Myths about New Year reading resolutions

Isabel Rogers

Myths about New Year reading resolutions

Isabel Rogers, author of the wonderfully bonkers Stockwell Park Orchestra series, debunks the myth of the January urge to purge and provides us with an alternative New Year’s resolution list – a reading one!

“All those ads for ‘New Body, New You’ start to niggle”

We’ve all done it.

After you’ve hoovered the last crushed Terry’s chocolate orange segment from under the sofa before the dog gets to it and you all have to traipse to the vet for his special charcoal vomiting cocktail (sorry — I’m having a flashback to Christmas Past), your January mind turns to self-improvement.

All those ads for ‘New Body, New You’ start to niggle. It’s no matter those same ad pushers were, a mere fortnight earlier, telling you “MORE CHOCOLATE NEEDED”. Hush. They don’t want us to remember.

“So, you buy a gym membership”

So, you buy a gym membership.

You nearly dislocate a shoulder trying to get your juicer out of the twirly kitchen corner cupboard where you shoved it last February.

Yoga classes, but with meerkats. Goats are so last year darling.

This year, your Apple watch shall think you worthy.

This year will be different.

The January urge to purge sometimes extends to your mind.

A detox for a syrupy winter diet of cosy mysteries (another yacht, Mr Osman?) or escapist crime.

Surely this is the year when you finally master philosophy, putting the can into Kant and nailing down with certainty exactly which consonant comes next in Nietzsche’s name.

“I’m here to tell you — stop. Relax.”

I’m here to tell you — stop. Relax.

We’ve made it through the scariest couple of years any of us can probably remember.

By all means do mental crunches on weighty academic tomes, but you are allowed to leaven it with stuff you enjoy.

Here are my ten reading resolutions.

Ten reading resolutions:

1. Never be tempted into calling them ‘bookish’ resolutions.

2. If your To Be Read pile is teetering with stern hardbacks, sneak a cheeky Farrago paperback in there too (why yes I’m biased).

3. Ask your friends what the last book was that made them laugh. If you’ve already read it and agree, laugh with them. If not, buy or borrow it and cultivate new laughter lines.

4. Tell your friends what the most recent book is that made you laugh. Insist they read it too.

5. Always believe reviews that tell you to put hot drinks down before you read that book. Nobody wants bedtime hot chocolate all over your duvet just because of uncontrollable giggling.

6. If you prefer Netflix, that’s ok.

7. If you think you prefer Netflix, imagine who would be cast in the film of your current book. (I have lost hours to this daydream and have no regrets.)

8. Eschew guilt about not reading enough. There is no point. I love my online friends and wouldn’t be without them for the world. Books will always wait for you.

9. Re-read. Find comfort in the familiar. What you think are the same words may take you by surprise.

10. Get yourself a wind-up torch. Appreciate the reliability of a paper book. Even in a January storm’s power cut, there will be a story for company.

I hope 2022 will be better for all of us.

Isabel Rogers writes poetry and fiction, but never on the same day. She won the 2014 Cardiff International Poetry Competition, was Hampshire Poet Laureate 2016, and her debut collection, Don’t Ask, came out in 2017 (Eyewear). Life, Death and Cellos is her first novel to be published.

She had a proper City job before a decade in the Scottish Highlands, writing and working in the NHS. She now lives in Hampshire, laughs a lot, and neglects her cello. She is on Twitter @Isabelwriter.

Isabel Rogers author

The Stockwell Park Orchestra series

Including for Kindle

life death and cellos isabel rogers

Life, Death and Cellos

The Stockwell Park Orchestra is in trouble – could this be their final performance?

Including for Kindle

bold as brass isabel rogers

Bold as Brass

An orchestral project to spread community harmony threatens to do quite the opposite…

Including for Kindle

continental riff isabel rogers

Continental Riff

An orchestral tour of Europe doesn’t go quite as planned!

Including for Kindle

the prize racket isabel rogers

The Prize Racket

With a huge reward on the line, the Stockwell Park Orchestra will need to play on a whole new scale to win.

Including for Kindle

More posts

The Truth About Writing and Comedy

If you find reading comedy difficult, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy. You just haven’t found the right funny book for you. But what about writing comedy? We asked the author of the witty Mathematical Mystery series, Jonathan Pinnock.

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

We’ve selected twenty of the funniest books out there. Books that make you smile, snort, splutter, cackle, howl, guffaw, chuckle, chortle, roar, bust a gut, snigger, giggle, and have your sides splitting like never before.

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

Why aren’t you reading more funny books?

Writing funny books isn’t easy. But what about reading them?

Whether it’s satire, cozy mystery, feel-good romance, comic sci-fi, social comedy, or just generally witty reads, funny books have arguably never captured people’s attention in the same way that films, TV series, and comedy gigs have.

‘Why?’ – you may ask. Maybe reading funny books isn’t as easy as watching funny people on a screen or a stage? Perhaps comedy is more accessible, or acceptable, when you’re sharing laughter with others? If you’re thinking ‘yeah, they’re good points, Farrago’ or ‘wow, Farrago, you’re so deep’ then give yourself a slap. The real answer: you’re not reading the right books.

