The Story of a Successful Writer: Interview with Author and Screenwriter Franck Thilliez

Franck Thilliez, born in 1973 in Annecy, is a recognized author and screenwriter whose works have captivated readers around the world. With an initial career in computer engineering, Thilliez discovered his passion for literature and thrillers, debuting in 2002 with the novel “Conscience animale”. This was only the beginning of a series of literary successes, including “Train d'enfer pour Ange rouge” (2003) and “La Chambre des morts” (2005), which were quickly appreciated by audiences and critics, and were later adapted for the big screen.

Author Franck Thilliez

Thilliez's main characters, such as the two inspectors Franck Sharko and Lucie Henebelle, became emblematic of his works, investigating complex and fascinating cases in a series of novels that captured the imagination of readers. With more than 20 published volumes and numerous awards, including from SNCF and Quais du Polar, his works have been translated into several languages ​​and have had a significant impact in the literary world.

In addition to his literary career, Thilliez also distinguished himself as a screenwriter, collaborating on the film “Obsessions” (2010) directed by Frédéric Tellier, which brought him recognition with the Mireille Lantéri Award in 2011.

With impressive sales and a solid reputation in the literary industry, Franck Thilliez continues to top the bestseller charts in France, consistently demonstrating his talent and ability to captivate audiences.

The Truth: Bonjour Franck and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Could you share with us what was your inspiration for choosing such complex stories and psychological depths in your thrillers?

Franck Thilliez: Please, it's a pleasure. I basically draw inspiration mainly from cinematography. If I had to name two directors who inspire me a lot, I would say Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. Ah, I forget Hitchcock, whose intrigue and tension I find fascinating! In literature, it would be Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Harris for the darkness and complexity of their stories. I'm a former IT engineer, so I enjoy reading and writing complex stories. But “complexity” does not mean “not understanding anything”, it is a subtle balance between a well-constructed plot, strong characters, surprising and disturbing settings, all intertwining to imprison the reader.

As a result, I write stories that aren't just linear, with point A and point B, but made up of intersecting threads, “true” false leads, ongoing revelations. So it is necessary to have a certain logic of construction, which, for me, happens long before the first line is written.

How do you approach research for your novels, particularly when exploring scientific or forensic aspects?

It takes me about a year to write a book, and before I put the first line on paper, six months have already passed! Six months in which I make documentaries, I meet with researchers, doctors, policemen, I talk extensively with all of them. Sometimes I go out in the field with these people, in the laboratories or in the medical rooms to inform myself or to enjoy the atmosphere. I also read specialist books on subjects that interest me, in order to have a more accurate picture of the story I am about to tell. I create what we call “mind maps” on the computer, that is, trees that are, in a way, the visual projection of my sometimes complex thoughts. This allows me to organize and write well-constructed stories.

Your main characters, like Sharko and Henebelle, are complex and engaging. What challenges do you face in developing such characters over multiple novels?

Through the force of the writing exercise, I realized the extreme importance of having good characters, they are the ones who continue to accompany us once the book is closed, they are the ones we think of, when we remember the title of a book on which I loved. We must therefore take care of them and not forget that the characters in the novels are above all human beings, who love, suffer, revolt.

Franck Sharko and Lucie Henebelle, for example, have a difficult, dark destiny full of obstacles. This is what characterizes this couple of investigators the most, it creates, I think, their signature, their originality. They met through suffering, they loved each other through suffering. Without the difficulties around them, they would not be the same and I would feel like I have nothing to say! I need their suffering to build an existence for them and to continue to carry them forward. That's what I pay the most attention to.

Can you discuss your collaboration with other authors, such as Bernard Minier, and how this influences your writing process?

I appreciate Bernard Minier very much, both for the man he is in real life and for his novels, which are of high quality. I really enjoy reading his stories. We certainly write very different stories, but which often have a common background. Sometimes the way our ideas collide is almost shocking: when our novels appear in France (often at the same time), we realize that we have written on very similar subjects!

On the other hand, I rarely read while writing, because I fear that whatever I read will influence my own writing. If writing is a big river, reading is a small river flowing into the big one, there will inevitably be some kind of “contamination”. So, I read outside of writing periods, between two novels or on vacations.

Mental illness is a recurring theme in your work, often portrayed with empathy and depth. How do you approach the representation of mental health issues in your novels?

What defines the “polar” genre is the development of a story starting from a dysfunction. This dysfunction can be historical, political, societal… I'm interested in the dysfunction of the mind, with a more scientific/psychological approach: what makes the human brain at some point start to go off the rails? What signal in the brain pushes people to take action? Is violence genetic or social? How does mental illness work? All these topics have fascinated me for many years, so I hone my skills in psychiatric hospitals, meet doctors and specialists and ask them a lot of questions. By writing my thrillers, I try to understand the human being a little better…

Your novels have been adapted into films and TV series. How does seeing your work translated into visual media affect the relationship with the story and characters?

I live every announcement of a screenplay like a fairy tale, hoping every time that the project will materialize, because the road from the story to the film or series is long and arduous. I am especially pleased that my stories can interest the audiovisual world, I who started writing mainly because of genre films.

The novel moves effortlessly from the past to the present. How did you approach balancing these timelines to maintain suspense and keep readers interested?

1991 it is first and foremost a trip back in time to the days of phone booths and fax machines. No mobile phones, no internet and with the feeling that time passed more slowly at that time. It is a theme in itself, this relationship with time, because by reading we realize that today everything goes much too fast.

For the rest, there are two big topics that I researched for 1991. I can't reveal one of them, because it would give away the plot, but you will see that the problems of 30 years ago are still present today. As for the other theme, it is magic and the art of manipulating spirits. It's absolutely fascinating and I think readers will be drawn into reading to try and make sense of this whole tour of magic!

The novel explores the impact of memory and how it can be manipulated or distorted over time. What research did you undertake to accurately illustrate this in the story?

I have a scientific mind, and I always try to include topics related to medicine, the brain, genetics… And memory, which fascinates me. How does it work? How are our memories stored, how are they reconstructed? Are they real or can they be manipulated? Can a person who no longer has memory have a normal existence? Besides my personal interest in the subject, it's a dramatically rich theme that allows me to create strong characters. Because I have been fascinated for many years and have read a lot of books about memory, it is a subject that I now know very well.

The book “1991” deals with sensitive topics such as guilt and redemption. How did you navigate these themes while maintaining the pacing and suspense of the thriller genre?

Guilt, redemption, violence, death, are major themes of detective fiction, so it's normal to find them at the heart of intrigue. What is important in a thriller is that all characters, whether good or bad, have a purpose, evolve as the story progresses. The wicked has a reason to kill, or to do harm, and the reader must understand why he does it: what drove him to commit the evil? The society ? Education? Genetics? Writing a good thriller is about finding a balance between investigation, action and the quieter moments where characters question their own lives and how society is evolving.

Thank you for the opportunity to give this interview to the Romanian public. We have one last question: What do you hope readers of “1991” will understand after reading the novel?

I hope the reader will enjoy discovering the character of Franck Sharko, a policeman who appears in many of my novels and continues to lead investigations today, at 60 years old! I also hope that this little throwback to the 90s will be enjoyed by those who lived through that era, like me for that matter. And for younger readers, the novel proves that before, even without a cell phone or the Internet, we could lead a normal life!