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Timothée De Fombelle - Author

About the Author

Timothée de Fombelle is a much-admired French playwright. Initially working as a teacher/lecturer, he soon turned to writing and in 2006 produced his first novel, Toby Alone, known in his native France as Tobie Lolness. Highly acclaimed, it has been translated into 22 different languages and has won numerous prizes. Toby’s extraordinary story continues in Elisha’s Eyes, out in 2009.

Q&A with Timothée de Fombelle

1. You seem to have had a wonderfully idyllic, rural, independent and yet quite unusual childhood in France. How much of Toby and of Toby’s surroundings is inspired by your memories of childhood or did your inspiration for Toby’s miniature world come from somewhere entirely different?

Yes I believe that an author finds inspiration in his own life experience. Toby’s search is the search of the paradise lost of childhood. I don’t think that I would have written this adventure without a thorough knowledge of nature that has been in me since the age of Toby, of 7, 12 or 15.  At that age everything has a flavour and a smell. At that age, one doesn’t think before acting. One dives into nature as one dives into a river.  

2. The miniature world about which you write is so beautifully described in great detail and yet with such clarity.  How did you immerse your mind into this miniature world? Did you find it difficult to start with at least to draw up analogies in miniature such as the beautiful vast lake in which Toby meets Elisha that to us would have been a droplet of water the size of a pinhead or indeed the monster that was in fact a frog who gulped up the porter.

I would like to say that writing this book was very painful! But I must admit that it was a very simple and natural experience for me to talk about the world of the Tree - maybe because I am still up the Tree. I haven’t found out about nature in books. You just need to stick your nose on the bark of the Tree and you let your imagination go. The best compliment I have ever received is “we don’t look at the trees the same way”. I am happy if I have managed to change even just a little bit the way people look at nature.

3. Toby is a wonderfully likeable character even when he seems constantly to be in danger and whilst his emotions seesaw between bravery and fear at every turn.  Was his character easy or difficult to write and why?

The reader loves Toby because he is not a super hero. His qualities come out during the tough moments. I think that in order to bring such a character to life, I just needed to bring some tenderness and trust in him. I was scared with him, I laughed with him and just like Toby I was shaking out of love in front of Elisha.

4. Toby has a number of near-death experiences as he evades capture, each of them a wonderful feat of the imagination.  Were they difficult to put into words?

In these situations I am Toby. At night, I leave my hero in a dangerous situation and I can’t sleep. In the morning, I jump out of my bed thinking “I must go and save Toby”. My goal was to write about the ability to survive thanks to imagination. This is the reason why Toby doesn’t have magical powers. His magic wand is his intelligence, his vital energy. I used the same tools to write the book.

5. Was the idea of having an ecological message within the story your starting point for the novel or did it become woven into the story later?

At the beginning I thought I could run away from the daily life, the media and the problems of our world. I thought I could escape reality. Then one day I realised that the Tree was as fragile as our own world and my own worries and hopes came into the book as well as the ecological/green message. These messages came alive through the adventure. My priorities are adventure and emotions.

6. Which authors do you think your readers will also enjoy?

I am very surprised to find in my readers people who are passionate about the great fantastic stories such as Harry Potter or those written by Tolkien as well as peoples who resist this trend and find in my book a family, social and sentimental adventure. What astonishes me most is to be able to bring these very different audiences together. 

7. This is your debut novel and is the first of a two volume saga.  Had you always planned to make it more than one book or did it just grow as you wrote it?

I knew very early on that the book would have a sequel. The story needs space to develop. When I was writing I knew exactly where I was going. I built the story in two parts from the beginning – the escape and the re-conquest. When I started to write the second book I was happy to meet the characters again, to be back to a familiar world. I hope that my readers will experience the same emotions.

More about Timothée de Fombelle

As an adult
After becoming a literature teacher, Timothée taught in Paris and Vietnam before choosing the bohemian life of the theatre. Author of a dozen plays, he writes, designs, builds sets and directs the actress he admires the most, his wife Laetitia. They have a young daughter, Jeanne Elisha, who already loves climbing trees. Toby Alone is his first novel and has already been translated into 22 languages.

As an artist
Passionate about books and theatre, Timothée has been writing since he was young. The stage has been his testing ground but it is life, with its joys and trials, which inspires his real work. A great traveller, Timothée recognises that the writing of Toby Alone has been his best journey so far.

10 Things You Din't Know About Timothée De Fombelle

1. He plays tennis very badly.
2. He's a keen carpenter.
3. He has spent all of his holidays in a chateau in the middle of a forest.
4. He's a great cook.
5. His wife is an amateur boxer.
6. He loves walking for hours.
7. His favourite sound is the crunch of snow beneath one's feet.
8. His favourite authors are Flaubert and Dumas.
9. He dreams of one day travelling in a hot air balloon.
10. He loves writing underneath the trees.

Books by Timothée De Fombelle

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