This week Claude Nougat joins me for a discussion about her latest book A HOOK IN THE SKY, the emerging new Boomer genre in literature, and art and painting. We’re also very lucky in that she has allowed me use two of her own paintings to illustrate her answer to one of my questions.
Alana: Claude, welcome. You live in Italy. Whereabouts? And how did that come about?
Claude: In Rome. It came about by chance. Some 35 years ago I met a wonderful Sicilian who happened to work here and we got married!
Alana: It sounds v-e-r-y romantic. As does your use of the French pronunciation of the main character’s name in A HOOK IN THE SKY, Rob-air. So much sexier than the no-nonsense Robert. I still can’t think of him any other way. How much does his career in the UN and the fact that he’s an amateur artist resemble your own life?
Claude: I guess you could say it’s very autobiographical, but then all one’s writing draws on one’s life experience … I drew on my own work experience at the UN and I won’t deny that many of Robert’s reflections on his work are close to my own. Like him, I worked for 25 years in a UN agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization, based in Rome. I’ve had a similar career path: I started out as a project evaluation specialist working in the field and ended in the higher rungs of the organization, as a director responsible for Europe and Central Asia.
Alana: To say it must have been interesting is, I think, a gross understatement. Where did your years with the UN take you?
Claude: Like Robert I’ve often travelled to the Third World, mostly Africa, but I’ve also been to other fascinating places like Peru, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam. And just like him I’ve made sketches, taken photographs and later turned them into oil paintings.
Alana: Let’s talk about your painting. Have you taken it further than Robert, ie, turned professional and exhibited?
Claude: We’ve both turned professional (grin)! He’s had one exhibition in Paris sharing the gallery with Natasha who’s a talented photographer and also the woman he is having an affair with. That’s something I’ve never done!
I’ve participated in many group shows (13 at my latest count) in France except for a couple in Sicily, and had two personal shows, one in Paris, the other in Rome. That last one was big, over 60 paintings! However, since 2008 I haven’t had any more as I’ve concentrated on my writing.
Based on my own paintings I’ve uploaded on Picasa an album that pulls together paintings and photographs that Robert could have done but of course I did them.
Actually, as you know since you read the book, there are two paintings that play a pivotal role in A HOOK: the naked woman and the painting of two flood victims in Bangladesh, two young girls, looking forlorn with their feet in the water. Respectively called La femme objet and Bangladesh the flood victims 2005.
Alana: And I thank you for allowing me to use them to accompany and illustrate the interview.
Claude: Thanks for showing them! But no spoilers, I won’t say here why these paintings are important! Actually, Robert in his artistic career has gone much further than me. He’s left traditional figurative art behind and had one major art installation shown at the famous Turbine Hall of the Tate in London. Any artist would dream of that! I certainly will never be shown there.
Alana: Why not?
Claude: I’m not a conceptual artist! I’m not into art installations—except for the ones I’ve invented for my book. Maybe some day an art merchant will ask me to put together a pile of ladders reaching up to a hook and take it to the Tate …
Alana: Like the one on your book cover.
Claude: … but I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. The art world is closed, almost impossible to penetrate for most artists, as I try to show in the novel.
Alana: What was the impetus for A HOOK IN THE SKY? And what in particular did you want to explore in it?
Claude: Contemporary Art is obviously one of the many things explored in it, but it’s almost a side-show. It’s what the main characters, Robert and his wife, fight over. But the main point of the book is another. I wanted to explore what happens to someone who retires after having had a successful career whether at the UN or in business. You’re a big manager, you retire, then what will you do? Go back to work as a consultant? So many people do that. But Robert has a special talent, an innate ability to draw and paint. From childhood, because his mother was an artist, he had this dream of becoming a painter like her and it seems to him that now is the time to make that dream come true. But he hasn’t taken into account his wife’s taste for conceptual art. So he goes after his dream alone … with catastrophic results for their marriage!
Alana: Is your mother a painter too?
Claude: Okay, full confession: yes, she’s a painter, a surrealist after the Dali manner, same generation … but she’s still alive and thriving at 99!
Alana: Good for her. Shows what having a purpose and interest can do.
Claude: I might include her in another book because in this one the focus is on Robert’s marriage, not his mother. What interested me was to see what would happen after retirement to a couple whose marriage has become essentially a marriage of convenience. The fact that theirs is childless doesn’t help. For years Robert and Kay have worked at their own careers without much interaction between them. That happens to so many people … When Robert retires can the marriage be reset on a sounder basis? There is one young woman in particular that turns his head, she is very beautiful and he paints her in the nude, the painting you’ve used above. The resilience of a long-standing relationship when confronted with the transition to the last stage in life is definitely a major issue for boomers who are retiring. They come home, they stay home, but what kind of home is it?
