Tag Archives: publishing

The authors of “Mission Most Fowl” on comedy, publishing and their duck army

John Ryan (left) and Darren Hasler-Stott

Yesterday’s blog was a chat about the new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott. 

‘Ryan Hasler-Stott’ is actually two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and electrician Darren Hasler-Stott…

The chat continues here…


ME (TO DARREN): So you’re still an electrician?

JOHN RYAN: He’s also a musician. 

DARREN: I used to be in a band. A bit of piano. Sang quite a lot. A sort of rock band. Singer-songwriter thing. It was a long time ago.

JOHN RYAN: Thing is Darren’s like a lot of people; like how I was.

He’s a guy with a regular job. He’s very creative. And where I differed was – with his support and others’ support – I went from the regular job and took the plunge. Whereas most people never take the plunge. So I kind of dragged him a bit to go with his creativity. We’ve just come at it from different angles.

ME (TO JOHN RYAN): You don’t totally play comedy clubs. You do the cruises… This is your 20th year entertaining on the cruise ships?

JOHN RYAN: Yeah. And I’ve done the military. Went out to Afghanistan to entertain the troops. Went all round the Middle East. I’ve done police conferences, prison projects – won an award – Best Documentary at the Scottish Film Festival. I’ve done a women’s prison – tough gig.

ME: …and, during the Covid Lockdown…

JOHN RYAN: My income went down about 85%. It will slowly come back. But you know, on the circuit now, headlining is about £50, £60. Whereas, ten years ago, it was £200, £250. It’s just that the power dynamic has changed completely. You’ve got a lot of promoters filling rooms up with 200, 300 punters, charging them £15 each and paying the acts £100. 

You’ve got so many comedy courses now, just churning out hundreds of comedians, which kind of lowers the base price that people will pay. And they just live off people’s dreams basically. Whereas before there was a career path. 

“Back then… you were a career comedian: well looked-after…”

Back then, if you were with the Jongleurs circuit, you were a career comedian: well looked-after, well paid, hotels, everything. Now there’s no Jongleurs. The Glee has stepped up a bit; Hot Water in Liverpool has stepped up a bit; Alan Anderson’s gigs have stepped up.

But, other than that, it’s hard to get weekends or regular work. 

ME: I don’t know Hot Water.

JOHN RYAN: They’re basically in Liverpool and they have come up with a new business model. They’re building a 700 seater. I’ve never worked for them, but they’re packing them out. They’re going up on the energy They’re on podcasts, social media, they do gigs, touring shows. Rather than going It’s Saturday night, people pay to come in and have a laugh tonight, they’re more about seven days a week and corporate stuff an all. The North West of England is the home of comedy in the UK at the moment.

ME: Why?

JOHN RYAN: I think a hungry dynamic. 

ME: I suppose Media City in Manchester might help.

JOHN RYAN: And the same with Scotland. There’s a nice little circuit up in Scotland.

ME: London’s still important, though.

JOHN RYAN: Well, again, you see down here is where you’ll meet people. Whereas maybe when I started we gigged to get gigs, now you meet people who have half a dozen gigs and they’ve got a CV and a lot of a management. Very driven. Very much like America.

ME: Traditionally, people went to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe to be spotted by industry people from London and…

JOHN RYAN: But, getting back to our book, we see it as one of seven.

ME: Is that because it’s a lucky number? Or something to do with Harry Potter?

It’s a lucky number? Or something to do with Harry Potter?

JOHN RYAN: Number 7. Eric Cantona. (LAUGHS)

ME: What age is your book aimed at?

JOHN RYAN: I guess for the young and the young at heart. I guess 10 upwards. It’s all about understanding that there’s mischief. There’s characters. They argue with each other. But they gotta get home in time for tea. Not going to get hurt.

ME: Could that not be boring?

JOHN RYAN: Doesn’t have to be. Kids nowadays – all this whole shoot-em-up and violence… There IS violence in there.

ME: Aren’t all stories about confrontations? Confronting situations or people.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah, it’s very confrontational.

ME: There’s a villain?

DARREN: Several villains. The main villain in the first book is a guy called General Thwackeray who’s the leader of the ducks. Then, in the other books, there’ll be other villains. 

Part of the action is set around the annual Eggs Factor competition, where the ducks have a talent show. So there’s a lot of side silliness going on. There’s a paddle maker who becomes a reluctant duck hero. All he wants is some cracked corn but he keeps finding himself at the front of all the duck activity purely by chance and continually gets promoted. But all he wants is to settle down.

ME: It’s selling well to kids?

JOHN RYAN: Most of the people who’ve bought it seem to be adults. 

DARREN: They love it. And a few people in Sweden for some reason.

ME: When was it actually published?

JOHN RYAN: July 7th this year?

ME: Self-published?

JOHN RYAN: I spoke to two publishers who liked it and they were very interested and offered us the glorious sum of 7%. Net. So I said, “Okay, and do we do anything?” 

They said: “You do your publicity, your PR, your marketing.” 

ME: They weren’t going to do anything themselves?

Traditional publishing is not a green and pleasant land… (Image by Mystic Art Design via Pixabay)

JOHN RYAN:  No. Not until it gained traction. And we’re talking established publishers. So we thought: We’ll self-publish, get some traction. We’ve got a couple of animation production companies sniffing around with a view to turn it into… Well, we would like it to be a feature film. Maybe a TV series, but it lends itself very much to film because each character has a backstory. 

Because of the nature of it, because it’s comedic, no one’s allowed to get killed. So we’ve got a team of superheroes who don’t kill anyone.

The main thing about the story though, is that it’s a stand-alone. There will be seven stand-alone stories. The next one basically involves a couple of penguins. They are childless and they find what they think is an egg. They think it’s an egg – a gift from heaven – because it fell from the sky. But it’s actually a nuclear timer.

ME: Have you got an elevator pitch?

JOHN RYAN: We have a mighty duck army hell-bent on taking over the world. The only thing standing between them and world domination are a team of…

DARREN: …misfits.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah. Wind in the Willows meets Dad’s Army,.. 

ME: The Dirty Dozen with ducks?

JOHN RYAN: It’s a harmeless, mischievious adventure of what we would have seen on Saturday morning cinema back in the day. It’s basically about how you overcome obstacles by working together. Just a glorious romp.

ME: …with ducks.

