Mar 19th 2014

The Resistance Man: A Talk With Martin Walker

by Mark Rubinstein

Mark Rubinstein was born in Brooklyn, New York. He dreamed of playing baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers since his all-time hero was the Dodgers’ first baseman Gil Hodges. Rubinstein played high school baseball and ran track. His love of sports led him to read sports fiction, and soon he became a voracious reader, developing an enduring love for all kinds of novels.He graduated from New York University with a degree in business administration. He then served in the army and ended up as a field medic tending to paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was so taken with these experiences that after his discharge, he re-entered NYU as a premed student.He entered medical school at the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center. As a medical student, he developed an interest in psychiatry, discovering in that specialty the same thing he realized in reading fiction: every patient has a compelling story to tell. He became a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in New York City.In addition to running his private practice he developed an interest in forensic psychiatry because the drama and conflict of the cases and courtrooms tapped into his personality style. He also taught psychiatric residents, interns, psychologists, and social workers at New York Presbyterian Hospital and became a clinical assistant professor at Cornell University’s medical school.Before turning to fiction, Rubinstein coauthored five medical self-help books: The First Encounter: The Beginnings in Psychotherapy (Jason Aronson); The Complete Book of Cosmetic Facial Surgery (Simon and Schuster); New Choices: the Latest Options in Treating Breast Cancer (Dodd Mead); Heartplan: A Complete Program for Total Fitness of Heart & Mind (McGraw-Hill), and The Growing Years: A Guide to Your Child’s Emotional Development from Birth to Adolescence (Atheneum).Rubinstein lives in Connecticut with his wife and as many dogs as she will allow in the house. He still practices psychiatry and is busily writing more novels. Mad Dog House, his first novel, was named a Finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award (Thriller & Suspense).

Martin Walker is a senior fellow of a private think tank for CEOs of major corporations. He is also editor-in-chief emeritus and international affairs columnist for UPI, and for many years has been a journalist for the Guardian. He has written five previous novels -- all international best sellers -- in the Bruno, Chief of Police mystery series. He lives in Washington, D.C. and the Dordogne region of France. His most recent Bruno novel is The Resistance Man.

Tell us about Bruno Courreges, chief of police of the small town of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of France.
For about fifteen years, we've had a house in the Perigord region of France. One of my great chums, Pierrot, is the village policeman for our small town. He's a hunter, a wonderful cook and a very decent man with an idiosyncratic method of law enforcement. He's also my tennis partner. He's very much the inspiration for Bruno.

Bruno, a former soldier, is the village policeman. He built his own house, cooks, loves his horse and his basset hound, Balzac, and has two very attractive and strong women in his life. In The Resistance Man, he must deal with a sudden crime wave leading to revelations about his country's past, and his own, as well. The Dordogne is a lovely region with great food and wine, a beautiful landscape, and incredible history. It struck me as an almost inescapable opportunity to write about Pierrot and the area, in a fictional way, of course.

Bruno is certainly an expert cook and oenophile. How much of you does he represent?
I wish I was as good a cook or had such knowledge of wine as does my friend. Or, played tennis as well as he does. There's a certain wistfulness about any writer of mystery stories, if there's an attractive hero. These days, particularly with Scandinavian noir, the idea seems to be to have an alcoholic protagonist who can't get along with women, and never speaks to his children. I prefer a likable, even admirable hero, someone like Bruno.

And, the women Bruno finds attractive are extremely independent and strong-minded. One, Isabelle, is passionate about her career and determined to let nothing stand in its way. She wants to live in Paris, which Bruno would hate. The other, Pamela, is a divorcee who has no intention of marrying, though she's quite happy to share her bed with Bruno from time to time. Bruno is desperate to become a father, yet he keeps falling for women who don't want to marry and have children.

Your novels tap deeply into French history. They're almost historical mysteries. 
I studied history at Oxford. My earlier non-fiction books were historical. I wrote one about Gorbachev and Perestroika. Another involved the history of the United States in the Twentieth Century, while another was about the Cold War. History has always been a passion for me. As a foreign correspondent, I would dive into a new culture and read its history.

