Back in 2016, I had decided to apply to Masters in Creative Writing at British universities. At that time, I wasn’t really fluent in English, which is my second language. Of course, it won’t surprise anybody: one of the things I had to do to complete my application was to write a story.
This story was Finding Maxwell.
How did Finding Maxwell came to me?
A couple of years before, I had had my first holiday with my boyfriend in Sweden. We had taken the plane from Belgium and, up in the clouds, I started daydreaming about a castle and its little inhabitants. I think that was the starting point of the story.
I imagined Once Upon a Sky. It would have a very young character named Max who would meet a tiny man from a cloud castle named Ruhtra (Arthur written backwards).
But first, I had to write this 5,000-word story for my uni application. And I wrote the introduction, the first chapter, to this very story I had daydreamed about. The title, back then, was Once Upon a Coffin. I’m glad I’ve changed it to Finding Maxwell, haha.
Why did I choose an 8-year old boy as a protagonist?
To be honest, I don’t know. It just came to me naturally.
Maybe it’s because I had read a lot of these stories when I was a kid and it always was with a male protagonist. It sounds a bit cliché though.
I chose to make him very young – 8 years old – because then he’d still be considered as a child. I wanted to make the reader understand that, as a child, you have a lot of imagination that is completely (or partially) lost when you grow up. One of the reasons for this is because we’ve been told it isn’t very “grown-up” to have this big fat imagination.
Had I been in Rome before writing the story?
No. I wrote Finding Maxwell without having ever been in Rome in my life. I had just looked up at the architecture, the places and so on on Google. Tourists are taking a lot of pictures, which were super useful to me as a writer. I didn’t know a thing about St Peter’s Basilica, except that it was in the Vatican, haha.
However, I went to Rome with my sisters in October 2018. It felt amazing to finally go where I had imagined my character. Okay, Popes are not really displayed behind a glass, but that was really fun to write.
Getting lost somewhere as big as the Basilica, is it something I have experienced as a child?
I remember something like this. I had gone to the supermarket with my mum and younger sister. I was maybe around 8, but I’m not quite sure. Anyway, we had gone row after row to fill the shopping trolley and, after a while, my mum noticed my sister’s disappearance. I remember how panicked my mum was, and how relieved she was when she found my sister. That’s definitely a memory that I’ve used in the story.
Was it difficult to write a story in English?
Well, as I said, English isn’t my mother tongue. I had a difficult past with the language, but doing a masters in Creative Writing was something I truly wanted. There is no program like this in French-speaking countries.
I think it took me two weeks to write the first draft. I had to look up for words in the dictionary quite often, and I had to give people the time to proofread it. I didn’t know anybody in the UK except some people from an English class at Kentish Town library. I had the chance that the teacher looked at my story before I sent it to universities. And the uni professor quite liked it because he gave me an unconditional offer.
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