Author Interview: Mark Pryor, The Sorbonne Affair

 I love mysteries and was happy to discover a bookstore here in Scottsdale called Poisoned Pen which sells mostly mysteries, although they have expanded what they sell a bit. I love to go there and wander around and the staff  can always point me to new authors that I haven’t heard of.  I was looking around and noticed a table set up featuring books which had France and mostly, Paris, as the setting. The Sorbonne Affair was one of these. I bought it and was about half way through reading it when I started wondering if the author, Mark Pryor, would agree to an interview. Happily, he agreed. I love doing author interviews.
 The book is set in Paris and is about a well known author who feels she is being spied on and consults with an American Embassy head of security, Hugo Marston, and the story proceeds from there with some deaths and intrigue. I wasn’t able to guess who the murderer was. Along the way, you get some looks at Paris which I especially liked as I could picture them as I read, some tasty food descriptions and information on writing books and getting published. So, if you like Paris and mysteries this may be for you. If you don’t like the “f word”, one character will really bother you.
1. This doesn’t have anything to do about your book but how did someone from England end up in Austin, Texas? And, also, how did you go from being a journalist to being an assistant district attorney? Do you deal with murder cases in your job?
Well, my mother is actually from Chapel Hill, NC, and we used to come over here every couple of years to visit. In the early ’90s I went there to travel a bit, spend time with family. I ended up falling in love with the States, with living here, and resolved to stay. I worked as a freelance journalist in Chapel Hill and Raleigh and also went back to school to get my journalism degree from UNC. I then decided to go to law school, attending Duke just down the road.
I met my wife there, Sarah, and after law school we decided to move to Texas, where her dad and sister lived. We got jobs at big law firms (which we hated!) and after three years I applied to the DA’s office here in Austin. I realized I wanted to be in a courtroom, doing trials, and that was the only way I could think to do that. Roll on ten years and I’m still doing it!
2. I love the cover of your book. Did you have anything to do with selecting it? Do you know which terrace in Paris it was taken from? (I think I have been to the terrace seen on the front of his book. It’s on top of the Terrace Hotel, 12 rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018 in Montmartre.
I’m so glad you like it! No, my publisher has an art department that does all the covers. I loved the one for The Paris Librarian, too, they do a great job. And if I knew where that terrace was, I might be there myself, sipping coffee…
3. How did it come about that you set your series of mysteries (Hugo Marston-head of security for the American Embassy) in Paris? Do you spend time in Paris doing research?
Honestly, the only reason is that I had an idea for the first book, The Bookseller, while I was there. Literally walking down the street alongside the Seine and the idea came to me. And so Hugo Marston was born!
Yes, I do spend time there for research. I go for every book, once I have the idea of what the story is. I’ll be going again for the new one in December and this will be something like my 18th visit! I know, I know, it’s tough that I have to go there and research in person but like every artist I’m prepared to suffer a little… 😉
4. I did a Google search for the hotel featured in your book, the Sorbonne Hotel, but couldn’t find it so I assume you made it up for your book. Is it based on a hotel that you know in Paris? Where do you stay when in Paris?
Right, I made it up as there’s no hotel with that name — there should be though, right? As for where we stay, generally I’m there for a whole week so we’ll rent an apartment to make it a little cheaper. We tend to pick different parts of the city each time,just because we’ve been there so much it’s too easy to drift back to a favorite spot. When we go in December it’ll just be for a few days, so we’re scouring for a good hotel in Montmartre, where I plan to set the next book.
5. Did you ever have any contact with someone in the American Embassy in Paris to know how to write about it and your main character?
Yes! I was too shy/embarrassed to do it before The Bookseller came out, but once it hit the shelves I felt like a ‘real writer’ so had the nerve to email the State Dept and inquire. After a few emails got bounced around to several people, someone from the embassy there invited me to come take a tour. I ended up sitting down with a real RSO (not Hugo’s counterpart, he was traveling, but his 2nd in command) for about two hours just talking about what they do and how they do it. it was fascinating and, best of all, it turned out I had got pretty much everything right in the first book. Pure luck, of course!
6. How did you learn about the French legal system?
I actually try and steer clear of getting too technical as far as that goes. Because of my day job I’m pretty familiar with police procedures, crime scene protocols etc, but you’ll notice that once someone is arrested for the murder, the book usually ends. What little I put in there comes from internet research, although now I think about it I do have a friend from law school who works in a Paris law firm now and she advised me on one aspect of The Sorbonne Affair (which I can’t mention, as it might give something away!).
7. How do you get ideas for your books?
I never know how to answer this question, because it sounds weird: I don’t know. Occasionally I’ll take a snippet from something I’ve seen in real life, but not usually. The fact is, I have a hundred books in my head that want to be written, I just don’t have the time. Coming up with plots isn’t hard for me, quite the opposite, and I know I’m very fortunate in that regard.
8. Why did you start writing mysteries?
Because I grew up reading them. I’ve always wanted to write, always did write even as a kid. And so when I started in on it seriously, it only made sense for me to write a mystery. It’s about all I watch on TV, too, mysteries, true crime… and soccer. Crime and the mind of the criminal have always fascinated me and I suppose this is another way I can explore that fascination.
9. Favorite mystery authors?
How many am I allowed?! Ok, so historically my faves have been Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, PD James… those folks. Now I’m super into Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir series, I love Alan Furst, adore Tana French.. who else? Oh, big fan of James Ziskin, Jamie Mason, Craig Johnson…if only I had more time to read!
10. I assume you visit Paris often. What are some of your favorite places there? If someone were going there for the first time, where would you tell them to go?
Yes! As often as I can. You know, the thing I like to do the most there is walk. Just walk. On my last trip I wore a device that tracked how far I went, and my fei and I covered ten miles every day (and still I put on a few pounds, what’s that about?!). There are lots of obvious tourist attractions, but I would point someone towards the Musee d’Orsay, the grounds of the Louvre, and the Catacombs. And advise them to find a cafe and just sit and have a coffee or a drink and watch people. Rush about for an hour or two, then just sit and watch.
11. Have you visited other parts of France? If so, any favorites? Being from England, were you lucky enough to visit growing up?
Yes, I have, I’m very lucky in that regard. My mother actually lives in the Pyrenees mountains in France, and my wife and I were married in her tiny little village. I’ve driven and taken the train to or through most every part of France and love it all. The Loire for its castles, Bordeaux for its vineyards, Pau for its mountains. Even the flatter northern parts are wonderful, so rich in history with little stone villages dotted around… ahh, you’re making me want to go there now!

My Good Life in France

I’ve just finished reading the very good memoir by Janine Marsh called My Good Life in France. I “knew” Janine as I’ve written a couple of articles for her very popular website, Good Life France, and I enjoy reading the website and I follow the Facebook page too. I was happy to see that she had written a book and interested to read how she came to be living in France.

I love memoirs and especially ones that are set in France. Janine and her husband found their farm almost by accident when a real estate agent called them into his office on a rainy day, gave them coffee and a few printouts of places for sale. They were headed back to catch the ferry to England and stopped at a couple of them and, bang, there it was, a coup de foudre, love at first sight. I don’t know what Janine saw that captured her heart because it sounded rather dreary, something that her father who was with them, pointed out, but they bought it and set off renovating.

The book takes you through the various things done in and around their house, work in the garden where they discovered that it had been used as a dump site for years, and not just for small things. Then animals came into their lives: ducks, chickens, dogs and cats, and they discovered that they were animal lovers. They live in a place in France that I know nothing about, an area called Seven Valleys in the Pay-de-Calais and Janine writes of the warmth of the people along with the happy celebrations that occur. It makes me want to take a look the next time I happen to be in the north of France.

My Good Life in France can be found on Amazaon in paperback if you are in England and in ebook format. It is scheduled to be in the States by February, 2018 but may come out even sooner.


 Janine with rooster, Gregory Peck the second.


