Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Off the Shelf at Black's

Yesterday David Nobbs and I were invited to speak at a workshop on comic writing. David is probably best known in the UK as the creator of Reggie Perrin. He is the author of nineteen books as well as numerous shows, scripts and sketches for TV and radio. It was an honour to share the stage with him. He has had a long, interesting career which is still ongoing. Most recently he wrote and presented With Nobbs On for Radio 4 and appeared in Sex and the Sitcom on BBC Four. He had finished writing his nineteenth novel only two days before we met. David is on Twitter here if you'd like to follow him.

David read from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and from his new novel, The Fall and Rise of Gordon Coppinger, which will be published in April next year. I read excerpts from Alison Wonderland and Being Light, and from my new book, Invitation to Die. We answered questions about our writing process and listened to excerpts of work in progress from some of the workshop attendees.

The workshop was part of Off the Shelf, the Writers' Guild development programme for writers which is being run with Fiction Uncovered and hosted by Jan Woolf. The series will resume next September.

There will be a podcast of the readings that David and I gave, and the Q&A session that followed, although there may have to be a little editing at the beginning to make it coherent. The workshop was held in the upstairs drawing room at Black's, a private members' club that has its home in a tall, narrow, eccentrically-furnished Georgian townhouse in Soho. Just after I had got up to speak, there was a kerfuffle as a member of the audience fell to the floor in front of me.

I had begun by talking about my first novel, Alison Wonderland, which was published to critical acclaim in the UK many years ago and then went out of print, and then did very well in America last year when it was picked up and published there by AmazonEncore. People are usually pleased for me when I tell them about it. They nod and smile. Or they might say, 'Oh, that's nice.' Or they 'like' my posts about it on Facebook. I had never before had anyone hurl themselves off their chair to prostrate themselves at my feet.

It transpired, of course, that the man in the audience yesterday was not reacting to news of my book's success in America. The workshop was sold out and every chair was taken in the room. This man had found himself a velvet-upholstered piano stool to sit on, but one of the legs suddenly slipped four inches down a hole in the floorboard, tipping him off his seat. The leg of the stool remained wedged down the hole for about three or four minutes, despite the best efforts of half a dozen people who gathered round to help. A few muttered, half-heartedly, about comedy happening right in front of us. But nobody laughed.

Perhaps I ought to have used the opportunity to riff amusingly on the man's predicament, knowing that all of it was being professionally recorded for the podcast. But I just said, 'Oh dear,' and 'Is he all right?' and stood there po-faced and awkward (and mentally cutting some of the material I had planned to use so we didn't go over time) until the stool was righted and the man was set upon it again, at which point I began to read a passage from my book about the main character's visit to Tooting Bec Lido. I know you're wondering about it so I'm pleased to be able to tell you that the man on the stool recovered completely and made some very useful contributions to the afternoon session. And the rest of the workshop went very well.

Until the podcast is available, you may be interested to read about the worst pieces of writing advice that some of my fellow writers have ever received - they will be posting about them over at the New Wave Authors site. My contributions to the site so far have been to liken myself to an angry pig breeder and post a video of myself telling a humorous story. When there are half a dozen posts up about all the ridiculous advice given to writers, I'll probably head over there and post a link to the podcast, so people can listen to me giving more of it. Most of the other members of the site are in America (though one is in Glasgow) so if I seem out of step with everyone else posting there, I can always attribute it to the time difference.

If you came along to the workshop yesterday, thank you! It was great to see you. The excerpts of work in progress were great. Good luck with them. I mentioned that my daughter and I have recently started an online detective agency to investigate mysteries, anomalies and wonders. Here's the latest post. Apparently my friend's daughter has been receiving celestial secrets via a radiator in their house in the Isle of Wight. It's not supposed to be funny. We take it quite seriously.

If you want to buy a copy of one of my books, please ask for them in your local bookshop or find them online here.