Inside the Literary Mind of Claude Nougat
June 2, 2017
A novel can’t be a political pamphlet. It needs to tell a story, and the better the story, the more gripping it is, the more effective it is too in transmitting the message.
Claude Nougat is a pen name for Claude Forthomme, a journalist and economist who has worked twenty-five years for the United Nations. She has written fiction all her life and was first published in Italy in 1990.
She has followed up on that first publication (an award-winning children’s book) with a historical romance, also published in Italy and highly praised in the press. Since 2011, her books, spanning several genres from a YA trilogy to speculative fiction, are available on Amazon.
She is Senior Editor at Impakter magazine.
Question: Tell me about your newest book and what was the inspiration behind your writing it?
Claude: The latest is Gateway to Forever and it is my way to express my fear at the way the world is going today. I honestly believe that life on this planet, the life we all know and love, is in danger of disappearing. The reasons are many: war, terrorism, political instability, income inequality and the rise of the ultra-rich, climate change, pollution and environmental degradation, the 5th Extinction, you name it.
But the trends are there – and regardless of whether you think climate change is man-made or not, global warming is a fact. And if we do nothing, 200 years from now – that’s how long I think it will take, I’m reasonable about this, I don’t think everything will collapse tomorrow morning – the world will be unrecognizable. A dying planet.
So I tried to imagine what it would be like for a couple of hopeful young people, Alice and Jamie, to try and survive in that dying world. They fall in love with each other in spite of terrible obstacles, and to be honest, I fell in love with them too!
That’s why I wrote up their story, their attempts to escape their fate, to be happy again, maybe on another planet. As I wrote, my hopes for humanity traveled with them.
Please click HERE to read more about Claude Nougat’s books.
Question: Why and when did you decide to become a writer?
Claude: When? I started when I was fifteen! At the time, we lived in Colombia, high up in the mountains, and the country was already in the throes of the “violenza” – a perfect setting for a thriller! And by the way, it was a terrible book…
As to the “why”, that’s more difficult to answer: There have been many “whys” over time. At first, I wrote to escape my own life which I viewed as extremely safe and dull (I like adventure!). Then, as I matured and learned more about the world and what is wrong with it (a lot!), I began to write to express my ideas, believing that literature has a political role.
A good story is an eye-opener. But eventually, I realized that a novel can’t be a political pamphlet. It needs to tell a story, and the better the story, the more gripping it is, the more effective it is too in transmitting the message. But the message should never, ever be in the reader’s face! It should hide in the plot and the characters.
Question: What book has been the greatest influence on you and your writing and why?
Claude: Gogol’s Dead Souls, a delightful satire showing how corrupt Russian society really was at the time – or any society for that matter and in any time, the message is universal, a classic, I guess. Also, for a Russian novel, it’s nice and short, a great read (I don’t like long, winding literary high-brow stuff)…
Question: Where do you find ideas for your books?
Claude: Around me. Observing people (including myself). Analyzing problems.
Question: Where do you find ideas for your characters?
Claude: Same answer: observing people. I believe self-observation is key for a writer, it’s the starting point to understand others. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to write an auto-biography (though some do, but so far I haven’t felt like it). I prefer to imagine myself in the shoes of someone else. Great fun. It’s like living multiple lives. Characters, as they develop, often end up doing things I don’t expect (even though I’m the author, weird, isn’t it?)
One thing though, I never start with a plot, always with a character (or two).
Question: How would you describe your writing style?
Claude: Simple? Direct? I don’t know. Adhering to the principle “show, don’t tell” and all that. All I know is that I try to avoid big words and big descriptions and get on with the action. And let the characters speak in their own words.
Question: What do you consider the most difficult part of writing a book?
Claude: The first draft. I know, everyone complains about the editing and having to go over and over and over the first draft. True, it’s very necessary, indeed, it’s indispensable but exceedingly boring. Yes, utterly and totally boring. Mainly because the excitement of writing that first draft is gone. You know how the story ends.
Still, the challenge of the first draft, for me, is what makes me write. And it’s a huge challenge. I don’t know how many novels I have started and never finished. Countless. Sad. I keep these half-finished drafts around, hidden in drawers, accumulating dust like ghosts.
Sometimes I think I can pick them up and revive them, but funnily enough, that never happens. So far, all my half-written drafts are good and dead. Apparently, some writers are able to use bits and pieces of past failed writings into their new novels – that’s something I’ve never been able to do.
Question: What are your current projects?
Claude: For the moment, I’m on hold. At least with respect to novel writing. But I’m writing a lot, more than ever. And enjoying myself immensely too! I’m Senior Editor at Impakter, an online magazine for Millennials.
For a Baby Boomer like myself, it’s a fantastic job. I’m close to young people every day, I see them involved in an exciting start-up and that’s Impakter of course, it’s much more than just an online magazine, it’s also a social network to debate the news – lots to debate these days! – and soon there will be other things coming online too, a marketplace, a series of books, a forum to discuss global issues.
In all this, I regularly write articles for Impakter (under my real name, Claude Forthomme) and supervise/edit articles that come on-board. At Impakter, we are seeing some very talented writers coming to us, and it’s great to see them develop.
Yes, for now, I’ve abandoned my pen name (Claude Nougat), but I haven’t abandoned writing. I can feel it in my bones, a new novel is brewing in my head and one day soon it will “happen.”
Lo and behold, I’ll find myself writing non-stop for ten days, from morning till night, and there it will be, a first draft, a pair of pages…Thereafter, there will be a lot of work to spruce that draft up, probably six months or a year, that’s how long the editing takes!
What will it be about? I don’t know yet, but I do think it could be about a start-up, though not this one. Not the one I am involved in and observing – but what I see will inform the story, you can bet on it!
Please click HERE to read more about Claude Nougat’s books.