10 things you never knew about Georges Simenon
1. Georges Simenon is regarded as one of the finest mystery writers that ever lived, rivalled only by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. (When the English crime writer and critic H.R.F. Keating made his list of the best crime writing chronologically, he said, had the list been in order of merit, Simenon’s My Friend Maigret would have undoubtedly been number one.)
2. Simenon could write a book in 11 days: eight days for composition and three for correction. (In the 30’s, when a publishing campaign for another author ran: ‘Kessel’s first novel for three years’ , Simenon countered with adverts for his newest book that said: ‘The first Simenon for eight days’).
3. He was born on Friday the 13th (but his aunt was superstitious, so she forced the registrar to lie and say he was born the day before. His mother is said to have rejected Simenon almost as vehemently as his aunt rejected his birth day - her lack of love shaped his life and career until the day he died).
4. Before he was a writer, Simenon tried his hand at a number of odd jobs including a stint as a baker and one as a bookseller. It was while writing for a local newspaper, Gazette de Liège, that he learned the sordid details of the crime world and the intricacies of police investigation. (He also wrote numerous humorous pieces under the pseudonym Monsieur Le Coq.)
6. Unlike Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, the character Maigret has no theatrical method. Instead, he thinks his way into the mind-set of either the victim or suspect. He investigates their lives and job much like a writer might, immersing himself in their lifestyle, trying their life on for size.
7. Prolific not only in his writing (he wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories), Simenon was inexhaustible in his love-making too; he alleged to have ‘known’ around 10,000 women (it is believed a great many of these women were of the inclination to charge money – and of course there is always exaggeration in these matters – but still…).
8. His auto-biographies were plentiful. There were so many, in fact, they began to clash with themselves. Details in one would contradict facts in another. It is believed Simenon thought it amusing to lead any future biographer down the garden path.
9. Simenon’s desire to be a real-life detective was well known and widely documented. During the Stavinsky scandal of 1934, a financial crisis that ultimately toppled the French government, he attempted to solve the case. Sadly, and embarrassingly, he didn’t uncover a single new lead. (Being a detective is, it seems, harder than Maigret makes it look).
10. Friends of Simenon, who once stayed in his Swiss mansion, in one of the master bedrooms, reported having flicked what they thought was the light switch. No light went on or off, instead, they heard the voices of guests in another room. On flicking another switch, they heard voices of a different set of guests. The only conclusion they came to was that Simenon had bugged the entire house. Why? Because he loved to discover the truth.
Rowan Atkinson is staring in an ITV adaptation of Simenon's Maigret Sets A Trap on Easter Monday.