Magdalen Nabb - Exclusive Interview - Part Four - Georges Simenon -

Exclusive Interview with Magdalen Nabb

Florence, Italy
September 10, 2004

Part Four - Georges Simenon

Introduction too Death in Springtime by Georges Simenon

Dear friend and fellow author,
What a pleasure it is to wander with you through the streets of Florence, with their carabinieri, working people, trattorie, even their noisy tourists. It is all so alive: its sounds audible, its smells as perceptible as the light morning mist above the Arno's swift current; and then up into the foothills, where the Sardinian shepherds, their traditions and the almost unchanged rhythm of their lifestyle, are just as skilfully portrayed. What wouldn't one give to taste one of their ricotta cheeses!
You have managed to absorb it all and to depict it vividly, whether it is the various ranks of the carabinieri, and of course the ineffable Substitute Prosecutor, or the trattorie in the early morning hours. There is never a false note. You even capture that shimmer in the air which is so peculiar to this city and to the still untamed countryside close at hand.
This is a novel to be savoured, even more than its two predecessors. It is the first time I have seen the theme of kidnapping treated so simply and so plausibly. Although the cast of characters is large, they are so well etched in a few words that their comings and goings are easily followed.
Bravissimo! You have more than fulfilled your promise.
Georges Simenon
Lausanne, April 1983

Q: Simenon wrote the introduction to Death in Springtime. What was that experience like for you? Did your publisher arrange it?

Nabb: No, Simenon did. After reading my second novel he wrote to tell me that anyone could write one book, the second was a challenge and the third made you a professional. He said he wished to be godfather to my third. I sent him the manuscript in a Florentine binding for his eightieth birthday and he wrote the introduction you have quoted.

Q: Did Simenon do this for many people?

Nabb: No, nobody. When he wrote the introduction to Death in Springtime, he had never, I was told, ever endorsed any other crime writer. But I was so overwhelmed by that, that I didn’t tell anybody. And so he wrote the introduction to Death in Springtime but he’d been in touch with me since the first book and I’d never told anyone. It was so overwhelmingly important to me. So we continued to write to each other until he died. And the first copy of every book I ever wrote went to him. Usually, when you see on the television news that somebody died it doesn’t really seem like the person you know. I didn’t really feel it until my next book came out and I got the first copy to send him and realized I couldn’t do it. So it was very difficult. I didn’t really accept that he’d died until after the centenary of his birth when there was so much appearing in the newspapers. I was asked to write things because I was the only writer he’d ever endorsed, shall we say, if that’s the right word. So I thought well, I must do that for him because he did so much for me. So I had to get all his letters out and the first piece I wrote was a very, very long piece for which I’d been commissioned. It was about thirty pages long, a huge thing. And I had to read all his letters to get it. It took me two weeks to write and I just cried every day. That’s when I realized he wasn’t there. It was very upsetting.

Q: Where was this piece published?

Nabb:  It was published in Tintenfass, a German literary magazine. And then I needed a much shorter version for a newspaper in English. Anyway it was really a huge upheaval. Then, here they did something in a bookshop. His publisher from Milan came down and presented Memoires Intimes which hadn’t been published in Italian until then. So they published it and presented it at an evening event on Simenon and they asked me to speak. I didn’t know how I would cope. I managed OK until the very end. And I just couldn’t speak the last sentence--I just couldn’t get it out—and I couldn’t run away. So after all these years, only now I’m beginning to realize that he’s gone. It was very hard to deal with it. Even so, I don’t feel that he’s dead because I have all his letters. Quite often, if I think ‘what should I do about this?’ I can just go and find the letter in which he told me. Because he gave me so much help. I didn’t realize it until later when I needed it. He sent me everything I needed. It’s as if he worked out--she’s going to be upset by this--and he dealt with it all. Now, I’m still finding things that I didn’t realize were there.

Q: Did he help you as an author?

Nabb:  No, as an author, he always said, “You don’t need me.” But he said, you’re going to get upset about this and you must do that. It all had to do with just being a writer. Dealing with newspapers--so I have a long, long list of things he wrote to me--the instructions. There’s a lot of stuff in there, but there’s an awful lot of other stuff hidden in the letters that I didn’t realize was there. For example, the question of when they wanted to publish that introduction. That was published at the time so he knew about that. But then later there were other things, like somebody wanted to quote a letter in a book. Obviously, his letters to me are his copyright. The copyright belongs to the writer not to the person who receives the letter. An acquaintance of mine who knew about the Simenon letters got herself a commission to write an article about them for the Herald Tribune without consulting me. I was very upset about it. I refused to let her see the letters but I couldn’t prevent her writing about their existence. I was protective because I hadn’t told anyone about them, even my publisher. I certainly didn’t want him to think I was using them to make money or advance my career by using his name--it was so personal. I was shocked at it. And he eventually realized there was something wrong and that I was upset. So, I wrote and said, “Yes, it’s because of that and I can’t bear it.” And so he immediately sent me a telegram that said, “Please don’t worry, just let them publish what they want. Everything I said to you is true. And if in some way it can be helpful, it’s fine by me.” But it was a telegram. There was no signature on it. It wasn’t valid legally. Then I found, when I was looking through the letters in preparation for the article, that he’d followed that up with a letter. I hadn’t noticed then--I was thinking about what we were writing to each about. He’d put--”Anything I write to you, you can use in any way you wish.” And signed it. And I’d never noticed that. I keep finding these things that he’d done for me. I didn’t even understand it at the time. So I’ve never felt that he was gone, because these things keep cropping up. I have his letters and his books He is still with me.