Stephen Clarke (writer)

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Stephen Clarke, October 2014

Stephen Clarke (born 15 October 1958 in St. Albans) is a British author who lives and works in Paris and has declared and explained his love to France: "I love France because here you are working for a living and not vice versa".[1] His novel A Year in the Merde established him as a writer of fiction, featuring a first person narrator named Paul West. His novels depict French life style from the personal perspective of a temporarily alienated,[2] still increasingly emphatic[3] English gentleman who just tries to fit in[4] but is confronted by prejudice.[5]


Before publishing his "Merde" novels, Clarke wrote comedy sketches for BBC Radio 4[6] and comic-book stories for the U.S. cartoonist and comics artist Gilbert Shelton. Having graduated from Oxford University, where he read French and German, he spent several years working in Glasgow as a bilingual lexicographer for the dictionary firm HarperCollins. He then moved to Paris, France to work for a French press group, and has now lived there for more than a decade.

On 1 April 2004 Clarke self-published A Year in the Merde, intending to sell them through his website or give them away to friends. The book became en vogue in Paris[7] after it had been reviewed by French journalists who were amused by what they recognised as English humour.[8] Once French intellectuals thus had endorsed the novel Clarke sold the rights to Transworld in the UK, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC in the United States, Penguin in Canada and Random House in Australia. It has since been published in about 20 languages, including German, Polish, Czech, Russian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

The sequel Merde Actually (a reference to the romantic comedy Love Actually) appeared in 2005, and was followed by Talk to the Snail in 2006, essentially a survivor's guide to the French language and the French themselves. At one point, it was the only title in Britain's top ten humour books that wasn't The Simpsons-related.

The third novel about Paul West was published in July 2007 in Great Britain, and came out in the USA in May 2008: Merde Happens,[9] and features the Englishman Paul West, who accepts a job that involves him driving across the USA in a Mini with, at various times, his French girlfriend and his American poet pal Jake.

His fourth novel "Dial M for Merde" was published in the UK on 10 September 2008. This book carries on where the previous one left off, and takes the central character to various locations in the South of France, via Paris.

His fifth novel "The Merde Factor" was published on 13 September 2012 and returns to the Paris setting of the first two novels with an excursion to Brittany.

Significance for international literature[edit]

Clarke's A year in the Merde has been a trail-blazing forerunner of a new "fish-out-of-the-water"[10] genre. Since then many authors have published their own stories about "surviving as an international creative person".[11] The German publishing house Ullstein for example, who released a German version of Clarke's A Year in the Merde, hosts in his programme several other novels on comparable European culture clashes: Tour de Franz (A French lady in Germany) by Cécile Calla,[12] Fish and Fritz (A German in the UK) by Wolfgang Koydl, Arrivederci, Roma! (A German in Italy) by Stephan Ulrich, Spätzle al dente (A Sicilian in Germany) by Luigi Brogna etc.

British-French relations[edit]

Stephen Clarke's second non-fiction offering, 1000 Years of Annoying the French,[13] was published in the United Kingdom on 18 March 2010. It studies every conflict between the French and the "Anglo-Saxons" over the past ten centuries,[14] and implies these negative memories explained "why, even when we are trying to do something friendly, the past will usually emerge in the end". Clarke reveals surprising facts about the French look on history, such as the true cause of Joan of Arc's demise and how Napoleon very nearly became an English mariner, and looks into the true origins of such "typically French" inventions as the guillotine, the baguette and Champagne which are not so French after all. In's bestseller lists, at one point the book was simultaneously at number 4 in the history chart and number one in humour.


  1. ^ "J'adore vivre en France, parce que, ici, on travaille pour vivre, et pas le contraire.". Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  2. ^ "Inspired partly by the culture shock on his arrival in Paris in September 2002". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  3. ^ "What I love... about the French". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  4. ^ "... décrit le pays sans complaisance, par les yeux d'un Britannique qui débarque sur l'étrange planète France et cherche à y survivre". Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  5. ^ "As long as you can speak some French, the Parisians think you're a cross between David Beckham and Hugh Grant". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  6. ^ "Stephen Clarke is a British journalist who has written comedy sketches for the BBC". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  7. ^ "A Year in the Merde, originally became a word-of-mouth hit in Paris in 2004". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  8. ^ "L'intrigue n'est finalement que secondaire car ce qui ressort particulièrement du livre, c'est l'humour typiquement anglais de l'auteur.". Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  9. ^ "Merde happens". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  10. ^ "I concentrate mostly on fish out of water stories, because that’s what I am". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  11. ^ "Surviving as an international creative person". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  12. ^ "Cécile Calla, born 1977 in Paris, has been reporting on the caprices of German life for Le Monde since September 2006.". Retrieved 2011-04-10. 
  13. ^ "Stephen Clarke, author of the bestselling 1000 Years of Annoying the French". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 
  14. ^ "Which clichés about the British and the French need to be eradicted?". Retrieved 2011-04-11. 



The 'Merde' Series


  • A Brief History of the Future (2011) What if teleportation was really possible? Englishman Richie Fisher is about to find out...


External links[edit]