Alana: Talking of boomers, you’re the initiator and driving force behind a new genre in writing: baby boomer. How did it come about?
Claude: It just arose from a statistical observation regarding the market, remember I’m an economist by training! Boomers are hitting retirement age and the numbers are huge: 78 million in the US alone and retiring at the rate of 3.5 million a year. The youngest boomer is 49, the oldest is 67, and it’s clear they’ll want to read about issues that concern them and will need to identify with characters that are like them. Hence, the birth of boomer literature!
My book features a quintessential boomer. Robert is 60 when he retires, full of energy and ready to do much more with his life! So I thought I’d seek other authors who might have written boomer novels.
Alana: How did you go about doing that?
Claude: I opted for two strategies: one, set up a thread in the Kindle fora for authors to list their boomer novels … here’s the link … If you’re a BB novelist go list your book there and if you’re looking for a BB novel to read, that’s the place to go! It’s important because at present the BB genre is not recognized by Amazon. I set up the thread in September 2012. After a slow beginning it started to fill and now it’s filling fast!
Then in October I started a group on Goodreads to discuss Baby Boomer novels … here’s the link … At first, like the thread to list BB titles in the Kindle fora, it was very slow and I thought I had maybe made a mistake, that I had misread the market. Then, suddenly, starting in November, things began to pick up speed.
Alana: How far has it progressed? Has it surprised you?
Claude: The Goodreads group grew even faster than the Kindle thread and I have to confess I was astounded! It’s as if boomer lit had been there all along, just waiting to be named to come out in the open!
Now, as I talk to you, the group has 184 members but every day new members are added and new boomer titles are uploaded on the group’s bookshelf, so far 54 books.
Check them out to pick your next good read, the quality is remarkable and the variety is fascinating, from comedy to serious fiction, thrillers, memoirs, even guidebooks, poetry and short stories!
Alana: Are any of the authors known?
Claude: Many of the books are from NYT (New York Times) bestselling authors, and at least one that I know of was a runner up to the Man Booker Prize (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce).
And, of course, you have the classic examples of boomer lit with Louis Begley’s About Schmidt series and Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both of which inspired memorable films with great actors. I would urge interested readers and writers to join the group. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and we’re reading one book a month democratically selected through a poll.
Alana: What about your other published works? Would you give us a rundown?
Claude: I think you’re going to be surprised. My other published works are not boomer lit at all but New Adult! I’ve written a series (three books so far) entitled THE PHOENIX HERITAGE … here’s the link to the first book LUNAR RISING … It’s the story of a young American born a gifted child and who’s become a computer whiz. He goes looking for his family roots in Sicily, the homeland of his father who died when he was still a kid. He chances into an abandoned palazzo and meets the ghosts of all his ancestors going back 900 years. The series mixes history with a coming of age story. By the third book he takes his life in hand and makes a fortune online, attracting the unwanted attention of both the Sicilian and Russian mafia! Bottom line, it’s a hard-to-classify series: it starts off as a YA paranormal/historical and ends as an NA techno-thriller!
I’ve also published a collection of contemporary short stories DEATH ON FACEBOOK …
Alana: I read DEATH a while back and reviewed it. Thoroughly enjoyed the stories.
Claude: Thank you. For more information about all my books take this link to my Amazon author page.
Alana: Is there anything else you’re working on?
Claude: Sure, a lot! At present I’m working on a serial or series of novellas, tentatively called The OnePercent Saga, set two hundred years from now in a future characterized by a profound division between the very rich who are the only ones to enjoy the amenities of technological advances while everyone else is left out. The first novella is called I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU BEHIND and I expect to publish it this summer, as soon as a couple more episodes in the series are written.
I’d also like to get into some non-fiction themes, mainly social issues like those I explore on my blog and the history of one of my ancestors, Liewin Bauwens, who was Napoleon’s favourite entrepreneur because he stole the spinning jenny from the English! He started the modern textile industry on the continent—much to the dismay of the British who tried him in absentia and condemned him to be hanged. Of course, he never returned to England.
So, as you can see, my plate is full!
Alana: I can see another interview just to explore that! But for now I’ve kept you long enough. Claude, thanks so much.
Claude: Thank you, Alana! I really appreciate the thoughtful questions and your excellent review of my book! You gave me a chance to explain my novel and what I’m doing, I’m very grateful for that. Book discovery is hugely helped along by the selfless work of dedicated readers like you who are also talented, professional writers. It’s people like you who can find the gem in the slush pile!
Alana: Any response to such praise is going to look decidedly disingenuous, so I’ll resist.