A case of Georges Simenon …
The Belgian novelist Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was one of the most productive and popular writers of the twentieth century. Author of more than 500 novels, translated into dozens of languages, he was most famous for his detective novels featuring Inspector Jules Maigret.
He was an extremely prolific writer, who produced more than 350 works under his real name. He also published over 1200 stories using over 15 different pseudonyms, such as Georges Sim, G. Sim, Geo Sim, Christian Brulls, Christian Brull’s, Jean du Perry, Jacques Dersonne, Jean Dorsage, Luc Dorsan, Georges Martin-Georges, Gaston Vialis, Germain d’Antibes, Aramis, Bobette, La Deshabilleuse, and Gemis. In 1928, he wrote 44 novels. He produced a diversity of work ranging from several literary genres from novellas and short stories to the serialized novel, the noir genre and some psychological thrillers, erotica, romances, crime, and adventure novellas.
His incredible literary output was also due to him being a notoriously fast writer. Simenon usually wrote 6,000-8,000 words a day, or anything up to 60 to 80 pages and took approximately 11 days to complete a novel. He would mark off on a calendar eight days for composition and three for correction. Though perhaps an urban legend, it seems that Simenon once wrote a novel in public in 24 hours, while sitting in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris, accepting character and plot suggestions from an amazed audience.
Georges Simenon’s extraordinary production was undoubtedly linked to the strict, unvaried routine he followed for producing a book.
Firstly, Simenon would list the names of his characters, including their descriptions, addresses, and other personal details on a large manila envelope. The plot line would come later, almost as a revelation, while writing. On the eve of his first writing day, he would meticulously prepare, polish, and change the ink ribbon of his IBM electric typewriter. He would lay out a selection of pipes, some of his special ‘Coupe Maigret’ tobacco, a coffeepot and a large cup, and two folders — one for typescript, the other for carbons. With the phone disconnected, he would hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door of his study. The whole household knew that a tomb-like silence had to be observed to avoid distracting Georges Simenon during his creative process.
On the following day, Simenon would be up at dawn, wearing one of his checked Abercrombie & Fitch sports shirts, ready to work. He wrote quickly, never consulting a dictionary, never going back to edit. He poured his popular novels onto the pages in torrents, at the rate of 92 words a minute, hardly even pausing to ruminate. By about 10:30 a.m. he would be finished for the day, with a complete 80-page installment ready for his secretary and his sweat-drenched shirt ready to be laundered. The ritual demanded that he wear the same shirt until the novel was finished. After eight or 10 days (the Maigret stories took up to a month), another Simenon would be off to the publisher.
He kept over 150 telephone books, from different countries, in his study. When in search for a name for one of his new characters, he would spend hours poring over these telephone books. He would then copy about 300 names on the famous yellow manila envelope and then read these names out loud, over and over again, until one of them would sounded right for his next character.
Given the number of works he has published, it is difficult to imagine Georges Simenon having time for anything other than writing. Yet, as per his own admission, Simenon is as famous for his Inspector Maigret as he was for his sexual conquests. Simenon claimed to have had 10,000 lovers, of whom 80% were prostitutes. Josephine Baker, a French-American dancer and actress, was perhaps one of his most famous lovers.
Georges Simenon once said, ‘I literally suffered from knowing there were millions of women in the world that I would never know.’ For their part, Simenon’s two wives and several ‘official’ mistresses tolerated Georges’ infidelities. It seemed that servants and other employees in Simenon’s household served a dual function. In fact, one of his last conquests, Teresa Sburelin, a Venetian woman who became Simenon’s mistress for 23 years, had originally joined the household as his second wife’s maid.
As he approached his 70th birthday, suffering from vertigo and no longer able to bear the strain, Simenon abruptly stopped writing. He unplugged his typewriter, announced he had retired and changed the designation on his passport from homme de lettres to sans profession.