Bart Van Loo and his ‘Burgundians’ conquer France
The French translation of 'The Burgundians' by Bart Van Loo was published in early October by Flammarion. Backed by a travel grant from Flanders Literature, Bart travelled to France for a book tour and wrote the following engaging account of his experiences.
Wednesday 7 October
From today, the French translation of 'The Burgundians' is on sale in bookstores. The book is as soft as peach skin and just cries out to be handled. There’s a dazzling cover illustration of Philip the Good’s millefleurs tapestry – and the gold title gives it added lustre. I’m as pleased as a dog with two tails! So this is what it’s like to make your debut with Flammarion. A long-cherished dream comes true... Heartfelt thanks to the outstanding translators Daniel Cunin and Isabelle Rosselin, as well as to my wife Coraline who read through the entire manuscript with an eagle eye – and who also came up with 'Les Téméraires' as the French title.
Thursday 8 October, Paris, Bibliothèque historique
I stood here once before in 2003. Outside, with a notebook in my hand. Seventeen years later, here I am again, this time because I’ve been invited to present 'Les Téméraires' at this very special location. As I addressed my audience, I felt a bit emotional. Could I have imagined this, back in 2003? It’s been a long journey, but here I am – together with the first Parisian to buy the book.
Friday 9 October, Paris, Librairie du Parc
This evening I am to be grilled by Vincent, who runs the Librairie du Parc bookstore. He tells me he loved my book and shows me the Post-it notes he’s stuck in his copy to mark the passages that made him laugh out loud. It’s a convivial affair: the audience is a small, enthusiastic group of booklovers who nearly all buy the book afterwards. The big surprise of the evening was that my wife suddenly joined the gathering. Which was fantastic, because she’d spent so much time and effort going through the manuscript. So her being able to share the celebrations made me very happy.
Saturday 10 October, en route to Blois
As always, I find travelling a bit stressful: I’m worried about catching the virus and infecting others when I return home. These are strange times, but I still really want to be there this week. In the train I get an email with the pdf of the article in Le Soir. An extensive interview, a rave review and an opinion from a specialist in the field. Le Soir welcomes my book with open arms on the other side of the linguistic divide. You may picture me beaming from ear to ear.
Sunday 11 October, Blois, Rendez-vous de l’histoire (festival)
The Burgundians pitch up at the castles of the Loire. I’m interviewed by a journalist/teacher from Nancy – that can’t be a coincidence! The audience consists of history buffs and history teachers. They ask intelligent questions and won’t settle for short answers. Afterwards we talk some more during the book-signing session. Then I go for a walk in which I land up at the statue of Joan of Arc, so that here, too, I suddenly find myself in my book.
That evening I get an email from the interviewer: he invites me to give a talk to his pupils. He also wants to organise an evening in Nancy’s top bookstore, and what’s more to show me the spot where Charles the Bold met his end, in the snow at Nancy. Am I finally going to get to see it – the place where the great Burgundian dream ended and where, for me, it all started? The scene depicted by Jean-Léon Huens in ’s Lands Glorie? The picture that made such an indelible impression on me? It looks like I might.
Monday 12 October, Paris
En route to Paris I get sent the interview in La Libre Belgique. A nice article, full of praise for the book. Not only have the Burgundians come back to French-speaking Belgium, their return is marked by a Joyous Entry of the kind I could scarcely have imagined. All those years of hard work, and dreams of one day being translated into French, and now I’m sitting in a train between Paris and Blois, reading rave reviews in Le Soir and La Libre. I feel like cracking open a vintage Gevrey-Chambertin.
But I have to work. On Monday evening I give another talk in the Bibliothèque Historique in Paris, and this time, too, it’s packed to bursting (well, as bursting as social distancing allows). Last week when I was here, I strode around feeling tense. Now I’m calmer. This time my talk is much more fluent, which makes me happy. Even the French words roll out smoothly.
To Dijon, 13 and 14 October
The final leg of this promotional week takes me to Dijon. First I give two radio interviews on Tuesday. It was just like radio interviews in Belgium: you spend 8 minutes trying to say something meaningful about the big fat book you’ve spent three and a half years working on. If you think about it too much, you clam up. So I just let rip.
On Wednesday I get to present my book in the ducal palace to a select audience: Duchess Corona has taken over from Philip the Bold. There I stand, clutching the seal of Charles le Téméraire. A fitting gift from the mayor. Afterwards I meet some people who want to invite me back in better times, local experts who are keen to show me around. A highlight of the trip was going with members of the city council to see the mourners sculpted by Claus Sluter for the tomb of Philip the Bold. The tomb now stands in the room dedicated to the duke – one of the most beautiful museum rooms in Europe. The sight of it makes me eloquent, as you might expect, because Sluter was one of the reasons I felt I had to write this book. Finally, the town archivist shows me the last letter written by Charles the Bold, two weeks before he died in Nancy. What a document, and what a finale to this special trip!