CloudRaker’s Creative Director Étienne St-Denis has had a passion for writing since he was 16. Four years ago, he published his first novel, “L’absence”. We look back on a rich and diverse career, shaped by decisive encounters, in which writing eventually took centre stage.
Could you tell us a little about your career?
I started work in an advertising agency, Twist Image, in 2001, before gaining my university diploma. There were 6 of us at the time. Six years later, the agency had no fewer than 125 staff! Over the years, we fine-tuned our range of services and specialised in the digital field. I learned a great deal on the job, by reading books. Twist Image is today part of the WPP group and has been renamed Mirum. I then joined the digital team at SidLaee, where I also stayed for 6 years. We upgraded the agency’s range of services by diversifying it and proposing more digital experiences, whether on the web or in sales outlets, including through the use of tablets or interactive projections, etc.…
You witnessed major changes back then, such as the arrival of smartphones…
Exactly. And this changed both the way people surfed the Internet and our approach to it, including new factors such as small screens or data caps, etc. We had to reinvent ourselves. Following this experience, I worked Freelance and 3 and a half years ago I joined CloudRaker. At that time, the agency was at a strategic turning point and was looking to reconsolidate its range of products and services.
Tell us a bit about CloudRaker
CloudRaker was founded in 2001 and has always been specialized in the digital industry, also adding consultancy work and content production over the years. CloudRaker has also launched its own paper magazine Cloud & Co.
What was your key challenge when joining CloudRaker?
This was to refocus on interactive aspects and experience design. In particular, the agency developed the Action Shot application, aimed at the general public. The principle involved is to capture several moments of action in a single picture. More than 2.6 million people use this app worldwide! When CloudRaker joined the Altavia Group a year and a half ago, we naturally focused on the retail sector.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and about your love of writing?
Between the ages of 12 and 16, the two great loves of my life were drawing and the guitar. A little later, for financial reasons my parents suggested that I should look at a career in graphic design and that I should keep the guitar playing as a hobby. At the same time, while still at high school, I developed a growing interest in the humanities thanks to my philosophy and French teachers . This new interest gave me a new way to express my creativity. It’s highly complementary. Writing is a more tangible and more long-lasting medium than music, for example. And it requires more thought. At least that’s been my experience of it.
How did the idea come about to write a book?
I’d been writing short stories since school and I wanted to set myself a challenge and to find out if I was capable of seeing a project through to completion. The mental ability of finding just the right words is one which is quickly lost…
Could you present your book?
It’s called “L’absence” and it came out 4 years ago. I intended it to be a very personal book and I deliberately chose to write in the first person. I also wanted to give it a philosophical aspect, without it becoming pretentious however. I set about designing it in the same way as I do in my day-to-day work, when I’m designing websites. I drew up a plan, a sort of “user experience map” using two rows of post-it notes. Each post-it note represented an event. The top row symbolised the psychological development of the character and the bottom one the key moments from their life.
Little by little, at a rate of a chapter a month on average, my book took shape.
It then required proofreading and revision, not an easy task when you’re working alone. I therefore got several people to read my book, which gave me some perspective: even if writing is a very personal experience, you should never forget that the end goal is to share the results with others.
What is “L’absence” about?
It’s about understanding that we experience death at different times in our life. As an example, the first chapter adopts the point of view of a 5-year-old child. The second explores the thoughts of a 16-year-old teenager.
How was the book published?
The Société des Ecrivains proposed an arrangement to me, halfway between traditional publishing and self-publishing, with them handling the editorial work, from proofreading to printing, while I had to manage the promotional side by participating in events for example. During the launch in Montréal, I realised that I certainly wasn’t a “pro” when it comes to organising events!
Have your colleagues read “L’absence”?
Most of my colleagues have read the book and almost all of them liked it. They particularly appreciated the fact that the viewpoints change as you progress through the chapters, creating a wide variety of atmospheres.
Do you have any plans for a second novel?
Yes, definitely! For the time being, the draft is called “Le Duel” and it explores the idea that each of us wants to leave their mark on history and to find their raison d’être. A serious subject which once again I seek to develop in a not-to-serious way.