Its smell after the rain or the unexpected success of Cédric Sapin-Defour

Its smell after the rain or the unexpected success of Cédric Sapin-Defour
Its smell after the rain or the unexpected success of Cédric Sapin-Defour

Q Mr. Sapin-Defour, since the publication of Its smell after the rain, you have sold more than 300,000 copies and won a few prizes including the “Goncourt des animals”. How have you lived with this success for over a year?

R It is certain that the whirlwind that has been there for several months is not running out of steam. Between the success in France, the reception of the book abroad and all the adaptation projects [au cinéma, au théâtre et en BD]it’s quite swirling. […]

It delights me. It’s a fairy tale for publishers, for everyone. But for me, it doesn’t change my life that much because the very essence of my life is spending time outside, in nature. And I maintain that. It is necessary for my personal balance.

Success has changed everything in the freedom it offers me for the years to come, but in the fundamentals of my life, it has changed nothing.

Q Beyond the success, we can also speak of a wave of love towards Ubac and the story of both of you, right?

R Yes, that’s very fair. It goes beyond personal success which can be good for the writer’s ego, bank account and all that. [rires]

Personally, I am especially reassured to see that a love story between two living beings of a different species can win this vote. I tell myself that the world is not completely destroyed, completely inhabited by darkness, conflicts and rejection of difference.

Ultimately, a simple love story can still reach so many readers. I tell myself that there are still these strong feelings that connect us, that hold us together, that transcend us and that touches me a lot. […] As I often say, readers very regularly tell me that in fact the story I told is their story.

Q But, on social networks for example, people ask you for photos or videos of Ubac. By publishing your story, do you feel like you now have to share it with the public?

R You put your finger on a reservation that I perhaps had at the time of writing.

I really wanted to spend time with Ubac again. This is what the act of writing offers: I knew that I was going to be in great emotional and memory proximity with him again.

When you initiate a creative process which will then be offered and suggested to as many people as possible, you may have the fear of losing a little bit of a form of exclusivity of love. But for me it was very fleeting, ultimately.

You know, I’m always pretty stunned. Today, for example, I still crossed the Atlantic and I arrived in a country that I don’t know — it’s my first time here — and people tell me about Ubac. It’s absolutely astonishing. […]

Even in France… When I take the train and I see Ubac in the window of the bookstores in the stations, I always have a little moment of surprise and say to myself: “But what are you doing there?”

Before, he was in my every day and my every thought. He accompanied me regularly and [le succès du livre] doesn’t spoil anything. It just enhances the story we had.

Q You started writing Its smell after the rain some time after Ubac’s death, in 2017. Today, would you say that writing was saving or rather difficult?

R In the end, she was neither… and both at the same time.

Really, there was no therapeutic intent. There was truly a search for happiness and pleasure in evoking the memory of a being who shared my existence for years.

Obviously I had to wait a bit before writing. […] I absolutely did not want the book to be overwhelming and filled with only sadness and suffering.

There were times when it was very joyful, because writing allows us to bring back memories that we had somewhat lost. Thanks to that, I remembered anecdotes that I had almost forgotten.

It’s true that, from time to time, there were much more painful moments, like punches in the stomach, but that’s the game. It’s the game of creation.

>>>Its smell after the rainCédric Sapin-Defour, 270 pages. (Stock Editions)>>>

Q Its smell after the rain is a very different work from what you have published before but, through Ubac, you still observe nature as an equal. Why this posture?

R This is really the common thread that, I believe, exists between my books. Works that may appear to be of a different nature because, in one, they are stories of activities in the mountains and, in the other, a relationship with an animal.

[…] I have a sensitivity or receptivity to what is around me, whether living beings, fauna, flora or the universe. I never considered myself a superior being, neither by climbing mountains nor by living with an animal.

On the contrary, I am still in a completely humble and modest position. […] Raising our heads and being open to what is around us, at any time, in any territory, in any situation, makes life truly surprising and enriching.

Q You talk about the “humanity” and “kindness” of your Bernese Mountain Dog. What is the best lesson he taught you?

R I don’t know if we can talk about a lesson, because I think that taking inspiration from an animal is not receiving a lesson, because it doesn’t do it with that intention. But I certainly learned from Ubac the openness to surprise, to uncertainty.

And also the audacity to love. An animal, when it offers you its love, its interest, it does not do so with any form of reserve. He doesn’t tell himself that there might be a risk, that he might receive nothing in return, that he might one day be disappointed.

If we begin to organize our life by telling ourselves that perhaps one day, eventually, an unfortunate outcome will occur, in fact, we are only waiting, fearing.

The fact of believing and embracing existence in a total way, even if it means breaking your face two minutes, two months or two years later, I find that it is also a prophylaxis that the presence of the animal around me.

Q After such success, how do you envisage your next writing projects?

R I see things quite simply. I know that I need to live and be in action, in encounters, in rubbing shoulders with the world in order to be able to use that as literary material.

As for me, I am completely incapable — and I have a lot of admiration for writers who do it — to hole up at home and suddenly imagine a story that would be completely external to me.

I spend a lot of time exploring human relationships, the world, meeting nature and human beings with their joys, their sorrows, their questions and their uncertainties. From this, something will emerge in terms of literary creation in the months and years to come. I am convinced of it.

Its smell after the rain is available in bookstores.

***Questions and answers may have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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