Tuesday, 6 August 2013

60 Seconds with Stephen Clarke

Sixty seconds, twelve questions.
Each issue, we persuade, tempt and coerce (or bully, harass and blackmail) a writer or two into spilling the contents of their shelves.
Twelve questions on books and writing. Plus the Joker – a wild thirteenth card which can reveal so much. Be honest, what do YOU put on your chips?

A Year in the Merde, first published in 2004, follows narrator Paul West in his attempts to assimilate (mainly in order to improve his sex-life) also contrasts other aspects of French society, in particular French bureaucracy and higher education, with the "system" in Britain.

This was followed by
Merde Actually, (2005) and a second sequel, Merde Happens, (2007) and Dial M for Merde (2008) and most recently, The Merde Factor. Non-fiction includes Talk to the Snail, a little book that tries to describe French society according to ten “commandments” like “thou shalt not get served”; a history tome 1000 Years of Annoying the French (2010), and Paris Revealed. Stephen wishes it to be known that he still plays bass if there are any really bad rock bands out there.


Which book most influenced you when growing up?

The William books by Richmal Crompton. They made me realize that the hero of a story can have such great fun.

Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why?

Anywhere where I can sit with a laptop. The space has to be filled with silence, otherwise I can't concentrate.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life?

The few people who turned up to my first ever reading of A Year in the Merde and started laughing. I realized how great it is to write jokes that people laugh at. The best motivation.

Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?

Life is full of contradictions.

Who would play Paul West in the movie?

That, as someone once said, is the question. There is a script and I'm waiting to hear who would like to direct it. Some excellent names in the hat, but I can’t say more.

Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or one you expected to hate and fell for?

L'Etranger by Camus. The teacher at school overdid the French existentialism theory but it's simply a fascinating story from the point of view of a man who commits murder for no reason. That and the manual for my computer.

How far did English teaching help with your fiction writing?

It provided some excellent bilingual jokes for my books. Like the French lady who told me that she made "crap" for her dinner. She meant crêpes.

Which writers make you laugh?

Douglas Adams, PG Wodehouse, Elmore Leonard and any French writer who
starts wittering on about how they're revolutionizing literature.

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

Guilty, no. For me all writing is equal. There's just some I enjoy and some I don't.

You were a pioneer – self-publishing long before the Kindle phenomenon. How do you see the current publishing landscape?

 Self publishing has been made much easier with ebooks. And the demise of the bookshop means that soon self publishers might be on an equal footing with published writers. I see it as motivation to try and keep the standard of my writing as high as possible.

Which book has impressed you most this year?

William Boyd's latest novel Waiting for Sunrise. He never disappoints.

What’s the next project?

I don't know. He hasn't told me. Oh mine? I've just finished the first draft of a history book. One of the episodes covered in 1000 Years of Annoying the French that merited more detail. Lots of fun anecdotes about 19th century Paris.

Tell us your three favourite French words.

Merde, for obvious reasons. Oui, for equally obvious reasons. And bonjour because if you start every French conversation with it, life is sweet. The French are a polite people.

Interview by JJ Marsh – author, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. 

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