Note to Boy an award winner!

Not quite the Oscars but Note to Boy has won an award! My comic novel has been named a Runner-Up in the prestigious 2021 PenCraft Book Awards, in the Fiction – Humo(u)r category.

The PenCraft Book Awards’ Competition is an annual event which aims to foster the promotion of new authors and books to the reading public. It was set up five years ago and the 5th Annual PenCraft Book Awards Ceremony will be held as a virtual event, date to be announced soon.

And here’s the announcement!

Oxford Indie Book Fair – save the date!

The first ever Oxford Independent Book Fair will take place on Saturday 6th November. I’ll be there, along with my book and 50 other authors, artists and publishers.

Entrance is free, so please do come along, meet some writers, enjoy the day-long programme of talks and performances, and maybe buy a book or three. I look forward to seeing you.

Oxford Independent Book Fair. Wesley Memorial Hall, Oxford OX1 2DH. Saturday 6th November.

Even toothache couldn’t keep me away!

The weather people were forecasting a thunderstorm; the card reader was refusing to co-operate; and a dental appointment had left me on painkillers, with one hamster cheek and a rapidly blooming bruise. What else could go wrong with my talk at Abingdon Library, the library’s first live event since you-know-what?

Nothing, as it turned out. Or, at least …. I’ll come back to that. In the event, by the evening of 9th September the weather had calmed down, my Elephant Woman look had subsided, and the wonderful library staff swiftly found a way round the whole card reader issue.

Awaiting our author!

In fact, I can’t speak for everyone else but for me the whole evening was a treat. It was so good to meet people in the flesh, so to speak. There was a decent turnout: some loyal friends, plus a gratifying number of new faces, all of them friendly, I’m happy to report. People listened attentively to my rambling thoughts on writing, publishing and promoting a comic novel, as well as memories of my days as a comedy scriptwriter for BBC radio and television. They laughed in the appropriate places when I read a short extract and asked thought-provoking questions that were within my ability to answer at the end. And afterwards I signed copies. Even the wine was excellent. Phew!

Even the wine was excellent!

So thank you, Abingdon Library, especially Jessica Williams and Jane Dulieu, for entrusting me with the honour of kicking off your new season of live events. Thank you to the award-winning Mostly Books for supplying copies of Note to Boy, especially Jack for doing his best with that pesky card reader link. Most of all, thank you to everyone who attended.

And that final thing to go wrong? I don’t have any photographs of me in full flow. The ones here were taken by me beforehand. But take it from me, I looked super glam and was hilarious, the packed room was in stitches, and everyone had the best time.

If you’re connected to an Oxfordshire library and would like me to come along and talk to you about me and Note to Boy, please do get in touch via this website. I’ll try to remember the photos next time!

Author event at Abingdon library

At last library events are happening again! I’m delighted to say I will be at Abingdon Library on Thursday 9th September at 6pm, talking about Note to Boy, reading an extract from it, and revealing something of my shady past as a BBC TV and radio scriptwriter, as well as signing books. Please join us. Tickets are a snip at £2 (including wine or a soft drink) and available either from the library counter or by telephoning 01235 520374.

More info here.

See you there!

Father’s Day and other ‘special’ days

Got the single malt, the Robert Harris novel and the card? I hope so, because tomorrow (Sunday 20th June) is Father’s Day.

This is the day when dads are compelled to have a lie-in while the kids bang about in the kitchen downstairs cremating toast, setting off the smoke alarm, and wailing until he has to descend in his jim-jams to wave the sacred tea towel in front of the alarm. At least, that used to be the annual ritual in our house.

Yes, tomorrow is a ‘special day’ – along with all the other special days throughout the year. There’s a day for everything, it seems.

Do you like milkshakes? 1st August is your special day, while back in February you could have rejoiced on Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. Trying to eat healthy? Then you’ll be eagerly anticipating Watermelon Day (3rd August) or National Caesar Salad Day (4th July, bizarrely).

Not all so-called awareness days are food-focused. You can pretty much name a thing, and there’ll be a day for it. Are you fond of putting on funny voices? International Talk Like a Pirate Day is 19th September. Are you a wannabe ornithological artist? Shame, you’ve missed Draw a Bird Day (8th April). Mourning the orphaned socks in your drawers? You could have bonded with like-minded others on Lost Sock Memorial Day (9th May).

What is bothering me is, who decides what day is allocated to what topic? Is there an international committee of the wise and wonderful who set the dates? Who sits on it? Can anyone join? Who co-ordinates the many hundreds of special days throughout the world? What happens if, say, Tooth Decay Week coincides with Suck a Sweetie Day? Or Befriend a Spider Day clashes with Arachnophobia Week? We need to be told.

Of course there are many grown-up awareness events, when worthwhile causes are recognised and given the limelight they deserve, but so many are merely thinly disguised excuses to sell us stuff. They’re not special at all, except to marketers, and mainly in the US.

There are some of which I heartily approve. Independent Bookshop Week, World Book Day, National Read a Book Day, International Literacy Day, National Libraries Week and Tell a Joke Day are thoroughly ‘good things’. And there is one very special day I shall be sure to celebrate when it comes around. It falls next on 16th January 2022. Quite a long time to wait for those of us wanting to mark National Do Nothing Day!

‘Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist’ says Kirkus Reviews

Wonderful news! Kirkus Reviews, the prestigious American book review magazine, having taken a gander at Note to Boy, liked what it found. Putting authorly modesty aside for a moment, here are a few extracts. Or you can read the full review here.

“A funny, immersive portrait” – Kirkus Reviews

Summing up the story as ‘A teenager becomes the scribe of a former fashion icon’, Kirkus Reviews goes on to say ‘Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist, alternating from the working-class vernacular of Bradley to the posh theatricality of Eloise with each chapter.’ Never been called a ventriloquist before, but I have to say I like it!

“A pleasure all the way through” – Kirkus Reviews

Later on, the reviewer comments, ‘The characters are richly drawn and readers will quickly become invested in the odd couple, as individuals and as friends.’ And ends with, ‘The story is a pleasure all the way through. A funny, immersive portrait of an unusual working relationship.’

What’s especially pleasing to me is that the anonymous reviewer is, I presume, American. I’m never sure how well British humour – especially mine – travels. Judging by this review from an organisation with such a respected name in the international publishing business, it seems readers both sides of the Atlantic find something to laugh at in the adventures of Bradley and Eloise.

Thank you Kirkus Reviews reviewer, whoever and wherever you are.

Note to Boy is available from this website, bookshop.org, amazon, and lovely independent bookshops up and down the country.

Birthmark Awareness Day

***BEWARE HERE BE SPOILERS!***

Saturday May 15 2021 is Vascular Birthmark Awareness Day. Did you know that? Because I didn’t.

No wonder. Birthmarks are not something people talk about. More particularly, they’re not often depicted in films, TV shows and novels. Why then, did I decide to give Bradley McCreedy, the younger of the two heroes in Note to Boy, a birthmark on his face?

It was an instinctive decision. At the time, I was simply looking for something that would increase Bradley’s feelings of isolation and resentment. Nothing deeper than that. Note to Boy is, after all, meant to be a comic novel that entertains, not an issue-driven tale. But then the idea grew to be more significant and central to the story and to his character.

Birthmarks are very common, I’ve learnt. More than ten per cent of babies have one of some sort or another. And they come in many kinds, shapes, sizes and colours. Bradley’s is a haemangioma, usually known as a strawberry birthmark, above his left eye. It bothers him. Or rather, how people react to it bothers him.

“Don’t know what gives me the most aggravation: the gawpers, the smart-arses, or the head-on-one-side, sad-faced do-gooders.

If you’ve read Note to Boy, you’ll know that this is, at its heart, a story of redemption through an unlikely friendship. In his rough-and-ready way, Bradley rescues Eloise. In her batty way, she rescues him. By the end of the book, he’s grown into his own skin. And that includes his birthmark.

“And while they’re firing their questions at me, do they talk to the place just above my left eyebrow? And while they think I’m not looking, do they cop a sneaky gawp at the thing on my face? Truth is, I’m that busy, I can’t say as I notice.”

So on Vascular Birthmark Awareness Day, it’s good to remember that we’re all a lot more than what can be seen on the outside. More than a birthmark.

Don’t look at me! I know nothing!

Every writer from Elmore Leonard (“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ for dialogue”) to Will Self (“that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure … will never, ever leave you”) and Margaret Attwood (“Do back exercises. Pain is distracting”) has come up with a list of tips for writers.

They make for interesting, if conflicting, reading. However, I prefer the William Goldman take on the creative process (“Nobody knows anything”).

Having said that, here’s my list!

WHEN YOU’RE WRITING

Don’t faff about. When you’re writing, write! Otherwise known as the ‘apply bum to seat’ rule. You can do courses, join Facebook Groups, Tweet and Insta your little hearts out, but never forget your ultimate goal: finish writing your goddam book!

Be prepared to lose sleep. I don’t mean metaphorically (though, that too). I mean actually hours in bed. Though you can snatch short periods to create your masterpiece, at some stage you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of time to revise it as a whole. If you have a job, a family and anything resembling a normal life, this will mean staying up all night every now and then. Just tell everyone not to talk to you the following day!

Show your work to people you trust. Listen to what they say, but with half an ear. Don’t let yourself be pulled hither and yon by conflicting comments. Who was it who said, if several people point out the same flaw in your book, they’re most probably right. If they then go on to suggest exactly what you should do to correct it, they’re most probably wrong. 

Accept that at some point you’ll fall out of love with your book. That doesn’t matter. Writing a book is like knitting a cardigan. If it starts to go wrong, you can unpick a few rows or the whole bally sleeve if necessary. If you keep unravelling and reknitting, eventually, with luck and a fair wind, that saggy, shapeless thing that doesn’t quite fit together will be transformed into a smart cardie you’ll be proud to show off. (Might have overdone the knitting analogy here. Never mind, I’ll tone it down in the rewrite.)

AFTER YOU’RE (FINGERS CROSSED) PUBLISHED

Never pop into town in your oldest gardening clothes with a small and hungry child in tow, and pause briefly outside your local bookshop. The friendly bookseller – who you’ve been chatting up these past months in preparation for publication – is bound to spot you and invite you in. There, wild-haired, muddy and in rags, with a wailing child tugging at your sleeve, you’ll have to endure the pitying stares of the other customers. “I knew it,” they’ll say behind their hands. “No good ever came of being a writer.”

SIGNINGS

Carry a smart pen at all times. Not a chewed-up old thing that leaks ink. In all probability you’ll never need it, but if someone should ask you to sign your book, you don’t want to hand back a smudgy mess.

For goodness’ sake, learn to spell your own name. Yes, really! Practice a nice, big, confident signature because, if you make a mistake, it’s costly and wasteful, not to mention embarrassing. You’d think it would be difficult to mis-spell Sue Clark, wouldn’t you? I’m here to tell you it’s all too easy. It’s Santa Sebag Montefiore and Gabriel Garcia Marquez I feel sorry for.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Don’t get obsessed with social media. Try not to check them excessively. By which I mean, not more than seven or eight times a day.

No-one cares about your book as much as you do. It may come as a shock but it’s true. Find other topics to talk, post, blog and tweet about. “Buy my book, please?” is not a compelling message.

BE NICE

Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice to absolutely everyone you’ve ever met, either in person or online, no matter how tenuous (or volatile) your relationship with them. You never know. You can get back at them later, when your book is a best seller. 

In fact, stay positive in public at all times, whatever the setbacks and criticisms. Sobbing into your pillow in the privacy of your bedroom is, however, permitted.

REVIEWS

Review books you read. What comes around, goes around, after all. But do it with kindness. Every book you read – even a crappy one – is the result of someone spending hours at a keyboard, exposing their innermost thoughts and feelings. I’m not including off-the-telly or royal writers here. Obvs! They can manage without our two penn’orth.

Don’t let bad reviews get to you. Ha! What am I saying? Of course, trolls will upset you. They’re dissing your beloved! No-one would blame you for striking back with every insult in your vocabulary. But keep your dark thoughts to yourself. Seethe inwardly. As Kipling so nearly said, ‘If you can meet with five-star reviewers and stinkers, and treat those two imposters just the same … you’ll be a proper writer, my bro.” 

Finally, always remember. Nobody knows anything!

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!

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