JOHN RYAN: With ducks and crazy characters. And badgers.

DARREN: Yeah. Badgers are like…

JOHN RYAN: …jobsworths.

DARREN: They know all the rules.

JOHN RYAN: They issue the permits.

DARREN: Our four genetically-modified characters are our superheroes and then Waldo, who’s a bee, they kind of pick-up along the way.

JOHN RYAN: He’s basically been kicked out of his hive for being annoying.

ME: Is he based on anyone?

JOHN RYAN: Sort of loosely based on us, really… Me. An annoying, buzzing feller. 

ME: Oh, come on now!

JOHN RYAN: The thing is I don’t socialise with comics. My social network is mostly people like Darren, who are what you could call ‘real people’.

It’s an interesting game I challenge all comics to do. Go through your WhatsApp messages, look at the last 5 or 10 people you’ve contacted. See how many are NOT comedians. Because then you’ll see where your friends are. I think you have to maintain your feet in the real world. Most comedians live in an abstract world surrounded and reinforced by other comics. Consequently, they don’t understand why they can offend or upset people.

We are all about inclusivity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Publishing

A surreal book about a duck army written by a non-existent author

“Mankind has gone. There is now a fierce Duck Army that is determined to take over the world…”

That’s the pitch for a new children’s book Tag Tinsel – A Mission Most Fowl by a non-existent author, Ryan Hasler-Stott.

In fact, Ryan Hasler-Stott is two people – comedy person and Teletubbies insert director John Ryan and Darren Hasler-Stott, of whom more below.

So I talked to them…

John Ryan (left) with Darren Hasler-Stott


ME: Why did you write a children’s book? Because it’s commercial?

JOHN RYAN: No, because we’re both big kids.

ME (TO JOHN RYAN): I talked to you for a blog in July 2021 and you were just about to publish A Mission Most Fowl back then. That was over a year ago.

JOHN RYAN: I think we got a bit distracted. We built an extension. Covid Lockdown happened. My work went. Darren’s work went. He’s an electrician. I wanted to get a new bathroom. Darren is the go-to guy with ideas.

ME: You wanted an electric bathroom?

JOHN RYAN: We got carried away. It started with the bathroom and spiralled. Before we knew it, we were driving diggers round the back garden, digging holes.

ME: Hold on! He’s an electrician; you wanted a bathroom. Electricity and water… Not compatible.

JOHN RYAN: Electricity and water both involve currents.

ME: You have a point.

JOHN RYAN: We wanted to publish a book and build an extension. What I’m saying is we’re not limited by imagination. 

ME: This doesn’t explain the year-long gap in publishing the book.

JOHN RYAN: Darren likes to do things properly. 

Book published with more details HERE

ME: It was just going to be called A Mission Most Fowl. Why is it now called Tag Tinsel: A Mission Most Fowl? What does that even mean?

DARREN: The main character used to have a label attached to him – a tag. Tinsel was the name they gave him. You just put the two together.

ME: The two of you met on a writing course in 1999. Why did you need a writing course? It’s just going to teach you bad rules. There are no rules. 

DARREN: I think it taught us everything we did NOT want to be or do really.

ME: It taught you what you did not want to write?

JOHN RYAN: There were a lot of people there who wrote traditional stories. Boy meets girl; boy loves girl; there’s a misunderstanding; it all comes right in the end. Whereas Darren’s story…

DARREN: I did a short story. Basically about a guy on the run who’s being pursued by a bloke who’s dressed as a magician. A bloke who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia for hearing voices. But basically he’s house-bound and the neighbour had a dog and, to keep the dog from getting bored, he played the radio all day – talk radio. So he’s driven mad by talk radio in isolation. 

ME: But again: Why did you need a writing course? 

JOHN RYAN: I was working for the Council and I wanted to write and someone said: “No-one’s gonna buy your writing if you work for the Council.” He said: “If you do stand-up comedy, you get to perform on TV. I didn’t want to do stand-up comedy; I just wanted to write for kids. So, literally for my birthday, I signed up to a Writing For Kids course, 

I couldn’t attend the first week because my daughter was going to be born any day. So what did they have next? They had a Creative Writing course. So I did that and met Darren. He supported me getting into stand-up. He came to all my early gigs. He’s got a great sense of humour.

ME: Whose is it?

JOHN RYAN: Terry Pratchett. Very much.

ME: So what’s your own sense of humour?

JOHN RYAN: More Billy Connolly.

ME: So Ryan’s a fantasist and you are an anecdotalist?

JOHN RYAN: Well, I have an observational eye. So, consequently, the Mission Most Fowl story then evolved from a traditional Good v Evil set-up and, along the way, Darren’s kind of Pratchettesque brain came up with ideas that my brain doesn’t even consider. There are a lot of weapons made from unusual objects.

Organic weaponry, exploding fruit… and ducks

DARREN: Organic weaponry. Exploding fruit, an organic supercomputer called MAD – Mission Accessory Device – a MAD computer. 

ME: You and Darren met 22 years ago and it’s taken you this long to decide you wanted to write together? 

JOHN RYAN: Well, no, over the years, when I’ve had ideas for stand-up, I’d run the ideas past him. So we spent a lot of time building an extension, laughing and going: “Here’s an idea!” 

ME: And the plot is…?

JOHN RYAN: Basically, there is a mighty duck army who want to take over the planet. The humans have left Earth. And the only thing between them and all the technology that Man left behind is our team of superheroes who live in a cave. So, to draw them out the cave, the ducks do outrageous things. The team will come out of the cave. And then the ducks will capture them get the technology and all will be well.

But it never quite works out like that. 

ME: They “do outrageous things”?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. So they set up incidents around the forest. They’ve got two brothers who love to dig holes. So they dig holes and set traps. But they can never remember where the holes are. Yeah, they love to dig holes. It’s what they do best. 

ME: When people write books, they’re usually based on their own lives or minds.

JOHN RYAN: I do get worried for him sometimes.

DARREN: (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN RYAN: We see this very much as a kind of Harry Potter for the 21st century.

ME: …with ducks… 

JOHN RYAN: With ducks, yeah. And, along the way, other animals… There are badgers. 

DARREN: The premise of the story is that The Darkness arrives and changes the world. The Darkness arrives. Humanity goes: “That’s it. We’ve had enough. We’re off.” So they leave the planet and the planet then returns to its default position. 

ME: Its default position?

DARREN: All the continents around the world come back together so you have one big super continent…

ME: Named…?

JOHN RYAN: Pangaea. Some animals perish in The Darkness and others go underground. Once The Darkness clears, the ducks – because there’s more of them than anything else – are gonna be in charge…

ME: You could get sued by The Darkness music group for defamation.

DARREN: We could.

JOHN RYAN: …but, prior to The Darkness, the animals were genetically engineered to work in the military by the humans. So, when the humans went, the animals that had been genetically modified bred and formed their own little cultures.

ME: CIA dolphins with bombs on their backs I can understand. How were the ducks used militarily?

JOHN RYAN: The ducks were a byproduct of it all because some birds were released that had been trained – interbred with other birds – to perform different tasks. So for example, you’d have birds that were hunters or security.

In our superhero team the cat is a psychic cat and she is an empath. The dog is a guard dog but he can breathe underwater so he patrols the rivers. The Aqua Dogs patrol the rivers. The battle chickens were bred for fighting.

ME: And the ducks…

JOHN RYAN: I’ve always had a slight fear of ducks.

ME: Because…?

“They’ve got faces.” – “Frenchmen have got faces.”

JOHN RYAN: They’ve got faces, ain’t they? 

ME: Frenchmen have got faces.

JOHN RYAN: Yeah, but they don’t live near me. You know when you used to go feed the ducks? I never liked ’em come too close to me. Never trusted ‘em. Also sexually they’re very violent. 

ME: Have you had personal experience of this?

JOHN RYAN: I have been to Fairlop Waters. And I’ve seen duck orgies.

ME: There are definitely no CIA dolphins with mines on their backs in the book?

JOHN RYAN: No.They might be in a further book. We have to get past the Yetis first. There’s a whole world of animals that…

ME: Yetis?

DARREN: That’s another book…

ME: Not Yetis…

DARREN: Each book will be a mission that the team go on. A series of missions.

ME: There’s movie potential here. Casting?

JOHN RYAN: Dawn French as a duck. There’s a bee and we see Ardal O’Hanlon playing that part.

ME: Is there a serious point too any of this? Are you sneaking philosophy into a children’s book?

JOHN RYAN: Yes. Heroes may change, but being heroic stays the same…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Children, Humor, Humour, Surreal

Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing, Sex, Television

How to mess up an Edinburgh Fringe comedy script and lose one review star

The Edinburgh Fringe Programme is published tomorrow – almost two months before the world’s biggest arts festival actually starts.

So here is my two happence on why some comedy shows will fail or will lose at least one star in reviews.

Performers have to think up their show title in around February, usually well before they have written the show and often before they have developed any ideas they have.

During the much-later writing process, they then discover what their show is actually about. This is often barely relevant to the show title.

And, even if they think they know what their show is about when they start writing, it may turn into something totally different by the time they are finished – and even further-removed from the title which they are now (because of unnecessarily-early Fringe Office deadlines) stuck with.

If they are sensible, they will preview the show a good few times in front of genuine audiences (ie NOT their friends) to see where the laughs really are. These laughter-points may be totally different to what they assumed. And the audience may be uninterested or extremely interested in parts of the show unforeseen by the performer.

This is good. Dry runs of the show are good. But there is a danger.

The comedy performer will often, perhaps usually, have written the show themselves. This is good.

If they are wonderfully creative, they will have had hundreds of ideas and sidetracks swirling through their brain as they constructed the show. This is good.

They test-run the show in front of audiences to see where the laughs are so that they can adjust the structure. This is good.

But they are comedy performers. They crave laughs. They feel in their heart, mind, body and soul that, if the audience is not laughing, they are failing as performers.

Or, more to the point, they are not having their egos boosted as they constantly require.

So, after each dry-run performance, they will tweak the structure of the show so they keep in the laughy bits and cut out the non-laughy bits. In theory this is good.

But there is that fine cliché saying: You can’t see the wood for the trees.

At the Edinburgh Fringe, people choose to go to a live stage show.

The live stage show has a title. If it is a literally attractive and very specific title, it will have drawn the audience in.

If the title bears little or no relation to the content of the show, there is a high risk of confusing or alienating the audience during the performance or, at least, distracting them.

They are sitting there thinking (even if only subconsciously):

This show is called FISHING IN GUATEMALA and there has been no mention of fishing or Guatemala so far. When is he/she going to mention it? Is all this stuff I am sitting through heading towards a story about a fish-based tourist trip which will pull all these funny but unconnected jokes/stories together?

The other danger is that, during the writing process, the performer has bunged-in and kept-in everything funny they can think of to get laughs. And, during the previews, he/she has kept in everything that gets laughs while removing everything that doesn’t get laughs. Including the linear narrative that holds the bleedin’ show together.

So, even if there was originally a single unifying idea to the show, it is now a mishmash of funny but unconnected and disconnecting 2-or-3 minute items swirling around uncontrolled within a 55 minute show.

If it is a pure ‘gag’ show a la Jimmy Carr or Tim Vine or Milton Jones, that works. Especially with those three, because they are brilliant, highly-experienced performers with total control of their content, linking and pacing.

But, if it is a show that supposedly has a subject and/or a show with a title that implies a subject but the subject is not constantly holding the show together or propelling it forward, then, dear performer, you are fucked with a very sharp stick indeed.

You will lose the audience’s concentration and you will lose – at the very least – one star in reviews.

Even at a late stage, though – like tomorrow, when the Fringe Programme is published – not all may be lost.

In 2005, the Scots comic Janey Godley wrote her autobiography, which I edited. She wrote every word. It was a single flowing narrative which could happily have had no division into chapters but, for ease of reading, it was broken into chapters.

I gave Janey advice and wrote the chapter titles. She wrote 100% of the text of the book.

We had both suggested titles for the book to the publishers. Some were random thoughts which might lead to other thoughts.

One of these was Handstands in the Dark because, during her very very dark childhood, Janey would do handstands, sometimes without the room light on.

The publisher liked the counterpoint of the happy handstands and the darkness of her life and insisted on Handstands in the Dark as the title. I personally think the publisher also liked it because it sounded classy and publishers are partly in business to boost their egos when they talk about their books to wanker friends at Islington dinner parties.

When, while writing the book,  Janey prepared her next Edinburgh Fringe show – which would be used partly to publicise the book and covered the same autobiographical subjects – she chose the much more commercial Good Godley! as her show title. The publisher could have used this title but had brain-freeze on Handstands in the Dark.

So, when structuring the book – which was not fully written when Handstands in the Dark was decided-on as the inevitable title – we had to bear in mind what the tenuously-relevant title of the book was.

One of my contributions as alleged editor was to get a reference to Janey doing handstands on the first page with a brief mention of why. She wrote:

“I liked doing handstands. I loved the world upside-down. It made me dizzy but I liked that feeling…  Sometimes I would only talk upside-down. Sometimes I would talk in a code only I knew. Sometimes out in the street I would kneel down and scoop water from puddles with my hands coz I was thirsty but too scared to go home and face what was there…”

The book has 27 chapters.

The first chapter is titled THE WORLD UPSIDE-DOWN.

The penultimate chapter is titled THE HANDSTAND, implying that the book builds towards a particular handstand and there is a relevant handstand theme important to the structure and (that terrible publishers’ term) ‘story-arc’ of the book.

But the importance of the concept of handstands in a dark world is something added on top of the book. It is not what the book is about.

The book has its own terrifically strong structure of throat-gripping hook-after-hook-after-hook (all Janey’s doing, not mine), leading up to an unforeseen end.

When published, Handstands in the Dark was a top-five hardback bestseller in Scotland and a top-ten paperback bestseller in the UK. It is still in print and selling 12 years later because it is an extraordinarily well-written book (and I did not write a word of the text).

My point is that the content of the book itself is actually not defined by the title. It grew organically and brilliantly as Janey wrote it. The addition of the penultimate chapter title and the inclusion of the first-page reference were to make the irrelevant title seem relevant.

So my advice to anyone with an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show stuck with an irrelevant title is this…

Bung in a reference to the title of the show at least three, ideally five times, scattered throughout the show. This will make it seem like the title defines the show.

If your comedy stage show meanders all over the bloody place, then you are probably dead in the water, but…

In your own mind, define in one single short sentence exactly what the show actually IS supposed to be about (which may well have changed since you first thought you knew what you were going to write). And make sure that everything – EVERYTHING – in the show relates to that short single sentence concept.

It does not matter if one 2-minute section gets big laughs. If it is irrelevant, cut it. You can use it in another show.

An audience can be carried along on laughs and an idea.

But, if you have laughs and no single central idea which is developed through the show and builds to a logical, relevant climax, then (unless you really are as technically brilliant as Jimmy Carr) you are going to have a show with laughs but no actual audience involvement – you will lose the audience’s attention and emotional involvement and you will probably lose at least one less star in any review.

If your show is called FISHING IN GUATEMALA then, for fucksake, at least mention fish and Guatemala.

(My apologies to anyone who actually HAS written a comedy show titled and fascinatingly about fishing in Guatemala.)

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy, Writing

Steve Best – Comedy Snapshots of jokey big-time publishing in the 21st century

Back in March 2014, I wrote a blog about comedian Steve Best’s book Comedy Snapshot – a collection of his photos of comedians. Now he is planning a second book titled Comedy Snapshots (See what he did there?)

“The first book acted like a calling card,” he tells me. “It was a good success in the comedy community. Foyles and lots of independent bookshops took it, but not nationwide.”

“There were a lot of comics in it,” I said. “You must have almost run out of comedians by now.”

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

I would not dare use my own photo – A selfie by Steve.

“Well,” he told me, “the first book had 426 comedians. I’m just below 500 comedians for the new book. I’ve got Jimmy Carr, John Bishop, Julian Clary, Alan Davies, Stewart Lee, Al Murray, Alexei Sayle, Rich Hall, Rob Newman and people like that.”

“And you are crowdfunding it?” I asked.

“Yes. Unbound is a crowdfunding publisher – the main guy used to work for Waterstones – and I went and saw the guy and he offered me a two-book deal.

“Unbound have really good links and a relationship with Penguin/Random House. So you produce the book, Penguin have an option to publish it as well and whoever has pledged money gets an exclusive copy slightly different to the one Penguin might create. There are different pledges where you get an e-book, a signed book or whatever.”

“Sounds like you’re on a roll,” I said.

“And I’ve now got some links with galleries,” Steve told me, “so it’s become a much bigger project.”

“I suppose,” I said, “it’s a specialist book and…”

“It’s not really a specialist book,” Steve corrected me. “Penguin look on it as a joke book as far as marketing is concerned. It’s a joke book with a few facts and the photographs. Everyone has given me a one-liner joke. That’s how Penguin perceive it, though I didn’t quite want to go down that route.”

“I had forgotten the jokes,” I said. “I remember the quirky facts and stories.”

“Some of the bigger comedians,” Steve told me, “got a bit tetchy about it, thinking I was going to be using their material but, once I explained what the whole thing was, then they said: That’s great.”

“Is there going to be a third book?” I asked.

On sale from this week

The first book: a successful calling card needing distribution

“Yes, Unbound have an option on the next book – it’s a two-book deal. The third one is the book I really, really want to do. It would come out in the summer of 2017, ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. So I would do a gallery show in Edinburgh – an exhibition and stand-up, which no-one has done – as a photographer-comedian. After that the plan would be, rather than tour arts centres and theatres with a comedy show, I would tour galleries. The idea of touring galleries as a stand-up really appeals to me. You can sell the prints, you can sell the books and do the stand-up.”

“The third book,” I asked. “Would that be the same format?”

“No,” said Steve. “A coffee-table format. Because I’m being sponsored-ish by Fuji – they’ve given me a top-of-the-range camera – my pictures in this new book and the third one will look that much better.”

“So,” I asked, “they liked your first book so much they decided to throw cameras at you?”

“They sent me a top-of-the-range camera and a couple of lenses. I have two bodies and about six different lenses. There is also a possibility I may be going to Mount Everest. There’s a Guinness world record attempt in April for the highest comedy show in the world – at Base Camp, Everest. I might be going out as a photographer-cum-stand-up. In that case, Fuji would supply me with even more stuff. The problem might be it clashes with this new book. I have to design and get this new book out and it clashes. If Penguin really do take it on, I want to get the book out for Christmas.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Photographs, Publishing

Advice to people who think they are – or want to be – famous. Who was Skirrow?

Me and Eric Morecambe on the seafront in happier days (Photo by M-E-U-F)

Me and Eric Who on Morecambe seafront.(Photograph by M-E-U-F)

This is a blog about someone who is long dead and about whom I know almost nothing.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, performer/promoter Bob Slayer was speaking to a young comedy reviewer. The reviewer had never seen a Morecambe & Wise TV show… and had never even heard of Morecambe & Wise. This is true.

In the early 1960s, Arthur Haynes was the most famous and most successful comedy performer in Britain.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Morecambe & Wise TV shows were the biggest ongoing successes on British TV.

If you are British, NOT in the comedy industry and under a certain age,  you have probably never heard of Arthur Haynes. Or Arthur Askey. Or Tommy Handley. Or Dan Leno.

If you are not from Britain and living outside Britain, you have almost certainly heard of none of them.

Unless you are famous in China and in India, you are statistically an unknown. And people famous in China and India are usually unknown in the rest of the world.

So…

I stumbled on two separate synopses of the same 1967 novel titled I Was Following This Girl by someone called Desmond Skirrow.

Desmond Skirrow’s book

One cover selling Skirrow’s book

SYNOPSIS ONE
John Brock spends one sunny September day following the richest and most beautiful girl in the world. This simple job becomes less simple as the days go by and he meets such unsavoury characters as a hairy-headed mystic, a sinister yokel with a ferret up his jumper, and a whispering super from the Special Branch.

SYNOPSIS TWO
Tough British adman Brook, who does occasional jobs for our Intelligence, is assigned to protect exquisite young American billionairess from rich variety of enemies including phoney psychedelic prophet, mad lesbian karate expert and giant one-legged Cotswold rustic who prefers a ferret to a pistol.

Apparently Desmond Skirrow was a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies including McCann Erickson and Masius Wynne-Williams. He was born in either 1923 or 1924 and died in 1976.

He wrote five novels in three years.

Desmond Skirrow - maybe

A photo of Desmond Skirrow – maybe. Or not

I Was Following This Girl is the second of three tongue-in-cheek spy novels he wrote in the late 1960s about a fictional British agent named John Brock.

The other Brock novels were It Won’t Get You Anywhere (1966) and I’m Trying to Give It Up (1968)

Before the Brock novels, he wrote a children’s book The Case of the Silver Egg (which was televised in 1966 as The Queen Street Gang). He wrote another novel, Poor Quail (1969), about an advertising executive’s move to the countryside,

In I Was Following This Girl, the girl John Brock is following is called Kiki Kondor. The blurbs failed to point out that the giant one-legged Cotswold rustic walks with a crutch and is called Satan Smith.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

Another cover for the Desmond Skirrow book

Differing book cover view of Skirrow’s I Was Following This Girl

“Desmond Skirrow has such a lively way with words that nobody is apt to complain that I Was Following This Girl is in essence a fairly ordinary conventional thriller about exposing a sinister politico-financial cult. There’s plenty of action and the plotting is ingenious and inventive; but the real delight of the book is the quirky narrative.”

Desmond Skirrow wrote of advertising agencies: “They are great carpeted palaces of little problems and big solutions, filled with loose minds in tight dresses.”

He was, as I said, “a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies”. He sounds like an interesting man.

Some people are remembered. Some are forgotten. He is forgotten.

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley, Morecambe & Wise, the biggest entertainment names of their time are not just forgotten but were never known in China.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

So it goes.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Fame, Television

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography “will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee: comic, promoter, inspiration to teenagers

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published in 1996.

I co-wrote it with him. Well, OK, I wrote it from taped conversations with him.

It got quite well-reviewed:

“Hilarious” (The Scotsman)

“Blindingly funny” (The Independent)

“Makes you laugh in great snorts” (Daily Express)

“You will laugh out loud at least a dozen times” (Sunday Times)

“The funniest read in longer than I care to remember” (The Stage) 

“Characterful and not overly ghost-written…a feast of scabrous reminiscence” (Independent on Sunday)

It is now out of print, but Amazon has been happily selling occasional ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies for years.

Now surrealism has struck.

Comedy critic Bruce Dessau (about whom I blogged yesterday) has just drawn my attention to something.

An Amazon.co.uk person or, perhaps, computer has got their/its knickers in a twist.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

For those who don’t know, the late comic Malcolm Hardee was known for his outrageous behaviour. His autobiography tells anecdotes of sex, drugs and the time Malcolm had his genitals painted in luminous paint at the Glastonbury Festival.

Until recently – I think I looked a few months ago – Amazon’s description of the book was fairly spot-on. It was supplied by the book’s original publisher and (I think) read:

The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.

Currently, the book description on Amazon.co.uk reads:

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk’s listing

For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.

Well, if teachers want to ‘extend their repertoire’ (Ooh, missus!) with impressions of French President General De Gaulle using only a pair of spectacles held atop a naked, flaccid penis representing his nose, then this is certainly the book to buy.

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Amazon’s listing opens up a whole new audience for Malcolm

In the current Reviews section, the highly-regarded Teacher magazine is quoted as saying:

This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager.

Absolutely true. It will certainly spice up biology classes.

The book also now has some excellent new quotes in the Reviews section including:

I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it” (Chris Kilby, PGCE student)

Puts a strong emphasis on the how” (Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University)

Well, that is true.

And there remain some older and more representative reader reviews…

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel club, Malcolm Hardee (left) watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photo by Geraint Lewis)

I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of… his touring, drinking, womanising… a great book” (5 STARS – Comedy Cum Hardee, 1st March 2012)

A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s (sic) incredible life and journey.” (5 STARS – Sam, 19th May 2011)

Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!” (5 STARS Mitzi, Wales, 9th September 2009)

I am inclined not to tell Amazon about this balls-up and see what happens.

The book is available via them in both new and used editions. Copies of the used books currently vary in price (+ £2.80 delivery) from £7.98p to £999.00. Copies of the book in ‘new’ condition vary from £49.99 to £999.00.

Interestingly, it is the same seller – UK_Bookstore – who is selling both New copies for £999.00 and Used copies for £999.00. The difference seems to be that New copies are in pristine condition and Used copies “may have some underlines and highlights”.

In case you should think I have made all this up or have changed the Amazon listing myself, I have not.

Barry Ferns won last year’s Cunning Stunt Award

Barry Ferns won Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2013 (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held at the Edinburgh Fringe this year on Friday 22nd August. The three awards include a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe.

This Amazon surrealism is not a cunning stunt.

We simply – it seems – live in increasingly surreal times.

I am very glad of that.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour, Internet, Publishing

Comic Devvo needs money to publish a book for a toilet to save his nan’s house

Devvo in a ‘selfie' taken yesterday

Devvo – a ‘selfie’ taken in Doncaster yesterday

“So you’re going to publish a book,” I said to Devvo yesterday via Skype. “How come? Surely you can’t read or write?”

“It’s a picture book, John,” he told me. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a picture book.”

“For children?” I asked.

“Definitely NOT for children,” he confirmed.

“You have to paint your ceiling,” I told him. We were video Skyping. I could see a large crack in his ceiling.

“It’s the spare room,” he said. “We got a lotta work to do on our house.”

“It looks like the House of Usher,” I told him.

“Well, it’s me nan’s house,” he said. “I live in me nan’s house. It’s on the outskirts of Doncaster. It’s all falling apart.”

“Doncaster?” I asked.

“The house,” said Devvo. “She burns coal, me nan does. She burns coal. What the previous owners did was to re-arrange the walls but they did it really badly, so we need lots of money to fix all the things. It’s me nan’s falling-down house that eats all the money.”

“So what sort of book is it?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like a David ShrigleyChris (Simpsons’ artist) type of silly book with loads of like Devvo-type stories in. There’s life tips, dating tips, there’s…”

“Filter tips?” I suggested.

“No filter tips,” said Devvo, “but I’ve made little stories with me and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve called him Arnold Shuitzman, because I thought that sounded more fun.”

The book every fine toilet should have

A book that may save Devvo’s nan’s house

“OK,” I said. “Look. You’re a chav from Doncaster. Writing a book is a bit above your station, isn’t it?”

“I’ve done it,” said Devvo, “because I like pictures and drawing and I want to make some money and people make money selling things. So I thought Let’s make a book to sell.”

“So it’s got photographs?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“And drawings?”

“Yeah. I’ve drawn stuff and I’ve learned how to use PhotoShop a bit and I’ve written stuff and drawn bits and found pictures and put them in PhotoShop and made really cool pictures so people will go Ah, they’re dead funny, aren’t they? Yeah, they’re dead funny!

“Can you send me a copy of the book?” I asked.

“I can send it to you as an eBook,” said Devvo, “but you have to keep it to yourself because, if you allow these things to be freely available, it would be jeopardising everything and I know what you’re like, giving away things.”

“No, I understand,” I said. “Some of us have been trying to turn our blogs into eBooks for the last two years and I’m two months away from proofreading the first one but, my god, it’s like wading through treacle.”

“That’s why I’ve just done pictures,” explained Devvo. “It just took two weeks to do and it was really fun.”

“So you’re artistic?” I asked. “Or autistic?”

“Bit of both,” said Devvo. “No, I’m not artistic at all. That’s the thing. I’m probably the least artistic out of all the people that exist. But that’s alright. Maybe I’ve found a little talent. Maybe it’s another thing to add to my bow.”

“Your bow?” I asked.

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

“My bow,” said Devvo. “When it’s done, it’s going to be a printed book as well as an eBook. The Kickstarter appeal has done really well. It’s got close to £900. We met our Kickstarter target in 24 hours and it closes on 15th March.”

The book’s estimated delivery is the end of March. If you pledge £10, you get a physical and a digital copy of the book. If you pledge £250, Devvo will perform “at your house, in your house, on your roof, in your car, at your local church. Whatever.” And you also get ten copies of the book.

“So you reached your target in one day,” I said. “What are you going to do with the extra money?”

“Well, this is it,” said Devvo. “It’s clever business with crowdfunding. You put the target at an achievable level and you really want to make more anyway. So it’s all just clever business. I really need to get about £1,000 to make good quality books.”

“So,” I said, “if you get more money than you expected, you’ll make an even better quality product?”

“Well, that’s it,” said Devvo. “That’s it. And it means I get the books cheaper in print which means I can make more of a profit, which is what everyone’s after really, innit?”

“You’re going to sell the physical copies at gigs?” I asked.

“I’m going to sell ‘em at gigs, sell ‘em online. People like to buy stuff, John. I’ve done three gigs in the past two weeks and I’ve sold about sixty T-shirts. I did one gig in Barrow-in-Furness and I got bored of selling T-shirts I was selling that many.”

“There’s nothing else to do in Barrow-in-Furness,” I pointed out. “When I was a TV researcher, I went to Barrow-in-Furness to talk to a man who was blind and wanted to parachute jump. It took forever to get there and, when I did, the weather was overcast, the houses were roughcast and the people were downcast. I think suicide may be an option people in Barrow-in-Furness take to improve their lives.”

“But they were the best people I ever met!” enthused Devvo. “It felt like I were doing a gig to loads of mates I’d just met. It were real good.”

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

“So who is the audience for your book?” I asked. “Where is the gap in the market?”

“It’s one of them books,” replied Devvo, “that fits in the gap where you think Ah, we don’t need a book there. Like in your toilet. You’re sat on the loo and you need a little toilet read. You’re there for five minutes and you think, Oh, I’ll have a little read of that! It’s just a dead good, dead funny book that people need to have. The main thing I’m excited about is having a copy for myself. I can have a copy of my book in my toilet and have a look at it and laugh at it. Anything else is a bonus, really.”

“Is this book,” I asked, “connected in any way to Bob Slayer’s increasing empire of books, comedy venues and drunken revels?”

“It’s published through the Heroes name,” said Devvo, “and I’m absolutely delighted to be part of Bob’s growing empire and just general, exciting stuff in life, really.

Devvo’s self-designed poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

Devvo self-made poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

“This Friday, I’m playing the Leicester Comedy Festival with Bob – We’re doing Devvo’s Deal or No Dealer gameshow and Bob’s my glamorous assistant and then I think we’re doing the same show at the Bath Comedy Festival together.”

“So Devvo’s on the rise?” I asked. “What can you do after being an internet sensation, a stage sensation and potentially a publishing sensation?”

“I’m starting to become a businessman,” he replied. “When people talk of Devvo in his early years, he’s just stupid, swearing and this, that and other. People don’t allow me to get older, but Devvo’s got better at business. So my plan is to start an empire selling T-shirts and books and all the things people don’t need but need. Filling those gaps.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Crowdfunding, Publishing

So what’s the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?

Experienced eyes: William Lobban

William Lobban wants to sort things out

Scottish newspaper the Daily Record says William Lobban, “openly admits to a life of crime, including armed robbery, fraud, drug dealing and GBH.”

I blogged about his autobiography The Glasgow Curse when it was published two months ago.

“So is there another book coming?” I asked him yesterday.

“Yes,” he told me. “I’m currently writing the sequel to The Glasgow Curse, which cut off after my 14 year prison sentence…”

“Which was for…?” I asked.

“For armed robbery and for taking the prison guards hostage at Perth Prison. I was sentenced to six years in jail in February 1988. I’d almost completed that sentence and only had about six months to serve and then I went on the run from a semi-open nick: I was on a day pass to get some tattoos removed from my fingers. That’s when I became the Most Wanted man in the country. When I was recaptured down in London, I was sentenced to a further six years for a robbery that occurred while I was on the run and then I got six months consecutive sentence for absconding and there was an 18 months consecutive sentence for the hostage situation in Perth.”

“So what is the difference between the way criminals and non-criminals think?” I asked.

Time to set matters straight

Lobban says he “won’t back down”

“We’re all the same really,” he replied, “but people like myself – well, certainly when I led that life – you know where the line is and you know what will happen if you cross that line, but you don’t really care about what happens if you cross it. That’s the difference. We’re prepared to step over that line, if need be. Prison is the occupational hazard.

“Sometimes you step over that line and you end up in all sorts of trouble. But you’re aware that may happen. The younger you are – in the teenage years I suppose – you just don’t give a damn. But, certainly the older you get, when you start to get that bit more mature, I think everything starts to mellow. In your mind, you start to look at things differently. But you’re still prepared to step over that line if need be. I think that’s ultimately the difference.”

One ironic thing I have noticed is that the ‘naughty chaps’ I have met tend to feel injustice to themselves really strongly. They are prepared to commit crimes against other people and, if they do a crime, they accept they may do the time. They see that as justice. But, when they are unjustly accused of something they did not do – or if someone steps over the acceptable line and it affects them or their friends… then that injustice eats away at them.

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday’s Daily Record report on Ferris (left) and Lobban

Yesterday, the Daily Record reported:

PAUL FERRIS ACCUSED OF MAKING ONLINE THREATS TO FORMER GANGSTER ALLY WILLIAM LOBBAN AFTER NEW BOOK REIGNITES OLD FEUD

Their problem dates back to 1991 and the killing of Fat Boy – the son of Glasgow’s then-undisputed gangland godfather Arthur Thompson. Fat Boy was shot three times – reportedly once in the face, once in the body and once up the anus – outside the Thompson family home The Ponderosa (named after the hero family’s home in TV Western series Bonanza).

The funeral car for Arthur Thompson Junior

Funeral car for Fat Boy in 1991 outside The Ponderosa (left)

On the day of Fat Boy’s funeral, two men were found shot dead in a car parked on the route of his funeral procession They were Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon and Bobby Glover. They had reportedly been shot in the head and up the anus. The presumption was that this was a revenge killing and that they had been involved in the murder of Fat Boy. They were friends of Paul Ferris, a former ‘enforcer’ for the Thompson family, who was also suspected of being involved in the killing of Fat Boy. He was in prison at the time of the Hanlon/Glover killings and therefore beyond the taking-out of revenge. And he was later, after a £4 million trial, found innocent of any involvement in the Fat Boy murder.

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon a few weeks before his murder

Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon shortly before his killing

In an STV interview last weekJoe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon’s mother and brother said he earned his nickname not from violence but by dressing up as a banana for charity: “Joe was never a gangster in his life,” his brother said.

William Lobban was reportedly the last person to see Hanlon and Glover alive (other than their killer or killers) and Paul Ferris has accused him of ‘setting them up’.

A couple of weeks ago, STV reported that Paul Ferris was “considering taking legal action” against William Lobban’s publisher over what is written in The Glasgow Curse.

At the time, William Lobban told me: “Ferris has been sending me (@TheGlasgowCurse) naughty tweets. Check out his Twitter feed (@PaulFerris_Gla) and see for yourself… quite malicious!… But it’s all wind. He’s basically letting off steam and there’s no way he will take things further.”

In 1991, STV reported the Hanlon/Glover killing

1991: STV reported the search for Hanlon & Glover’s killer(s)

The previous day, Ferris had Tweeted to Lobban: “I will see you in person IV4”.

That refers to the postcode where Lobban now lives.

Yesterday, Ferris told the Daily Record:

“My reference to IV4 was to suggest that if I have anything to say to him I would choose to do it face to face.”

He also admitted to the Daily Record yesterday that he had sent Lobban a message saying “Judas your time is coming soon” but that it was a line from a poem and not a threat… “The poem,” he told the Daily Record, “was something that had been given to me and I adapted it. If anybody read it they would have a wry smile. It seemed relevant. This is a war of words.”

STV said in a report on 3rd January“William Lobban’s autobiography is an attempt by a convicted criminal to defend his reputation” and that is the way he sees it too: “There’s two stories out there just now. There’s one story from me and there’s another story from Paul Ferris.

William Lobban’s bestselling autobiography

William Lobban’s autobiography is a reaction to accusations

“Ferris has been dragging my name through the dirt for many years,” he told me yesterday. “Since 1992, to be exact. There’s too much activity online about me. Old newspaper articles. Being mentioned negatively in books. Paul Ferris has blamed me under oath in the High Court in Glasgow for the shooting and killing of Arthur Thompson Junior – accused me of of being the gunman, the actual person who pulled the trigger.”

(At the time, Ferris was in court accused of the killing.)

“In The Glasgow Curse,” William Lobban continued, “I say he tried, when he was behind bars in Barlinnie Prison, to get me to shoot and kill Arthur Thompson Senior. (Paul Ferris denies this.) The truth about what really happened has got to come out so that I can be vindicated properly, right across the board. My name was also put in the frame for setting-up Bobby Glover and Joe Hanlon. That’s another very serious accusation. And all that needs addressing.

