DiversifYA: Veronique Martin

VeroniqueWe’ve got something pretty special for you today. Veronique David-Martin is the kind of person you can lose hours with. She thinks widely and deeply, and is frankly far too lovely and well adjusted for someone who exposes so much darkness in her fiction.

She writes in French, so you’re all going to want to master the language. And until you have, she tweets sporadically here, and her mostly bilingual website is here. Seriously moody book trailers for the first instalments in her THE MASTERS OF THE STORM trilogy can be found here (in French or English).

We asked Veronique the same questions as always, but the answers we got back are a little different!

1. How do you identify yourself?

I would identify myself as a lot of things really. We all are many things in life and multi-faceted. I am a human being, a citizen of the world, a European, a writer and a French woman. It’s difficult for me to find one aspect to represent myself totally but, after thinking about it, I feel that saying I am a “seeker” is probably the least narrow way.

2. What did it feel like growing up as a “seeker”?

What I mean by a “seeker”  is someone who sees life as a place of learning and exploration and who’s looking for meaningfulness and links between people and things in a world that often feels meaningless and divisive. I’ve always felt that way from as far as I can remember. I was a sickly child who read all the time and probably thought too much. My mother read me The Little Prince when I was really small and I became obsessed with it. I’ve been told by my Mum that, at the age of 4, I asked her the meaning of the sentence: “What matters is invisible to the eyes. You can only see well with the heart”.  Her answer must have bowled me over because I can see that this quotation has been at the very core of my life ever since.

I was brought up a Catholic and took all the love, kindness and self-sacrifice stuff very much to heart. I lost my faith at the age of 7, because I lumped Jesus and Father Christmas together, but regained it a bit later thanks to meeting a wonderful monk who was a living saint. I lost my faith again at the age of 17 but kept from it two central aspects: the need for a spiritual dimension in my life and the rule to treat people as I would like them to treat me.

These principles have not always been easy to live with but I’ve tried to stand by them. For instance, when I was 13 I became bullied at school after standing up for two boys who were very badly treated. It was a horrible period but I survived and it made me stronger; although it probably also fed into my feelings of never being good enough! Life is always a mixture of light and shade: that’s what makes it so interesting.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

My path in life has felt both difficult and incredibly privileged.

The biggest challenges for me have been both internal and external.

Internally, trying to keep my feelings of anxiety and my oversensitivity in check has often been quite tough. I have also a tendency to be very self-critical and not to treat myself with the openness and kindness I treat others (I should probably re-evaluate my life rule when it comes to myself!). I’ve also experienced depression and would never want to go back to these very dark days. But I’m grateful I did in that it showed me that there really is light and hope at the end of any dark and oppressive tunnel.

On an external level, it’s taken me a long time to become published and, after being a successful student, I’ve had to experience many years of rejection as a writer. Because of this I’ve had to learn to define myself through deeper things than success and recognition, like finding out who I truly am, and appreciating the love and beauty all around me. Now I’m published and feel happy and at peace, but my feet are firmly on the ground and I never take anything for granted.

The quirks and perks…

First, I think it’s an immense privilege to have been born in Europe where we’re free and able to be ourselves and follow our path. My Dad, for instance, came from a poor background but, through hard work, dedication and passion, became a civil engineer and the mayor of the town where we lived. As to our freedom, I was brought up with stories about the Second World War and the difficulties and terrors of living in an occupied country. I feel an immense debt of gratitude for all those who fought and risked their lives to resist the oppressors and free us.

Having spent my formative years moving from one part of France to another because of my Dad’s job (each time losing my friends and having to adapt to new people and places) taught me flexibility. It made me able to leave my country as a young adult and settle down somewhere else. I actually jumped at the opportunity to leave when I was a student and became one of the guinea pigs for the now well established European exchange, Erasmus. I feel that many things in life, which can first appear as difficulties or ordeals, actually teach us valuable lessons that help us live better in the long run.

Being foreign in Britain has been both very liberating and difficult as some people found it a bit hard to accept me. Being foreign means you’re no longer identified by the usual labels of the society you belonged to (like class, rich or poor, etc.). That’s the good bit, as you can free yourself from all these unhelpful labels and start from scratch. The not so good bit, however, is that being foreign can often mean being seen as an outsider. For me, however, since I’d always felt a bit different, even when I lived in France, it’s actually been a blessing and has allowed me to be who I truly am, quirks and all!

I’ve always found differences between people exciting and fascinating. I admire people who can do what I can’t do and am only intolerant of cruelty and unfairness. I feel very much anyway that our differences are only superficial and do believe that deep down we are all very much the same: our needs are similar, so are our fears. If only we could remember that, wars would become a thing of the past!

4. What do you wish people knew about being a “seeker”?

I don’t think I wish people to know anything special about me personally because I don’t think I’m very interesting. I wish, however, for people to read my stories, so that “the seeker” in them hopefully gets tingled! I’ve so loved (and still do) losing myself in books but also being able to explore myself through them.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and that’s why at the age of 7 (the age of reason!) I realized I wanted to share stories with others and become a writer. When I write a story, I create a sort of canvas, a screenplay. But it’s the reader who’s the director of the story: he/she recreates the characters and the sets according to their imagination, their life experience, and their secret fears and dreams. I love this dialogue that exists between writer and reader.

Being a reader has really helped me in life. It’s allowed me to build a strong inner world where I’ve found both strength and inspiration. The more stories you know, the more lives you’ve lived; and the more lives you’ve lived, the wiser you become. In our Western societies material exploration and knowledge are paramount but our inner world, our unconscious, is very neglected. The result is that we know more and more things (in science and technology for instance) but are not becoming any wiser. Knowledge without wisdom can be very scary: we must always remain responsible of what we discover and create. Otherwise we may destroy one another and our beautiful world.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Clichés and stereotypes mean different things to me.

Clichés can be very powerful because they’ve become that for the reason they ring true to a lot of people. For instance, the adage that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is often very true.

On the other hand, I deeply dislike and fear stereotypes. To me they consist in taking a group of people and painting every individual in it with the same brush. Like saying that all French people eat frogs’ legs (I don’t!) or that all gypsies are burglars. It’s mean, unfair and very dangerous. Look at what happened in Europe in WW2 when the Nazis persecuted and slaughtered people for their religion, race and sexuality. Look too at what’s still happening now all over the world (wars, hatred, racism and persecution). I feel very strongly about this. Recently I was so thrilled when France voted in favour of marriage equality but absolutely disgusted by the cruelty and ignorance of some people who let anti-gay stereotypes rule their judgement (or lack of judgement as the case may be).

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

To me writing a character means allowing a true if unreal person to be born and have a voice. If a character is true, he/she will be complex and have depth: diversity will happen naturally as it does in life. We’re all wonderfully unique, different, complex, often paradoxical, but deep down we’re also profoundly similar and linked to one another. Books that tell us stories about other people help us discover or be reminded of that most important of truths, and I love them passionately for it!

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