Q+A with Edward Chisholm author of A Waiter in Paris

Tell us about yourself in two sentences.
I'm still trying to work this one out. Ask me at the end of the ride. 

What does your day-to-day life look like now? Our book club hopes you’re now infinitely more
hydrated and managing to eat a vegetable or two.
Yes, fear not, I manage to have three complete meals most days now. Although contrary to the waiting life, I probably spend too much time sitting at a desk. I now actually live in Switzerland, Lausanne, by Lake Geneva. I am still writing. My day is split between copywriting jobs (to pay the rent), some screenwriting work and then gearing myself up to start the next book. In my free time I like to be outside: cycling, climbing, skiing or swimming in the lake. And then hanging out with my 2 year old son, George and my French partner, Morgane. 

Can you share a little about your writing process for this book?
I hadn't gone to Paris with the intention of writing a book about working as a waiter, even if I'd hoped to write a book - or at least master the art of writing - so I wasn't explicitly taking notes when I was there. I was taking more general notes when I had a moment, snippets of dialogue I'd overheard, impressions, sketches, etc.. Fortunately, the experience was so potent (augmented by the fact of being abroad too), that when I went back to it all, it was very vivid. 
For me the ambition was to write an accurate written portrait of contemporary Paris. One that I feel is sadly lacking in literature and journalism today. People keep pedalling the same old tired myth of the city. So, in order to do that I had to be very judicious with my choices of anecdotes and events. It had to be balanced. It had to give a complete picture. 
At the time of writing I was working as a copywriter in an advertising agency (soul destroying work to say the least), but I'd just rented this shed in a garden and was living there like a monk rising around five am, writing for a few hours then going to work. In the evening I'd read or watch films, I had literally no social life. I had one sole objective - to write this book, and it consumed me. 

Do you know how the book was received in France?
As of yet it hasn't been published in French. Although I have had many French readers contact me after reading it. Often French people who have moved abroad. They've found it captures accurealtey the city; but also thank me for showing "the otherside" of the it. For me this means a great deal as at its heart, the book is a love letter to the city. I'd love for the book to be published in French, and I think they'd appreciate it, there isn't a book like it there – sometimes it takes an outsider to look with fresh eyes at a society to perhaps show you certain things you'd ignored. Either that, or I'll be banished from France for the rest of my life and wake up every morning in fear of being assassinated by a disgruntled French chef. 

What was the hardest part about writing on your experience?
WIthout a doubt it was putting myself in the book. I wanted to write something that was documentary-like in nature. I couldn't imagine why anyone would be interested in my story, it felt a bit conceited. It was my agent that suggested I put more of me in it. And now I'm glad as there have been so many people in their early-20s, a little lost, wondering what to do in life, that have found solace in the book, or comfort in the resilience of the waiters. But as I say at the end of the book, the book really isn't about me, but about them, about Paris, and its unsung heroes. 

What do you hope readers take away from A Waiter in Paris?
I hope it allows them to look at things with a slightly more critical eye. Whether it's a restaurant, a company, a government or an institution. We are often presented with one thing, when another happens behind the scenes. My intention was always that the book be "quietly political," and that the restaurant act as a metaphor for society in the larger sense. I also wanted to explore the human condition, like Orwell. So hopefully there's a little more sympathy for these people carrying out largely invisible jobs.  

Did anyone from the restaurant read the book that you know of, or have you still not talked to
anyone you worked with since you left?
As it hasn't been published in French I doubt any of them would have read it. That said, I did bump into one of them, purely by chance, in Provence last year. 

We were surprised to see New Zealand wasn’t included on your list of the worst list of tippers?
Interesting! I guess you can take comfort in the fact that there are many worse tippers than yourselves. 

Would you read ‘A Waiter in New Zealand’?
I'm not sure. I'd prefer to read something more "Kiwi" if I can say that. Something that takes me into the bowels of something typical to New Zealand and then blows the doors off of it. 

Were there any experiences you ended up cutting out of the book that you would still love to
There were many things. But I think the book is good as it is, and wouldn't want to upset the balance of it.

Any other book ideas in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
There are indeed. There is a non-fiction book set in 60s Paris that I am currently researching, and a short novel set in the Alps (my main problem is finding the time!)

Describe your writing spot for us.
I have a small but lovely 1950s Danish teak desk in the corner of my bedroom in our first floor apartment next to an old double window that opens onto a quiet garden. That said, I do love writing in cafés. Especially screenplays. Something about the coming and going of people, the tide of life passing by is quite inspiring and relaxing.  

What books have you recently read and loved?
Goodness, so many. I love The Eight Mountains, The Woman from Uruguay, All Quiet on the Western Front, Black Wings Has My Angel and A Month in Sienna

What book do you always recommend to others?
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, and also Any Human Heart by William Boyd. 

Tell us what reading means to you…
Reading means exploring and experiencing what is possible, even if it is simply imagined; reading is opening your eyes, travelling, learning, listening; it is part of becoming. (It's also great for helping get you to sleep in the evening!)

What is the one tidbit of advice that has stuck with you throughout your writing career?
Don't stop. Keep writing. Accept the rejection. The challenge of writing is the journey itself. 

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