If you are an expat in Paris (or not!) you must know the adventures of Paul West, The hero of « A Year in the Merde » and its sequels depicting French lifestyle from his personal perspective as an English man. The books became incredibly famous as many people could relate to the story. Who never had problems adapting to a new country? The language, the workplace, meeting people… many subjects tackled in the books with a great sense of humour.
As a French girl, I was very amused by those books. Even if Stephen Clarke gently points out some of our weird traits, it is obvious that deep down he really loves France. As a matter of fact, I found out he now lives in France! I spent a few years in London and I often thought that English people loved to hate the French! If there is a football match in a pub between France and England you will definitely hear a lot of jokes about the French but just like Stephen Clarke, you can also tell it is playful (most of the time!). It is a never ending love / hate relationship between our two countries that Stephen Clarke illustrates really well.
His new book « Dirty Bertie : An English King Made in France » is out on Thursday 22nd! It’s the true story of the young King Edward VII’s outrageous exploits with Parisian actresses, aristocrats and ladies of the night (though for an English prince they were also free in the afternoon). You will find out more about it in our book corner on Thursday. For this occasion, Stephen Clarke very kindly accepted to answer a few questions for FUSAC. Enjoy!
At a café in the Marais, when I was looking for a band who might want a dodgy English bass player. It must have been in 1993, when I arrived to work in a French company and needed an outlet for my frustrations, like playing in a blues club till 3am.
Do you live in Paris?
How did you get into writing books?
I wrote my first novel after leaving university – it was, of course, pretentious rubbish. After that I had a few more goes, getting (I think) progressively better at telling stories rather than just showing how many fancy words I learnt at university. Then a few years working as a journalist helped me to become a ruthless self-editor, and suddenly there I was, with A Year in the Merde on my computer. Not that any publishers were interested. So I self-published, and it became a hit. That’s how I got into writing full-time, thanks to all the people who bought A Year in the Merde.
What is the oddest request a reader or publisher has made?
My American publisher once got me to do a reading at a « French evening » in a New York clothes shop. Cheese and wine, with moi over the public address system while women were fighting for cut-price lingerie.
What is the French expression that makes you smile ?
« Merde » in any of its various meanings, from literal doggie droppings to people using it to mean « good luck ». I’ve based a whole career on that one word.
What is your favorite place to eat in Paris?
Any café terrace in the sun on one of the first fine days of spring.
In which Parisian monument would you like to be locked in for the night ? with whom?
The Hotel George V with Scarlett Johansson? No, only joking. Or the Olympia theatre (where Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles first played in Paris) with Jimi Hendrix. Or the British Ambassador’s residence with King Edward VII, so that he could confirm that all the outrageous Parisian exploits I describe in my new book about him, Dirty Bertie, are true. He might be able to add a few more, too.
What are you currently reading?
The autobiography of a cadet in Napoleon’s army. I’m planning a book about Boney. He was actually quite funny, though not always deliberately.
What are you most proud of ?
When no publisher wanted A Year in the Merde, I got 200 copies printed myself and took to the streets to sell them. And I did it. It changed my life.
What was your last « fou-rire »?
I was trying to tell a joke to a French audience at a reading, and just before I got to the punchline, I noticed that the people in the front row were looking completely lost. I couldn’t say the punchline.
In which other century would you like to live?
The 35th. I bet by then, there will be wi-fi almost everywhere.
How do you use the social networks Twitter, Facebook?
Sparingly. Only for professional purposes. And I only use Twitter.
How do you see their benefit for your career?
I mainly use Twitter for making random comments about life in France, nothing more really. I haven’t worked out what else to do with it. I rarely publicize events because I get the impression my followers live all over the world, so a reading in Paris on May 22 won’t interest many of them (or will it? May 22 – WH Smith – 7pm). I’m guessing you need zillions of followers for Twitter to make a big difference to your career.
What is your next project?
Trying to sell my new book, Dirty Bertie. King Edward VII gets some bad press. People think he was a bit of a waster, the in-between king – after Victoria and before World War One. But his young days in Paris actually changed European history. If he, an Anglo-German prince, hadn’t grown to love the French, there would be no Entente Cordiale, and the First World War would have come a lot earlier. Without him, we could have had a war with France, and then one with Germany. He had a lot of fun, but he put it to serious use.
See what else Stephen Clarke is up to on his website