A truly funny book will have you howling on the bus, giggling in the doctor’s waiting room, crying with laughter in McDonalds, inadvertently spitting coffee at your partner as they lay next to you in bed, or – something we find super cute – catching yourself smiling when you least expect it. Put simply, a genuinely comical book will make you laugh whether you want to or not.

Reading funny books is easy, you just need to find the right one for you.

That’s where we can help. We’ve selected twenty of the funniest books out there. Books that make you smile, snort, splutter, cackle, howl, guffaw, chuckle, chortle, roar, bust a gut, snigger, giggle, and have your sides splitting like never before

Social Comedies

Some of the best comedies are simply those about the different lives we choose to lead.

1. A Man Called Ove

Fredrik Backman

Is Ove is the grumpiest man in the world? He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly, joggers, and shop assistants who talk in code. In the end, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible…

A bittersweet delight, Fredrik Backman’s heartwarming debut is a funny, moving, uplifting tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step.

Follow the author on Twitter.

Man called over front cover
Grown Ups Marian Keyes cover

2. Grown Ups

Marian Keyes

Described by the Guardian as “comic, convincing and true”, Marian Keyes’ Grown Ups is a clever and honest look at family relationships – secrets, betrayal, turmoil, the whole shebang.

This subtle and sophisticated saga centres around the Casey brothers – Johnny, Ed and Liam – and their glamorous partners, whose experiences encompass life at its most painful, occasionally joyful, and dull.

Follow the author on Twitter.

3. The Flatshare

Beth O’Leary

Shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2020

Tiffy and Leon share a bed. Tiffy and Leon have never met…

“Bright, feel-good and quirky” (Irish Times), Beth O’Leary’s wonderfully uplifting debut is a spirited concoction of comic misunderstanding and endearing romance between two residents of the same flat who happen to have never met.

Visit the author’s website.

The Code of the Woosters cover

4. The Code of the Woosters

P. G. Wodehouse

In this classic piece of Wodehouse silliness, Bertie Wooster, his formidable Aunt Dahlia and (obviously) Jeeves scheme to steal an 18th-century cow-creamer during a weekend party at an English country house.

“Flexible, fresh and fun” (Guardian), The Code of the Woosters fizzes with memorable characters, ingenious slapstick, preposterous plots and nostalgic settings. Cow-creamers, Aunts and ersatz Fascists combine to create a sublime slice of classic Wodehousian farce.

5. Mr Finchley Discovers His England

Victor Canning

In Mr Finchley Discovers His England, Mr Edgar Finchley, aged 45, is told to take a holiday for the first time in his life. He decides to go to the seaside. But fate has other plans in store…

Victor Canning‘s gentle comedy was a runaway bestseller on first publication in the 1930s, has been dramatized twice for BBC Radio, and retains a timeless appeal today.

Cozy Mysteries

Cozy crime comes in all shapes and forms. Here’s a few classic, funny cozies – perfect reading for an evening on the sofa, with Kindle in one hand and a glass of wine (or bottle, we don’t judge) in the other.

Thursday Murder Club cover

6. The Thursday Murder Club

Richard Osman

Shortlisted for the British Book Awards Crime & Thriller Book of the Year 2021

From the creator of popular BBC quiz show Pointless, this bestselling “cozy crime caper” (Guardian) sees amateur sleuths in an upmarket retirement village investigate a murder a bit too close to home…

One for cozy crime readers who are fans of mysteries laced with killer one-liners and artfully constructed twists.

7. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

M. C. Beaton

M. C. Beaton is one of the finest modern proponents of light-hearted, village whodunnits and the first of her Agatha Raisin books finds our eponymous sleuth moving to the Cotswolds and promptly being arrested for murder.

Written with great charm and ingenious plotting Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is just one “delicious romp” (Publishers Weekly) in what really is a wonderfully entertaining series.

Discover the TV series.

picture miss seeton heron carvic cover

8. Picture Miss Seeton

Heron Carvic

The classic British cosy mystery series from Heron Carvic – Meet Miss Emily Seeton, an art teacher with an unexpected talent…

“A most beguiling protagonist” (New York Times), Miss Seeton steps in where Scotland Yard stumbles. Armed with only her sketch pad and umbrella, she is every inch an eccentric English spinster and the most lovable and unlikely master of detection.

9. Death and Croissants

Ian Moore

The first unputdownable mystery in the enthralling Follet Valley series by TV/radio regular and bestselling author Ian Moore.

In this wonderfully witty whodunnit, a peace-loving British B&B owner in rural France turns sleuth when one his guests disappears. Optioned for TV by the producers of Sky One’s Agatha Raisin and described by Alan Carr as “a joyous read”.

death croissants ian moore cover

10. A Quiet Life in the Country

T. E. Kinsey

Lady Emily Hardcastle is an eccentric widow with a secret past. Florence Armstrong, her maid and confidante, is an expert in martial arts. The year is 1908 and they’ve just moved from London to the country, hoping for a quiet life…

Set in Agatha Christie country but with a more modern, egalitarian air, this is a well-paced read with sparky humour and intriguing characters.

Follow the author on Twitter.

