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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EXTRACT: "“The paintings which I propose to do will depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy” – this is how Jacob Lawrence described his project in 1954. Over sixty-five years later his proposal has, if anything, become only more urgent. Two days after this exhibition closes, Americans will vote in what is arguably the most significant election in a generation, an election that will measure our commitment to preserving that democracy, the struggle for which was Lawrence’s mighty theme."
Oct 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "There are also other ways our life stories can be passed down through generations, besides being inscribed in our DNA...... One 2014 study looked at epigenetic changes in mice. Mice love the sweet smell of cherries, so when a waft reaches their nose, a pleasure zone in the brain lights up, motivating them to scurry around and hunt out the treat.... The researchers decided to pair this smell with a mild electric shock, and the mice quickly learned to freeze in anticipation....... The study found this new memory was transmitted across the generations. The mice’s grandchildren were fearful of cherries, despite not having experienced the electric shocks themselves. The grandfather’s sperm DNA changed its shape, leaving a blueprint of the experience entwined in the genes."
Oct 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "As we Americans face the potential loss of a peaceful transition of power after the election and the possible end of democracy as we know it, we are reminded that discourse matters, that words matter and that the one who quotes poetry is a man who reads—and that matters."
Sep 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "We now know the potentially appalling long-term effects of suffering cruelty from others, including damage to both physical and mental health. The benefits of being compassionate towards oneself, rather than treating oneself cruelly, are also increasingly recognised..... And the idea that we must suffer to grow is questionable. Positive life events, such as falling in love, having children and achieving cherished goals can lead to growth..... Teaching through cruelty invites abuses of power and selfish sadism. Yet Buddhism offers an alternative - wrathful compassion. Here, we act from love to confront others to protect them from their greed, hatred and fear. Life can be cruel, truth can be cruel, but we can choose not to be."
Sep 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Over his incredible career, David Attenborough has seen more of earth’s natural wonders than almost anyone. To hear him talk, with such clarity, about how bad things are getting is deeply moving. Scientists have recently demonstrated what would be needed to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. As Attenborough says in the final scene, “What happens next, is up to every one of us”. "
Sep 15th 2020
EXTRACTS: "The Anglo-Australian multinational company Rio Tinto – the largest iron ore mining company in the world – demolished two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters in May.......The Dampier Archipelago of Western Australia is home to thousands of Aboriginal pictographs, and perhaps the oldest surviving rock art in the world. Indeed, Australia’s Indigenous art represents the longest uninterrupted tradition of art in the world – going back over 50,000 years......Aboriginal people represent the oldest continuous culture in the world...."
Sep 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution was a defining event that changed how we think about the relationship between religion and modernity. Ayatollah Khomeini’s mass mobilisation of Islam showed that modernisation by no means implies a linear process of religious decline.....Reliable large-scale data on Iranians’ post-revolutionary religious beliefs, however, has always been lacking...........In June 2020, our research institute, the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN...conducted an online survey......The results verify Iranian society’s unprecedented secularisation."
Sep 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Just as you can upgrade your old computer’s operating system, culture can evolve even if intelligence doesn’t. Humans in ancient times lacked smartphones and spaceflight, but we know from studying philosophers such as Buddha and Aristotle that they were just as clever. Our brains didn’t change, our culture did."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Our lab in Cambridge, England, is working with a promising new family of materials known as halide perovskites. They are semiconductors, conducting charges when stimulated with light. Perovskite inks are deposited onto glass or plastic to make extremely thin films – around one hundredth of the width of a human hair – made up of metal, halide and organic ions. When sandwiched between electrode contacts, these films make solar cell or LED devices."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Bryant, a black man, was sentenced to life in prison for trying to steal hedge clippers from a Louisiana carport storage room in 1997. He has already served twenty-three years for this petty crime, and on 31 July the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a request to review his life sentence. The denial followed a lower appeals court’s 2019 decision that concluded “his life sentence is final.” The only judge on the Louisiana Supreme Court to dissent (or even issue an opinion) was Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. She wrote a stinging rebuke, observing that Bryant’s “life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.” "
Aug 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "In 2016, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that as high as 40 percent of prisoners should not be in prison—”behind bars with no compelling public safety reason.” There are literally thousands of young prisoners, Black and white, who are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-violent offences. It is unfathomable that we as a society are spending billions of dollars every year to sustain such pointless cruelty, to inflict needless pain on individuals, fathers and mothers, who pose no threat at all to the public."
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."