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Discover the Enchanting World of Nelly Alard: An Author Redefining the Art of Storytelling
From:
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Tuesday, July 25, 2023

 

Bookpleasures.com isthrilled to introduce the talented Nelly Alard, a Paris-basedactress, screenwriter, and accomplished author.

Nelly’s creativejourney has been extraordinary, with her literary endeavors leavingan indelible mark on the literary landscape.

Nelly burst onto theliterary scene with her debut novel, Le crieur de nuit.

This work not onlycaptivated readers, but also garnered widespread critical acclaim.The literary community duly recognized this remarkable achievement.

Nelly received theprestigious 2010 Roger Nimier Prize, the 2011 Prix National Lionsde Littérature, and the Simone and Cino Del Duca FoundationPrize for the Support of Literature.

However, her subsequentnovel, Couple Mechanics, solidified her position as a trueliterary force.

This poignant andintrospective work resonated deeply with audiences.

In 2013, Nelly madehistory by becoming the first woman in over twenty years to beawarded the Prix Interallié.

This esteemed recognitionfurther showcased Nelly's exceptional storytelling abilities andcemented her status as an influential voice in contemporaryliterature.

And now, we have theprivilege of discussing Nelly’s latest literary offering, TheLife You Had Imagined.

Join us as we delve intothe creative mind of Nelly Alard and unravel the inspirations,motivations, and artistic vision of The Life You Had Imagined.

This interview promises tobe an engaging and enlightening conversation with an author whocontinues to push the boundaries of storytelling and touch the heartsand minds of readers worldwide.

Norm: Bonjour Nelly etmerci d’avoir participé à notre interview Good day, Nelly, andthanks for taking part in our interview.

Nelly: Hello Norm, thankyou so much for asking me!

Norm: As anaward-winning author, you have showcased your versatility as anactress, screenwriter, and novelist. How do these different creativepursuits inform and influence each other in your work?

How has your backgroundin acting and screenwriting shaped your approach to storytelling inyour novels?


Nelly: Well, acting is anexcellent school in empathy. When you play a character, imagine theirsituation with such honesty that you physically experience what yourcharacter feels at that moment – to cry real tears when they aresupposed to cry.

It helps a lot as a writerto have this ability when describing an emotional scene and avoidingclichés.

Not to speak of writingdialogues, where an acting experience dramatically helps.

As a writer, you only getto play all the characters in your novel, including those you wouldnever be cast as an actress!

As for screenwriting, itcertainly has influenced me in terms of rhythm.

For me, the last sentenceof each chapter is like a punch line at the end of a scene and mustmake the reader eager to turn the page.

Norm: Your novel, TheLife You Had Imagined, explores the fascinating connections betweenHollywood celebrities and royalty, particularly in a young actressclaiming to be connected to the ruler of the Austrian Empire.

What drew you to thisintriguing historical backdrop, and what inspired you to delve intothe relationship between Elissa Landi and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi)?


Nelly: Although ElissaLandi appears to be the central character of my book, the writing ofthat story didn’t start with her at all - for years, I knew nothingabout her and wasn’t even aware of her existence.

As a child, it all startedwith my fascination for princesses and Empress Sisi in particular.

Although she’s not asfamous in the States, I believe (or at least she wasn’t before theseries The Empress on Netflix).

The books by AlisonPatacki, in Europe, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known asSisi, has been a prevalent character since the 50s and the Austrianfilms by Ernst Marischka starring Romy Schneider, which are stillshown on television every Christmas.

As a little girl, I spenthours and hours borrowing my mother’s wedding gown and playing theprincess.

But Sisi was only knownback then as a very romantic fairy tale character: the young rebelprincess with whom the Emperor falls in love instead of the boringbig sister he’s supposed to marry.

As I read everything Icould find about her, I started to suspect she was a much morecomplex character than that.

When I discovered, aged18, that some people believed she had secretly given birth to a childduring her only stay in France in 1875, it naturally triggered mycuriosity (being French).

