Novelist Illustrates Path to Becoming a Writer
Broken conversations in French buzzed throughout the lecture hall as we waited for the lecture to begin. Unable to speak the language, I wondered how much I was about to lose in translation. Arlette Cousture, a novelist from Quebec, had never given a lecture in English before. Her speech was only faintly accented, but vocabulary at times failed her.
Cousture had cut a trip to Paris a week short in order to speak here. She began by chronicling her early years, picking out the moments in her own life that she had used directly in her novels.
“I’m not an intellectual,” Cousture said. “I’m a storyteller.”
When Cousture was five years old, she had a “rain friend” on her block – Lucy, whose heart condition didn’t allow her to play outside. So whenever it rained, Cousture went to this girl’s house. Eventually the doctor told Lucy that her heart was strong enough to stand the exercise, and she went out to ride a bike for the first time. She tragically died minutes later when she was run over by a street car.
And this is only the beginning. Clearly, Cousture has plenty of fodder for fiction.
“Without knowing, a lot of my research was done. Something [you can write about] is going to imprint on you brain or you soul,” she said. Cousture began writing at an early age, even winning a composition contest when she was eight.
“I loved making letters,” she said. “It seemed as sophisticated as embroidery.” But she did not immediately pursue writing when it became time to choose a career. In college, she studied acting, and at age 22 she became a TV anchorwomen.
“I flopped everywhere before I became a writer,” she said. Eventually, Cousture found herself digging back to her literary roots.
“One day you decide to write a novel and it takes you somewhere you’d never thought you’d go,” she said.
Although many lecturing authors bring up issues of writers’ block and dead ends, Cousture denied having problems of this kind. She views writing as an organic process, sometimes unaware that she will kill a character until the words appear on the page.
“I always see myself as my first reader,” she said. “If I don’t make myself laugh and cry I tear the paper and throw it away.”
Cousture’s novels, including Ces enfants d’ailleurs (Children from Elsewhere), are all in French, and have inspired several French films.