Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.
She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.
I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.
I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.
Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.
Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”
WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:
At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing at about 30, pretty much as soon as I got a sense of who I was. I had been working as an actress and knew the arts were for me. The thing that drew me to writing was that I could do it all myself without anyone telling me what my part was or where I had to fit in. I’ve always responded best to the beat of my own drum, which I can hear loud and clear most days! Night In Jerusalem is my first novel. Previously, I have written screenplays. They are, of course, visually-oriented and provide limited opportunity for the writer to describe the characters’ states of mind - everything has to be revealed on the screen. I was drawn to writing a novel because the canvas is so much larger –as big as you like - and the story does not have to fit a budget. However, the relationship with the reader is more intimate and complete, and there’s a challenge to meet there. It took me a while before I was ready to take it on.
Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?
“Notes” are what Hollywood calls the comments shared with writers during script meetings. A friend of mine was hired to write a movie about Peter the Great. At a script meeting, he was told the studio thought he had made Peter “kind of unsympathetic.” “Too autocratic, is that what you’re saying?” “Exactly!” “And you want more of a czar-next-door feeling?” “Right.”
I am always aware of the writing when I watch a movie. When I am reading, I love it when the writer disappears. I make lots of notes about books and movies, all of them mental. They often surface years later. It’s a filing system that works for me.
Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?
I love novels that are told simply, where the writer is unobtrusive and the characters and plot say it all. Einstein said it is easy to make things complicated, but it takes genius to make them simple. I’m for simple! That’s what I go for in my writing. I studied creative writing at Columbia and appreciate the virtuosity of many of our writers, but the first tip I would offer is to not get too hung up on style and technique – go for what you enjoy.
The next tip is to be open to surprises. Once your characters come to life, they will have their own ideas about where they are going. Let them lead the way. You may find they have better ideas than you.
And this leads to the third tip, which is - get started as soon as you have a sense of who your characters are and what they are likely to confront in their world. You don’t need to work out every plot detail before you start. It may even turn out to be better if you do not.
How often do you write?
I develop intimate relationships with my characters and spend time writing for a couple of hours every morning so as not to lose contact with them. They are with me the rest of the day, but more in the background, where they evolve and explore alternative futures. Writing every day keeps the story moving forward, which is the main thing for the first draft. After that, I am more relaxed about re-writing and editing. The characters are already there, on the page.
Are you an avid reader?
I read a lot, but slowly. It can take me two weeks to finish a book. They take seed in my mind and can live with me for years. I love stories that are so clear and transparent you can see right into the souls of the characters. That’s what works for me. I don’t care what the genre is. Isaac Bashevis Singer was a master of that kind of writing. Presently, I am reading Nathan Englander, a modern writer with the same light touch. John O’Donohue’s books are on my night-table. He talks about “landscape as presence” and celebrates the spiritual connection of Celtic culture with the natural world, where every brook and feature of the land has a name, a history and a divinity. He’s my soul food.