Riley Banks interviews Frédérique Molay, the best-selling author of The 7th Woman, which is the first in an ongoing series of edge-of-your-seat police procedurals set in Paris focusing on the city’s elite Criminal Investigation Division and its Chief of Police Nico Sirsky.
This book won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller. It was published in English by the digital-first publisher Le French Book.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be a writer.
That is a hard question for me to answer. I’m shy and let my characters speak in my place. If I talk about why I write crime fiction novels, then I will certainly reveal a little bit of who I am. One of the keys lies undoubtedly in the fact that there are two people inside me. One is Cartesian, realistic, reasonable, ordered, the filing kind, and the other is a dreamer, the story-telling kind, who feels the need to flee, to escape and to forget. Perhaps also I feel the need to establish a special bond with the reader that you find in the interactive game offered by the mystery genre. Perhaps it is because I am attracted to the fight between good and evil and the search for the truth as well. In 1791, the French philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet said, “The friends of truth are those who are seeking it, not those who boast about having found it.” And also, perhaps I am afraid of death and I am trying to come to grips with that. What could be more reassuring than discovering a motive and a culprit, a good explanation for a death?
How did I come to writing? When I learned to read, it was like a revelation. It was incredible to discover that letters formed words, then sentences and, finally, stories – stories that take you into a parallel world, a fourth dimension, a land of dreams—and nightmares. Very quickly, I became intrigued by the mechanisms of suspense that keep readers turning the pages of a book. So, I made a wish: to discover this power granted to novelists so that I too could make others feel such strong emotions. To do that, I wrote my first novel when I was eleven years old.
Tell us about The 7th Woman and what makes it special.
Who doesn’t dream about visiting Paris, one of the world’s most beautiful cities? The 7th Woman is like a plane ticket there. It introduces you to Police Chief Nico Sirsky, a likeable hero who is something like those American super-cops and superheroes. He is the product of a European-style melting pot, as his family had fled the Ukraine in the early twentieth century, settling in France. It’s got crime and a love story and a race against the clock. Just what you need…
Describe your favorite scene in the book.
That is for readers to decide. The reader’s pleasure is mine.
If you had to choose one favorite character, who would it be and why?
My hero Nico Sirsky, of course. But also his mother Anya, because she’s got a little bit of my paternal grandmother in her. My grandmother loved American series, and we used to love to watch them together. That and her Ukrainian ancestry left their mark on me. I miss her, which is certainly why I created Anya. They share the same deep blue eyes and flamboyant Slavic personality.
If your book were made into a movie, who would you want to play the main characters?
For Nico Sirsky: Simon Baker, Bradley Cooper, Daniel Craig or Ryan Gosling.
For his mother Anya Sirsky: Diane Keaton, Glen Close or Helen Mirren.
For his sister Tanya: Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet or Reese Witherspoon.
As Dr. Caroline Dalry: Anne Hathaway or Natalie Portman.
As Dr. Armelle Vilars, the redheaded chief coroner: Julianne Moore.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it all fiction?
I am regularly in contact with police officers, coroners and judges in order to describe these characters and their jobs in a realistic way. I go to 36 Quai des Orfèvres—an address as famous to the French as Baker Street or Scotland Yard to the English—in order to soak up the atmosphere and give readers the feeling of being there. There, I hear a lot of tricks and stories that will find their way into my novels. The plot stems from my imagination, though. That said, reality often outdoes fiction.
Where do you get your ideas?
An article in the newspaper, some local news item, a story, an unknown face…so many things serve as inspiration. And when an idea comes to me, it is like a wave that floods me. It is both beautiful and magical at the same time.
How important is planning to you? Do you plan the whole book or just start writing?
I know the starting point and where I’m going. A mystery plot necessarily depends on logic: you have to leave clues, give them meaning and lead the reader to the culprit. Of course, there is still room for the imagination. In The 7th Woman, I didn’t know who the murderer was when I began writing. It became obvious to me as the story developed. On the other hand, other plots require knowing in advance who killed and why. In any case, your characters sometimes are different from how you imagined them. They really do have a life of their own.
Which do you consider more important? Character or plot, and why?
Both I’d say. You need a good story, one that makes the readers turn the page because they absolutely want to know the end. Who’s the killer and what’s the motive? How can I stop reading before finding out? And at the same time, the characters need to make readers want to spend time with them, and never want to leave them.
What project are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the fourth book in the Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police series. It renews with the kind of harshness found in The 7th Woman, where my hero finds himself facing uncertainty in his private life that makes him both darker and more fragile. I’ll say no more for now.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
“Wisdom is to have dreams that are big enough you don’t lose sight of them while pursuing them.” That’s not me, that’s Oscar Wilde. In addition, you need to work. Writing is like playing the piano. You have to practice regularly.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I imagine that anyone who gives themselves over to an art form, whatever it may be, does so out of passion, but also because of some inner necessity, some need to externalize emotions and feelings, driven by the desire to share and impact others, and to be loved in return.
In Dune, Frank Herbert asks, “Do you wrestle with dreams? Do you contend with shadows?” I prefer to wrestle with dreams. That is most probably my way of escaping the daily grind, of inventing a world where, although there is still crime, the good guys never loose sight of what is essential. Ultimately, my main goal, though, is to give readers strong emotions, an agreeable moment during which they can forget whatever may be bothering them.
Favorite place in the world to be?
Brittany, and more specifically, Quiberon and Conguel. For me, it is the most beautiful place in the world. My father inherited a small family house there. In that garden, I used to read with my grandfather. He would lie on a lawn chair, I would lie on a beach towel. We would take in the sea air, with the sound of seagulls in the background. Going there recharges my batteries more than any other place.
If a genie granted you three wishes, what would you ask for?
Every time I make a wish, it is for my children. I wish health, happiness and success for them. Even when I try to wish a little for me, my maternal instinct always takes over.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
As Hermann Hesse said in The Journey to the East, “My happiness did indeed arise from the same secret as the happiness in dreams; it arose from the freedom to experience everything imaginable simultaneously, to exchange outward and inward easily, to move Time and Space about like scenes in a theatre.”
What is your least favorite thing about being a writer?
Writing makes me happy, but it is also very hard. Inventing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain. It is like so many things in life. There are terrible moments, moments of doubt.