Carterton, here I come!

As promised (threatened) I’ll be giving an author talk at the library in Carterton, Oxfordshire, on 7 June at 6pm. If you’d like to hear more about my comedy fiction, Note to Boy, how it came about, how I found my publisher in Waitrose, and my background in writing merry quips for the likes of Lenny Henry, June Whitfield, David Jason and Tracey Ullman, please do come along.

Hope to see you there! I’ll be the one standing at the front, holding up a book probably!

Second Oxford Indie Book Fair was fin-tastic!

Writers, publishers and artists gathered for the second Oxford Indie Book Fair on 2 April, an event that showcases the work of local authors, independent publishers and other artists.

Among the 45 exhibitors was the artist John Buckley, probably best known for creating the Headington Shark, a controversial landmark in Oxford since the 1980s.

I took along Note to Boy and had a great day, introducing Bradley and Eloise to a new audience, and indulging myself talking books and writing with visitors and other exhibitors in the beautiful surroundings of the Wesley Memorial Hall.

Thank you to the organisers for arranging such an enjoyable and successful event.

Oxford Indie Book Fair – so good they ran it twice!

So successful was the first Oxford Indie Book Fair that the organisers have decided to hold another one this year. Like last time, the second fair will be held at the Wesley Memorial Hall, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, a wonderful venue, on Saturday 2 April, to coincide with the Oxford Literary Festival. Two for the price of one – though the Indie Fair is free!

The previous fair was lively and great fun, packed with books and authors of all kinds. There’ll be free talks and entertainment throughout the day. I’ll be there and, if you’re in the Oxford vicinity, I hope you will be too.

Reviews of Note to Boy

Here’s a selection of reviews of Note to Boy. It’s great to see what readers, writers and bookbloggers make of Eloise and Bradley, and wonderful to know they’ve brought some laughter into people’s lives – as well as a few tears and the odd cringe!

Longer versions of what they have to say may be found on Amazon or Goodreads, or by following the link indicated. You are most welcome!

‘What a unique and entertaining little novel. The volatile, yet affectionate relationship between the two main characters will be one that will stick in my memory for some time … Bradley was a fabulous character. I cheered Bradley on throughout the story. Humorous and poignant in equal measure … charmed me with its delightful characters.’

Fictionophile

Note to Boy is a charming, hilarious story about an unlikely friendship that develops between two generations … The book itself is exceptionally well written … perfect for your afternoon on the beach … I highly recommend this clever book to anybody this summer – I’m sure you’ll love it!’Joel Francis, The Gibraltar Magazine

“Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist, alternating from the working-class vernacular of Bradley to the posh theatricality of Eloise with each chapter … The characters are richly drawn, and readers will quickly become invested in the odd couple, as individuals and as friends. The story is a pleasure all the way through. A funny, immersive portrait of an unusual working relationship.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This rib-tickling novel is skilfully written with the lightest touch, which in turn lends its hidden depths even greater poignancy … skip-along pacing and the perfectly-pitched timing of its punchlines, both humorous and moving… in the person of Eloise Slaughter, Sue Clark has created a truly memorable character who, despite considerable flaws, one cannot help warming to … Anyone with an interest in fashion or the swinging 60s will find much to love here but this is also a book that anyone can enjoy …this comes highly recommended, especially for anyone determined to age very badly indeed. So, if you’re looking for something unusual and entertaining while also being both thought-provoking and uplifting why not give this hidden gem a go?”Kindle Customer SB

“A heart-warming, darkly comedic book about friendship in the most unusual of places … I really loved reading Note To Boy, the dialogue between Eloise and Bradley, really did have me laughing to myself and at other times cringing … Characters like Trip, Dazzle, Bruno, Howie and her long running feud with Kristina Krabtree all gave life to the person Eloise was in her youth … As we are coming out of lockdown this book is a perfect reminder that we all need companionship, we all need someone to talk to and share experiences with, that sometimes those friendships are found in the most unlikely of friendships and that sometimes maybe all we need is to answer that advert in your local newsagents.”The Literary Addict, bookblogger.

