Story of a Writer: Maxime Chattam

Growing up in a small town just outside Paris, crime-writer-to-be Maxime Chattam was a keen reader of science fiction and a big fan of Stephen King. As a teenager, he visited the USA many times. Several of his novels are set in the States including Carnage, published by Gallic Books in 2012. This short, shocking novella follows Detective Lamar Gallineo as he investigates the truth behind a spate of massacres at New York high schools.
Chattam studied criminology, giving him expert knowledge of criminal psychology and forensic techniques. Later, working in a bookshop exposed him to the ins and outs of the publishing industry and funded the writing of his first thriller. In an unusual interview with his best friend, Frédéric Denesle, Chattam described what set him on the path to becoming a writer:


‘I didn’t want to settle for just one career; I changed my mind from one day to the next, wanting to live all kinds of lives’

Do you want the fairytale or thriller version?! Once upon a time there was a twelve-year-old boy. Around that age, I leapt rather too quickly from naivety to lucidity, with the sudden realisation that life was not the fuzzy romantic notion you read about in books or saw in the movies. My view of the world became very dark and cynical.

As the years passed, my school put more and more pressure on me to decide what I wanted to be – fireman, doctor or computer scientist. But I didn’t want to settle for just one career; I changed my mind from one day to the next, wanting to live all kinds of different lives – as long as they were all exciting. I took acting classes which allowed me to play the part of beggar or rich man, to be funny or sinister. At the same time, I was writing a lot: short stories, poetry, even screenplays. It was all just for fun to begin with, until it dawned on me that writing could allow me to fulfil my dream: I could be a whole cast of characters at once, in whatever setting in time or place I chose, and I was in total control of what happened.

Then one day I met the great actor Pierre Hatet. A friend of mine backstage had passed him something I’d been working on. Pierre encouraged me to keep at it and spurred me on to put a play to paper, entitled Le Mal (Evil). The die was cast. After that came a very autobiographical detective story, whose main character had the same initials as me, and then what I consider to be my first novel, Le 5ème Regne (The Fifth Reign), which I wrote aged twenty as a kind of farewell to childhood. A second novel, L’Ame du Mal (The Soul of Evil), followed, written in the evenings after my shifts at Fnac bookshop and published under a different name. The reaction from readers was incredible and the book was awarded the Prix Sang d’Encre in 2002. Since then, I have been lucky enough to be able to spend every day writing.

Buy ‘Carnage’

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