This week, I am continuing my series with authors featured in the Best Paris Stories anthology. Lisa Burkitt lives in Donegal, Ireland, and has worked as a weekly columnist and print journalist before moving into broadcast journalism and presenting. She has written scripts, short stories and her debut novel The Memory of Scent, comes out in May.
Why do you think Paris fascinates and inspires?
For me, Paris fascinates because it was fascinating to so many who I am fascinated by. I want to somehow pilfer its essence, to stalk its historical footprint, to segue into the lives of others from decades and centuries before me. Woody Allen’s; ‘Midnight in Paris’?…..I got it! In fact, several times in one week after its release! I have dragged people around Montmartre exclaiming; ‘But this is actually where Suzanne Valadon worked…’ and watched them swell to the dizzy heights of indifference.
Can you tell us about your story?
‘A Pinch of Tarragon’ brings us into the world of Sophie, a weary waitress in Paris of the late 1800s, whose sustenance is a long ago memory of passion and a sensitive but untutored palate. George recognises her as a kindred spirit.
What books are one your nightstand?
I like biographies, or the memoir-of-sorts approach – like Mrs. Lincoln: A Life, by Catherine Clinton. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. I like reading about interesting, quirky and talented females and I have Yu Dan’s Confucius from the Heart, if I am thinking too much.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
‘Don’t forget to feed the dog.’ Someone once told me that if you have a dog in your story – then make sure it is being looked after. It made me think more about the interconnection between what is on the page and what is going on in the background. When you bring your characters to life, you have to make sure they are living authentically and not just as siphons for a plot device.
What advice would you give a writer interested in trying the short story?
A short story is not an introduction to something else. It is not a first chapter, an extract, an outline, a kite-flying expedition. It has to be an entity in and of itself and not something that has simply been condensed. It cannot be the literary equivalent of decanting your favourite perfume into a travel-sized bottle for convenience.
I used to think that the short story was for the uncommitted reader – and then I began to read Chekhov. Ireland where I live, with its strong oral tradition, seems to lend itself easily to the short story format. Maybe it has something to do with a long history of religious, cultural and political oppression and poverty, that it was a way for people to simply vent…..to gather around hearths and seek an escape through ghost stories and fairy tales.
My debut novel; The Memory of Scent is scheduled for a May release. It is set in Paris in the 1800s on the fringes of Impressionism. Two young models sit for the same artist, who ends up dead. Each seeks the other out as their lives diverge. It is a novel of the senses and an exploration of the dualities of wealth and poverty, survival and defeat, light and shade.