[Entrevue] “First attempt”: in football as in war

You don’t have to be an expert on oval balls to dive in First tryfour-handed novel by Carl Leblanc, writer (ArtifactXYZ, 2012) and filmmaker (Lose Mario2021), and his son, Théo Leblanc, psychology student and aspiring writer, in which they recount the exploits of the Aigles, the Jean-Eudes university football team.

“It is not a four-handed novel, but a two-handed novel,” corrects Leblanc senior. Very early on there was the idea that regardless of the background, outside the concrete history of football it is mainly a novel that evokes this huge thing that we are confronted with one day or another in life: should I believe it or not? †

Narrated Theo, quarterback, and his proud supporter father Carl, one picked up where the other left off, First try takes us back to 2018, when the Eagles crave the Bol d’or. Except for a few details, the story is true, and the characters we meet there, Jé, Max, Louis, coach Morin, Alice, Sophie, etc., do exist. It is also the real Sophie who launched the idea in her husband and her son to unite their voices to make known their point of view on what they were living. two years earlier may the pandemic keep them at home.

“I said to Theo, it’s you who starts, Carl Leblanc recalls. When I read the first chapter, I discovered his voice. Written in his son’s voice, it is not his son’s voice that we know. I got to know Theo a little better as a storyteller, as a writer. It is not a youth novel, but an instructive novel that is also for the father, because we really took turns writing the chapters on our side. †

Just as gifted in the field as in the classroom – in the third grade his French teacher told him she wanted to be invited to the launch of his first book, Théo Leblanc still had to be asked by his father from time to time for the next one chapters .

“Those are the pros and cons of working with your dad,” says the 20-year-old author. Communication was easier from my room to his office, but the discipline felt less professional. After the first chapter, we made a plan to determine where each chapter began and where it ended. Half way through, we had the idea to create a funnel so that the ending would be more active. There is more tension in the final than in the other games, so the chapters are shorter. You couldn’t write a game in three sheets and risk losing the reader. †

“It was like a relay race, confirms the person who will publish his sixth book in September (Mirror, Boreal). When we handed the manuscript over to Hurtubise, Arnaud Foulon and André Gagnon expected that our voices would be more differentiated between chapters, that Théo’s voice would be younger. I told Theo I would take that as a compliment. Sometimes I told him I wasn’t sure about certain sentences, but he held on to his guns and some of these sentences are still there. †

Writers of reality

Throughout the story, both father and son make several references to the war, including the Normandy landings, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and the Trojan War.

“The war metaphor is the most popular metaphor in football because it’s a very ‘contact’ sport, but of course we still used a lot of it. In short, football here is a metaphor for life. For me it is also a novel about friendship. Besides, I didn’t create characters with qualities and flaws; I took my friends I loved dearly and I had to pleasure to describe them, to talk about their qualities. It made my job easier for my first novel,” explains Théo Leblanc.

With “good guys”, First try is nevertheless populated by formidable enemies, who find their human face once the match is over.

“That’s always what happens in matches. If the other is different from us, we will hate him until there is no more competition. The stereotypes of discrimination start there. If I’d gotten to know the guys from the other teams, there were a few I’d rather have than my own team. I was already studying psychology when I reworked my chapters in the fall and winter; I didn’t want to change my writing style to look young, but I had to embarrass myself a little not to take this too far because the narrator is 16 years old. †

“We can invent characters, but reality invents characters,” says Carl Leblanc. The real one is an inventor, becoming a writer of the real one is already a nice job. There is a lot of pretension to a deus ex machine, a writer who makes it all up, but I think there’s intrinsic value to just being writers of the real thing. The real one gave us a story and we decided not to keep it to ourselves. Now people do what they want with it. †

In the epilogue, set in 2020, the Leblancs evoke the beginning of a story in which we are all still immersed, which has stolen precious moments from young people, rites of passage: “With my father, we wanted this epilogue -de. I borrowed a lot from a text I had written about the mental health of young people in times of a pandemic on the website of the collective We, founded by my sister Alice.It is a nice conclusion to the book, which brings us back to reality of today and that adds beauty to the story we have experienced.”

Encouraged by his reading of This one that we breathe on Tatouine (Del Busso), by Jean-Christophe Réhel, Théo Leblanc claims to want to write other novels. However, the next one will be written solo.

“I could never have written at Theo’s age, I have a lot of admiration for him. There are people at Hurtubise who want it to continue. André Gagnon did some research and the only literary example of a father-son novel he found was that of Stephen King and his son [Sleeping Beauties, Albin Michel, 2018]† This would be a first in Quebec. I believe Theo should fly alone. I don’t rule out writing with him later, because I liked it. Maybe I’ll do it with my grandson,” concludes Carl Leblanc.

First try

Carl Leblanc and Théo Leblanc, Hurtubise, Montreal, 2022, 276 pages

To be seen in video

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