Merding the Merde with Stephen Clarke
The city of Paris is a playground for anyone who crosses into its threshold. Paris is accessible to almost everyone and it beckons to be explored. It is a veritable feast for the senses. International bestselling author Stephen Clarke has made the city of Paris even more obtainable than ever before, especially to couch-travelers, who may prefer to experience Paris by way of Clarke’s words from the comfort of their living room recliner chair.
His many novels, which include A Year in the Merde and Merde Actually, feature the adventures of an English native and newly-minted Parisian, Paul West. These books offer a true insight into the struggles and triumphs of life in Paris. Clarke, a transplant from England, now calls Paris home. He makes Paris available to everyone by way of his amusing insights and funny anecdotes that shed light on the City of Light. Paul West has a classically male attitude towards les femmes and offers entertaining gender observations as well. Paul West’s Paris is ripe with humorous scenarios and anecdotes that expose the underbelly of Paris, as well as the silver linings.
Clarke’s latest book, A Brief History of the Future, is a great read. It tells the story of a man named Richie who wins a trip to New York City. He travels to New York with his wife, who prefers to spend her time shopping. While meandering through a gift shop, Richie happens upon a transporter machine. The successful transport of his veggie burger in the machine opens up a world of possibilities to him. Richie buys the transporter machine, only to assume a great deal of conflict, as a result.
This book is a classically-Clarke humor read. It is fun and enjoyable; a great treat for anyone who wants to reach beyond his Parisian adventure stories and delve into the fantastical.
A Brief History of the Future is a nice respite from Clarke’s musings on Paris by way of Paul West, the protagonist in his “Merde” books. But, as everyone knows, there are no comparisons when it comes to Paris. The city is in a class of its own, and it can be appreciated at any time of the year, in any light and any under circumstance (playing tour guide to an unwelcome guest notwithstanding). The real Paris, the one you won’t read about in guidebooks, is an adventure all on its own. It comes from wandering the streets, eating in little-known cafés, observing the locals and looking through windows and doors (in the most conspicuous manner possible). Of course, one should visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Orsay Museum, Luxembourg Gardens and other requisite hot spots. But to discover the real Paris, take a page out of Clarke’s book, and take the road less traveled.
1. How has living in Paris influenced your feelings towards your native country of England?
It has made me much fonder of English beer. I also now realize how bad British trains are.
2. What are your favorite and least favorite things about life in Paris?
Favourite has to be goat’s cheese salad on a sunny lunchtime watching Parisians be Parisian. (And they are, very.) Least favourite has to be the knowledge that whenever you have to line up for anything, the Parisians will always, always try to push in front of you. I know this because I’ve now started doing it too, and it drives them crazy.
3. What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating moving to Paris?
Do it. But learn how to say “bonjour” properly first. If you say that word, your life will be a thousand times easier. When you say it, you can see the grumpiest waiter thinking “oh no, (s)he’s been polite, I’m going to have to be friendly now.”
4. What is your go-to item at the boulangerie?
The boulanger‘s wife.
5. How would you describe Paris to someone who has never heard of the city?
It is full of casinos, set in the middle of a desert and run by the mob. Oh no, that’s Marseille. Actually, I’d ask them how they’ve managed never to have heard of Paris.
6. What Parisian trait have you adopted that your British counterparts would scoff at?
The Brits are catching up with the French. Until about ten years ago, I’d go home and say “where’s the vinaigrette?” and they’d think I was very fancy. Now English menus have more French on them than Parisian ones. No, there is one thing I do that the Brits find absurd—I avoid getting drunk and spending Saturday nights unconscious in the gutter.
7. What was your motivation for writing your latest book, “A Brief History of the Future”?
It was actually a novel I wrote before A Year in the Merde, and the motivation for publishing it was that my German publishers told me my France-based books were selling well, and had I got anything else? And so I updated this novel, they brought it out, and my UK publishers followed suit so that they could annoy the Germans by encouraging bookshops there to stock the story in English. Lot of Germans prefer to read English books in the original language.
8. How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer? And how did you know?
It was more a case of when could I become a full-time one. I’d written for years before I was able to sell enough copies of A Year in the Merde to give up my day job and live the dream. Now I do nothing but write and travel around the world talking about myself. And about the French, of course. Luckily for me everyone in the world seems to be fascinated by them.
9. What is the best piece of advice you can give to aspiring writers?
Someone once asked me a very flattering question during a book reading. They asked, “What’s the difference between a bestselling author and anyone else?” And I said, just one—the bestselling author finished their book. So many people don’t find the energy to finish their book. You’ve got to carry your project through to the end.
10. What upcoming book projects are you working on?
I’m just finishing a new Merde novel, which should be out next year. That’s been great fun—the hero, Paul West, is back in post credit-crunch Paris and finding the locals more Parisian than ever. It’s as though they’ve all swallowed high doses of pure Frenchness. And I’m about to read the French translation of my history book, 1000 Years of Annoying the French. It’s going to be great fun when that comes out here—the French have major problems facing up to the truth about their history, like, for example, that it was Parisians who tried Joan of Arc for witchcraft, not us Brits. True, we burned her, but only because our French hosts told us to. I always enjoy reading my French translations, making sure the translator has understood the jokes and the cultural references. And in this case, hasn’t subtly changed history back to the French version…
Anne McCarthy  is an American writer now living in Paris. She is a member of the Writers Group at Shakespeare and Company bookstore and she’s writing a humor memoir about her adventures in Paris. Please click on her name to learn more about her.
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