Glass visits Paris to talk to Swiss novelist Joël Dicker to discover the inspiration behind Dicker’s latest cast of fictional characters which stems from the author’s latest collaboration with hallmark French automotive brand DS automobiles.
Born in 1985 in Geneva, Joël Dicker originally trained in law and went on to receive a Masters of Law from the University of Geneva in 2010 but soon got swept up by a writer’s bug that would result in being awarded with the Prix des Ecrivains Genevois (Geneva Writers’ Prize), a prestigious prize for unpublished manuscripts. Come 2012 and the lauded release of La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair), published by the Parisian editor Bernard de Fallois, the rest was written in the stars for Dicker.
Regarded as Switzerland’s answer to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the Harry Quebert Affair would go on to knock Dan Brown’’s Inferno off the top of bestseller lists all over Europe and has been compared to literary greats such as Nabokov and Roth.
Now, translated into 32 languages and standing out as one of the biggest original acquisitions in the history of Penguin Books, the title has acted as a springboard for Dicker to create a handful of other highly regarded novels and also secured his status as modern Scandi-thriller writer of our times.
The company motto of DS automobiles is The Spirit of Avant Garde and Dicker took this as his starting point for this project.
Joel Dicker emerging from a new DS 4 Crossback outside DS world in Paris.
Producing not only a new short story with DS, actually transcribed by Joël within one of their new DS 4 models, but also a short film starring himself as himself overcoming writers block and doing lots of driving around the Black Forest, he has been tasked with employing the DS as an understated plot device.
To conceive their new digital-led campaign with avant-garde spirit DS Automobiles worked with the Publicis La Maison agency to put together an original campaign, coining the mantra ‘one driver, infinite inspirations’.
To find out more about Joël as an author and his new collaboration with a car brand like DS, of all things, we met with the ambitious novelist of the moment at DS World in Paris to see how he has taken to personifying the campaign and acting as brand ambassador, or more specifically, “DS the writer”.
So, you were born in Geneva and moved to Paris at 19, what made you want to come here and open your eyes to the world?
Because it’s Paris. Paris is the closest exciting city to Geneva. By exciting, I mean big city, French-speaking and a three- hour-train ride. It’s very close and I knew people here so it was very easy. And it was before I knew and discovered London (laughs).
From the short film – The Writer
Now you’re obviously here at DS World, how has the whole experience been for you, creating a book with one of France’s hallmark automotive brands behind you?
It was a very exciting prospect; the idea of writing a short story and making a movie around it, around the process of inspiration. I was very into the movie and the acting. I’ve been to acting school too so it was fascinating to see it all falling into place and I had a lot of fun.
How does the experience of writing a novel and putting together a plot differ to starring in a film where you’re also constructing the plot?
The thing is, when you write, you’re alone, and you’re alone to do whatever you want. You can write 500 pages in London and then be in Geneva, you have that power if you see what I mean. With a movie, so many people are a part of one thing. This movie was like 60-70 people on the set and you need everybody.
You can have an actor but you also need the clothes, for the set you need the guy for the light so there are so many different perspectives. In a movie you need all those 60 people there doing all the little things.
You also have to stay in your role, even if you have only one word, you may have to wait a couple of hours just to say that one word again. Sometimes it is frustrating if you’re a creative person because you think, “hey, we should do that, maybe I should wear this or say that”, but you just can’t. There is a line. It’s all done and that’s the way it’s going to be.
Joël Dicker in The Writer
And for you, as a writer writing in this modern age where there is a feeling that everything is sort of said and done. Where do you find your inspiration for your plots which are celebrated as being very intricate?
I would say from everywhere and anywhere. In the movie, we try to give examples. So in the Black Forest, which is a beautiful forest, but the inspiration comes from somewhere deeper, more filling. I would say the experience is more chemical and you have an idea in your brain and in your head and then something happens in front of you and those two things combined together is the idea. So it’s like if I meet someone, for instance I’m very good with names so I could take Liam … or even an entire family name and then add to this as I go along
When you are putting together this story in your head, what do you see? Is there also some kind of visual narrative?
Yes but it’s also a, “what’s next?”, so you’ll write something but you want see something next… (Waiter arrives – Dicker thanks him in French) … for instance, if the waiter now falls and all the glasses fall down then you could say something like “the waiter was distracted” or did this to create confusion and while we help him clear it up he leaves with this (Joël picks up an object) and then it creates a purpose.
So you’re a very observant person?
Indeed, but it’s not all about the action or a fact but more about why. It’s not about the waiter falling down, it is about why the waiter has fallen down the stairs to attract attention because here in the meantime we can do something or create something from that.
The new DS 4 Crossback as featured in The Writer
Good stuff. It must be a very exciting time for you because very early on in your career you have been thrust into the limelight, especially in France. Why do you feel France has been so receptive to your early novels?
Maybe mainly because I speak French and it is written in French and there is a link between the language and the story. So for instance, in French we have a polite way to say “you” and the casual way to say “you” and I play a lot with that in a way you cannot do with English or Spanish. So there is more to play with this …
To flesh it out, the plot?
Yes, and they are more ready to catch it in the French. Also in English, you already have a lot of English or English- speaking American authors so why would you read a story set in America by a Swiss guy speaking in French so maybe it’s that
Joël Dicker in The Writer
Well, you have certainly got your niche. Could you tell us a little more about what have you learnt from being thrust into the limelight in this area of Europe so swiftly?
I would say I have learnt to deal with the success. And I learnt how to tame it. Because sometimes it can be a wonderful experience but you have to do something about it. For instance, I’m really trying to create a bridge with other stuff I really like doing too. I love to write music, to act and to draw.
So to be able to meet so many different kinds of creative practitioners is the most amazing thing about the success, plus I can make these acquaintances in an easier way. I am full of ideas and now I know people that know people, I feel I can develop it more freely. It has been an opportunity of a lifetime and I just want to try and maximise living in the moment.
Finally, you have spoken about your passions for acting and other applied arts but when it comes to novels themselves, who are like your literary icons?
Yes, I have many. One of them is a French novelist Romain Gary. He is actually only really famous in France but not in the rest of the world and for me he is like a model. He is really the only one, so French. But then I am also into Russian classics like Dostoevsky because when I discovered him I discovered how powerful a book can be when you smell and feel all the senses.
Of course, as well, I’m also a great fan of the American novelists, Phillip Roth and John Steinbeck. But two of my favourite authors are actually Roald Dahl and Dick King Smith. They are such good authors! Some people write Dahl’s work off as kids’ books but on a foggy Sunday, when you feel a little depressed, you read Dahl and it takes you into that world.
Joël Dicker in The Writer
Just one more question, in ten years’ time, now that you’re riding this wave, where do you see yourself?
It’s a great question because for me I’ve only just put a step in. Everything is to do now. It’s really the beginning. I hope in ten years I have 4/5 more books, 20 projects in my mind, ten of them achieved. I hope I am moved by the same excitement and enthusiasm that I have now about all this stuff.
by Liam Feltham
Images courtesy of DS
You can view the trailer for The DS Writer, and all the web-episodes here where Joël Dicker joins DS Automobiles in extending an open invitation to the public to find inspiration behind the wheel of New DS 4 or DS 4 Crossback.