I decided, almost as ajoke, that I would solve that mystery. I was not the first totry, but only some people who had investigated the case before I cameto a definitive conclusion.

But–we were in the 80s-there was no Internet then, and although I never ultimately gave upon it, my search didn’t prove very successful for many years. Inthe meantime, I became an actress.

When I discovered that thedaughter of that secret child–therefore, the alleged granddaughterof Empress Sisi–had become a Hollywood star in the 30s under thename Elissa Landi, I was thrilled.

Then the Internet came,and I could find more and more information about Elissa Landi–untilI finally could locate and meet her daughter Caroline Thomas.

She told me she believedto be a descendant of the Empress and gave me access to a behemoth ofa family archive to prove it.

I had already published bythen two novels, and I did not doubt that the story of the hiddenchild, and my lifelong search for it, were an excellent subject for abook.

It took me another fewyears to write it. And here it is!

Norm: Your novel’sprotagonist, Elissa Landi, is depicted as a talented actress with ahidden past. What challenges does she confront while navigating theglitz and glamor of 1930s Hollywood?

How does her connectionto Empress Elisabeth influence her journey?

Nelly: It appears clearlyin the interviews she gave upon her arrival in Hollywood that ElissaLandi didn’t want to use her supposed royal ascendance as anargument for publicity.

She knew she was anexcellent actress–and a beauty–and she wanted to be recognizedfor her talent and her talent only.

Her information sheet atFox Studios states the movie star “refuses to discuss herparentage.”

But before I met CarolineThomas (her daughter), I wasn’t sure whether Elissa herselfbelieved in the story.

If not, she would have hadto think her mother was insane or a crook. I couldn't imagine sincethe two women were very close.

In the hundreds ofletters, both of them wrote to each other over the years, and I waslater able to read, I had confirmation that Elissa was convinced ofthe reality of her mother’s claim.

But she also knew thatmost people doubted it. She was terrified that she would be labeledan imposter, as so many of them were in the United States pretendingto belong to European nobility.

Besides glitz and glamour,Hollywood was a brutal place where stars were made and destroyed inthe blink of an eye, and reputation was everything.

A career could comeabruptly to an end because of a divorce or another scandal.

That’s why Elissa was sofurious against the Fox Studios’ publicists when they let the storyleak in the press.

Elissa’s success andfame in Hollywood didn’t last more than a few years, and she heldthe “Empress story” at least partly responsible for that.

Her rise and fall–andher bitter disillusion about Hollywood–is recounted in the thirdpart of my book.

Norm: Combining yourpersonal experiences as a modern French actress and the investigationinto Elisabeth and Elissa’s mother’s connection adds a uniquedimension to your novel.

Could you share howyour background and career influenced the writing of this story?

Nelly: The question Iheard most when I told people about my research was: “Why are youso interested in that story?”

I always needed to figureout what to answer. I honestly didn’t realize. As I went along,among many apparent differences, I was fascinated by somesimilarities between Elissa’s destiny and mine.

Besides being an actress,she also wrote six novels and considered herself more an author thana performer.

I had a brief (albeitmodest) career in Hollywood before realizing that being an author wasmy real calling.

Also, and when I finallywrote this book, my research had become so huge.

There were so manypersonalities involved that I figured the only way not to lose thereader was to take her (him) by the hand and make him discover thestory slowly and bit by bit, as I had found it.

That’s how I became acharacter in my book! I decided not to listen to the people tellingme I was trying to embrace too much in this novel.

I should write three booksinstead of one about my acting career, one about Elissa Landi, andone about the Empress.

They didn’t understandthat what interested me were the echoes among these three stories andthat my account was there only to answer the question I had beenasked so often and try to explain WHY I was so fascinated by thestory of a possible granddaughter of Empress Elisabeth becoming astar in Hollywood.

Norm: Historicalfiction about European immigrants in the golden days of Hollywood hasbecome a popular trend in recent years. 

