What’s Abingdon’s secret?

What is it about the seemingly quiet Oxfordshire market town of Abingdon? Not only is it a beautiful place to live – particularly in autumn – but it also punches way beyond its weight when it comes to creativity.

Off the top of my head, here’s a roll-call of people currently prominent in the arts and media who were born or educated in Abingdon. There may be others I’ve forgotten. Apologies, if so. 

Tom Hollander (actor), who effortlessly stole the show in the recent wonderful TV drama, Us. Also great in Rev.

David Mitchell (comedian, actor and writer), famous for Upstart Crow, Peep Show, and for being one half of Mitchell and Webb. Also king of comedy quizzes.

All five members of Radiohead (a popular music combo, m’lud) of Paranoid Android fame, and many others.

John Spiers (musician), member of the now disbanded folk band, Bellowhead

Tom Richards, (musician) saxophonist with Jamie Cullum’s band.

Michael Bartlett (playwright, film and TV screenwriter), creator of the award-winning Doctor Foster on TV, Olivier Award-winning play King Charles III and many others.

Paul Mayhew-Archer – TV comedy co-scriptwriter of The Vicar of Dibley and creator of many other bits of funniness, recent stand-up comedian and even more recent MBE.

Simon Mayhew-Archer – producer of the spot-on TV comedy spoof, This Country.

Kate Garraway (TV presenter) on Good Morning Britain.

Not a bad line-up for a town of just 36,000 people. But why? Are Abingdonians just naturally creative? Or is there something in the Thames water? 

And now me. Not that I am comparing myself with any of these hugely talented people – though maybe I am, just a little bit!

 

 

Rain, reading and reviewing

A week away in the rain has given me the chance to finish reading the books I had on the go.

I like to read outside my comfort zone, opening my mind and gaining new perspectives by exploring new genres. All right. I’ll come clean. I have a butterfly mind and read just about anything that catches my eye. A clever cover image, a witty tagline or a half-heard interview on Loose Ends, and I’m sold.

That’s how come my recent ‘to be read’ pile included a children’s book for all ages, some Irish noir, a dystopian comedy and a heavyweight historical fiction.

Incidentally, I always review indie books I read. I hope you do too. I figure the blockbusters can survive without the benefit of my two-penn’orth. I’ll keep these relatively short but if you want to read the full reviews, you can find them in the usual places.

Happy reading everyone!

Losing Arthur by Paul A Mendelson

A book about, and full of, imagination. Young Zack has only one friend in the world, Arthur. And he’s imaginary. And green. One day, Zack’s exasperated single mum posts Arthur to an imaginary address in Scotland. So begins Zack’s adventure. Like all the best so-called children’s books, it can read on several levels and by readers of any age.

Blackwatertown by Paul Waters

We’re in the 1950s in a drab Irish border town. Jolly Macken, is an RUC cop, new in town, and very much out of favour. This could be a dark tale. And indeed it does have its dark and disturbing moments but it is the humanity and occasional humour of the writing that sets it apart. And you’ll learn how to pronounce Aoife.

Purple People by Kate Bulpitt

Funny and relevant to our crazy times. In a near-future dystopian England, crims and the anti-social are dyed purple by the state to deter them from bad behaviour. A light-hearted read that should at all costs be kept away from politicians. Have fun guessing how the purpling is done.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

What everyone else has said. Heavy in both senses of the word. But so worth it. This is history imagined as it was lived, not as it is read about in history books. So good, I think I’ll have to read it again to appreciate all it offers.

Eloise and Count Arthur, a match made in hell?

Would Eloise Slaughter and Count Arthur Strong get on in real life? What if they – perish the thought – met up and became a couple?

The possibilities for word-mangling chaos would be never-ending. And imagine how much fun Eloise would have exploiting the title of countess, throwing her weight about in Costas and the dry cleaners.

But would it be a good idea? I took to pondering this weighty question recently (there being nothing much else going on in the world), after a generous reviewer described Eloise as ‘a malapropiste and name-dropper to rival Count Arthur Strong’.

