right, I’ll wait.”
It wasn’t the Maigret books that Simenon wished to be known for, however. (He thought of them as mere “entertainment”) The books he wanted to be associated with – and the ones he hoped would eventually win him the Nobel Prize for Literature – were what he termed “hard novels”:
These books, which Simenon called romans durs (hard novels), are not mysteries, although they usually involve crime. They are hard, blunt, frequently punishing studies of human beings driven by circumstance and personality to the ends of their tethers, forcing them to extreme measures … Today, they appear with the force of revelation, as if they had been unearthed decaying in a warehouse instead of lying in plain sight all these years. Weaned on moral ambiguity, their readers are ready for them. They are acute, compact, remarkably varied, and as lapidary as great pop songs, and there are 117 of them.
It is said that Simenon published at least 400 novels under his own name, and scores more under pseudonyms. And his prodigious output was apparently matched in the bedroom. He claimed to have had 10,000 lovers, the majority of them prostitutes. (He once claimed to having had sex with four or five different women in the one day!)
But it seems he was an unhappy man. Although he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer for his romans durs; instead, he was forever associated with his Belgian detective. He also had a number of tragedies in his life. One of his ex-wives had a nervous breakdown and his daughter shot and killed herself at the age of twenty-five. (In a macabre twist, she got the name and address of the Parisian gunsmith from one of the Maigret stories) Indeed, Simenon is quoted as saying:
“Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.”
Given how much he wrote, one wonders just how unhappy he was.
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