Tag Archives: comedy writer

Happy Birthday, Dear Spike

This morning I realised that one of my comedy heroes, Spike Milligan, would have been a hundred years old today. There was nothing else for it but to write my own tribute to the man who, from beyond the grave, gave me permission to ‘Never lose the silly side of myself’.

This is a direct quote from my second novel, I HATE THAT YOU BLOODY LEFT ME, and was written into the blurb for the book after I had been reading a lot of things about, and written by, Spike. The line was a doff of the hat to my comedy hero, whose genius helped me when I was down. The reason was that while working on this book, I was undergoing a period of doubt about my comedy writing ability – a crisis of confidence, if you will. I had previously unleashed my first novel, THE NEW MRS D, upon the world and had stumbled ill-advisedly into reading a few of my poorer reviews. One particular Goodreads reviewer, who simply wrote, ‘zzzzz’ stuck in my mind for far longer than it should have done.  I did manage to stamp out this demon once and for all in a unique and funny way, by reading it aloud in a series of videos on the Mean Reviews for the Compulsive Readers website. You can see one of them here:

While I was in the throes of the inability to let my comedy mojo loose, I was able to reason with myself that comedy is a subjective thing. Reading some of the impassive responses to Spike’s hysterical letters only served to confirm this further. What an individual finds funny can depend on a lot of things, including our background, personality and sometimes even our ability to laugh at ourselves. There are those who will nod their heads in acknowledgment while giggling hysterically at an anecdote, and those who will frown and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ My biggest critic is my beloved husband, someone with an entirely different sense of humour to mine, who has been known to tell people, ‘My wife writes comedy. Apparently, she’s very funny.’

And so it was that I turned to Spike Milligan in my hour of need, who has always been a favourite of mine. To quote Michael Palin in the Radio Times this week, ‘The Goon Show made me aware that it was all right to laugh myself silly.’ This is exactly what reading some of his work over again gave to me at the time – Spike made it okay to be silly, and right at that point in my life, I needed permission to be. I read PUCKOON, where in what I feel is a stroke of genius, he would have conversations between himself and the characters, such as:

‘Author? Author? Did you write these legs?’
‘Yes.’
‘Well I don’t like dem. I don’t like dem at all. I could ha’ writted better legs meself.’

I bought MAN OF LETTERS and howled at some of the many correspondences he was legendary for having had with famous celebrities and businesses over the years. The one here was sent to the Marketing Director of Tetley Teabags.

Whilst being one of the funniest, most original talents on earth, it is widely reported that Spike was also dogged by uncertainty. He had mental breakdowns and was in a constant battle with his inner demons. I have been lucky to have not fallen prey to the extremes of depression, but the uncertainty, I get. I really get it. To quote Laurence Marks in his 2011 article for The Telegraph on the difficulty in writing comedy:

 ‘On the very first day of our lives as professional comedy writers, my partner Maurice Gran came to work, had a cup of tea, looked at his watch, and said to me, “It’s half past nine. I suppose we’d better go upstairs and make 15 million people laugh.’

That is pressure.

For a long while I’ve had a theory that the world of publishing shies away from comedy fiction novels like mine, with no romance element, when they aren’t written by already successful comedians and actors. It’s largely unchartered territory area, as far as I can see, (and please do feel free to correct me with some examples in the comments because I’d love to find some). But I think that may have a little to do with the subjectivity of humour. Publishers already know when an actor and/or comedian has been successful in appealing to a wider audience and, as such, they can be sure of a good return on a comedy novel from them. It leaves the relatively unknown comedy writers out of the running and you can find yourself stuck in a rut of uncertainty, unless you seek out inspiration from the masters. It lets you know that staying true to yourself can get you there, as others have done. You can find the confidence to keep your originality through observing the work of those that have, or had it in spades.

‘Dare to never lose the silly side of yourself.’

Even though the book is now over six years old, I still get appreciative emails from readers about THE NEW MRS D, many of whom might be surprised to learn that I suffered from extreme bouts of self-doubt whilst working on the comedy element of my second novel. I had a majority of readers begging me for another book, and a minority of people leaving reviews that questioned my ability to write a book at all. Guess which ones shouted the loudest to me?