I've always been fascinated by French history in particular because of its grand divisions -- pro and anti-revolution of 1789; or pro-republic or anti-republic after 1870. There's still a division between those who were Vichy collaborationists in 1940, and those aligned with De Gaulle and the Resistance. In my village, there are still families who will not speak to each other because one was collaborationist and the other was with the Resistance. Some of this friction is reflected in the Bruno novels.

You've been a journalist and a non-fiction author. How did you make the transition to writing fiction -- specifically mysteries?
When we bought a home in the Perigord region, I felt a compulsion to write about the area, but not in a non-fiction venue. I wanted to convey something about the extraordinary local lifestyle and culture, landscape and the region's wealth of history. The area's human past extends back to pre-historic days and the famous caves of Lascaux are just up the river from our home. There are more than a thousand medieval castles in the Dordogne valley. The region is drenched in history.

About twelve years ago, I wrote my first novel, The Caves of Perigord. But that didn't really scratch my itch. I had this idea of writing about a policeman. I never took any writing courses. It just seemed to come naturally as an outgrowth of journalism, of simply writing. So Bruno, the chief of police of our little town was born, and I've been writing about him ever since.

With your busy schedule, do you write every day?
Before beginning a novel, I write a thirty page synopsis. Then, I set myself a target of a thousand words a day. Whether I'm on a plane or away from home attending a conference, I take out my laptop and get my 1,000 words written. It's part of my daily routine.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I read a huge amount. I travel quite a lot -- even more so these days because the Bruno books have had success and impacted tourism for the Perigord. When they have museum exhibitions for the Lascaux caves, whether in Houston, Montreal or elsewhere, I help do the presentations with a team from the regional tourist board. I do the same for the international wine fairs for the wines of Bergerac. I was madechevalier of fois gras and became an honorary ambassador for the Perigord region. And, there are book tours keeping me busy.

Do you read other writers in your genre while writing a novel?
Sometimes. It depends on how much I'm travelling. If a new novel by Alan Furst comes out, I'll read it immediately. I read a great deal of history, biography, and a bit of science fiction as well.

When reading another author's prose, are you tempted to emulate that author?
Not really. If I go to a Shakespeare play, I don't start writing in verse. (Laughter). I think having been a journalist for a daily paper for so long affected my style; it's rather workmanlike. It's really quite well set. I think I write naturally. I write the way I think and speak.

Who are the writers you admire?
My hero is Sherlock Holmes. That was the first time I came across the mystery genre as a boy. I enjoy reading Donna Leon and Peter Robinson. I very much enjoy the art mysteries of Iain Pears, and really liked the first of the Stieg Larsson trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I enjoy reading novels by Ian Rankin. I very much like science fiction and was struck when I read Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. As for non-fiction, I recently read The Man who Changed China by Robert Kuhn. I also read Bourgeois Dignity by Deirdre McCloskey.

If you could have dinner with 5 people, either writers or historical figures -- living or dead -- who would they be?
First would be Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wonderful Twelfth Century woman who married two kings. Another would be Queen Elizabeth the 1st. She'd have to bring Shakespeare along with her. (Laughter). Then I'd invite Lord Byron. A fifth would be Abe Lincoln who I think would get along very well with Eleanor of Aquitaine.

If you could invite some contemporary people, who would they be?
Bill Clinton would be one. We were together at Oxford. Later, as a journalist, I covered him a lot; and from time to time, he graciously invited me to join him on Air Force One. Another would be Mikhail Gorbachev. Then, I'd invite someone I've never really understood -- Angela Merkel. I find her rather shrouded in mystery, but obviously, she's very accomplished. As for contemporary writers, I'd love to have Eric Flint at dinner. His mind is so very interesting. He began a series called Ring of Fire, which is a wonderful historical creation. I would like to have C.J. Samson at the table; he's written several marvelous books about an English lawyer living during the Sixteenth Century. I wouldn't mind having Ian Rankin there, too.

Where would you dine and what would you eat?
I would take them all to my home and cook them a grand Perigord meal. We'd start with a soup made from a duck's carcass. We'd then go on to an omelette au touffe with eggs from my own chickens and truffles from the hillside near our home. I would cook Aiguillette de canard, using a thin strip of meat just below the breast. I would cook it with mustard seeds and honey. I would add to that,pommes sarladaise, which are potatoes thinly sliced and cooked in duck fat, with garlic, parsley and truffles. It would all be done in the Perigord style.

