Shop indie, shop often!

Spring is here! Hooray! The days are getting longer and warmer. Best of all, we’re into April, the magic month when bookshops are set, fingers crossed, to reopen for face-to-face shopping. Think of it, actually buying a book from a real human being!

As an indie-published author (published by Unbound), I’m a big enthusiast for indie bookshops. Their individual quirkiness and friendly knowledgeability beat shopping online hands down. Of course, Note to Boy is available from the big bookshop chains and the usual mega online channels but I’d love it if every indie bookseller in the land were to stock copies too. That’s impossible, I know. But that hasn’t stopped me doing my best!

During lockdown, I’ve been on a mission. In good time for the reopening of so-called ‘non-essential’ shops (who decides these things?), I set myself the task of approaching as many indie booksellers as I could to tell them a little about me and my novel, and ask if they’d care to order it. I figured their customers could do with a light-hearted book that offered plenty of laughs and a few tears.

The response has been amazing! It is a time-consuming but joyful job, and I’m not done yet. The encouraging and entertaining replies I’ve had from so many booksellers more than compensate for any effort involved. Below is a list of the many lovely bookshops who’ve responded positively so far. I salute you all! And I salute, of course, all the other bookshops I don’t know about who have Note to Boy on order or already on their shelves. Thank you.

When restrictions allow, I do hope you’ll go along to your local indie bookshop and have a good old chat and a browse. They’ve somehow kept going during lockdown so it’s only fair that we visit them to say thanks and buy a novel or three. I don’t even mind if it’s not Note to Boy, although that would be nice. And if you can’t get to an independent, remember Bookshop.org. You can shop online and benefit the indies too.

Happy Easter, happy indie shopping and, most of all, happy reading!

Sue

LIST OF NOTE TO BOY INDEPENDENT STOCKISTS: (to be continued!)

Adventure into Books, Blairgowrie, Perthshire.

Barnett’s of Wadhurst, East Sussex.

Book Buster, Hastings, East Sussex.

Book, Paper, Scissors, Belfast,

Bookingham Palace, Chester.

The Bookshop, Bridport.

The Bookshop, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria.

The Bookstore, Abingdon.

The Book Vault, Barnsley.

The Book Corner, Saltburn.

Brendon Books, Taunton.

Brick Lane Bookshop, London.

Blue Bear Bookshop, Farnham.

Castle Bookshop, Ludlow.

The Clifden Bookshop, County Galway.

Cover to Cover, Swansea.

Dartmouth Bookseller, Devon.

Daunt Books, Summertown, Oxford and Hampstead, London.

Devizes Books, Wiltshire.

The Dornoch Bookshop, Sutherland.

Edinburgh Bookshop.

Fitzgerald’s Bookshop, Macroom, Ireland.

Griffin Books, Penarth.

The Halesworth Bookshop, Suffolk.

The Holt Bookshop, Norfolk.

Joe’s Bookshop, Chingford.

Kenilworth Books, Warwickshire.

The Little Bookshop, Cookham.

The Little Ripon Bookshop, North Yorkshire.

Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books, Bristol.

Midland Books, Tullamore & Mullingar, Ireland.

Mostly Books, Abingdon.

The Old Hall Bookshop, Brackley.

Our Bookshop, Tring.

Pages of Hackney and Shoreditch, London.

Parade’s End Books, Kingston Upon Thames.

Pigeon Books, Southsea.

The Portobello Bookshop, Edinburgh.

Stillwater Bookshop, Felixstowe.

Store 104, Rochester.

Stroud Bookshop, Gloucestershire.

Typewronger Books, Edinburgh.

Ullapool Bookshop, Ross and Cromarty.

The Wallingford Bookshop, Oxfordshire.

Wyre Forest Books, Bewdley.

Darlings I have killed

Poor Celia Smollensky! It was way back in 2017 that I killed her. It made me sad because I liked Celia. She made me laugh. But unfortunately she had to go. I’ve killed others since, of course, but she was my first and so my most memorable.

Celia was, you see, a character in an early draft of Note to Boy. I enjoyed writing about her and her antics but I realised, amusing though she was, she was not adding enough to the story and, worse still, was in danger of slowing down the action. Sadly, I came to the conclusion that, to increase the pace, she was for the chop. Sorry Celia. And along with her went another fun invention: the Fash Tash.

