Sylvia Petter is an Australian writer now living in Vienna. Her latest collection of stories, Back Burning, was published by IP, Australia in 2007. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from UNSW (2009) and is revising two novels dealing with belonging and dislocation. She has a website at www.sylviapetter.com and blogs at Merc’s World
I would like to thank Sylvia for sending me her creative piece and giving me the opportunity to showcase her writings on my blog. Kind regards JF
My French Connection
My French connection is a bit all over the place. It started in primary school at Loreto Normanhurst in the late fifties in a lesson where we learnt “Kel er 8 til?” Then followed French at Hornsby High, which saw me sent from class for being a chatterbox, but not in French. The chatterboxing continued at UNSW when it became too much for our lecturer, Ross Steele, who exploded at a fellow student, Sophie, and me in the language lab. Parbleu! Apart from discovering Apollinaire (Alcools), Rimbaud (Le Bateua ivre), Genet (Les Paravents), Giraudoux (La Guerre de Troye n’aura pas lieu), and many others, Sophie Elias-Varotsis now living in Paris, became a lifelong friend.
But there were other connections. I had always dreamt of living in a garret in Paris long before Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. In 1974, I spent three months there looking for work, living in the banlieue. It was a far cry from my uni French which had a hard time adapting to the speed of the spoken language, and French tests at Mururoa and the ensuing Australian boycotting of all things French didn’t help my work permit prospects. So I went to Geneva with more fluent French, a crush on Françoise Giroud (Jenny Marx ou la Femme du diable) and enamoured of Jacques Prévert (Paroles – “Je suis comme je suis” and “Le Cancre”).
I adapted quickly to Swiss French, but since I had not studied La Methode à Mimile I only first recognized the function of le toubib when seeing the 1979 film of the same name, starring Alain Delon. My fluent French had become peppered with franglais, and so it stayed until the 90s when I joined the Geneva Writers’ Group to reclaim my mother tongue from a trilingual mishmash of French, German and English and write stories. In 2000, my first collection of stories appeared as one of the first eBooks in the UK. Through a contact in Geneva I was introduced to Marianne Camus of the University of Lyon who was organizing a series of colloquia on the theme, Création au feminin. Marianne translated several of my stories into French and included a paper and a story (Grandir) in Création au féminin : Volume 3, Filiations (EUD, 2007).
In 2007, I was back in Sydney where I met up with Jean-Francois Vernay at the NSW State Library and offered him one of my stories in translation by Marianne Camus for his Noumea-based cultural journal, Correspondances Oceaniennes. My collection, Back Burning, was due to be published by IP, Queensland, and some of the stories had a French connection: “The Tschusch”, inspired by Le Pen but transferred to Austria and Jörg Haider; “Blind Date”, inspired by Sophie; “No Man’s Land”, inspired by a story told to me in a café in France profonde. But I only had one story translated, “Le Passé recompose” Unfortunately, “Le Passé recompose” didn’t ever make it to Noumea, but it can be seen at Stories in French on my blog.
This year I met up with Jean-Francois Vernay on LinkedIn and Facebook and he invited me to send him a post. So now it’s almost like coming full circle – a Frenchman almost in Australia and an Australian all over the place in “francophonia” et alii. Such “recurring superpositioning” as Sophie would call it, is an important facet of my writing life and feeds my stories and novels in progress.
More on her website and blog: