Oscar Wilde, Jerome K Jerome and PG Wodehouse – my all time comedy heroes

My favourite comedian writing today is John Finnemore, eponymous hero of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme on Radio 4. But my all time comic heroes are Oscar Wilde (of course), Jerome K Jerome and PG Wodehouse. As luck would have it, they all have blue plaques in Chelsea, so I made it my goal this morning to visit all three on my morning run.

‘You run like an ostrich!’ my Fulani friend Hamadou used to tell me, by which I suspect he meant loping and gangly rather than able-to-reach-forty-mph. And so bright-eyed and ostrich-like I set out across Battersea Park and over Chelsea Bridge, sprinting in search of the three funnymen. At around the 5k mark I located Oscar Wilde’s plaque on Tite Street and then headed east a few blocks to find Jerome K Jerome.

I am sorry to report, I was defeated by Wodehouse’s townhouse in Knightsbridge. Rasping and gasping I staggered up the King’s Road awhile, but stopped well short of Walton Street and turned dejectedly for home.

This week the ballot result for the London Marathon comes out. I entered the ballot some weeks ago in a fit of optimism, and now have somewhat mixed feelings about it all. If I get in, my first training run next week will be a second struthionine attempt at the Three Comics run. Watch this space.

5 reasons why your wife’s Pinterest addiction is a Good Thing

80 percent of Pinterest users are women
80 percent of Pinterest users are women

Pinterest is taking over the world with pretty pictures on virtual bulletin boards, and the user demographic is mostly female. Digital crack for women was the Washington Post’s verdict. You’ve heard of football widows and Assassin’s Creed widows, but the first half of 2012 is all about the Pinterest widower. Message boards across the world groan under the weight of Pinterest complaints to the tune of: ‘my wife is addicted to Pinterest’, or ‘my girlfriend has dumped me for Pinterest’, or ‘my daughter isn’t doing her homework and it’s all the fault of Pinterest’.

Take for example this miserable fellow writing on the Disconnect blog under the heading My girlfriend is addicted to Pinterest:

I don’t know when Jen found Pinterest, but I first noticed close to Christmas when I realized we hadn’t spoken to each other in about two weeks. We lived together. We ate together. We worked together. But it was clear that I was no longer the apple of her eye. All of her time was spent pinning. If you don’t know what Pinterest is, good for you. No good can come of it.

It’s time to redress the balance. While your lady lovingly tends her Pinterest boards, you can console yourself with these 5 reasons why her Pinterest addiction is a Good Thing.

  1. Gift ideas for you
    Never be stuck for a birthday present or stocking-filler again. By lurking on your wife’s pinterest board you can learn all you ever wanted to know about her secret wishes. BPE (Before Pinterest Era) I would never have known that Charlie hankered after an organic cotton teatowel printed with a seasonal guide to British Fruit and Veg
  2. Craft ideas for her
    Craft is all about spending lots of time making something that you could have bought for less. Or is it? When we move house next month, we won’t be buying lampshades. This Spring, we will be making lampshades out of lace doilies. Ha. And Charlie will be hanging her earrings on a cheesgrater. Meanwhile, Kirsty in New Zealand has gone one step further, doing one Pinterest-inspired craft-or-cooking project every day for a year.
  3. A Boost for the Family Business
    Pinterest guides more traffic to your website than Twitter, and it’s better quality traffic because the mouseclickers are genuinely interested in your product. Visitors to Jamshop (spread the love with fairly traded products made by hand in Burkina Faso, ahem) have trebled since Charlie got pinterested in Pinterest.
  4. Free Rein with the TV Remote
    “Charlie, I was hoping to watch ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend’ tonight, but would you rather watch ‘The Voice’?”
    “I don’t mind, so long as I can watch TV and work on my Gorgeous Cushions Pinterest board at the same time.”
    “Okay.”
  5. Curb your spending
    Recently spotted on Charlie’s Horsey pinboard. “Oh Hermès. We can’t afford your $3275 Steeple bag with riding crop handle. We’ll just have to do with pinning it instead.” Those who have criticized Pinterest for encouraging greed and consumerism are missing the point. Beauty is God-given, and pointing out beauty in the world around us is an important part of being human. Aloysa pointed out a couple weeks ago that Pinterest does not lead to mindless spending. Quite the reverse, it leads to more focussed and deliberate spending. In this interesting blog post, she explains why Pinterest is a good substitution for retail therapy.

If those 5 reasons aren’t enough for you, here’s one last one. Occasionally, just occasionally, your wife will unearth something on Pinterest that will knock your socks off. Seeing these sheep sculptures made from retro telephones has absolutely made my day.

Isn’t it time you introduced your wife to Pinterest?

Nigel’s song

My favourite animated film by a loooong way is Rio, and my favourite character is the wonderfully psychopathic sulphur-crested cockatoo Nigel. In a former life Nigel was a television star with his own show, but then he was replaced by a parakeet. Scarred by the experience and fuelled by his hatred of parakeets in particular and exotic birds in general, Nigel is the most menacing screen villain since Cruella de Vil.

The most memorable scene in the film for me is Nigel’s song ‘Pretty Bird’ where he raps his hard-luck story to a backing track of terrified exotic birds. If you’ve never seen RIO, check this out. The rhymes are top notch!