But in writing, nothing is ever totally lost. Today, Celia Smollensky lives again! As the awards season looms, I present this exclusive snippet that didn’t make it into the final edit of Note to Boy. In it, we meet Celia as she prepares for a big red carpet event, with the help of self-styled Queen of Carnaby Street, Eloise Slaughter.

Hope you enjoy it!

***

A FASHION PHENOMENON IS BORN (from an early draft of Note to Boy)

Out of the blue, we were asked to dress Celia Smollensky, a friend of a friend of Bruno’s. You know, she played the lead in that TV series? The one about the police woman? What was it?

Come on, come on, Boy. I expect you to have these facts at your fingertips.

Oh yes, Sergeant Sally. Celia played Sally. She was to wear Heavenly Bodies to the British Academy Film Awards. All the stars were going to be there, from Dickie and Billie to Al and Robert. Celia wasn’t keen but she, like us, was desperate for publicity.

‘Our ratings have bombed since they put us up against The Bionic Woman,’ Celia told us. ‘My agent thinks wearing one of your gimmicky frocks might turn things round. I’ll do almost anything. All I ask is, please don’t let that weird gay couple anywhere near me.’

‘Trip and Dazzle?’ I laughed. ‘They’re not a couple. At least, I don’t think … In any case, you won’t even have to meet them. I’ll be doing the honours myself.’

I quickly regretted that decision. I thought I made a fuss getting ready for a big event. Celia was impossible. She insisted I was at her Mayfair house eight hours before she was due to turn up in Leicester Square. I had to get a cab straight from Annabel’s to pick up the gown we’d chosen.

The garment folded carefully over my arm, I was the last to arrive at her flat. A flutter of hairdressers, stylists and make-up artists swarmed in her wake, pulling and poking, snitching and bitching. Celia strode about in a green Chinese silk robe being obnoxious.

‘You can throw that lipstick out, it’s hideous. Watch it with that nail file or I’ll sue. I asked for freshly pressed orange not that muck.’

After ten minutes of this chaos, I’d had enough. ‘Out. Out. All of you,’ I commanded. ‘I can’t work like this. Go. Leave it to an expert.’ The truth was, I had a ferocious hangover and all that shouting wasn’t helping. After they’d bustled out, clutching their make-up cases and styling equipment, I sat Celia down.  

‘You need to relax,’ I said. ‘No-one’s at their best when they’re tense. Just look at those frowny lines.’ I pressed my thumb between her eyebrows, where an ugly ‘v’ was forming. ‘So, let’s loosen things up with a little champers.’

I had an ulterior motive, dear reader. As everyone knows, the only cure for a champers hangover is … more champers. Three and a half bottles of Grand Cru later, with my headache fading, we made a start on getting her ready.

‘Firs’, yower ‘air,’ I slurred, hints of the West Midlands creeping in, I fear.

‘No probl’m,’ Celia beamed lopsidedly. ‘All my spikey cut needs is a shampoo ‘n’ a shake. Michel showed me how at Sashoonzz’.’

Maybe we washed it too much or didn’t shake it enough. All I know is, no matter how many times she ruffled her fingers through her hair or shook herself like a wet Labrador, or how many cans of lacquer we misted over Celia’s burgundy locks, they refused to spike up. Instead of fashionably tousled, her locks fell into a smooth, glossy halo. She looked like a librarian.

‘Jus’ stick yower ‘ead between yower knees in the taxi. Yow’ll be foine,’ I reassured. ‘Yower face now. We’re running out of toime.’

Indeed we were. Though we’d started at the crack of midday, all that bubbly had – as bubbly will – stolen the hours. Maybe we blacked out for an hour or two? Who knows? All I knew was, when I glanced up at the clock on the kitchen wall while sucking water from the tap, there was only an hour to go before Celia’s Leicester Square debut.

Luckily, Celia, as you may remember, dear reader, had a lovely face. It even looked good under one of those ridiculous bowler hats they used to make lady bobbies – even pretend telly ones – wear back then. Make-up would be a doddle, or so I thought. Squinting into those violet eyes, panstick wavering in my hand, I tried – despite the bubbly – to focus. I surveyed her face, her lovely face. A frown furrowed my brow.

Celia noticed the change in my expression. ‘Tell me s’not a zit.’

‘Not a zit,’ I said in the slow, even tones of the profoundly pissed. ‘’S’a hair. Upper lip. Long black fellow.’

‘God,’ Celia shrieked, clapping a hand to her face. ‘Get rid of it. Oh my god, those close-ups!’