And the wines? 
The white wine would be a Bergerac sec from Chateau Jaubertie. Then I would offer everyone a deeply robust 2005 Chateau de Tiregand. It's made by a friend of mine in the village.

Would Bruno be there?
Absolutely, as would Pierrot. We've had this particular meal on several occasions. Oh, and I'd also serve some fois gras. I would serve it with a glass of chilled sweet wine, Monbazillac from Chateau de Tirecul. It's something akin to Sauternes. I would finish it off with some cheese, of course.

What's next for Martin Walker?
I've finished number seven in the Bruno mystery series. It's called Children of War. I'm about to go off on a U.S. book tour. Then, I'll return to France where I'll be working away on Bruno number eight. I'll also be judging a fois gras competition. Then, for one month, I'm off on a book tour in Germany. I'm starting a futurology project about what Germany may look like in the future. It will all keep me happily busy. And, when I get back to France, I'll be planting my vegetable garden.

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Jul 31st 2020
EXTRACT: "From a Kantian standpoint discrimination based on race – or religion, or gender – is fundamentally wrong. It is wrong, first of all, because it is dehumanizing, a denial of human dignity. When I racially discriminate, I am denying the person’s intrinsic self-worth, I am, in fact, denying their very right to exist, whether I know it or not. The moral law demands that I treat every individual as a free person equal to everyone else. If the moral law grants each of us a kind of infinite worth, it does not grant someone greater worth than anyone else."
Jul 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Remember, your wellbeing is extremely important when supporting someone with depression. Take time for self-care so you can model positive behaviours and be replenished enough to provide this crucial support."
Jul 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "--- Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. --- Author James Baldwin’s words, written in the America of the late 1950s."
Jun 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in more deprived neighbourhoods tend to have worse physical health as adults compared to those raised in more affluent areas. This is the case even when researchers take into account family income and education, and whether or not parents have major illnesses. In order to address this health disparity, researchers need to understand how those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods end up with worse health outcomes. Our team’s latest study has highlighted one potential way your childhood neighbourhood may influence your health for years to come. It might do so through changing how the activity of your genes is regulated."
Jun 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Ruth Poniarski is a painter and the author of Journey of the Self: Memoir of an Artist (Warren Publishing, 2020), in which she tells the story of her decade long struggle with mental illness, a “spiraling malady” which led her into a “pattern of psychosis”. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Poniarski about her life and work, and how she eventually overcame her demons."
Jun 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "I know I’m good in a couple of things, really good in a few things, and that’s enough. My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, it’s no problem. I need experts around me. It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you."
Jun 27th 2020
An essay about the "the enormously influential 1940 'Head of Christ' painting by evangelical Warner E. Sallman" pictured below.
Jun 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "The diverse, non-human life forms that live in our guts – known as our microbiome – are crucial to our health. A disrupted balance of these contribute to a range of disorders and diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease. It could even affect our mental health..... It’s well known that the microbes living in our guts are altered through diet. For example, including dietary fibre and dairy products in our diets encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. But mounting evidence suggests that exercise can also modify the types of bacteria that reside within our guts."
Jun 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called."
Jun 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "People differ substantially in how much they’re affected by experiences in their lives. Some people seem to be more affected by daily stress, or the loss of someone close to them. On the other hand, some people seem to get through the same experiences relatively unscathed. Similarly, some people benefit strongly from counselling, or having a support system of close family and friends. Others seem better able to manage on their own. But understanding why some people are more sensitive than others isn’t just a question of how they were raised, and the experiences they’ve been through. In fact, previous research has found that some people in general seem more sensitive to what they experience – and some are generally less sensitive."
Jun 7th 2020
EXTRACT: " The root causes of anthropogenic climate change – which has led to the endangering of countless species across the globe – cannot be adequately grasped in isolation from the technological application of modern science. While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was certainly justified in calling upon American legislators to “unite behind the science,” neither can we overlook the culpability of science in bringing about the environmental crisis. "
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."