What do you think it is aboutthis era and theme that continues to captivate readers and authorsalike? How does The Life You Had Imaginedcontribute to this literary trend?

Nelly: Really? I did notknow, but I am glad to know. I mostly read French novels of allgenres, not mainly historical fiction.

However, I enjoy readingone every once in a while. I certainly didn’t follow any trend inwriting this book, as it is shown in my answers above.

But I found the erafascinating, and I am not surprised not to be the only one. Why? Inmy case, it comes down to my childhood dreams of stardom and glory.

And there is also theever-lasting fascination for America, for us Europeans.

Even though we know therewas also a dark side to all the glamour of the so-called “goldenage.”

Regarding your lastquestion, I don’t know whether and in what ways I am contributingto that trend. I am only sure of one thing: trendy or not, nobodyelse but me could have written that book.

It’s a question I alwaysask myself before starting a book: could somebody else write thatstory–and possibly better? If the answer is yes, I’d ratherforget it immediately. If somebody else can do it better than me,then what’s the point?

Norm: Your novel’sintertwining epochs and characters create a vivid and authentictapestry. Can you tell us more about how you blended differentperiods and brought these women’s lives to life on the page?

What challenges did youface in maintaining a cohesive narrative?

Nelly: Well, my first ideawas to alternate chapters between three different timelines, the wayMichael Cunningham did in his novel The Hours, and solve the mysteryonly at the end of the book, when I reach the end of my research.

But managing so manycharacters in different timelines and places was very complicated,and I was obsessed with the fear of losing my reader. Despite therich historical background, I wanted to keep it easy to read andentertaining.

That’s why I used my ownlife as the red thread that would keep all the puzzle piecestogether, making fun of my dreams of glory and my obsession with thatstory to provide a light touch of humor throughout.

Then I divided the bookinto four parts: the first part tells the story of my research beforeI met Caroline Thomas, as I struggled to become an actress anddiscover Hollywood.

It draws a picture of theEmpress Sisi, which is certainly different from the one people areused to, and introduces to the reader the characters of her lady ofhonor, Marie Festetics, and her niece Marie Wallersee, who was theEmpress’s confidence and the first one to spread out the story ofthe hidden child.

Then, in the second part,I gave up my acting career and became a writer.

I meet Caroline Thomas,who opens all her family archives for me, allowing me to solve themystery in a factual, almost scientific way at the end of the secondpart, approximately in the middle of the book.

I could have ended thebook there, but it would have been very unsatisfactory for thereader, for he would have been left with no clue about thecharacter’s motivations to act as they did.

The third part is writtenas a novel in which I tell the story of Elissa Landi and her mother,Karoline, from their point of view, giving the reader access to theirthoughts and feelings as I imagine them.

And finally, the fourthpart is symmetrical to the first.

I alternate chapters againbetween resolving my search, as I finally understand how and whythings happened the way they did, and Elissa’s disillusion withHollywood, which resonates with my giving up on acting altogether.

 Itis a somewhat elaborate construction. I wish I had found another,more straightforward way to achieve what I wanted, but I still needto.

And to my relief, althoughsome readers were a bit bewildered at first, it worked for most ofthem, so it was the right thing to do.

Norm: The Life YouHad Imagined has received enthusiastic praise from audiences andcritics in France. 

Could you share some of the key themes or messagesyou hoped to convey through this novel?

Were there any specificreactions or interpretations from readers that surprised you?

Nelly:Mainly that everyone’s life can be turned into a novel. Mychildhood dream was to live a life full of adventures that wouldresemble those of the heroines of the stories I was reading.

That made me want tobecome an actress in the first place, hoping that by playing thosecharacters, I would become one of them.

But that was a bigmistake, for it is only by writing your own story that you become theheroine of a novel — your own life.

And not only that, itgives you a chance to make sense of it. For that’s the magic powerof good storytelling: to make sense of the things that happen, aschaotic as they may seem.

Aside from that, it’sbeen exciting to see how some people are more interested in one partof the book or the other.