Conscious of the minutes ticking by, I stumbled through the flat, rifling through make-up bags and tipping out drawers. Panic was rapidly sobering us up. A lot was riding on this evening.

‘Why-the-bloody-why,’ I shouted, ransacking the bathroom cabinets, ‘haven’t you got so much as a pair of tweezers, a lady razor or a tube of hair-removal cream in the whole of this sodding apartment?’

‘Don’t shout. My beauticians deal with my depilatory needs,’ Celia sniffed, her eyes filling with tears ‘And you sent them all away.’

Only half an hour till the car. Eight bloody hours we’d had to get her ready and now it was down to the wire. I returned with the only booty I could find: a roll of silver duct tape, a monkey wrench and some candles. ‘Don’t worry, I told her. ‘We’ll improvise with these.’

We started with the tape. After several painful yanks, I managed to remove quite a bit of skin from Celia’s top lip but not the hair. I melted some candlewax onto a hanky and slapped that on. Celia yelped as I tore the strip off. I examined the hanky. More skin but no hair. There was nothing for it. It was time for the monkey wrench.

After some nifty work, at last I held the hair up to the light. ‘Got you, you hairy bugger!’ I crowed. But time was still pressing. ‘We’ve only got a couple of minutes. Quick, bung the frock on while I do your lips and eyes.’

‘Oooh, that’s sore,’ she said, as I smeared on the lippy.

Quickly I outlined her eyes with kohl and loaded her lashes with mascara, while Celia unzipped the bag containing one of Trip and Dazzle’s most spectacular numbers, an all-in-one concoction of rags, flags, dusters and string, its bodice embellished by a chain, its plunging backline decorated with yellow fingers of wobbly rubber.

Holding it up, Celia pulled a face. ‘Good God. I know I said I’d wear anything, but really Eloise.’

‘Don’t be rude about my famous Rag Bag Look,’ I explained as she wriggled into it. ‘You’ll be a sensation.’

‘It doesn’t fit,’ she sulked, pulling twisted strips of material over her shoulders to form sort of straps. ‘It’s way too big.’

‘Stop moaning. This dress fits everyone. That’s the whole point. It’s flowing form liberates the female spirit,’ I told her, using a phrase I remembered from Cosmo. Celia didn’t understand it either.

‘What’s this flapping at the back?’ She reached behind and pulled at the rubbery strips.

‘It’s called a bustle. Made from those rubber gloves servants wear. You know, Marilyns.’

‘And this dirty old thing?’

‘A bike chain, with authentic black oil.’ I stood back to admire the full effect. ‘One last finishing touch,’ I said, draping a lime green feather boa round her shoulders. ‘There. You’re done.’

The doorbell rang. The car had arrived.

Celia slipped into a pair of silver lace-up boots. ‘What do you think?’

I gave her a last once-over. ‘Fabulous! – except the bit between your nose and your top lip.’

‘What’s wrong with it?’

‘Still just a tad red.’

‘I’ll splash cold water on it on my way out.’

‘Go,’ I commanded. ‘Go and knock their knickers off.’

Giving me a little kiss on the cheek, Celia swished into the bathroom to see to her lip, called out a cheery, ‘Here I go, shit or bust,’ and was gone.

I kicked off my shoes and poured out the last dregs of Grand Cru. Whether the gown would bring me the publicity I needed, I could only hope. As I raised my glass in a silent toast, I knew my future was in the lap of the gods.

*

The gods came up trumps. And how!

The following morning, Celia swept the board of the tabs. No-one else at the BAFTAs got a look-in. She was all over the front pages. As I promised, a sensation. Like Lizzie H in that Versace nappy-pin number a few decades later – another idea pinched from me. Celia was most definitely the woman of the moment. But it wasn’t her clothes that stole the headlines. What blew the papers away, what grabbed everyone’s attention was what was on her upper lip.

For you see, dear reader, when Celia had run into the bathroom to cool her tender lips, the towel she’d dabbed them with was black, new and very, very fluffy. Still sticky from the wax and the tape, her swollen upper lip met the dark fluff and – hey presto – a new look was born. The Fash Tash. I don’t remember who came up with the catchy name – me, probably. And that, dear reader, is the true story of how the trend for female moustaches came about.

