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Wednesday 21 March, NEOMA welcomed the writer Philippe Besson to Rouen. He was hosted by the school president, Michel Edouard Leclerc, and the school dean, Delphine Manceau, as a part of the “Inspiring Meetings” series. It was an emotional time for this NEOMA graduate (class of ’88) who came back to the campus in Normandy for the first time.

 Since his time at the school, he has published some twenty books and sold a great deal of copies. In fact, after ten years working in human resources, he decided in 2000 to devote his life to writing. These are the reasons for his choice, which he came to share with the students.

“Proof that NEOMA leads to everywhere”, school dean Delphine Manceau reminded the students. It was also a proof for her as well, as she said in her introduction, that it is “important to enjoy yourself, identify your talents and think about your values. You are the ones who creates your own future”.

Devoting myself completely to writing was a leap into the unknown

 “I worked in human resources alongside Laurence Parisot, president of Medef. I was happy. I had a good salary, a job rooted in the real world. In 2000, I decided to quit to focus on writing. Writing is the complete opposite of a job rooted in the real world. It depends only on you. It is very random and solitary. It’s a leap into the unknown. You say goodbye to all sense of security. But I didn’t want to regret not doing it”.

“Writing involves an immense silence and solitude, moments of confusion, doubt and discouragement. But when I started writing my first novel, fear did not stop me. I told myself to write whatever I wanted since I wouldn’t be published.

Meeting Françoise Sagan and Marcel Proust 

 “The first important meeting in my life was my literature professor. I was a very serious, very disciplined student. I was preparing to take the final exam for French A levels and I didn’t enjoy reading that much. One day, she said to me, “You need to read books that you like”! She recommended two authors to me, Marcel Proust and Françoise Sagan. I read Bonjour Tristesse, and its simple and concise style helped me see that you could causally say horrible things. That was the first lesson”. As for Proust, he would be a character in Besson’s first novel In the Absence of Men.

Philippe Besson NEOMA

Don’t try to fit in, there’s no point

“I worked at BHV in Paris. The boss recruited me because he thought I was different from the other employees at the large store. In my own way, I tried to bring a different touch to the job. What I learned from this experience was to not try to fit in. There’s no point”.

To write about the Emmanuel Macron campaign in 2017 was writing about what was improbable  

“In 2016, Emmanuel Macron, whom I knew, told me that he was going to quit the ministry and run for president. He called me to ask me to join the adventure. ‘You have to find a place for yourself’, he told me. So, I decided to write a book about the presidential campaign, but I thought that he was going to lose and that I wouldn’t publish anything. It was beyond belief, against the statistics. I was writing about what was improbable, and that was enough for a book”.

You always end up making your mark

 “I was the grandson of shoemakers and farmers. I grew up in Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire in the Charente region. When I came to what was then called the l’Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Rouen, and now NEOMA, I was only 18 years old. I experienced a severe cultural gap, but I ended up finding my place. You always end up making your mark”.