Spike Milligan’s brilliance genuinely drove me on. He was a genius who could make anything funny, while calling out those that ‘Didn’t get it’. The note scrawled on top of the entirely professional response letter from K Pringle at Tetley (below) sums everything up. In the pursuit of attempting to cheer the world up, you win some, you really, really lose others.20180416_115606-e1523879803656.jpg

As the dear, wonderful and sadly missed Spike advised us, ‘The best cure for sea sickness is to sit under a tree.’ With his inimitable spirit in mind, I’m off to cure my combined addiction to – and fear of – comedy writing by never attempting to work on another book or blog again, just in case one person doesn’t get the joke. Until later this afternoon.

Thank you Spike, and Happy Birthday. I’d have loved to have read your reply to that telegram from the Queen.  X

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Eccentric, Writerly Type Terrifies Village

It’s official, I’m eccentric. And not just in your classic, bats-in-the-belfry grandma kind of way but hobo eccentric. The dusty, unkempt ‘who let her out of her cage?’ type that walks round the village in shoes a size too large and crumpled clothes once a month and about whom nobody knows anything.

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Visitors to my garden this week

Okay, so you knew I was a bit bats already. But I didn’t, so bear with me here.

Today I ventured out of my one-mile to civilisation house, on foot, and found myself being followed around by an anxious shopkeeper after I picked up a teddy bear and went toddling towards the door with it in search of gift wrap.

‘Can I help you with anything?’

‘Help me?’ I’m thinking, as I watch her almost tumble over a stack of boxes in her haste to catch me up. There is no one in this tiny shop but me. If I needed help, I’d have said, casually and at normal volume, (given she was only two metres away), ‘can you help me?’ And it’s funny that she didn’t think I needed any help as I was browsing around for at least five minutes beforehand, until I picked up this…

Oh, wait a minute…

I look like a shoplifter. Me, who, after heading out to attend a writer workshop in Glasgow found myself stuck without any train fare home because the ATM machine said I couldn’t have any more of my overdraft today thank you. Who, while walking around Central Station wondering what on earth to do besides cry, picked up a ten pound note that a teenage girl skipping along in front of me had dropped, tapped her on the shoulder and handed it back. True. Story.

I went into my local post office-come-gift-shop to buy two birthday cards and presents, and ended up never being left alone for a second until I had paid for the goods. But here’s the stinger – I’m pretty sure this shop owner recognised me. I was in there a fortnight ago, posting ‘The New Mrs D’ manuscript off to my editor.  I was in there last month, posting ten parcels of goods I had sold on eBay, holding every tut-tutty person behind me in the queue up. She raised her eyebrows at me and my held-together-with-masking-tape offerings – more than once – and then we laughed as she explained I’d have to walk all the way back home with the heaviest parcel because the edges were coming apart, right where I’d etched on the shiny tape in black marker pen, ‘PLEASE HANDLE WITH CAR’. Well, she laughed. I sort of ‘sighed a smile’ before waving my sorry to her and back to the queue of tutters. I later discovered, after staring at a weird ‘3’ for ages on the palm of my hand wondering if I’d been marked by some sort of secret society, that this act would have revealed the missing ‘E’ to the somewhat disgruntled post office crowd, further placing me in their approach with caution category.

I live in quite a small, rural village and have been going into this post-office-come-gift-shop, granted with monthly intervals, for around SIX YEARS. She knows me alright. And she thinks I’m a scruffy, ne’er-do-well.

So it has dawned on me that I am, in fact, your quintessential eccentric. I do venture out walking the dogs in fields around the house, but when it comes to tottering about in my village, where everybody knows everybody, I admit I’m a rare sight. My brother, who also lives here, once gave me a lift and within ten minutes someone had called his partner to ask her if she knew he was driving around with a mystery blonde in his car. I did enjoy being considered someone’s mystery blonde for a while though…

So I’m signing out now as this post is already too long, you’re tired and anyway, I’m weird, remember?

If you enjoy reading me, even thought I am a bit dusty and strange, I have a book out soon. It’s called ‘The New Mrs D’ and you can click here to join my mailing list . Then you will be enlisted in my secret society and branded with backward E’s.

Oh and you’ll get an email telling you when my book is out so that you can buy it and help me buy shoes that fit.

Thank you for reading 🙂

You can now and PRE-ORDER THE NEW NEW MRS D HERE