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Douglas Kennedy is the author of twelve novels, including the international bestsellers The Big PictureThe Pursuit of HappinessLeaving the World and The Moment.  His latest novel, The Heat of Betrayal, is now available in English and in French as Mirage (with an American publication in Feb. 2016 under the title, The Blue Hour).  He is also the author of three highly-praised travel books.  Several of his novels have been filmed, including The Big Picture (starring Romain Duris and Catherine Deneuve) and The Woman in the Fifth (with Ethan Hawke and Kristen Scott Thomas).  He is currently working on his thirteenth novel.

More than 14 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide and his work has been translated into twenty-two languages.  Kennedy’s novels are often written in European landscapes, and have been particularly acclaimed and beloved in France, where Kennedy was awarded the French decoration, The Chevalier de l‘Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2007.  In November 2009, he received the first “Grand Prix du Figaro,” awarded by the newspaper Le Figaro.

Born in Manhattan in 1955, he has two children, Max and Amelia, and currently divides his time between Manhattan, Paris, London, Montreal and Maine.

Early Life

Kennedy was born in Manhattan in 1955, the son of a commodities broker and a production assistant at NBC. He was educated at The Collegiate School and graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College in 1976. He also spent a year studying at Trinity College Dublin.

“I was a history major,” Kennedy explained. “Retrospectively, I think the history major provides much better training for a novelist. So much of what I do in my own fiction is observational; is looking at behavior. By studying human history you really see how human folly endlessly repeats itself. In my work—in whatever form it takes—I am very much grappling with what it means to be American in this way.”

In 1977, he returned to Dublin and started a co-operative theatre company with a friend. He was later hired to run the Abbey Theatre’s second house, The Peacock.  At the age of 28, he resigned from The Peacock to write full time.  After several radio plays for the BBC and one stage play, he decided to switch directions and wrote his first book, a narrative account of his travels in Egypt called Beyond the Pyramids, which published in 1988.  Kennedy and moved to London that year, where Kennedy expanded his journalistic work, and wrote for The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Listener, The New Statesman, and the British editions of Esquire and GQ.

Q&A Douglas Kennedy On Writing

What is your favorite novel of those you’ve written over the course of your prolific career and why?

Just as I don’t have a favorite child I don’t have a favorite novel.  But I am very proud of the fact that all my ten novels are so different – and that you really can’t categorize any of them. There is, as such, a huge gulf between the sun struck Australian nightmare that is ‘The Dead Heart’ and the classicism of ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ – which was my first attempt at Great American Novel territory.  I can never write the same novel over again, and I have frequently switched genre and style. I am certain I will continue to do so for the rest of my career.

Why are your novels almost always written from a woman’s point-of-view? How did you find the right way to do this? Why did you choose THE MOMENT to be written from a male character’s view?

Five and a half of my ten novels have women narrators (THE MOMENT having both a male and female narrator).  This is a question I am asked constantly, especially by women: how the hell do you write from a woman’s point of view so damn well? It’s not like I have a secret pouch of estrogen which I place under my arm when I decide to write as a woman. I just see the world from the eyes of my narrator (not from the point of view of a woman). Why this so works – and why I find it so natural – remains a mystery to me. But it seems to succeed.  Having grown up in the midst of an unhappy marriage – with a very difficult mother who was well-educated, but profoundly dissatisfied by the life she had constructed for herself – I was always very aware of the personal/careerist/maternal dilemmas with which most women struggle. As such I think I was a feminist from adolescence onwards – and the women with whom I have had intimate relationships have all been professional women, as I grew up in the presence of a desperate housewife and never wanted to recreate that in my own life. When it comes to my women narrators they are all hugely intelligent and hugely complex – because intelligence and complexity so attract me.

Do you have any routine or proven “formula” you swear by, which you think would be helpful for other writers?

Somerset Maugham noted: “There are five basic rules for writing a novel… and nobody knows what they are”. Too damn true. What I do know is this: writing is a confidence trick you play on yourself… and one which you must perpetuate on a daily basis. That’s one of the real givens about writing a novel – it’s a long, solitary process.  And, for me, it works best when you set yourself a quota of words a-day – between five hundred and one thousand, depending where I am in the process – and stick to it religiously. I always overwrite in the first draft, and then reduce in subsequent drafts. The trick is to get it all down on paper – and then prune. But that is my method. And my method is not ‘the method’. Because there is no damn method. There is just the business of somehow pushing your way through the narrative until you hit the end of it.  As I said earlier, success is a fragile veneer – and even though I am currently writing my tenth novel, I am always very aware of the fact that each novel is a new challenge, a new uphill climb.

For those aspiring authors, how does one best break into publishing? Is there any inherent quality you believe a writer must possess?

Ok – you can be talented. But do you have to have talent to have talent? In other words, can you find a way in to the publishing world and somehow stay afloat in it? Another question to ask yourself before deciding you want to be a novelist: do you like being alone… in both the physical and metaphysical senses of the word.  And how well do you cope with disappointment and rejection – because there is going to be plenty of that. And – here’s the biggie – do you have twenty years to really begin to figure out what you’re doing as a writer. And even when you’ve hit the twenty year mark, are you also willing to accept the fact that, even when others think you have arrived as a novelist, any truly good and serious writers knows one central truth of this calling, this profession: you never arrive.  You just keep on working.