By J.P. Smith
[...] I began to learn French with a few grammar books bought at Heffer’s Booksellers in Cambridge, and after several months began to read some simple stories, graduating to Candide and Tartarin de Tarascon byAlphonse Daudet, and then moving on to more contemporary writers. I started with Patrick Modiano’s first novel, La Place de l’étoile.
[...] Though I needed (and still do need) a dictionary beside me, I continued to read in French with a greater fluency and quickly saw how my own work was being both enlarged and influenced by it. Living in Britain had its risks: my writing could begin to adopt some of the market-driven demands to write about being a writer in Hampstead (a subject so effectively cornered by Margaret Drabble and others) or to delve into agitprop (quite common back then in both theatre and television drama) or even historical fiction, but it was reading French that pulled me into doing something different
[...] Adopting French as a second reading language gave me two worlds through which my own work could be filtered. As a novelist (far less so as a screenwriter), I find that reading in two languages has a way of enriching one’s own work. When reading in French I’m really stepping beyond myself and my world, and it’s this tiptoeing into another culture and another way of viewing things, that allows me to look back over my shoulder and find perhaps a whole new way of telling my own story.