Why there are no zombies in OUTLAW

I wrote OUTLAW in Chichester Library during my sabbatical year in the UK. The library is within slingshot distance of Waterstones, so I used to go there on my lunch break and pore over newly published fiction. During one such lunch break I leafed through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, looking at the pictures and chuckling and wishing that Outlaw had more zombies in it. Or any, for that matter.

As I walked back to the library that day my mind was spinning. Perhaps it’s not too late, I thought. Perhaps I could introduce some zombies in my novel without breaking the plot. Cram them in, shoehorn them in, Ctrl-v them in by the bucket load – then sit back and inform my publisher that they will need to find an African zombie illustrator. No, two African zombie illustrators – one for the cover, one for the innards.

My favourite motivational book is Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. She devotes several chapters to describing how you need to give your left brain permission to think wildly and freely, and how you should not let your right brain jump in too fast with a No-no-no-it’ll-never-work. Good advice, right up until the moment your left brain suggests parachuting a regiment of zombies into your work-in-progress. When this happens, there is only one course of action: extract your left brain, pulverize it and dance on the remains with hobnailed boots. Which I did, right there in the library foyer.

Right brain thought it had won, of course, and over the next few days it was even more obnoxious than usual. So imagine right brain’s confusion the following week when the following happened: I was sitting at my computer reading about Mungo Park (a famous Scottish explorer of West Africa who features several times in Outlaw) and came upon this webpage explaining that there was a mystery surrounding Park’s disappearance in the heart of Africa. Not just a mystery, but a zombie mystery:

Park’s disappearance was big news back in England, where the public had developed a fascination with explorations in Africa. A rescue mission was quickly put together under the direction of Africa Society director Joseph Langley. Langley and his team traced Park’s route, sailing up the Gambia and crossing the jungle to get to the Niger.

At the end of the second day on the river, the team paddled around a bend and laid eyes on the legendary city of Tellem. In his 1808 account of the mission, Dark River, Langley recalls his team’s disappointment upon finding that, far from being a city of gold, Tellem was a small village constructed of mud. As the team drifted closer, they saw dozens of Africans emerging from their homes and walking towards them with a peculiar, stiff-legged gait. In his account of the trip, Langley remembers being initially heartened by the sight of the villagers: “They wore brightly-coloured garments and the broadest of smiles.” But as he got closer, Langley realized that what he had mistaken for smiles were actually the grimaces of flesh-hungry zombies: the entire village had been transformed. Langley ordered an immediate retreat, but the canoes became swamped in the rapids. As the voracious zombies waded into the river, Langley was swept into the current and carried several miles downriver. He eventually reached a friendly village; the villagers took him to the mouth of the Niger, where he was picked up by a British ship.

Though Langley had gone further into Africa than any white man before him, he found himself the subject of scorn upon his return to London, where his zombie story was derided as a self-serving excuse for a failure in leadership. However, later accounts from the Asante tribes of East Africa lent support to Langley’s account. Denkyira, the Asante king, informed the English garrison in Gambia that he had led a raid on Tellem and destroyed many zombies, including several white men. The king presented the garrison commander with the clothes and personal effects of these men. Among the items was Park’s diary, with its ominous last entry: “Tomorrow, we should reach Tellem, a city that has haunted my dreams since I was a child. I cannot sleep for the excitement.”

I minimized Opera, maximized Open Office, and started rewriting Outlaw. My heart was pounding. Sparks flew off the keyboard. The zombie mystery surrounding the death of Mungo Park would become the central feature of my reworked plot, providing a dose of horror and a whole barrel of Zeitgeist. The story arc would be exquisite. The teenage protagonist’s journey would bring him inexorably closer to Tellem, the location of Park’s disappearance. Fleeting encounters with zombies on the road would prepare the way for a full blown battle in the final pages, culminating of course in a thrilling duel: African Zombie King versus African Robin Hood, no holds barred, to the death.

As I went to bed that night, I even had a title for my surefire bestseller: ZOMBIES VERSUS OUTLAWS.

It was so very nearly perfect. But then in the dead of night I was woken by a thought even more chilling than the zombies I had been imagining: What would Hemingway say?

The curse of the Hardcore Hemingway Fanboy (HHF) is that whenever HHF sits down to write, Hemingway stands close behind the right shoulder, gurning, tutting, smoking and being raucously and unapproachably brilliant. He comes to you even in your dreams where you think you are safe, bearing down on you to dispense pithy advice littered with #writetips and #writequote hashtags (for even as a figment of a literary imagination, Ernest is keen to move with the times).

Before he got very far into his rant, it was clear that the great man was not keen on ZOMBIE VERSUS OUTLAW. He sneered so much that his upper lip actually touched his nose. Then he drew himself up to his full height and said what he always says to young writers:

Write when there is something you know, and not before.

Forget posterity. Think only of writing truly.

Write as well as you can with no eye on the market.

Know what to leave out.

Which is not to say that no one should write zombies. He or she who knows zombies must write zombies. But it was time to face facts – I do not know my zombies. I’ve never even seen Dawn of the Dead.

The next day, the WIP was retitled Outlaw and the Tellem zombies were banished forever. The Zombie King grinned, shrugged and waded stiff-legged into the River Niger, closely followed by my chances of fame and fortune. But at least Ernest was grimly satisfied. And the silver lining, which he himself discovered as a young writer in Paris in the twenties, is this: The pictures in the art galleries always look better when you’re hungry.