The pictures were amazing. Celia in the foreground, grinning widely, eyes sparkling, totally unaware that a furry caterpillar had taken up residence on her top lip. By the time she did find out, it was too late. In any case, why should she worry? From that moment on she was in demand. An explosion of flashbulbs greeted her every appearance. Her picture was almost never off the front pages, sometimes accompanied by this little miss from the Midlands. I have pictures of us somewhere, strutting our stuff down red carpets and staggering out of nightclubs, both cutely mustachioed.

Note to Boy: I’ve seen those photographs somewhere. As my aman … aman .. as the person in charge of my archive, you should look them out.

Her particular look was what we later marketed as the ‘Thinnie’. Nothing too brash and overstated, just an adorable, pencil thin little face ferret. Think Clark Kent in Gone With the Wind and you’ll get the idea. It was only later, as the taste for ‘tashes grew that we became bolder, launching our more extreme styles; the ‘Dali’ and the ‘Wing Commander.’

Celia was signed to another two series of Sergeant Sally and was almost never off Parkinson. She even got a Vogue cover. And everyone, but everyone, was asking the same question: who was the genius behind her reinvention? What could I do, dear reader? I had to tell them. It was me, me, me. I created the Fash Tash. And this time, it really was. Of course, I never let on that it was a big fat mistake.

Next thing I knew, the press were camped on my doorstep. The Mirror did an eight-page special called ‘A De-lip-cious New Fashion’ – witty that, isn’t it? – featuring me and a bewhiskered model in a variety of poses. The Express ran with, ‘Famous Women as You’ve Never Seen Them’, illustrated with pictures of Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, Fanny Craddock and other celebs all ‘tashed up’. The Guardian fashion editor ran an up-itself piece on ‘releasing your masculine side’. Whatever that means.

Before long, no high-fashion hairdresser was without a Fash Tash counter and Heavenly Bodies had branched out into its own Fash Tash Salons. I’ll never forget the proud day we opened one in Coventry, my home town. Back in the West Midlands for the first time in decades, I wielded the scissors to the ribbon myself, touched that Terry and Urse had turned out. A lump came to my throat as I surveyed my damp audience. More would have been there, I’m sure, if the weather had been more clement.

Moustaches for women were in. And so was I. I could do no wrong. Everything I touched turned to kerching. What’s more, there was not a peep from Kristina Krabtree to spoil my triumph. Why, dear reader? I must confess, there was a good reason for that.

©SueClark2020

Count Arthur Strong, showbiz legend, recommends …

This week, I’ve achieved something of a coup! No, not of an obscure foreign country, but of the book-promoting kind.

As readers of this site might have noted, I’m a big fan of Count Arthur Strong. I think Eloise, a main character in Note to Boy, and the Count have a lot in common, in terms of delusions of grandeur and the ability to create chaos wherever they saunter. More in hope than expectation, I sent the Count a copy of my book. Lo and behold, this week the Twittersphere is alive to the sounds of cheering (mine), as Count Arthur tweeted, and I quote:

‘I tell you something, I thoroughly enjoyed @SueClarkAuthor’s lovely book ‘Note to Boy’. Delightful read.’

He read and thoroughly enjoyed my book! I’ll pause a moment while I let this news sink in. Just goes to show, it’s always worth asking. People – even showbiz legends – can be nice.

Finally, a word about reviews. If you enjoyed a book, please do take a few minutes to pen some words about it and pop them on Goodamazon or Twitreads or something. It really does help readers find and appreciate new authors.

Read all about it!

Note to Boy is in the news! Read how Sue Clark turned from comedy scriptwriter into comedy novelist. Secrets are revealed about meeting no less than three James Bonds.

You can also find out how Swinging London influenced the writing of her novel, Note to Boy, the long journey to publication, and the challenges of launching a book during lockdown.

Click here to see the full interview with Gergana Krasteva of the Oxford Mail and Times.

On dead frogs and cheap gags

Earlier in January, I took part in a Creative Lab Workshop on comedy and sketch writing, organised by the very talented Blewbury Players. It was a fun evening and I had a good time chatting about my experiences as a BBC scriptwriter. Thank you Blewbury Players.

They very kindly asked me to make some introductory comments which I thought might be helpful to anyone thinking of venturing out into the crocodile-infested waters of comedy writing.

WHO AM I?

I’m Sue Clark and I’ve been a professional writer for more than 40 years. Over the years, I’ve been a journalist, PR writer, copywriter, guidebook writer and editor. Have I forgotten any? But these were only my day jobs. Always in the background was my first love – comedy.