Satirical Crime

“If satire is to be effective, the audience must be aware of the thing satirised.” – Gore Vidal

Luckily for us, humorous fiction readers are a knowledgable bunch… *coughs and splutters out tea awkwardly*

11. One for the Money

Janet Evanovich

Meet Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with attitude. In Stephanie’s opinion, toxic waste, rabid drivers, armed schizophrenics, and August heat, humidity, and hydrocarbons are all part of the great adventure of living in Jersey.

“Funny, self-assured, astute and raunchy” (Publishers Weekly), first novels with this much savvy are rare. This is one for readers who love a feisty and funny heroine.

Follow the author on Twitter.

One For the Money janet evanovich
My Sister the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite

12. My Sister, the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019

As smart and murderous as Killing Eve, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

But this isn’t just an inventive take on the serial-murder thriller. Braithwaite’s blistering debut is also a tender examination of sibling relationships in an oppressively patriarchal and a story which turns the tables on the woman-as-victim trope.

13. A Man With One of Those Faces

Caimh McDonnell

A Man With One of Those Faces is the first book in Caimh McDonnell’s Dublin Trilogy, which melds fast-paced action with a distinctly Irish acerbic wit.

With the help of a nurse who has read one-too-many crime novels and a renegade copper with a penchant for violence, Paul Mulchrone must solve one of the most notorious crimes in Irish history… or else he’ll be history.

Follow the author on Twitter.

A Man With One of Those Faces cover
tropic of stupid tim dorsey cover

14. Tropic of Stupid

Tim Dorsey

Part spree killer, part local historian, Serge Storms has carved a trail of destruction through Florida, and he’s just getting started.

Described by Independent as “a wacky celebration of violence, depravity and the weirdness of Florida”, Tim Dorsey will appeal to readers who think that Carl Hiaasen is too (yes, too) subtle.

15. Squeeze Me

Carl Hiaasen

From the bestselling author of Bad Monkey and Razor Girl comes this hilarious new novel of social and political intrigue, set against the glittering backdrop of Florida’s gold coast.

Irreverent, ingenious, and highly entertaining, Squeeze Me perfectly captures the absurdity of our times. As Janet Maslin writes in The New York Times, “if you could use some wild escapism right now, Hiaasen is your guy.”

Follow the author on Twitter.

Comic Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Tired of this insincere and predictable world? We are too. That’s why we throw ourselves recklessly into the enigmatic realms of these funny science-fiction and fantasy reads. Join us.

16. Mort

Terry Pratchett

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.

Death is the Grim Reaper of the Discworld, a black-robed skeleton who must collect a minimum number of souls in order to keep the momentum of dying, well… alive. But to do that, he’ll need to hire some help… it’s an offer Mort can’t refuse.

“Cracking dialogue, compelling illogic and unchained whimsy” Sunday Times

17. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams

An international phenomenon and pop-culture classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been a radio show, TV series, novel, stage play, comic book and film.

Following the galactic (mis)adventures of Arthur Dent, Hitchhiker’s in its various incarnations has captured the imaginations of curious minds around the world.

“To read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is to step into the garden shed of a maverick genius while he’s out” Guardian

a night in the lonesome october cover

18. A Night in the Lonesome October

Roger Zelazny

In the murky London gloom, a knife-wielding gentleman named Jack prowls the midnight streets with his faithful watchdog Snuff – gathering together the grisly ingredients they will need for an upcoming ancient and unearthly rite.

“The last great novel by one of the giants of the genre.” George R. R. Martin

19. Darkwood

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

A witty, modern retelling of classic fairy tales, albeit with storylines and characters a little different than we’re used to.

But it’s also more than that. Gabby Hutchinson Crouch has created a series with a strong heart and social conscience, interspersing laugh-out-loud humour, seat-of-your-pants adventures, and a scorching social commentary.

darkwood cover
To say nothing of the dog connie willis cover

20. To Say Nothing of the Dog

Connie Willis

Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, 1999

Gleeful fun with a serious edge” (Kirkus), Connie Willis offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities make Ned’s holiday anything but restful with the entire course of history at stake.

More posts

The Truth About Writing and Comedy

If you find reading comedy difficult, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy. You just haven’t found the right funny book for you. But what about writing comedy? We asked the author of the witty Mathematical Mystery series, Jonathan Pinnock.

bill fitzhugh the unlawful birth of rick shannon

The Unlawful Birth of Rick Shannon

How do you write a crime story? Commit a crime yourself, apparently! Well, that’s what award-winning author of eleven or so comic and satiric crime novels Bill Fitzhugh is saying.

In Conversation with Ian Moore at Wolverhampton Literary Festival

Wolverhampton Literature Festival

Join Wolverhampton Literature Festival for a conversation with leading stand-up comedian Ian Moore to discuss the inspiration behind his funny Murder Mystery series set in the Loire Valley.

Hear from the author himself about his new book Death and Croissants and be transported to France through this hilarious whodunnit story?

Performer: Ian Moore

Date: 4 February 2022

Time: 16:00-17:00

Venue: Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Price: Free (booking required)

death and croissants

Death and Croissants
(A Follet Valley Mystery 1)

Unputdownable mystery set in rural France – perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, Julia Chapman, or M.C. Beaton.

