Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

First Foray in Writing and Editing

on March 25, 2014

That summer, the landlord decided to sell his apartment, and the new owner wanted to occupy it. So we moved to a newer apartment in the 19th arrondissement. This is a section of Paris on the north-eastern side of town, where the buildings were certainly much newer, and probably built in the 20th century, because there was an elevator, and not the type with clanging iron doors. We lived on the 5th floor, I believe, and somewhere in the building there was either a dentist or a radiologist, who left stacks of orange paper on top of the large trash cans, in the utility room on the ground floor.

15 ans fillette

I loved those orange reams of paper, and would stuff them in my empty trash bucket, along with copies of 15 Ans Fillette, a teen magazine for girls, since defunct.  The inhabitants of our building subscribed to a variety of magazines, which all ended up in stacks under our bed. My favorite was of course, 15 Ans Fillette, but there were plenty of other interesting periodicals, from fashion magazines, to roman-photos. This is a very French, or perhaps, European form of romance, which I have not seen elsewhere. It looks like comics, but with real people posing for photos. The topic is usually a romance. Recently, such roman-photos have made it online, and are available for free, even! Among the features I loved most in magazines were the whodunnit comics. These are usually a one-page, or occasionally, two-page story in comics, and the last frame would ask you the question: who do you think did it? You would have to scan the pictures for clues. This was almost as exciting as reading an Agatha Christie novel!

Nous Deux, the only magazine which still publishes roman-photos today.

Nous Deux, the only magazine which still publishes roman-photos today.


Aunt Lily, like Mama, did not believe in pocket money. So we never carried any cash on us and never bought anything. We could not have possibly bought either magazines or writing paper for ourselves. And since yard sales are purely an American phenomenon, in other countries, one had to scavenge the top of trash cans for treasures.  I read the magazines from cover to cover, over and over. Then, I would create my own magazine, using the orange reams of paper. They did not lend themselves very well to writing with a ball pen, but I did not mind in the least. The pieces of paper were large enough to be cut and folded into a workable format. I would then poke holes in the fold and sew together the pages. I put in there news articles, advice columns, comics, especially of the whodunnit type, contests with prizes, and also serialized fiction.

Those were the days when daily newspapers still published novels in installments. My uncle subscribed not only to Le Monde (think, New York Times), and L’Express (think Newsweek) but also to France-Soir, which was much more to my liking. It contained articles I was able to understand — not just about politics and economics– as well as comics. But the cream on top were the serialized novels. I still remember following the adventures of a 17th or 18th century young  lady named I think Caroline, who got kidnapped by pirates. But let us come back to my own periodicals.

My readers were Saadia, Therese and my classmates. Not that many. But even so, I would make sure to publish on time and respond to their concerns. As time went on, a year later, I even started writing novels, though I never had enough time to pen an entire one. So, I would start with the outline of a novel, some sort of condensed version. Then I would have my classmates read it to gauge their reaction, before launching into the full scale writing of the grand novel. I chose a mountainous setting, since I loved cool climates, having suffered a life of semi-dehydration for years in the hot Arabian sun, and despite the fact that I had no experience whatsoever of living in mountainous regions. Like Jules Verne, I considered myself an armchair traveler and thought I could give a pretty good description of life in the mountains by reading about it.  Then I contrived to come up with a really really dramatic scenario, something that would just make tears spurt out of my readers’ eyes. I created a heroine who would be around my age, 11 or 12 years old.  Then I made sure to give her a miserable start on life. Her parents would die in a car accident, and she would be left alone in the world to fend for herself, in the manner of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Sans Famille, and En Famille. I created unlucky happenings, evil characters, and sinister coincidences to push the poor girl into a final miserable ending. My classmates had a really good laugh over it. They crowded around my manuscript, guffawing and howling with laughter, and the hilarious ruckus was such that the good nun who was passing by stopped and asked what caused such mirth. I should have realized there and then that I was not a writer of tragedies but rather of comedies. But I am getting ahead of myself.

En Famille, by Hector Malot, a must-read of French children's literature, at least in the 1960s

En Famille, by Hector Malot, a must-read of French children’s literature, at least in the 1960s

Without Family, by Hector Malot. This novel had a much greater fame than En Famille, and was known pretty well in China and Taiwan as well.

Without Family, by Hector Malot. This novel had a much greater fame than En Famille, and was known pretty well in China and Taiwan as well.

So we now had graduated from elementary school, albeit without a ceremony, as mentioned previously. The Ecole St Sebastien reopened after all riots and strikes abated, but only for a couple of weeks before it closed for the summer. Uncle Lung found and registered us at the nearest public middle school, the CES Noyer-Durand, which we could reach by metro. It was there that I discovered I had a passion for writing.



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