HOW DID I GET INTO COMEDY WRITING?

I wrote some sketches and sent them to a radio producer. It was that simple. This was the 1980s and the producer was Jimmy Mulville, since co-founder of Hat Trick Productions and creator of Have I Got News For You, among many other hits. Jimmy invited me to call in for a chat if I ever happened to be in the area of Broadcasting House. So, of course, I made sure I was, the very next week.

From then on I attended weekly meetings in the famous, or infamous, Writers Room. This was an anonymous and grubby little room in 16 Langham Street, always strewn with fag-ends and paper cups of cold coffee. Writers of all shapes and sizes would shuffle in to be given topics to be funny about by that week’s producer. Exciting and terrifying at the same time. That led to writing for the weekly radio satirical shows Week Ending and The News Huddlines, and eventually to TV sketch writing on shows such as Three of a Kind and Alas Smith and Jones.

Sadly, 16 Langham has gone the way of Week Ending, swallowed up in the ghostly blue glow of New Broadcasting House. The Writers Room still exists, though it’s now online and there are no used coffee cups.

WHAT IS COMEDY?

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What is comedy? Analysing comedy, as someone – possibly Barry Cryer. It usually is – once said is like dissecting a frog. No-one laughs and the frog dies. I’m certainly not going to go where the God of Comedy Barry Cryer doesn’t go. Let’s just leave it at comedy is anything that makes you laugh, guffaw, snort or groan.

WHAT IS A SKETCH?

Having ducked the last question, I’m on safer ground when it comes to sketches. A sketch is the short story of the comedy world. It is to a full length drama or play, as a short story is to a novel.

Just like a short story, a sketch has to contain all the ingredients of a drama: characters, story, and setting, only in fewer words. Unlike a short story, a sketch also has to have something that makes you laugh. Not much to ask in only three minutes!

So no words can be wasted; every line must do its work. There’s no room for padding or diversions in a sketch. Stick to the point. Don’t be tempted to put everything you can think of in it. The humour will lose its focus. Oh and don’t forget a surprise twist or two. They are, after all, what usually trigger the laughter.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SKETCH AND NOVEL WRITING?

Length, obviously. A sketch is usually only a few minutes long and its purpose, plain and simple, is to make the audience laugh. Anything that doesn’t add to the laughter has to go.

A novel gives the writer room to expand, to wander down dark side alleys, or through flowery meadows, to add colourful details. But therein lies the danger for a comedy writer. As I learnt when writing my novel, you have to vet your jokes and exercise restraint. It is all-too tempting to go for the cheap gag but this is to be resisted. Just because it amuses you, the writer, that’s no reason to include it. Unless a joke illuminates a character, sets the mood, or moves the plot along in some way, it has to be cut. Though they may be fun to write, ill-chosen quips and misplaced funniness can derail a story and destroy the consistency of characters.

STRUCTURE OF A SKETCH

Sketches and jokes have the same structure as novels and dramas, just shorter. All follow Aristotle’s Three Act structure – says she, as if she knows what she’s talking about! Each act has its own defining moment and ends on a twist. It’s the twist that takes you through to the next act.

  • Act One is the Set Up – the status quo. Who is talking? Where are we? What is their relationship to each other? Get this done quickly. Then something happens.
  • Act Two is the Bit in the Middle. I hope I’m not being too technical here. The status quo is disrupted and something else, or several something else’s happen, as well as, hopefully, plenty of merriment.
  • Act Three is the Pay Off or Punch Line – the story is resolved in a satisfying manner with a cracking good joke, leaving the audience rolling around in their seats in delight.

LOGIC

A word of warning here. Your story has to make sense within the context of the world you have created. This can be as surreal and silly as you like but it still has to make internal sense. Would this character do or say that? Would this other character react in that way? If it doesn’t make sense, at least on a basic level, you’ll lose your audience and most likely your laughs too.

RULES

Having said all that, the only rule of comedy is there are no rules. Except when they exist to be broken.

Monty Python and Spike Milligan didn’t much bother with punch lines. Little Britain and The Fast Show did away with the element of surprise, relying instead on repeated jokes and catchphrases. Stuart Lee’s misanthropic rambles seem to have no shape or purpose, until of course you realise they do.

WHERE TO GET YOUR IDEAS?