Including for Kindle

death and papa noel ian moore

Death and Papa Noël
(A Follet Valley Short Story)

A NEW CHRISTMAS SHORT STORY by TV/radio regular and bestselling author Ian Moore

Including for Kindle

The Unlawful Birth of Rick Shannon

bill fitzhugh the unlawful birth of rick shannon

How do you write a crime story? Commit a crime yourself, apparently! Well, that’s what award-winning author of eleven or so comic and satiric crime novels Bill Fitzhugh is saying. Hear how committing a crime inspired his Rick Shannon series, which includes Radio Activity and Highway 61 Resurfaced.

DISCLAIMER: neither Farrago nor Bill Fitzhugh actually condone criminal activity as a means of inspiring comical books, nor criminal activity for any reason, for that matter.

“Sometimes you have to commit a crime to write a crime story”

Sometimes you have to commit a crime to write a crime story.

Many years ago I was working at an FM rock radio station in a small market, the sort of market where you are required to wear multiple hats. In this case I was not only on-the-air talent (DJ), I was also the Music Director and the Program Director. So I was at the station a lot.

The General Manager of the station (let’s call him Dick) was a big-fish-in-a-small-pond sort of guy who nurtured his status as an upstanding Civic Leader. Dick had spent his life carefully grooming a reputation as an All-American Male, conspicuous member of local service organizations, a lay-deacon in his church, and all that.

Some of us who worked for him sensed this wasn’t entirely the case.

“…well, it may be too salacious to repeat verbatim in this forum”

radio activity rick shannon

Including for Kindle

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. This is Fitzhugh’s finest – and that’s saying a lot!”

Jill Conner Browne

At any rate, one afternoon I was walking down the upstairs hallway when I heard Dick’s voice coming over the speakers in the production room. This was surprising for two reasons: First, Dick never did production. Second was what I heard him say which was… well, it may be too salacious to repeat verbatim in this forum.

But suffice to say that Dick was bragging about having received an invitation to engage in a rather sordid activity (with a woman who wasn’t his wife) and which – how do I say this delicately – involved micturition.

Well, well, I thought.

I knew immediately what had happened. The station’s engineer had just installed a phone patch into the sound board so that we could record phone interviews. He had tested the connection on one of the five phone lines and when he finished, he inadvertently left that line engaged and running through the sound board.

Later that day, downstairs at the other end of the building, Dick made a phone call on that line and the entire conversation flowed though the sound board and straight out of the speakers.

Well, I did what any enterprising young employee would do after hearing their upstanding general manager brag about his invitation to participate in a vulgar bit of extramarital activity: I grabbed a blank reel of tape, put it on the nearest recorder, and hit “RECORD.”

“I grabbed a blank reel of tape, put it on the nearest recorder, and hit RECORD”

This, it turned out, was both a State and a Federal crime. Oops.

In any event, I hit “RECORD” and prayed there was more to come.

I needn’t have worried.

What followed was a wildly entertaining six-and-a-half minutes as Dick regaled an unidentified man with one sordid tale after another involving a veritable parade of degenerates and criminals all of whom were a part of this small town’s business class.

For what it’s worth, the guy on the other end was a wormy sounding fellow, and possibly a virgin, who hung breathlessly on Dick’s every word, giggling like a titillated teenager at every mention of sexual activity.

In the course of things, Dick accused his fellow Chamber of Commerce pals of major insurance fraud, arson for profit, and a serious breach of fiduciary duty to his banking partners. And that’s before we get to the strap-on vibrator bits.

But none of the stories were told for the story’s sake; each one was merely a sidebar to Dick bragging about having had sex with a string of women to whom he wasn’t married.

Including for Kindle

“Fitzhugh’s satire isn’t subtle, but it’s hilarious and dead on”

New York Times

“This, it turned out, was both a State and a Federal crime. Oops”

When it ended, I transferred the recording to a cassette and went back to work oblivious of the fact that I was carrying evidence of a Federal crime. Compounding matters was the fact that every time I played the illegal recording to entertain friends (which was not infrequently), I was committing another crime (though one with a shorter statute of limitations).

Flash forwards many years… I’m out of radio and have become a novelist looking for my next story when it dawns on me that I’m sitting on the perfect blackmail plot. Not only that, but I now have a protagonist for a private eye series.

Thus was born Rick Shannon, disillusioned FM rock DJ who become a private investigator in Radio Activity. The book uses every word on the tape (with the exception of names) as Rick investigates the fate of a missing DJ at the radio station where he has landed a job.

As the song goes, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it. I think you’ll like it too.

“Thus was born Rick Shannon, disillusioned FM rock DJ who become a private investigator”

Bill Fitzhugh is the author of eleven satiric novels, including Pest Control which has been translated into half a dozen languages, produced as a stage musical, and a German radio show; Warner Brothers owns the film rights. He lives in Los Angeles.

bill fitzhugh

More posts

The Truth About Writing and Comedy

If you find reading comedy difficult, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy. You just haven’t found the right funny book for you. But what about writing comedy? We asked the author of the witty Mathematical Mystery series, Jonathan Pinnock.

