Helen Lederer is best known for her role as dippy Catriona in Absolutely Fabulous as well as creating the ‘Girl at the Bar’ in Naked Video. Her debut comedy novel Losing It (Sunday Express best new novels for women) was shortlisted for the PG Woodhouse Comedy Literary Prize as well as The Edinburgh First Book Award 2015.
‘Desperately funny, desperately engaging, desperately readable and desperately adorable.’ Stephen Fry
‘A brilliant creation: scene after scene of blissful agony: savagely funny and I couldn’t put it down.’ Joanna Lumley
We asked Helen about her literary influences.
Reading other people’s work has become a bit tricky lately. Why? I hear you ask? Have I mislaid my tenth pair of readers again (2.5 and rising…)? I hear you ask? no, I find ten pairs ample – but ever since I added my own offering of a female comedy novel to the canvas of books (which happens to be the least commercial genre of all marketable genres – bitter? moi?) I’ve become rather too watchful of the market place to let go and enjoy other people’s works without bias.
(Note: I’ve banned the words ‘bitter, competitive and mean’ in this piece – out of respect to this marvellously, generous hearted website) So let us replace with words such as ‘curious, impressed and monetarily surprised’ instead.
But how do some books get published while others get placed on the rejection pile and quietly die…? Alas, I’ve not been introduced to that guru, techno savvy, book doctor/PR specialist, who could perhaps turn a description of my old school plimsoles into a best seller before becoming a touring musical for the British council…yet.
So, instead of vexing over the latest publishing coups and extremities – I’d like to share the more celebratory literary joys that have excited, incited and comforted me in the past ….
I’d like to revisit, if I may, the early joy of finding meaning in that first delicious, delving of the written word:
It began aged seven. Curled up on the sofa with a large slab of French nougat and a copy of a Bunty comic (both from the corner shop) …I devoured the ‘Four Mary’s’ page in a heightened state of a sugar rush and imagination over thrill. What would they get up to next? How would these feisty girls combine to conquer injustice and what did their loyal friendship say about the world? This was followed closely by Enid Blyton’s’ intrepid ‘Darrel Rivers at Malory Towers’ – where the same sense of justice inspired me to want to conquer the world as well – or at least have a go…albeit as a small fat person, in a navy-blue school uniform…
And then came the swot stuff – where quotes from ‘Catcher in the rye’ or ‘Women in love’ had to take precedence over the author’s meaning. Needs must…but thankfully, much later came the freedom to choose how to lose myself in a book …
In my late teens, I had a passion for anything around the second world war- Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh – whose satirical conspiracies inside British institutions appealed to the ‘outsider’ in me. Weren’t we all outsiders aged 19? And then, thankfully, to balance (a little) my affection for male commentary and authorship, I discovered Muriel Spark. Her economy with words, as well as a caustic female wit was a welcome dream. And, I mean who doesn’t like a neat novella to take on holiday? Her ‘Girls of slender Means’ provided me with a witty plot, without much kindness and a heavy dose of farce. Perfect!
But then I got into the very male and politicly subversive ‘Conscious of the rich’ by C P snow – way ahead of its time with the nepotistic ramifications of power. This was followed by another game changer with Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s complaint’. Happily, I’d discovered “one of the dirtiest books ever published”, which helped Roth get noticed in a new (rude) way …all rather wonderful to me. “Enough being a nice Jewish boy, publicly pleasing my parents while privately pulling my putz!” He would say from the analyst’s couch – hence inspiring my generation to rebel and reject their past…
More recently I admit to a more visceral laugh out loud reaction in David Nicholls’ ‘Starter for ten’. You’ve simply got to read the bit where the parents have breakfast in the nude…It’s modern, unforgiving and with an effortless wit which is all too rare in modern novels but … erhem… still male. On the other hand, I’ve been honest with you – these are the male authors whose books influenced me most when I was young (apart from Enid) and still sit on my shelf. I can also I also cite great memories from Margaret Drabble, Erica Jong, Germaine Greer, India knight, Caitlin Moran – it’s just that growing up – these other books were in my top five …
But then halleluiah! just a few weeks ago, I finally fell in love with the narrative voice of Carrie Fisher. Where have I been? And how sad that the discovery came just before her untimely death. (and I’ve not even seen Star Wars…) The wit screaming from every page of ‘The Princess Diaries’ is awash with edgy hysteria and I couldn’t put it down.
So the good news is that a discovery of a new author is always a possibility for any one of us – and this pleasure is outside the arena of book marketing tampering or coveting that promotional Graham Norton TV sofa pressure thing…
(Actually, I only got invited onto to his radio show with my book ‘Losing it’ but I’m happy with that – if I’m allowed to boast here. Too late – just have. http://helenledererblog.tumblr.com/post/150029270598/merry-radio-bits-showing-off-with-graham-norton)
And PS if anyone can explain how a book about ‘clean eating, in a leotard’ can top the best seller list – then you get a free copy of ‘Losing it’ (CONT/)
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