  • Use the person you know best – yourself. Examine your weaknesses and exaggerate them. Writer/performers do this all the time. Basil Fawlty is John Cleese, with knobs on. The same is true of David Brent and Ricky Gervais, Richie Richard and Rik Mayall, and Bernard Black and Dylan Moran.
  • Read the news – particularly the small stories. They are a fund of inspiration. A quick look at recent headlines gave me: kangaroos can communicate with humans, squirrels attack people in Rego Park, New York, and Mum finds Jesus in a Brussel sprout.
  • Think of a set up. Make a list of words relevant to it. Even if you don’t use them they can spark a line of thought and, hey presto, a sketch is born.
  • Don’t go for the obvious. Try to think of situations that haven’t been done to death before. Unless, of course, familiarity is part of the gag.
  • Start from the punch line and work back. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the punch line comes first. You just have to provide the rest.
  • If an idea doesn’t come quickly, leave it and come back to it later. Laboured jokes aren’t funny.

HOW MANY KINDS OF JOKE ARE THERE?

Is it seven, nine, eleven, three or just one? The truth is, no-one knows how many kinds of jokes there are. Just as they don’t know why the number 42 is funnier than say 56. And why Douglas Adams chose it as the answer to the ultimate question in The Hitchhikers’ Guide. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go. Here’s my list of seven. You can probably think of others.

  1. The unexpected. Often comes as a list of three – Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation recently about Covid 19. Unpredictable, unavoidable and dangerous, Mr Johnson is ….
  2. The expected – a sideways comic look at something familiar – Mr Bean changing into his swimming trunks on the beach.
  3. Pomposity pricked – a pompous character gets their come-uppance. The basis of many a sitcom – Fawlty Towers and Keeping Up Appearances.
  4. Surreal jokes – Vic and Bob – inspired silliness, beautifully crafted and performed.
  5. Satire – topical gags based on the news.
  6. Repetition – repeated punchlines/catchphrases (Little Britain), or strings of one-liners (Tim Vine and Milton Jones). The humour of accumulation.
  7. Schadenfreude – the age-old banana skin and other physical jokes, often performed without the need for words.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING

  • Write with someone else. There’s a reason comedy writers often come in pairs. You need someone to bounce ideas off. Or as Dennis Norden so excellently put it: One to type. One to stare out of the window.
  • Watch/listen to sketch shows – Radio 4 Extra has many comedy shows, some old, some new, from Comedy Club to The Navy Lark and On the Hour. Radio 4 sketch and topical shows include The Now Show, Dead Ringers, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and The Pin.
  • Follow comedians. Gary Delaney dissects his jokes, showing his workings, on Twitter. Actor/comedian Julian Dutton puts his pilot scripts up on his website, and incidentally has written an entertaining book on silent comedy, called Keeping Quiet.
  • Read books that about comedy, though I have to warn you, Julian Dutton aside, they’re not always a barrel of laughs. And, as Barry Cryer would say, the frog still dies!
  • Read comic fiction – of which there seems to be a lot at the moment. Not only the old masters, PG Wodehouse and Tom Sharpe, but also new pretenders like Nina Stibbe, Gail Honeyman, Neil Gaiman, Richard Osman and many others. Oh yes, and I hear up-and-coming writer Sue Clark’s new one is funny too!

   

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Sad news to start the year

The New Year started for me with very sad news. The wonderful novelist Maureen Lee died on New Year’s Eve.

Maureen was a best-selling author, writing and publishing many short stories, and some 24 novels in her long life, including the enthralling family sagas set in and around her home city of Liverpool. In 2000, her book Dancing In The Dark was named novel of the year by the Romantic Novelists Association.

But she was more than that. She was my mentor and friend.

We ‘met’ some thirty years ago. Our first contact was via the pages of The Observer newspaper. She’d written a piece about the difficulty of balancing the life of a novelist with that of a wife and mother. I wrote a cheeky little reply which was printed in the following week’s Letters page.

Soon afterwards, Maureen got in touch. I never found out how she got my details! We corresponded and eventually met for lunch in London. We hit it off immediately. Thereafter we kept in touch and met for lunch every summer, until quite recently.

Maureen was always supportive of my writing, frank with advice, and generous with help. Although her works regularly appeared in the Sunday Times Bestsellers lists, she was never grand or puffed up. Having said that, she didn’t pull her punches if she didn’t like something! Her books featured strong female protagonists and Maureen herself, though modest about all she’d achieved, was certainly a strong woman. Her tribute in The Bookseller is well deserved.

It’s largely thanks to her that I persisted with Note to Boy and, eventually, got it published. When I was signed to Unbound, Maureen was one of the first to crowdfund it. She was also one of the first people I contacted when Note to Boy was eventually launched. I’d hoped to see her last summer to thank her properly but, thanks to Covid, it never happened. And now it never will.

RIP Maureen.

   

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Goodbye 2020. Welcome 2021, but only if you behave!

No need to state the obvious about the weirdness of the year. I’m going to take this chance to look back and find some positives and say some thank yous instead.

The biggest positive of 2020 for me, of course, is that Note to Boy was published. Yaay! Eloise and Bradley have been out ‘in the wild’ for five months and seem to be thriving. Certainly, reviews have been kind.

‘Comedy gold’, ‘brims with humour’, ‘wonderfully entertaining’ and even ‘genius’ are some of the generous comments received by this blushing author. It means a lot to know I’ve made some readers laugh and a few shed a little tear. Thank you, readers and reviewers. 

Here I must mention my publisher, Unbound. Throughout the many difficulties, they have been marvellous. It cannot have been easy to see my book through its final stages and into production and distribution during this strangest of summers. But they did it, and I shall be forever thankful that my launch wasn’t postponed, as so many were. Thank you, Unbound.

Let’s also hear it for the independent bookshops. Times have been hard for them but they’ve been a great support. Getting on for forty, from Bristol to Edinburgh, Bridport to Hampstead currently stock Note to Boy, and the list grows weekly. It’s also listed by bookshop.org, the new ethical way to buy books online. Thank you, all. 

People seem to have fallen in love with books again. The upsurge in the popularity of reading has been wonderful to behold and some compensation for the restrictions we’ve been enduring. Readers have not only been tackling the classics like Austen and Orwell, and weighty tomes like Tolstoy, Hugo and Dickens, but also turning to comedy, as we often do in times of stress.

Great to see comedic works such as Cold Comfort Farm, the Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones series, Nick Hornby and Nina Stibbe books and, of course, Richard Osman’s cosy crime debut, all enjoying success. Let’s hope humorous writing will get the industry recognition it deserves from now on.  

With time on their hands people have been writing too, turning the pandemic into a PENdemic. See what I did? Aside from hastily written celebrity books, there are bound to be some gems. I’m looking forward to reading some stimulating lockdown literature during the coming year. 

Another plus is, through necessity, I’m verging on becoming competent in various videoconferencing systems. If you want to be frozen just as you come to the punchline of a joke, or muted when you have something fascinating to add to the discussion, I’m your woman! 

Talking of which, the Note to Boy virtual book launch in July attracted more than fifty people and reached friends and supporters as far afield as the USA, Italy and Chipping Sodbury. A similar number signed up for an author talk I gave in early December to the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster libraries, with one participant joining in from Riyadh. The international reach of virtual events is another big positive. I’m planning more for 2021. Thank you to those who work so hard to make them happen.

That’s it. I’ve run out of positives except to say, it’s been a funny old year and it’ll be a funny old Christmas but we keep on smiling, reading and writing. Merry Christmas to you all. 2021 will be better. Won’t it? Cheers. 

Love

Sue 

   

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The overnight success of Shuggie Bain

Did you hear that sound, the evening in October when Douglas Stuart was pronounced the winner of the prestigious 2020 Booker Prize for his novel, Shuggie Bain? Faint but insistent, that was the sound of hard-working, ever-hopeful, but so far unrecognised, writers up and down the land giving a little cheer. And that cheer said, yes! It is possible for a debut author to become an overnight success – as long as they’re prepared to work at it for years and years.

What a win it was! If you were in any doubt that this was a Big Thing, the presentation took place in the presence – albeit virtual – of the Duchess of Cornwall and President Obama. And, unlike last year, the judges’ decision was unanimous and speedy. They took only an hour to decide.

Though the verdict was fast, it was hardly a meteoric rise to fame for Douglas Stuart’s novel, which is based on his Glasgow childhood, growing up with poverty and addiction. Ten years in the writing, it was only picked up by Picador (all praise to them) after no less than thirty-two other publishers gave it the thumbs down.

To any writers – published or unpublished – the message is clear. If you hold your nerve, keep writing, keep trying, who knows, maybe in ten years’ time, it could be you bagging a Booker, while Camilla and Barack applaud from the sidelines?

 

 

 

 

   

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