1. What would you tell someone thinking about moving to France? (I always say to be really fluent in French). Any words of wisdom?
Well I agree with you on the language, even if you aren’t fluent, try your best to speak French as much as possible, it will really help you to make friends. Accept that things are different in France, particularly when it comes to administration. Paperwork, form filling and bureaucracy are a way of life, you just have to get used to it and go with the flow.
2. Were you an animal lover before you moved to France or did that happen when so many animals appeared in your life?
No – not at all! I’ve never had an animal before and never wanted one!  Actually Fat Cat is sitting on my lap while I’m talking to you and dribbling with happiness! She just appeared at our back door about six months ago and never left.  It started when we found a 4 week old kitten being attacked by a bigger cat in the lovely town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, we bought this tiny wounded bundle home and ever since, animals have been finding us.
3. What are the number counts of the animals in your life?
Currently 6 cats, 3 dogs, 4 geese (but they are all nesting including the boys – on about 60 eggs in total, we are dreading it if they all hatch!), 22 ducks and several of them are nesting and 14 chickens. We also feed 5 hedgehogs who come nightly to the door and if we don’t leave food out, they run rampage over the terrace and knock everything over.
4. What do you like most about France and what bothers you the most? What do you miss back in England?
I love a lot about France, the people and their love of heritage and tradition, the street markets, cakes, cheese, wine, the architecture and beautiful chateaux, sleepy hamlets, the café lifestyle, quirky festivals and the wonderful train service SNCF – I could honestly go on and on! What bothers me? Hmmm tough one, what bothers me? Not a lot really. From my home in France is just 3 hours to central London by car, I can actually be in England in 1.5 hours so I go back and forth a lot because I’ve got family there and because there are things I love about England too and I don’t have to miss them because I’m in the perfect location to have it all.
5. I have found that my friends in France are mostly Americans. Do you have French friends, ones that you can gab with?
I know what you mean, with your expat friends you have a shared heritage and understanding. I have French, American, Australian and UK friends here but if I really want a girly giggle it’s my British friend Annette I turn to. She’s slightly bonkers, absolutely lovely and she would get an Olympic Gold Medal for talking if there was one.
6. Do you have time for hobbies? If so what? I suspect the animals and Good Life in France take up most of your time, not to mention the husband.
I love gardening! This part of France gets lots of rain and the soil is rich. I grow my own veg and fruit as much as possible though I’m going to have to be creative as this year the ducks have figured out they can fly out of the pen and they love the young seedlings! I like to sew too, I’m awful at it but I like the calmness of sewing something. Cooking? Not really despite the fact that my French friends are horrified by my disinterest. I like eating food just not preparing it! I love reading too though I don’t have as much time for that as I’d like, I have 4000 books and we renovated the pig sty to keep them all in!
7. I know from your book that you have come to love the area in France where you live-Seven Valleys-but what other places in France have you come to love? What is special and interesting to you in the area where you live?
There’s not a region in France I haven’t fallen in love with for one reason or another. Alsace, Champagne, Provence, French Riviera, Dordogne, Loire Valley, Picardy, Charente Maritime and lovely La Rochelle. I’m forever ringing Mark my husband when I’m travelling and saying “I want to live here!”. But my heart is in the Seven Valleys – it might not have the sunshine of the south but they say here that the people of the north have the sun in their hearts and it’s true, they are very friendly, welcoming and have a great sense of humour. When you make a friend here, it’s for life.
8. How often do you travel around France? What’s on your list of where to go next?
I travel a lot – I love to discover new parts of France, in fact I’m off to the Loire Valley next week to visit the Chateau de Chenonceau and Clos de Lucé, the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. I’m also off to London to see my sister and my son Harry and his lovely wife and their kids. Next month I’ll visit Avignon, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Nimes in Provence, then I’m off to Carcassonne and Montpelier…
9. Do you have any favourite books that are set in France? Did you read a Year in Provence for instance?
I love that book, Peter Mayle’s descriptions are wonderful and one of the biggest compliments I got was from Samantha Verant author of 7 Letters from Paris (brilliant book, so romantic) who reviewed my book and said “Move over Peter Mayle – there’s a new girl in town and her name is Janine Marsh” – woohoo! I’ve read so many fab books about France (I’m addicted to them), I can’t pick just one.
10. Why do you think people are so taken with France and, especially, Paris? What is it that draws so many visitors? I find that women especially want to live in France.
There are so many things about France to entice. Paris, Provence, Marseille, Lille – fabulous cities, UNESCO listed gastronomy, boulangeries where the waft of a just baked croissant will be a memory that stays with you forever, lavender fields, sunflower fields, cakes, cheese, wine, the Louvre, French Alps and awesome Annecy… so so much. I’ve just started a “reasons to love France” weekly series on my website and I ask people on my Facebook page for their reasons and the list is massive, it’s going to take me years to get to the bottom, in fact I may never finish!