How did you become a researcher?
Through coincidence! While studying art history I began research for the creation of a reference book on Chantilly soft-paste porcelain of the 18th century. The author of this book taught me everything back then about the methods of research in archives and libraries (this was far far before digitization).
You are also a writer! How have your research experiences enriched your writing projects and vice versa?
It’s the most fruitful exchange. Each of my novels are enriched or even triggered by some of my professional assignments as a researcher. Libraries are my cone of silence. I feed on archives and silence, two indispensable materials for my writing. Precision, concentration, rare references and unpublished pieces all posses qualities which find their way into my research and writing.
It seems that you work a lot for fiction-based film projects. What is your role and how do you collaborate with the directors and screenwriters?
I’m always involved in the developmental phase or in the most classic phase of collecting information. The director has often fantasized an idea for the film, you have to have that at the forefront in order to set up a framework that will permit you to find the most rewarding sources for him. The writer (if different from the director) usually has more pragmatic and specific requests, but both of them typically have a great thirst for documentation. When this thirst is present, it will strengthen and enrich the premise of the film. The research is based on an elaboration of the screenplay. Sometimes the research reveals a very different vision than the director’s imagination, who shall then— if he wishes to be closer to the truth—modify the project. The director, like the writer, is going to receive the final folder, or you could call it a “book”, where each chapter explores, reveals and highlights the subject through archives and iconography.
Outside of fiction-based cinema, you also collaborate in the documentary sector on museum and editorial projects. Is this a research process that always begins the same way?
Yes, by listening attentively to the desires of another. It’s within their desires, sometimes frankly expressed and sometimes merely suggested, that I find the direction to take my research in order to best satisfy the dreams of my associates.
There’s a particular subject that you’ve had much experience with, the history of brothels. Could you share a word on this research and where it has taken you?
This subject, so rich, so abundant, in terms of its archival images, testimonies, anecdotes and secrets. It was the foundation for my novel, Jeanne L’Etang. This subject was also the origin of another commissioned book on colonial controlled prostitution, and it’s often still used in my adjacent research. For example, I use this subject to illustrate Parisian life or mythical places in the capital and on the exodus during the early part of the 20th century from the countryside to Paris. It’s a never-ending topic!
To conclude, which subject do you dream about addressing?
Architecture. Both in its formal aspect and in its relationship to the evolution of society. Also, of course, by creating singular portraits of architects— their visions, their thinking, and their secrets.