A Writer’s Sources: Gabrielle Mathieu

Jill Prewett talks to a writer from Sankt Gallen about her sources

Mr. M, a retired homicide detective, sipped his coffee and pondered my odd questions about a hypothetical murder, committed by an underage orphan with a love of chemistry …

Writer Gabrielle Mathieu

Image courtesy: Gabrielle Mathieu

My first novel, The Water Dragon, took place in the country of Trea, on a continent called the Heartland, during the ending of a 600 year cycle. I got to wave my magic wand and create a society, geography, and belief system for my heroine, and her band of stalwart fighters and philosophers.

While sending out agent queries, I began a novel set in Switzerland in the 1950s. The Falcon Flies Alone is also a fantasy novel, but one that addresses the pharmacological and neurological aspects of transformation. (Like this magazine, it also has a wolf in it, but not that banal creature, a werewolf). The science part was a lot of fun. Out came books about hallucinogenic plants, collected during my debauched youth. Dimly remembered information about neurotransmitters wended its way into the story, along with arcane laboratory details about paper chromatography. Easy. More or less. Especially with the help of Dave Thomas. But that’s another story.

I rushed the ending of the book, skipping over arrest and detainment. My knowledge of the criminal justice system was confined to violent American movies. I had no idea how Swiss policeman behaved in the 1950s, whether they were armed or uniformed, if they worked on weekends, how they hunted for suspected criminals.

Working on my second draft, I realized I’d done my novel an injustice out of laziness. Unlike Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, I don’t have a dear uncle who’s a judge. Like Blanche, the character in A Streetcar Named Desire, I would have to depend on the kindness of strangers. I imposed on a dining city attorney with my questions, cold-called a retired judge in the neighborhood who’d been an acquaintance of a colleague, and finally stumbled upon Mr. M. through the help of my American friend Cindy.

It was a good thing too, because the suspicious son of the judge informed me curtly that his father had passed away. (But they hadn’t removed his name from the telephone book – how was I to know?)

Mr. M, a retired homicide detective, sipped his coffee and pondered my odd questions about a hypothetical murder, committed by an underage orphan with a love of chemistry. Though Mr. M has an avuncular, kind air and a soft voice, his brown eyes are still penetrating and sharp. After our meeting he offered to let me borrow his files: every newspaper clipping pertaining to police work in our areas from 1965 to the late 1990s.

Would you have guessed Swiss policeman are required to carry a pistol with eight rounds?

Now we’re talking.

So remember, as a Brit or an American, you have an extra edge on those polite, reserved Swiss people. Just go ahead and sound like a fool – ask audaciously. You may find your own Mr. M with his scrapbooks.

And if you ever need to know more about the toad-licking cult, then of course I’m your source for that.

Author: J.J. Marsh

Writer of The Beatrice Stubbs series, founder member of Triskele Books, columnist for Words with JAM magazine, co-curator of The Woolf magazine, Bookmuse reviewer, blogger and Tweeter. @JJMarsh1

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