“And that’s what I’m in the process of doing now. It’s really important I get a proper clearing of my name. It’s so important to me. The image has been created in some people’s eyes that William Lobban is a murderer because Paul Ferris said in court that I may have or must have shot Arthur Thompson Junior. I’m trying to set the record straight with my book. For 20 years, all these things have been said about me and I’ve not really done anything about it except for a News of the World interview in 2005.

William Lobban in the News of The World, 2005

William Lobban in the News of The World, 1998

“My book’s a great start, but the hard work really starts now because the media are starting to get involved and the cops must now look at everything that’s going on. I would like to know how they view all this. It’s always been like a bit of a circus anyway. Ferris has accused me of this, that and the next thing and I want to clear my name. People have got an engrained image of me that is wrong, so I’m now defending myself to the hilt and I won’t back down in any way now. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Crime, Psychology, Publishing

Comedians’ crowdfunding, books and ‘missing’ Edinburgh Fringe free shows

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

This year, several performers crowdfunded their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I was in Brighton for the launch of registrations for the Brighton Fringe festival.

The crowdfunding site Zequs are saying that they will give £500 each to the first ten people who raise £1,000 for their shows via the Zequs site.

And, in a reassuring marketing wheeze, they cleverly point out that crowdfunding is not new – the plinth for the Statue of Liberty was financed by crowdfunding.

Crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

The crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

It certainly seems to be on the rise.

Last Saturday, I was at the launch of comedian Phil Kay’s crowdfunded book The Wholly Viable at the Soho Theatre, despite the fact I seem to remember there were two launch gigs for it at the Edinburgh Fringe back in August.

Still, it is being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob is also crowdfunding a new “children’s book for adults” with illustrations by Malcolm Hardee Pound of Flesh Award winner Rich Rose. The online Kickstarter appeal seems suitably non-sober.

Bob Slayer appeals - not very soberly - in a Kickstarter videoStill, it was being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob Slayer appeals – not very soberly – in a Kickstarter video

His book is called The Happy Drunk and he aims to raise £666 (I wonder where that number came from?) and, at the time of writing, he has already raised £481 with 12 days still to go.

The Happy Drunk is sub-titled Bob Slayer: The Baby Years and Bob’s pitch is: “Got kids? Here’s how to start them on the booze!”… “I don’t know why this was rejected by my publisher,” he says. “You can receive rewards of exclusive artwork, a caricature, a show in your own home, a magical mystery tour… even your very own baby… all of which will help make this project happen…”

CalPolIsEvil

The original title of Bob’s book

The book was originally titled Calpol Is Evil, but Bob surprisingly changed the title.

Meanwhile, fellow comedy performer and Edinburgh Fringe regular Ian Fox has updated his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show.

Now updated both online & as print book

Now updated both online & as print book

The book, says Ian, “shares eleven years experience of producing shows at the Fringe for the price of a café latte, without the social awkwardness of having to sit with the author in a coffee shop – highlighting the author’s personal experiences of half-full houses, flatmates gone bad, hostel horror stories, campsite calamities, and general comedy cock-ups.”

“Why update it?” I asked Ian yesterday. “Surely advice about putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago is much the same as today?”

“The principles are the same,” he told me. “but some of the information has changed. Things like the price of ads in the Fringe Programme and the PBH Free Fringe have a voluntary contribution for their shows.”

“Ah, that’” I said, is one of the advantages of eBooks and publishing on demand: you can update facts immediately for new purchasers of the book.”

“And,” said Ian, “everything new which I’ve added, I have put online. Both the Kindle and the on-demand printed version have an address in them which tells you where you can find the updates on-line. It would be a bit unfair if you had to pay for small updates.”

“What’s the main difference,” I asked, “between 2003, when you first produced a show, and 2013?”

Michael McIntyre beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award

Oddly, Michael McIntyre was beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award in 2003 by Gary Le Strange

“The number of free shows,” replied Ian. “There weren’t any in 2003 and there were 814 last year… Well, 814 official ones, because a lot of the PBH Free Fringe ones aren’t actually listed in the Fringe Programme. The Laughing Horse Free Festival insists all its shows are listed in the official Fringe Programme, but the Free Fringe doesn’t.

“I got the 814 figure by searching the official Fringe site for free comedy shows, but the Chortle and the British Comedy Guide websites actually listed over 1,000 shows: so those extra ones obviously listed themselves on those websites but didn’t pay to list themselves in the Fringe Programme.”

“So,” I asked Ian, “if I ‘m a performer thinking of going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time next year, why should I buy your book?”

“It will probably save you £300 or £400,” replied Ian. “The secret to making money at the Fringe is knowing how to not spend money unnecessarily. One Fringe publication was offering – for £100 – to put your ad on a webpage that got 10,000 impressions. But I remember from 2011 – the year of ‘Cockgate’ – when I took all those photographs and put them on my blog site… I thought I’d put an advert for my show down the side of the page…. I did… I got 14,000 hits on that page on the first day and I got two clicks on the ad… and one of them turned out to be Ashley Frieze, who I was sharing a flat with.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s say I’m going to perform at the Fringe for the third time next year. Why should I buy your book?”

Ian Fox in Edinburgh during the Fringe

Ian Fox – now over a decade at the Edinburgh Fringe

“I probably can teach you some stuff, but there’s also loads of stories in there and some of the history you might not know, people’s failures. It’s not just a technical guide; there’s loads of anecdotes. There was one year when me and Ashley were putting free tickets for our shows in the Half Price Hut and people were getting them, even though the tickets were free. It’s just an extra outlet, another way of advertising a show – our show came up on the LED board outside the Half Price Hut – Shows starting in the next hour… There’s loads of tips like that in the book.”

“Do you know what show you’re doing yourself next year?”

“Sort of. I read that blog of yours about the more interesting shows being less straight-stand-up. I’m definitely going in that direction: that it’s not totally straight stand-up.”

“You could do burlesque,” I suggested. “Stripping in a sequin dress. I’d pay to see it.”

“I’m definitely not doing that,” laughed Ian, “though I once did a video with Mick Ferry. He used to do a show in Manchester called Mick Ferry’s Space Cadets and, every month, the audience used to set him a challenge and, because they’d had a burlesque dancer on in a particular show, they said he had to be a male burlesque dancer. I used to make videos of his challenges – shoot them on the Monday for the gig on the Tuesday. They’re on YouTube and on the videos page of my website.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Crowdfunding, Publishing