This is not the first time the two muddled eccentrics have been compared to each other. I was bold enough to do so myself before Note to Boy was published, in a Twitter conversation with the Count himself. He observed at the time that Eloise sounded like ‘his kinda gal’. Sadly, romance never blossomed. They never had that first date.

I’ve been a fan of Count Arthur Strong since its Radio 4 days. I find the count’s brand of fuzzy wordplay and beautifully performed physicality irresistibly funny. Then the show moved to telly, and the wonderful Rory Kinnear (Black Mirror, Years and Years, Hamlet) became part of the regular cast as Michael the well-meaning but neurotic Everyman, and Graham Linehan (IT Crowd, Black Books, Father Ted) joined Steve Delaney on the scriptwriting team. My joy knew no bounds.

It’s a crying shame no Count Arthur misadventures have been available on TV to lighten our gloom during the madness of 2020. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch that memory man gag, as soon as the count puts on that red turban, I’m gone. 

I’ve seen Count Arthur Strong live only once: at the Oxford Literary Festival, when he shuffled in and immediately and expertly commanded the room and wrong-footed his interviewer. It was a treat to watch him lower the tone of that normally august event.

But on the whole, for all our sakes, I think it best he and Eloise never meet.

Celebrating witty women

We always knew it and now CWIP proves it: women can be not only funny but also flipping hilarious!

Comedy Women in Print (CWIP), now in its second year, was founded by comedian and novelist Helen Lederer as a way to celebrate and promote witty writing by women. This year there was a wealth of funny fiction to choose from, with the main prize going to Nina Stibbe for her darkly comic, semi-autobiographical novel, Reasons to be Cheerful.

I read this at the beginning of lockdown – chosen I must confess because of the optimism of its title – and can confirm that it is a real rib-tickler; funny and touching by turns, with a unique and genuine voice, and some put-down-the-book-and-let-yourself-go-with-a-darn-good-chuckle moments. Who’d have thought dentistry could be so entertaining?

As well as Nina Stibbe’s novel (which incidentally also scooped the 2019 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction), CWIP awarded prizes, among others, to Candice Carty-Williams’ for her debut novel Queenie and to screenwriter, actor and novelist Ruth Jones for Us Three. 

Congratulations to all the winners and runners up. Long may CWIP continue to thrive and shine a light on the wit and talent of women. There’s a lot of it out there!

Staying in with Linda

That was fun! I’ve been ‘staying in’ with the lovely Linda Hill of the multi-award-winning blog, Linda’s Book Bag. What a pleasure that was! It was an honour to be in conversation with her, particularly as she has been so supportive of Note to Boy since we first ‘met’ almost two years ago.

Back then I talked about London in the Swinging Sixties and the business of crowdfunding through my publishers, Unbound. This time we chatted about – well, why not have a read?

I’ll just say, maybe it was the biscuits and the gin but it all got a bit surreal. Enjoy!

Thank you, Richard Osman

I’m looking forward to the day when no-one leaves home without the three essentials: face covering, hand gel, funny book! And it’s all thanks to TV’s Richard Osman of Pointless fame. 

I don’t know if you noticed, but, with little brouhaha and no fuss at all, a book by Richard Osman crept shyly out into the world last week. I’m joking! You couldn’t move for interviews with, discussions on, pictures of, and tweets about him and his debut fiction, the crime comedy, The Thursday Murder Club.

I’m not usually one to puff celeb novels, unless they are actually good books in their own right, which I understand this one is. (See also the excellent works of one Graham Norton.) But this development I see as very good news indeed. Why? Because in recent years, we have been told, humour is out of fashion in the publishing world. I’ll say that again. Humour is out of fashion! This is madness, right? Funny books should never be out of fashion. We always need our ribs tickled and our funny bones pummelled, even – no, especially – in difficult times. 

