Douglas Kennedy is the bestselling author of 14 books, three of which have been adapted to film. Last week Robyn Goss interviewed him at GEMS World Academy, where he was speaking at the inauguration of the Discovery World Library and World Language Learning Centre prior to attending the Morges Book Festival.
RG: Your books are set in so many different places: Australia, Germany, France, America and Egypt, to name a few. How do you achieve such a strong sense of place in your writing?
DK: I’m someone who absorbs all the time. It’s just a habit. I’m reading all the time, and I’m listening all the time. And I’m curious. A life without curiosity is terrible. Just about everything interests me and I’m a very fast study. So when I go into a place, I just seem to kind of get it.
The devil is in the detail and what I’ve tried to do with many of my books is look at place with a sort of clarity. I’ve read so many stupid novels about Americans in Paris, which were always sort of romantic and very picture-postcard. So when I wrote The Woman in the Fifth I decided I was going to do something different. I set it in a grubby immigrants’ quarter of Paris. When my Parisian friends asked me, “How did you discover this part of the city?” I said, “On foot.” I walk around. I look. I keep looking.
RG: Your novels are so different to one another, in terms of genre, narrator, setting… can you talk a bit about that?
DK: I have a restless streak in me, and I have a very restless imagination. I never want to do the same thing again. If I had been more of a careerist, I would have branded myself a different way. There was a point at the beginning of my career when I could have written the “Man in Trouble” novel over and over again. Like The Big Picture and The Dead Heart. But I changed. And then I changed again and I changed again. But [in all of them] what I write about is modern anxiety. It’s all over my books. My own stuff, obviously. But I discovered my own stuff was shared by most people.