Note to Boy, this is a book that once you have started you will have to finish.
Nice one Sue Clark! My mum also enjoyed it.
NSS944, a reader

Note to Boy is a cleverly written first novel and explores the developing relationship between two unlikely characters. The first person narrative of each reveals a young man with a troubled background and an ageing former doyen of the superficial cut and thrust of the fashion world. Although written as a comedy it is at the same time a sensitive, convincing and thought provoking exploration of societal issues at opposite ends of the scale. Great fun to read – and there’s no indication of how things pan out until the last page! I look forward to more from Sue Clark!Dr Barry, a reader

The adventures of this ill-assorted pair begin when Bradley realises that Eloise’s stories are something more than the ramblings of a dotty old lady. She has a past, and what a past! Although Bradley has never heard the word ‘amanuensis’, and Eloise cannot remember it, that is what he becomes. His efforts to find out the truth about his employer result in happier times for them both, and along the way, there is plenty of humour, and multiple reveals for the reader to enjoy.Paterson Loarn, blogger

In her beautifully written debut novel, Sue Clark tells a story that will make you laugh a lot and cry a little. She has created two convincing, realistic characters, each of whom is on the point of succumbing to an impossible situation. By introducing Eloise and Bradley, and making them bounce hilariously off each other, she not only saves them both, but also gives them hope for the future. I recommend Note to Boy to book clubs, not only because of its high entertainment value, but also because it bridges the generation gap and presents decades of social history, in a style as light and digestible as a macaroon; or, as Eloise would call it, a ‘Cameroon’.C J Limb, reader and author

This is a gorgeous funny book with brilliant characters. Highly recommended.Zena, reader and author

This comic novel is ideal for chasing away the current COVID blues. At its heart is an odd couple duo who offer a rather striking contrast. Despite the diverging tone of both characters, they both come off as realistic and not caricaturist, and both of them experience an extremely satisfying arc. Although comedy novels can come off as relatively gentle compared to thrillers for example, Note To Boy central mystery steadily raises the stakes, both in the present and in the past. This book provides some ideal real world escapism, and is already being lapped up by the people I have recommended it to. What more can I say than that?Jamie Chipperfield, reader and author

This delightful romp by comedy writer Sue Clark is an engaging, funny, and poignant read. It brings together two unlikely characters in the form of the theatrical and slightly cantankerous old dear, Eloise Slaughter, and the 17-year-old Bradley McCreedy. Note to Boy reminded me a little of Harold and Maud, only in that the two characters are of similar age. But here the comparison ends. With Note to Boy, the dialogue is far funnier and the narrative has a great deal more depth. And as with all great comedy, there is a tenderness and poignancy to both of these well-drawn characters. Sue Clark’s debut is a little gem and will appeal to anyone who enjoys the joy of language – particularly when it has been dragged through a hedge backwards by the book’s elderly protagonist. It would, dare I say it, make a wonderful stage play.Alex Pearl, reader and author

The story is just great, the writer is really skilled! Would be nice to see it as a movie as well! Loved it and looking forward to read more from Sue Clark!BB, a reader

This is a witty, intelligent novel with some laugh out loud, snorting moments as Eloise recounts her life’s misadventures to the rather reluctant ears of Bradley, her assistant/cleaner/life coach. She’s led a colourful life, the toast of Swinging London, at least according to her! This was tremendous fun, and had a hugely redemptive and satisfying ending. – ramblingmads, blogger

I loved this book so much. It was funny, but heartwarming and a lovely tale of two outcasts, one old and one young, finding themselves together and both becoming better people because of it. I thought the style of writing was genius – written exactly how the characters would have written it. The use and misuse of language was very clever and what I thought would be an easy and quick read, quickly drew me in and became compelling reading. Mrs & Mr R Robinson, readers

What could a teenager with an attitude and an elderly woman who is incapable of looking after herself have in common? It doesn’t seem like a lot. Bradley wants the job because he is on a long road to nowhere and helping Eloise could lead to an opportunity. Helping her to write an autobiography of sorts gives him a chance to get to know the woman behind the mood swings, the erratic behaviour and he then sees the eccentric fashion icon with entirely different eyes. I have to say that I didn’t experience this as a read full of comedic moments, but rather one full of poignant realistic moments. However I can absolutely picture this on the screen, and I hope someone sees the potential in this – The Lady in the Van kind of eccentricity coupled with a young man trying to grip the one possible straw that might take him out of his set-in-stone future of violence and deprivation. I really enjoyed this story, perhaps because it was easy to picture both main characters so well.Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog

A hundred authors share their thoughts

Browse in any library or bookshop and you’re almost bound to come across a section devoted to books purporting to tell you how to turn yourself into a successful writer. I know. I’ve read quite a few of them. As you might guess, since you don’t see my name on the Costa Awards list, I didn’t find them particularly helpful.

I’m sorry to say, there is no simple secret to literary success, just as there is no definitive handbook for being a good spouse, partner, or parent. These things are way too complicated for that. But, you can learn something of the ups and downs of literary life by reading about other writers’ experiences.

In 100 Ways to Write a Book, the estimable Alex Pearl has somehow corralled no less than one hundred writers and cajoled them into sharing their thoughts on the craft. And yes, I was hugely chuffed to be asked to be among them. 

Authors from all sorts of backgrounds, from debut writers to award-winning best sellers, give you a peak into their motivations and working methods. 