So, good for you, Richard Osman. I wish you nothing but success, in the hope that your mega sales prompt an avalanche of demand for humorous fiction in general. When that happens, I and the rest of the comic writing world stand ready to serve. 

 

And so my tale begins …

Here’s a video of me reading the first few pages of Note to Boy, for your delectation. It’s not the same without the accents but, as Julie Walters and Taron Egerton unaccountably did not answer their phones, you’ll have to put up with me. Likewise Dame Judi and Will Poulter,  Penelope Wilton and Gregory Piper … the list goes on.  Anyhow, hope this little extract whets your appetite for reading more for yourself – then you can do your own accents.

 

 

Super Thursday not so super for new writers

Stand by for the avalanche! On 3 September almost 600 new books will be published. Some newspapers have dubbed this day Super Thursday. Not so super for the many new and lesser-known writers whose books are out at the same time.

The autumn is always a busy time in the world of books, as publishers crank up their publicity machines ready for the Christmas season. This year, to these festive releases have been added all those books whose launches were delayed while bookshops were dark and literary festivals cancelled or virtual. 

As a debut author, I count myself very lucky indeed to have dodged the book jam by being published in July. It’s hard enough getting your book noticed, without having to shout above the din of an over-crowded market. I mean, how can we newbies compete against big releases from the likes of Martin Amis, Robert Harris, Caitlin Moran, and Ant and Dec?

 

 

Waiting for that stinker

Writers’ paranoia is part and parcel of the job of being a novelist, I’ve come to understand. Never more so than when your book is launched into the world, like a helpless but very cute baby. People peer into your buggy, chuck the newcomer under the chin, smile then pass judgement.

When you’re writing a book, paranoia whispers constantly in your ear, but you tell it to ‘do one’ and soldier on. Eventually – with a little bit of luck, a lot of patience, and a Jewson’s lorryload of grit – you have an actual book you can hold in your hands and kiss. And yes, I did kiss mine. Many times.

Your book baby is born. It is available online and in the shops. People tweet about it. They – and this somehow comes as a shock – read it. Now the big question becomes, what do other people – who aren’t related to you or otherwise blackmailable – make of it?

Big? It’s monumental. Reviews, as I have said elsewhere, are the lifeblood of new writing. They are how readers come to discover – and champion – fresh voices. Consequently, a bad review – a one-star stinker (as we in the business call them) – can be a paranoid-inducing downer.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I sent Note to Boy off on a blog tour and waited for the reviews to come rolling in. Like an anxious parent, I worried if the reviewers would love my offspring as I do. Would they find the story engaging? Would they be won over by the, admittedly, oddball charms of Eloise and Bradley? And, most of all, would they laugh?

I’m happy to say, they did, as the excerpts below indicate. So thank you, book bloggers*, for your kind and perceptive words.

Though I’m still expecting that stinker!


‘In her beautifully written debut novel, Sue Clark tells a story that will make you laugh a lot and cry a little.’

‘This is a witty, intelligent novel with some laugh out loud, snorting moments … tremendous fun, and had a hugely redemptive and satisfying ending.’

‘I fell in love with both Bradley and Eloise. This is a very sad book but full of life and love as well.’

‘… hits exactly the right notes when it comes to the complex relationship between Bradley and Eloise … This is an excellent social commentary.’

‘This is a fab story of two unlikely people coming together to form a team who go on to take on some unscrupulous people in a funny yet at times sad and poignant landscape.’

‘… a warmhearted and funny story that flows at lovely pace. Filled with attitude, nostalgia and fashion, ‘Note To Boy’ is a trip down memory lane and shows that unlikely friendships can blossom from any situation.’

* And thanks to Anne Cater of http://randomthingsthroughmyletterbox.blogspot.com for organising the Note to Boy blog tour.

Blog tour ahoy!

Note to Boy is on the road with a blog tour all this week. Thanks to the lovely bloggers who will be reading and reviewing the book. I hope Eloise and Bradley win you over!