Anyone who knows me, knows that books are my life. I have been a book worm since I popped out of my mother’s womb. I used to delight my parents whilst pretending to read a paperback Spanish dictionary at the age of three. I practiced my new found language skills on my father one day when my one- year- old brother messed up some of my toys and I felt that I immediately needed to tattle.
Me: (Hands on hips, one foot extended, chin tilted upwards in defiance) “Blahblah heower jeeshipoh leeortew powerrthowd meeeeehaooww heertah!!!!!!”
Me: “blahblah heower jeeshipoh leeortew powerrthowd meeeeehaooww heertah!!!!!!”
Me: (eyes rolling) “Dad!!!!! I AM SPEAKING SPANISH!”
Dad: “Oh, okaaaayyyy…..”
When I find a good book, I just love to share. I was in Seattle recently, perusing the bookshops near Pike Place Market when a colorful cover caught my eye.
As a Francophile, just based on the title alone, I had to read this book by author, Stephen Clarke.
(From Publishers Weekly)
Take a self-assured Brit with an eye for the ladies, drop him in the middle of Paris with a tenuous grasp of the language and you have Clarke’s alter ego, Paul West, who combines the gaffes of Bridget Jones with the boldness of James Bond. Hired to oversee the creation of a French chain of British tearooms, Clarke, aka West, spends nine months—the equivalent of a French business year—stumbling his way through office politics à la française. Clarke’s sharp eye for detail and relentless wit make even the most quotidian task seem surreal, from ordering a cup of coffee to picking up a loaf of bread at the boulangerie. Luck is by West’s side as he moves into a stunning apartment (with his boss’s attractive daughter), but he has to be careful where he steps, as he finds he “began to branch out from literal to metaphorical encounters of the turd kind.” Between conspiring colleagues, numerous sexual escapades (he deems French porn “unsexy” since “Being French, they had to talk endlessly before they got down to action”) and simply trying to order a normal-sized glass of beer, West quickly learns essential tricks to help him keep his head above the Seine.
I started reading A Year in the Merde at the airport on my way back to L.A. from Seattle, getting various covert glances from other passengers wondering what I was laughing at.
As a special treat, I have an author interview with Stephen Clarke!
Stephen, welcome to my blog…..
* Did you always have an interest in writing?
As soon as I was given a pencil, yes. As for writing longer things than “the cat sat on the mat”, yes again. I’ve always written stories. I discovered at a very young age that I have a love of words. I love playing with them, seeing how they look and sound in different combinations. It’s a bit like trying new recipes.
* You mentioned that you self published A Year in the Merde and went around selling it to bookshops on your own. How did you end up getting a publishing deal? Did you send in a proposal or did they hear about your book and express interest?
People heard about it – there was a real buzz when I started selling a few copies on the internet. I had one article in a French newspaper about this Englishman who’d written a comedy book set in “real” Paris, and it took off. I was getting emails from publishers asking if the rights were for sale. A self-publisher’s dream. This was nine years ago, though, when self-publishing was a very rare thing.
* When I first bought A Year in the Merde, I thought it was a memoir, because on the back cover it says, “The hilarious almost-true tale…… but the disclaimer in the front of the book says that it is a work of fiction. So I am curious what percentage you would say is drawn from your real life?
I really wasn’t sure myself so I asked the experts at France’s Institut National de la Littérature. They analysed my novels and a DNA sample and found that my books are 64.3% autobiographical. On average. And French scientists are never wrong. Seriously, events are based on observation, on experience, and on stories told by friends, which are then intermingled, exaggerated, re-ordered. It’s the same with almost any other novel, I think.
* If A Year in the Merde is made into a film, which actor would you select to play Paul West?
Cameron Diaz. No, a 27-year-old clone of Hugh Grant. No, seriously I think it would be best to choose a lesser-known Englishman and have more famous actors in the cast around him. But obviously if a producer comes along and says a big star wants the part, that’s great. Though a big star like Cameron Diaz might not be exactly right.
* What would you say is the most important life lesson that you have learned while living in France?
Not to cross the road without checking at least three times that the cars are stopping. And that even if i don’t really understand why a woman likes cut flowers that will wilt and die very soon, they really like receiving them, which is the main thing. Although actually, if i had to pick lesson number one, I think it’s that the French have understood the life-work balance. They don’t live to work, they work to live. Their work is what pays for the good things in life, which is one of the reasons why there are so many of those good things in France.
Stephen, thanks for this interview and for your delightful Paul West adventures!