It’s a fascinating read and will probably do you more good, in terms of inspiration and insight, than no end of ‘how to’ books droning on about mood boards, time lines and writing apps. 

All author proceeds from the book will be donated to PEN International

Death in Paradise, Wine in Wycombe

What do I have in common with Robert Thorogood, multi-award winning creator of the hugely popular BBC One light-hearted murder mystery series, Death in Paradise?

More than you might think. We’re both BBC scriptwriters. OK, so his show is a global phenomenon, broadcast across the world from Australia to Russia and India, and series 11 is about to launch in 2022. And I wrote sketches. But still …

We’ve both moved from script- to novel-writing. OK, so his book, The Marlow Murder Club has been launched to widespread acclaim and was picked as Fiction Book of the Month by the Booksellers Association. And Note to Boy, while getting great reviews and recently bagging a PenCraft award for humour, is enjoying more modest success. But still …

And both Robert and I enjoy a glass of wine. Erm … think I might be able to match him on that.

How do I know this? Because I recently had the pleasure of meeting Robert at a thoroughly good (see what I did?) author talk at the Wycombe Arts Centre. He was being interviewed by those cheeky We’d Like a Word podcasters – and, let us not forget, authors – Stevyn Colgan and Paul Waters. I say ‘interviewed’ but actually, it was more of a freewheeling chat, as Robert (like his creation) is just that sort of effortlessly entertaining chap.

Not that his road to success was smooth. He was frank about his struggle to the top. Soon after leaving Cambridge, he set up, directed and acted in a touring theatre company alongside – wait for it! – Robert Webb, David Mitchell and Olivia Colman. Fearing he’d peaked too soon, he then watched as those three actors soared into the entertainment stratosphere, while Robert T was still office temping to support his writing habit.

He talked about the importance of perseverance in a writer, and the need to be always ready with a script or a brilliant idea, because you never know when opportunity might come a-knocking. For him, that was in 2008 when he came to the attention of Tony Jordan, legendary writer of Life on Mars, Hustle and East Enders. Death in Paradise was finally broadcast in 2011.

There were confessions too. Robert told us he’d never even been to the Caribbean when he wrote his first ‘uptight copper’ scripts; that he was as starstruck as any fan when he first sat in the real-life Catherine’s Bar, and his knowledge of Jeeps and Land Rovers is somewhat shakey. Finally, he owned up, like many in the audience at the Arts Centre, to getting up and shaking his booty whenever the Death in Paradise sig tune comes on.

But above all, we learnt what extremely hard work it is producing a well-loved, warm-hearted and cleverly plotted murder mystery show, even if it is set on a paradise island with weather and scenery to die for. I’m not sure we were convinced.

Robert Thorogood’s novel, The Marlow Murder Club, is out now.

If you’re a fan of Death in Paradise – and who isn’t? – the We’d Like a Word podcast with Robert, and many previous interviewees, including me, will be posted very soon.

All the fun of the (book) fair!

The first Oxford Indie Book Fair took place last Saturday at the newly revamped Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford. I was there, along with my comic novel, Note to Boy, and 50 or so authors, poets, publishers and artists. I had a great time!

The day-long fair featured book launches, talks, discussions and workshops, and entrance was free. Organisers Sylvia Vetta, Ray Foulk, James Harrison and Andy Severn – all praise to them for their hard work! – hope to make it a regular event in the Oxford calendar. I certainly hope so. It was a wonderful chance for writers and readers to meet, and to showcase a wide range of fascinating books.

Here are a few snaps. Do you think I maybe went a bit overboard with my branding?

On the gin with Mr TOAD

At last! After many, many months of delay, the gin tour to thank supporters of Note to Boy and redeem their generous pledges at last took place. An elite group of discerning palettes assembled at The Oxford Artisan Distillery – otherwise known as TOAD – on the evening of Halloween, eager and willing to be educated and inebriated. Our tour guide, the lovely Alisha, and her team succeeded in doing both.

From Alisha, we learnt the difference between a true artisan ‘grain to glass’ gin and the other sort, and were introduced to the fascinating story of how the rye, wheat and barley from which TOAD gin is made has its origins in preserved examples of ancient grains found in the bottom layers of thatched buildings hundreds of years old. We also learnt there is such a science as archaeo-botony, and the important part it played in producing the Oxford tipple.

And if I’ve got any of those details wrong, blame the six tastings we enjoyed as the story unfolded!

After the talk came the tour, when we were introduced to Nautilus and Nemo, unique copper stills who are as steampunky, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea beautiful as their names suggest.

We drank a bit, laughed a lot, and had great fun. Anyone in the Oxford area, I can recommend the TOAD experience. You don’t necessarily have to publish a novel to enjoy it.