In contrast, others get mypoint and appreciate the work. People are also usually very impressedby all the coincidences I point out between Elissa and me.

Some of them go as far asthinking I am a sort of reincarnation of her, an opinion that I ammuch too Cartesian myself to share, even though I like the idea thatthere is some mysterious connection between the two of us, on a levelthat we still don’t understand.

But the most movingreaction for me was that of Caroline Thomas, who had lost her mother,Elissa Landi, at 4 and had no memory of her.

After reading my book, shetold me she had the impression of knowing her for the first time andthat I had made her mother alive for her. What greater compliment fora writer than that?

Norm: In your novel,you explore the complexities of fame, ambition, and pursuing personaldreams. How do these themes resonate with your experiences as anactress and screenwriter?

 Did exploring these themes through yourcharacters give you new insights or perspectives?

Nelly: First, it is towrite that story that I became a writer. I started as plays about theEmpress, then screenplays (which were never produced), then adocumentary.

Until I concluded a novelwas the only form that would contain it, I wrote a first short novelhoping to find a publisher. And I did. So I owe Sisi and Elissa tohave discovered my true calling.

With them, I would becomean author. I would have remained a frustrated actress or somethingelse, for I know now that acting was never suitable.

Whether on stage or film,working is an art of the instant; you must be good here and now, notbefore or after the shooting or the performance.

I am much too slow, tooreflexive for that. I need to go back every day to what I havewritten the day before and correct it several times before I amsatisfied.

However, while writingthis book, I somehow experienced through Elissa what it felt like tobe a Hollywood star in the 30s, and I loved it!

Norm: Historicalfiction often requires extensive research to create an authenticsetting and atmosphere. 

Could you give us an insight into yourresearch process for The Life You Had Imagined?

How did you balancehistorical accuracy with the creative liberties necessary forstorytelling?

Nelly: Gee, that researchwas extensive, for sure! I have read ALL the books published inFrench and English about Empress Elisabeth in the 19th and 20thcenturies.

I only gave up at the turnof the 21st century, considering I learned nothing new. I have alsoread many biographies of Hollywood stars of the 30s, and the fewautobiographies of that period, primarily by directors–most moviestars don’t write.

But regarding ElissaLandi, I threw away my first draft, inspired mainly by MarleneDietrich’s memoirs, when I could read Elissa’s letters to hermother and her husband.

They had stayed in London,and Elissa wrote to both of them once or twice a week. She was anexcellent writer, and her letters vividly document her first years inHollywood, sometimes with humor, sometimes with sadness.

It was an absolutegoldmine for a writer, and I needed nothing more. Let me think aboutcreative liberties; I took almost none.

I have an informal pactwith my reader that all the facts I recount in the book are actual. Icall my book a novel because half is written in that form.

Each time I have acharacter talk or think, I cannot guarantee that they said this orthat. That is my creative liberty.

Norm: As we end thisinterview, what can readers expect from your latest novel regardingstyle, narrative structure, and the emotional journey they take on? 

Are there any specific surprises or twists that readers should lookforward to?

Nelly: People who like mywork tell me they like my style and my “tone,” what a criticdescribed as “mild self-mockery” or “dry humor.”

I have a weird sense ofhumor, and not everyone gets it, but those who do enjoy it. It’s away of looking at the most dramatic situations with some distance,trying to avoid pathos at any cost.

I usually give my maincharacter my self-deprecating sense of humor; it relieves me and thereader.

As for this specific book,there is nothing tragic to deal with, but there is a lot in myobsession with that story and my childish dreams of stardom to makefun of. And I do!

As for surprises andtwists, there is major one (I won’t tell you which) in the secondpart, and soon after that, halfway into the book, the mystery appearsto be solved.

But there are stillsurprises to come, and it is only in the last pages that all thenarrative threads I have been pulling truly click together, and itall makes sense.

Norm: Thank youonce more, and may success accompany you in all your futureendeavors.  Merci encore et que lesuccès vous accompagne dans toutes vos entreprises futures.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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