My old French teachers won’t believe their blinking eyes when they somehow get to know this: I wrote a book for children in French. It’s called „Aujourd’hui en Allemagne: Maxxi à Berlin“ („Today in Germany: Maxxi in Berlin), I wrote it together with Catherine and it has now been released by the French publisher Gallimard Jeunesse.
How did that happen? Well, our friend Élise, who works for Gallimard in Paris, asked us one day if we were interested in writing a book for the publisher’s series „Le journal d’un enfant“ („A child’s diary). The books of this series each tell an everyday life story of children in countries from all over the world such as China, Japan, Algeria, Brazil and many more.
Now Gallimard was looking for an author to cover the book on Germany. Catherine was pregnant with Maxime at the time, and I was working my regular job, which was undergoing a lot of change back then. Writing this book was going to be a lot of work, but we knew we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. We sent in our CVs and a test draft and eventually got the publisher’s go-ahead.
Writing a book together turned out to be not that easy a project. We discussed our ideas for hours and of course we didn’t always agree. Also, we didn’t really know what the life of an eleven-year-old child in Germany was actually like these days.
One evening, before turning out the light to sleep, we came up with a basic plot structure: our protagonist (Maxxi) was going to be a boy who lives in Berlin together with his single mum and his sister. And his best friend (Selim) was going to be of Turkish origin.
Next, we knocked on our neighbour’s door and interviewed their (slightly surprised) son Levin, a very nice thirteen-year-old boy, to get an idea what the kids are up to today. He helped us quite a bit.Then we organised our story into chapters and split up the writing. (I wrote in German and Catherine in French and she also translated my parts making endless modifications. Hours of discussion).
We got positive feedback from Jeanne, our editor in charge, right from the start. Our book was on track. We handed in the first complete draft the day before Maxime was born.
When baby Maxime was eight weeks old, we flew to Paris to meet our editors and other people involved in the making of the book, including designer Claire Gastold, who was going to illustrate it together with Antoine Ronzon using great skill and understanding. In a meeting –Maxime’s first –, we discussed all open issues of the manuscript. At one moment, I had to leave the meeting room because Maxime was crying. He had a bit of a rough time sleeping at nights and during the day at this time. So I went to the men’s loo down the hallway to change his diapers and by the time he was lying on the poorly improvised changing place in the cabin, he was screaming with rage being cold and uncomfortable. When we walked out again several minutes and a barrel full of shed tears later, two elder female editors in their office looked at me suspiciously and full of Parisian contempt. I just smiled at them thin-lippedly, and whispered “Bonjour.”
Back in Berlin, we continued working on the illustrated printouts of the book, which was a lot of work during months. We were glad when everything was finally done. And then, after having handed in the final script, we just had to sit and wait… One day in February, without any warning, we found the first copy in the mail.
Excitement, delight, satisfaction…until I found out that there was a certain author called “Phillipe Kennedy” on the back cover of our book. The Gallimard marketing team seems to have gotten mixed up a little in the end. Well, “Phillipe” does suit me rather well though, don’t you think?
Our book at Gallimard Jeunesse: