My day in France.

In April of this year, not only did I publish my first novel, How to Make a Pot in 14 Easy Lessons, but I also had a short piece published in a French book entitled Les Aventures du Concierge Masqué. This book is a collection of 20 short stories, each written by 3 authors, who were called upon to write either the beginning, the middle or the end of a story that had to involve a masked janitor (un concierge masqué). This style of collective story-writing, L’Exquise Nouvelle, harkens back to the 1920s when Andre Breton and the Surrealists in France liked to see where a story would go if it was passed along to other writers.

Facebook was the reason some French writers picked this ‘pass-the-story’ idea back up 3 years ago and when I was asked to participate, I agreed, even though it has been some 30 years since I wrote and read (or, for the most part, spoke) in French. I decided it would be a good writing exercise for me and I like writing exercises. Years ago, my husband hosted a life drawing group at our house and, before the artists settled down to draw the model, my husband took off his clothes and did a number of poses for ‘gesture drawings.’ He would hold a pose for a minute while the artists sketched furiously, then hold another, then another. When I asked him why he did this, he told me it was a way for the artists to warm up – their hands, their eyes, their focus – before settling down to the bigger task of drawing a nude. That’s the way I view certain writing exercises, as warm ups to the piece I really want to write. And it’s certainly how I viewed the short piece I submitted in English, and very crude French, to Les Aventures du Concierge Masqué.

The collection was published online first, in April, and included the English version of my piece as well as the French translation. Then, on September 20th, the book came out in hard-back.

Le Concierge Masque

I watched on Facebook as the other authors gathered at ‘salons’ (book festivals) to sign and sell the book; meanwhile I flitted from place to place in Washington State to sign and sell my novel.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that during a prearranged trip back to England, to be with my family, there would be a salon in France, where many of the Concierge Masqué authors would be signing. I bought a day return on the Eurostar Train and headed over to Lille, France, to sign books in French. Well, all right, I really signed them in English because most of the book buyers seemed enchanted by the idea of having a dedication in English, but I certainly spoke a lot of French. Especially when it appeared that most of my writing companions didn’t know how to take charge of a sale. Although I must admit, I handed things over again and again  to my friend and co-author, Frédéric, when I got to the part where I had to explain that the proceeds from the sale of the book went to L’Association des Pancréatites Chronique Héréditaires (some kind of pancreatic cancer research group). You trying saying that after a 10 hour flight from the US to the UK the day before, an 8 hour time change and a very short night’s sleep so you could make the Eurostar Train from London to Lille!

But despite my fatigue and my dietary confusion due to jet lag (I was famished by 11 am and wolfed down a baguette sandwich while all the French – and I mean all the French – disappeared between noon and 2 pm for le déjeuner (lunch)), the day was great fun.

The writers

The other authors treated me like a visiting star even though I’m pretty sure that my part in the book must have seemed a tad tame to them. The French love plays on words (jeu de mots) and complicated cultural references in their writing and my piece had none of that. I imagine it was rather like putting the National Anthem in the middle of a collection of free jazz. We all stand for the National Anthem but does it really rock our world? Probably not. But it gave me a great excuse to go to France and hang out with some chic French writers. Oh! la la!

Signing books in Lille


10 thoughts on “My day in France.

  1. You look so familiar. Are you the same Nicola Pearson who was my classmate at NYU in the economics program in the 1980’s?

      • So good to connect with you again, Nicola. NYU was such a wonderful period in my life. I have so many wonderful memories. But I doubt that you remember me. It was so long ago.

      • Unfortunately it was too long ago for me to remember many of the other students, especially since I was moving on through NYU on another life quest, Arshad. But I do have a fond memory of a large dinner party at Nick and Mohammed’s apartment in the dorms. Maybe you were there?

      • I don’t remember anyone by the name of Mohammed at NYU, but I vaguely remember NIck. Wasn’t Nick from Greece? I think you and he were dating for a while. Yes, I taught economics and math for many years. I am currently retired but I miss teaching so much so I may well go back to it. Let me now give you a quick quiz! Can you name at least one of the two British professors in the NYU economics department at the time? Surely a British girl will never forget her British professors!

      • Nick was Greek, yes, but we didn’t date. We were just very good friends. And Mohammed was his roommate, in a different degree at NYU. As far as the names of the two British profs I can’t remember them, Arshad. I can remember them visually and I remember the darker-haired, shorter of the two, taught macro-economics and said something once about the economy being like a ball bearing in a stainless steel bowl that could never really achieve a steady state, just come close to it. The story-teller in me remembers that analogy well. As far as the profs are concerned, the only one whose name I remember is Will Baumol. I was his research assistant and he helped me with my thesis.

  2. I noticed that it is the 30th anniversary of your graduation from NYU. Congratulations! Do you still remember your macro and your micro?

  3. When a girl says “We were just very good friends” there is normally a lot more to the story! Well, I have good reason for saying that you were dating Nick but I will respect your desire not to take it any further. A married woman must be very selective when talking about her past. Especially in a public forum. And yes, Nicola, I too remember William J. Baumol. He was a gifted teacher. And a big name in microeconomic theory. He had a joint appointment with Princeton and he would spend one semester at NYU and one semester at Princeton. He is now 94 years old. But when you have had a gorgeous British girl for a research assistant and you supervised her thesis you are forever a happy man and you will live a long life. The two British professors I was referring to are Clive Bull and Peter Rappoport. The one you remember is Peter. He was the shorter of the two and he was the one who taught us first semester macro. His wife (Marcia Marley) was also teaching in the department, if you recall, and things between you and her were quite tense as she strongly disliked your regular visits to her husband’s office. In class, it was obvious who his favorite student was. He absolutely adored you.

    A British professor who surely wished he was still a bachelor. And available for the British girl of his dreams. But, alas, his wife was visibly pregnant with their first child.

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