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

Top 20 Funny Books You Must Read

We’ve selected twenty of the funniest books out there. Books that make you smile, snort, splutter, cackle, howl, guffaw, chuckle, chortle, roar, bust a gut, snigger, giggle, and have your sides splitting like never before.

More Bill Fitzhugh

pest control bill fitzhugh

Pest Control
(Assassin Bugs 1)

“This is one roach motel you’ll gladly check into”

Time Out New York

Including for Kindle

the exterminators bill fitzhugh

The Exterminators
(Assassin Bugs 2)

“A crystal-clear snapshot of the absurd times in which we live”

Steve Brewer

Including for Kindle

cross dressing bill fitzhugh

Cross Dressing

“Fitzhugh tightens his grip on a reputation for absurdist black comedy”

Bookpage

Including for Kindle

fender benders bill fitzhugh

Fender Benders

“A satisfying murder mystery and spoof of life in the country music industry”

USA Today

Including for Kindle

heart seizure bill fitzhugh

Heart Seizure
(Transplant Tetralogy 1)

“A sick, funny book… for a sick, funny world”

Kinky Friedman

Including for Kindle

human resources bill fitzhugh

Human Resources
(Transplant Tetralogy 2)

Human Resources is humdinger, a darkly comic gem”

Paul Levine

Including for Kindle

the organ grinders bill fitzhugh

The Organ Grinders
(Transplant Tetralogy 3)

“Entertaining and thought-provoking… laugh-out-loud funny”

CNN.com

Including for Kindle

perfect harvest bill fitzhugh

A Perfect Harvest
(Transplant Tetralogy 4)

“Bill Fitzhugh is a seriously funny guy”

Molly Ivins

Including for Kindle

The Truth About Writing and Comedy

If you find reading comedy difficult, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy. You just haven’t found the right funny book for you. But what about writing comedy? We asked the author of the witty Mathematical Mystery series, Jonathan Pinnock.

So how are things going, Jonathan? Glad you asked. As it happens, I’m currently in the early stages of writing Book Five in the Mathematical Mystery series of novels that started back in 2019 with The Truth About Archie and Pye.

Writing the fifth book in an open-ended series is very, very different from writing the first one. When you’re writing the first book in a series, you’re not really writing for anyone at all. You have no idea if anyone’s ever going to publish the thing, even less idea if anyone’s going to actually read the thing and in fact you spend a lot of your time wondering ‘Oh God, what is the point of it all?’

“When you’re writing the first book in a series, you’re not really writing for anyone at all”

However, somehow you finish it and after a search that goes on slightly longer than the hunt for Lord Lucan, you eventually locate a lovely editor at Farrago who thinks you might have something worthy of a wider audience. Even better than that, she wants another book and then the ball keeps rolling on and eventually you get to the point where you suddenly seem to have four books out there with gorgeous matching covers and a signed contract for two more.

By this point, you have established a cast of characters and a rough idea of how they will behave and interact with each other. Some of them are, sadly, dead by now and are therefore of little use to you, but the live ones still have needs to fulfil, slights to avenge and wrongs to right. Somewhere in a trading estate off the M25 there is also an entire warehouse of McGuffins, parcelled up, labelled and waiting to be picked out and forklifted onto the back of a lorry only to be lost in transit a few miles short of Rickmansworth.

So you have plenty of material to play with going into Book Five. You may have a half-decent idea for the overall concept of the book and even a title – which will be revealed in due course, but not quite yet. A couple of new characters have also been knocking on your door, although they’re a bit shy and they haven’t quite got round to introducing themselves properly yet.

“What, then, is the point of writing?”

But you still don’t actually get down to writing it, because deep down there is that existential fear known to all writers that as soon as the words make the leap from brain to screen, the wave form will collapse and you’ll find yourself the proud owner of the literary equivalent of Erwin Schrödinger’s dead cat. So by the time you finally do pluck up the courage to dive in, your delight in discovering that the cat is in fact still alive – albeit on life support – is tempered by the knowledge that you have made a commitment to deliver the entire thing by a point in the future that is rapidly advancing towards you over the horizon. Moreover, past experience tells you that it won’t be long until most of your waking life (and a fair bit of your unconscious life too) is taken up with thinking about the damn thing, while the rest of your time will be spent wondering ‘Oh God, what is the point of it all?’

So perhaps there’s not that much difference between writing book one and book five after all.

“To me, there is no nobler calling than trying to make people laugh”

What, then, is the point of writing? More importantly, what is the point of writing a book like the one I’m currently working on – a daft, implausible mystery full of preposterous characters and absurd situations? Surely the very act of sitting down and devoting time to something like that is as close as I can get to pure self-indulgence? Given the state of the world, is that really the best way to spend my time? Even accepting that I’m going to be spending my time writing, is that really the most appropriate thing to be working on?

The thing is, a lot of genres have got a bit tricky to work in recently. Satire pretty much died a few years ago, and today’s dystopian fiction is looking increasingly like tomorrow’s reportage. This is why I think Farrago are really onto something by highlighting humour. Perhaps it’s escapism, but is that really so bad? We need humour for our mental health and to sustain us in these weird, unsettling times. And if that humour takes care to punch in the right, upwards, direction, so much the better.

“We need humour for our mental health and to sustain us in these weird, unsettling times”

This is basically why I write books like The Truth About Archie and Pye. To me, there is no nobler calling than trying to make people laugh. And if they end up spending five or six hours reading a funny book that shows a bunch of little people taking on the bad guys and winning, I don’t think I’ll have entirely wasted my time.

So maybe there is some point to it, after all.

Jonathan Pinnock is the author of the four books in the Mathematical Mystery series: The Truth About Archie and Pye, A Question of Trust, The Riddle of the Fractal Monks and Bad Day in Minsk. He also hosts the podcast It’s Lit But Is It Funny? which you can find in all the usual places. His website is at www.jonathanpinnock.com and he tweets as @jonpinnock.

A Mathematical Mystery series

Including for Kindle

The Truth About Archie and Pye

What connects the mysterious deaths of twin mathematical geniuses with the Belarusian mafia and a cat called µ?

Including for Kindle

A Question of Trust

Tom Winscombe begins another hair-raising adventure as Dorothy vanishes along with all the company’s equipment (and its money).

Including for Kindle

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks

Tom and Dorothy’s date night is ruined by a mysterious falling figure: another mathematical mystery begins…

Including for Kindle

Bad Day in Minsk

A witty, fast-paced thriller set in Belarus, with a dash of mathematics and a large dose of danger.

Including for Kindle

The Stockwell Park Orchestra Interviews: Two

Guest posts
16/11/2021 | POSTED BY Rob Wilding

In January 2022, The Prize Racket is published: the fourth novel in my Stockwell Park Orchestra series. Over the summer I had a chance to interview some characters from the series.

 

Isabel Rogers

Author of the fabulous Stockwell Park Orchestra series


 

Interview Two – Pearl

I should have expected nothing less. Pearl, viola player and Queen of the Urn, smiled, leaning round an enormous three-tier cake stand. Each layer was so crammed with a mismatched assortment of biscuits and cakes, it looked like the Tower of Babel had been reimagined as a sugary game of Jenga.  

P:   Milk? 

IR: Yes, please. This is amazing, Pearl! You didn’t have to.  

P:    Oh, it’s just a few little somethings to keep us going.  

IR:    You are a marvel. Now – tell me about this European tour. What are you most looking forward to?  

P  Well, I know David has booked our usual coach company, and they have lovely facilities on their vehicles. I think we’ve even got a little kitchenette in this one, so I can do emergency teas and coffees if we need them!   

IR:    Never has an orchestra been so plentifully supplied with beverages. Which reminds me, a reader has asked if you’ll be taking your tea urn on the trip, or have you been assured there will be an urn in each venue?  

P:    I don’t think there’s room on the coach. I’m sure David will have sorted everything out. And anyway, we might be in more of a cold juice situation, weather-wise. 
 
IR:  Do you think this heatwave will make it feel more like a holiday?   

P:    It’s a bit much for me, to be honest. I do like to wear a nice cardigan. The pockets are so useful. But as long as I can keep our players fully refreshed, I’ll be satisfied.  

IR: A professional beverager to the last. I applaud you. And how’s the music going?  

P:    Eliot’s got us working hard, as usual! The quavers in the Figaro overture are a challenge, but at least it’s quite short. Pete’s probably – well. Yes.   

IR:     Pete’s what?   

P:    Oh nothing. He’ll be fine with them. Probably. Mini Battenberg?   

IR:  Thanks. I spoke to Eliot last week, and he seemed concerned about one particular bar of the Bruckner. Do you know why?   

P:   Concerned? Did he say he was concerned? Oh dear. I’m not going to – I mean – Pete and I are … oh dear.  

IR:    What’s going on, Pearl? Do you and Pete have something to do with that bar?  

P:  No! We’ll be fine. Do have a custard cream.  

IR: OK. A few quick-fire questions, if you’re up for it? Bourbons or Jaffa cakes?  

P:   Well, it’s always nice to provide a choice, and some people really don’t like orangey bits, so –  

IR:    Mozart or Bruckner?  

P:   The violas do have gorgeous tunes in the Bruckner. But then if the Mozart weren’t so fast we might enjoy it more.  

IR: Tea or coffee?   

P:   Would you like a top-up?  

IR:    No, I meant if you had to choose, which would it be?  

P:  What an odd question. I’m happy to make another pot?  

IR: Never mind. Very best of luck for your tour. And with whatever this mystery Bruckner bar is.  

P:   Thank you. Golly, look at all this. Shall I pop some cake in a Tupperware for you to take home?

_________________  

If you have a question for any other Stockwell Park Orchestra musician, please send it to me and I’ll ask on your behalf. Find me on Twitter @Isabelwriter, or drop me a line using the contact page on my site isabelrogers.org.

Miss Interview One? Read it here!

Related articles

The haunting British seaside spots that inspired Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Guest posts
01/11/2021 | POSTED BY Rob Wilding

On the wonderful, sorely missed Writers’ Jolly (by which I mean, ‘very business-like industry conference’) Craft of Comedy at Llandudno, I would regularly annoy fellow writers by pointing at the Hydro Hotel and loudly declaring ‘that’s haunted’. In my defence, it’s a very haunted-looking building. The Victorian gothic grandness adorned with Edwardian and 20th-century modernist additions gives it a feeling of not quite belonging to any one time. Add to the fact that, like so many grand Victorian hotels, it faces out to sea and you have got yourself a building that fills my mind’s eye with creeping ghosts.

Hydro Hotel, Llandudno, Wales

I love spaces that don’t feel quite right. ‘Liminal’, as the kids say, and seaside towns, to my mind, usually have that vibe, especially in the winter, when only a few ice cream kiosks are still open, when eating chips is a race against heat loss and seagull gang violence, when the ‘stroll along the prom prom prom’ is an act of attrition against the weather, being taken by brave dog walkers, joggers, and the sheer bloody wilful. This is a silly little archipelago with coastlines full of these slightly faded Victorian seaside resorts.

I’ve wanted to write a story about a haunted island resort for ages, so when Farrago finally gave me the chance with Wish You Weren’t Here, I took inspiration from some of my favourite real-life seaside spots that make me go ‘that’s haunted.’


Anglesey, as seen from Caernarfon

I lived in North West Wales as a young girl, and we used to go sailing on the Menai Strait. At night, there’s something about the disparity between the lights of Caernarfon’s streets and castle, right on the water’s edge, and the comparative darkness of the stretch of Anglesey’s coastline on the other side of the black water that I always found in equal parts disturbing and comforting. The idea of a dark island sitting, waiting across the water from bright, busy streets gives me a pleasant, ASMR-like shiver even now. Also, while it doesn’t have the dilapidated Victorian vibe I went with for Coldbay, the tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn – where we used to sail – has a desolate, limbo-like beauty. I could cross dark water to that place in sleep or death and find a cold, windswept peace.

View to Anglesey from Caernarfon Castle. Credit: Wander Your Way

Herne Bay, Kent

Even though Coldbay is set near Skegness, it’s much more based on Kent, Sussex, and Wales than it is Lincolnshire. Herne Bay, like Coldbay, lost the majority of its pier to fire and now has a desolate, crumbling zombie of a pierhead left all alone out at sea like a sad little dead wooden island. Sometimes in Herne Bay, you can hear ghostly, echoey explosions from an MoD site on the other side of the estuary, in Essex. This would be creepy enough, but the eeriness is added to by the Maunsell Forts – the rusting, abandoned husks of WW2 gun turrets jutting out of the water on thin legs like alien fighting machines, dead and rotting and the colour of Mars.

Herne Bay Pier, Kent

Hastings, East Sussex

My husband’s home town, still home to my in-laws and therefore the seaside town I visit the most. A good, haunted-atmosphere British seaside town is like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard – kinda crumbly now but by GOD, you should have seen her in her heyday when the moving pictures were silent. Hastings is like that. It’s actually kind of cool and artsy, a slightly more affordable Brighton, but the seafront itself is all once stunningly grand buildings with little bucket & spade kiosks on the ground floor. Occasionally big chunks of the cliff just collapse and there’s nothing you can do about it. One of the main car parks is underneath said cliffs. Good luck with that. Like Herne Bay, it was cursed with a curiously flammable pier and now has a perfectly nice, very cold little new pier with fairy lights and huts selling nick-nacks, which I based Coldbay’s new pier off. ‘The Ship’ pub is based on the wooden fishing huts on the seafront, which remind me of a shipwreck.

Looking eastward along the promenade towards Hastings Pier

Honorable Mention

Cold Harbour in Canterbury. Coldbay was named after a set of boarded up council flats in Canterbury, near a bus stop I used to use. They have since been knocked down for a fancy new retail estate. They looked almost certainly like what you’re picturing right now.

–––––

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch


Want some useless trivia? Well, you’re getting some anyway

Skegness: It has been rumoured that the name ‘Skegness’ means either “Skeggi’s headland” or “beard-shaped headland”. This is because the Old East Norse word “skeg” meaning beard, or “skeggi” meaning bearded one, is thought to have come from the Viking who established the original settlement. As if you needed more of an excuse to let that goatee loose in the bracing winds. Man buns are not acceptable however – put it away.

Llandudno: During lockdown, the wild goats of Llandudno took the town by storm causing chaos as they deemed neighbourhood gardens fair game for a spot of lunch. The randy Great Orme’s missed out on their annual contraceptive programme due to lockdown restrictions and their numbers have continued to rise. Locals remain hopeful that the herd heads for the hills soon and tire of their adolescent lovemaking.

Hastings: If the Hastings Direct jingle is the first thing to pop into your head when we say ‘1066’ you’ll relish in this nugget of myth-busting goodness. The Battle of Hastings – which arguably takes second place following this summer’s Gurning Competition as the greatest event to grace the southern shores – did not actually take place in Hastings. It in fact took place in a field seven miles away, which is now the appropriately named village of Battle…

Related articles

Mandy Morton in conversation with Book Hoots Podcast

Humorous Mystery and Crime
20/08/2021 | POSTED BY Rob Wilding

Book Hoots – the all things books and authors podcast from Cambridgeshire Libraries – talk to Mandy Morton about The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency series, her background in broadcasting and, of course, cats and food….

Give it a listen on Spotify. 

Give it a listen on Anchor.fm.

Buy the ebook series from Farrago

Related articles

Pest Control ‘The Musical’

Humorous Mystery and Crime
17/08/2021 | POSTED BY Rob Wilding

Bill Fitzhugh, you may not have known, is a big music fan. Perhaps you have noticed the subtle hints within his satirical thrillers – you will if you look closely enough. Therefore, when Pest Control, Book 1 of the Assassin Bugs series, was commissioned for Hollywood theatre, you could say that Bill was buzzing, had checked off a big tick on his ‘to-do’ list, had butterflies in his stomach, didn’t let it fly over his head, [insert more terrible bug-related puns here…]


In Pest Control, all Bob Dillon, a down-on-his-luck pest exterminator, wants is success with his radical new, environmentally friendly pest-killing technique. When his advertisement is answered he thinks his luck has changed, but it turns out his new client is from a dangerous world of assassins.

Now imagine this on stage….

Oh wait! You don’t have to. You can check out some highlights and songs from the show right from your very own screen:

Look Me in the Eye

Pest Control

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The Story of My Life

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

I Was Made in America

I’d Kill For You

Why Can’t I Get Over You

Why Should I Believe a Thing You Say?

Worse Than Dyin’

The Pest is in Control

Chantelle’s Attack

Bug on Top

Undercover

The Bugman Says

She’s There

Legend of the Vanished Killer

The End is Coming

Back Then

All I Need is a Name

So Alive Again

What Doesn’t Kill Us

Eye on the Target

Exterminator Blues

Pheromone Thing

Check out Bill Fizhugh’s YouTube page to see them all in one place.


Buy the ebook Assassin Bugs series bundlePest Control (Book 1) and The Exterminators (Book 2) – from Farrago.

Related articles

The Absolute Spit

Guest posts
12/08/2021 | POSTED BY Pete

Beth Miller reveals the inspiration behind her life-swap novel, Starstruck


From the back you’d really think he was Bowie. My friends and I nudged each other excitedly, though we knew it wasn’t really him. Tiny venue, cheap tickets, session musicians on bass and drums, no way was it him. But on the other hand, it really looked like him: his frame, the stance, the way the jacket hung down.

The band tore into the opening bars of Jean Genie, and the main man finally turned round to face us. From the front the resemblance was less uncanny. He was rather fuller in the waist than the Thin White Duke, and his cheekbones wouldn’t cut you like a knife. Plus, his outfit was anachronistic, my pedantic mate Johnno pointed out: he was styled as Bowie from the Young Americans era, not as Aladdin Sane. Oh, do shut up Johnno, and listen! Because by god, the voice! He’d got the exact same voice! The absolute spit! Just thirty seconds and everyone was joining in with the chorus, knowing this wasn’t Bowie, and yet it also sort of was… all you had to do was close your eyes, or squint.

This wasn’t my first tribute act. As a student I saw Voulez Vous – very good – and the Bootleg Beatles, the granddaddy of tributes. The Bootlegs have toured for decades longer than the real Beatles and played thousands more gigs. I enjoyed their relaxed approach to time and space, with ‘John’ saying he couldn’t see the audience ‘because I didn’t wear glasses on stage till 1965’. Even with such fourth wall breaking, you could still think, on and off, and sometimes in a sustained way in the middle of an inspired riff, that this was The Beatles, even as you also knew it wasn’t. But the Bowie tribute was the first time I realised how much I loved the very notion of being a tribute. The doublethink, the whole sort of is/sort of isn’t vibe; the joy of hearing classic songs done live and accurate; the respectful homage of the entire thing.

Not to mention the puns. I love a good pun, and tribute act names are a goldmine. By Jovi might be my favourite, though I have a soft spot for rival tributes Noasis, No Way Sis, and Oasish. Ah, there’s so many: Proxy Music, Nearvana, Fake That, Stereophonies, Pink Fraud…

When I saw the BBC Arena documentary, Into the Limelight, my love for tributes crystallised into something rarer: the germ of an idea. The documentary (still on iPlayer) featured the Limelight Club in Crewe, now sadly defunct, but then home to all the tribute acts. There were several stand-out stars, including John Campbell, interviewed sitting on the sofa and chatting with his mum about how he channelled the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. But my favourite was Wayne Ellis of Limehouse Lizzy, whose thoughtful and melancholy reflections on a career pretending to be someone else stayed with me for years.

Where were the women tributes? I wondered. And lo, The Graham Norton Show answered. It presented an Adele tribute competition with a twist – the real Adele, unrecognizable in prosthetics, took part without the other competitors knowing. It’s an absolute masterpiece of television, which I watch once a month, I love it so. I well up every single time the real Adele steps on stage to sing, because it’s at that moment that it becomes completely obvious to all the other tributes that she is the real deal.

The plot of Starstruck was forming in my head. