Emma Beddington at The Books That Built Me

emma beddington the books that built me

“You’re not quite the same person in another language – I’m not funny in French”, said Emma Beddington, author of We’ll Always Have Paris and of cult blog, Belgian Waffle. She is wonderfully funny in English, so I can’t imagine she isn’t a little bit drôle in French too.

We met at the Club at Cafe Royal to talk about the books that have inspired her as a writer – the humour of Wodehouse, the magic spell not only cast by French Elle but also by Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, the immensely humorous David Sedaris, who’s also seduced by an idealised France, and for whom learning the language has extraordinary comic benefits, Patrick McGuinness on the endearing absurdity of Belgium and finally, Don Marquis’s Archy, offering a metaphor for the difficulty of writing.

The podcast will be up on iTunes next week; in the meantime, here are the books that Emma chose.

The Code of The Woosters, P.G Wodehouse

“Wodehouse is formulaic: there’ll be a terrible incident where someone’s taking a fly out of someone else’s eye and is thought to be embracing them…but it’s that swan effect – Wodehouse’s writing appears beautiful and easy and as if tossed off lightly, and yet he worked hard at it. Both my parents loved Wodehouse, so he became a common language”

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Simone de Beauvoir

“This first volume takes us from her infancy to when she first meets Sartre – it’s a classic picture of an upright, bourgeois French Catholic family and De Beauvoir is a conventional Catholic daughter, always into her studies…She puts her amazing analytical skills to talking about childhood – she’s a forensically precise writer but she addresses these really sensual subjects. It was the first French book I read after Babar – my mum gave me this in my mid teens. Paris is like a character in this book, it got me excited about Paris, I thought, this is where I need to be”

La Bete Humaine, Emile Zola

“I studied history, and loved French history. Zola had a stakhanovite work ethic, he was so interested in th big issues of the day and everything that was important in that period, he writes about it. This one is about the arrival of the steam age and is about the amazing relationship between man and machine, man and steam engine – the train has a real personality. [Above all], La Bete Humaine is a real page turner.

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

“Managing [as Sedaris does] to be that dark and that funny is everything I aspire to”

Other People’s Countries, Patrick McGuinness

“Belgium is a really odd place in terms of language and identity, which are the things that really interest me. The Belgians are completely in tune with a sense of the absurd – the surrealists all came from Belgium.”

Archy & Mehitabel, Don Marquis

“Archy is a cockroach and Mehitabel is a cat and Archy bashes out free verse on a typewriter using his head. Archy finds writing hard, as do I   -Don Marquis found writing painful and hard – the writing process is not always easy and sometimes you have to band your head in order to get anywhere.”

We’ll Always Have Paris, Emma Beddington, is published by Pan Macmillan.



“I always want things to be at least slightly funny, even if they are really, really sad”. An interview with Emma Beddington, author of We’ll Always Have Paris.

Emma Beddington’s memoir, We’ll Always Have Paris, published earlier this month, is a memoir of a life spent, as the book’s subtitle says, trying and failing to be French. An early encounter with a library copy of French Elle promised glamorous, intellectual delights not otherwise available to a North Yorkshire teenager and prompted an enduring francophilia, leading, inevitably, to a move to Paris. At its heart, We’ll Always Have Paris is a journey of self-discovery: if, try as you might, you can’t be French, how do you find out who you really are, and what you really want to be?

Emma is also the author of the  immensely successful blog, Belgian Waffling, and a contributor to The Telegraph, The Guardian, Red and ELLE. I sat down with her to ask her about writing her book.

H: How are you feeling now that We’ll Always Have Paris has been properly released into the wild?

E: I feel terrified and excited and like I want to run away to a remote cave, which I think must be pretty standard, especially with memoir. I have started getting texts from friends as they read through it which is very odd – good odd, but odd.

H: What kinds of things are people saying?

E: My friend Frances who is also married to a Frenchman was laughing about me saying my husband’s Proustian madeleine was tinned ravioli and saying her husband’s was coquilettes pasta (little shells) and knacki sausages which are these gross things you get in french hypermarkets that are made out of hooves and lips. Someone else was texting about early crushes – mine : Gary Speed, the man from the electricians and France, hers: the drummer from curiosity killed the cat.

H: One of the many joys of the book is the contrast between our expectations of what ‘being french’ means and the harsh reality – we think it’s all the glamour of À bout de souffle and how neatly tying a little scarf will turn you into Juliette Greco but it’s actually tinned ravioli and knacki sausages

E: I moved to provincial France in 1994 and it was NOTHING like nouvelle vague cinema. I remember watching French sitcoms (also terrible) and being mesmerised by the terrible clothes; boxy jackets with big shoulder pads, ill-advised vest tops

H: Your lovely book is subtitled Trying and Failing to be French – are you still an incorrigible francophile, or has French Elle no longer any allure?

E: I’m a ‘francophile avertie’ now – I know my own folly. I still can’t resist it, but I know it’s not the answer, really, not for me. Also, provincial France – that British Provence/Normandy/Côte d’Azur dream – holds no appeal to me. It’s Paris and nothing but. I want to be in St Germain or the Marais with a nicely groomed dog and an amazing wardrobe. Yes STILL, like I did when I was 16. Sigh, there is no hope.  Continue reading