Every week, Guide2Paris will be talking to some of the people living or working in Paris to find out their experiences of being in the City of Lights. Today, we speak to Stephen Clarke, author of Paris Revealed - The Secret Life of a City, and the ever popular 'Merde' series of books.
When did you move to Paris and why?
18 years ago, because someone offered me a job with seven weeks of holiday a year and no stress, which I thought would be a nice change after several years of non-stop panic, unemployment threats and corporate dictatorship in the UK.
Which area of Paris do you live in?
In the far north, near the canal at La Villette. It's becoming trendy now, and the crack dealers have been evicted by pétanque players. Though for most Parisians, focussed on the Marais or the Quartier Latin, it's somewhere near Belgium.
What made you decide to write Paris Revealed - The Secret Life of a City?
Because it's a fascinating city, even moreso when you go behind the scenes. There were lots of things I didn't know about it, and writing the book gave me a chance to find out. Why, for example, does it have a reputation for romanticism? How do they fit in so many film crews, all filming the same buildings and stretches of the Seine? Why do Parisians seem so obsessed with seeing running water everywhere? And I also wanted to help people out by giving my hints for enjoying the city, including all the ways I've found of not annoying Parisians.
Whilst writing the book, what did you learn about Paris that you did not know before?
If a film includes footage of a modern building, like the I.M. Pei pyramid at the Louvre, producers have to pay royalties to the architect (which is why directors always film the same old royalty-free monuments). And you can actually see some fantastic Impressionist paintings without queuing for hours.
Why do you think your "Merde" series of novels were so successful?
I honestly have no idea, which is probably a healthy thing. I just let rip and have fun with the characters, and people seem to enjoy it. The most frequent e-mail I get (apart from Buy Cheap V!@gr@ Now, of course) is "when's the next Paul West novel coming out?" Actually I'm working on one now, and hope it'll be out next spring.
What do you miss about living in the UK?
Cheese and pickle sandwiches, Crunchies, a pint of bitter, and stand-up comedy.
What piece of advice would you give a tourist travelling to Paris?
Very simple - begin every conversation with "Bonjour!" (or "bonsoir" in the evening of course). If you say a happy "bonjour!" to everyone, life will be wonderful. Forget to say it and Parisians will clam up, growl at you and make your life hell. One happy greeting is a small price to pay for a wonderful life.
Name one place in Paris that inspires you.
Any café table. Some of the conversations I hear, or have, are priceless.
Name one thing you don't like about Paris.
Politicians - they spend their whole lives campaigning rather than serving the people who elected them, so you have their smug faces pasted up on walls the whole time.
What's the best piece of advice you can give someone thinking of buying a pied à terre in Paris?
Either win the lottery or marry a billionaire. Failing that, try not to be over five feet tall or you'll bash your head on the ceiling.
Which is your favourite book you have written and why?
A Year in the Merde, because I still feel the incredible thrill I got the first time I saw someone laughing reading something I'd written.
Which is your favourite book you have not written and why?
Any of the Harry Potter books, because I'd quite like to buy a Greek island (though apparently they're going cheap at the moment). No, it'd have to be the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it is such a funny, intelligent, imaginative book. Though Douglas Adams died very young so maybe it took too much out of him.
What is your favourite and least favourite french food?
Favourite - salade de chèvre chaud, goat's cheese salad, the dish I use to judge a café or restaurant. I wrote a whole chapter about it for Paris Revealed. So much can go wrong that if a chef gets it right, it means he or she is a master or mistress of everything that interests me about food - the choice of ingredients, and the ability to do something simple to perfection. Least favourite - andouille de vire, because it smells like, and is made of, pig's rectums. That is not food, it's a waste product.
Have you always had aspirations of being a writer?
No, when I was a kid I wanted to score the winning goal in a World Cup Final, and then to play bass in the rockingest rock band in the world. Then I applied to be a waiter, but spelt it wrong and became a writer. But yes, I've always written - songs, sketches, novels, jokes.
What is your next writing project? Will it be Paris related?
Yes, it's a new novel, in which Paul West comes back to Paris and gets down to basics. I find Paris has changed in the last three years, since the credit crunch, and Paul is going to bear the brunt of that. And have some fun as well, of course.
Have you ever had writers block and if so how, long did it last?
No, i have the opposite. I have to reign in my ideas so that I don't write a mass of disorganized nonsense. My desktop is a reflection of what's going on in my brain - a heap of papers, notebooks, half-empty pens, visiting cards, used bus, train and plane tickets. Seriously, though, I love writing, so I do it as much as possible, and once you get into the flow, it doesn't really stop. I guess that's why they tell people with writer's block to sit down and write about anything that comes into their heads. It's a brain workout.
What do you think about typical clichés about the British and French?
Some are true, which is why they have become clichés, some are false and need contradicting, like, for example, the myth that the French are inefficient. It's rubbish - they just do the minimum and then go on holiday. It's a very healthy attitude to life.
How would you describe Stephen Clarke the Parisien?
He looks like a typical Brit, but watch out, because he is definitely going to try and sneak to the front of that queue.
For a chance to win one of three copies of Stephen Clarke's book, Paris Revealed, why not have a go at our very simple competition. You have until midnight on Saturday to enter.
There will also be an opportunity to win another copy of the book next week in a compeition across the whole of the Guide2 France network, look out for further information from Monday.
If you cannot wait to get a hold of a copy of the book, please click on our Amazon bookshop below:
Check out Guide2Paris for Paris property, Paris accommodation, Paris events, Paris news and classifieds in Paris.
Time Traveler Tours, Paris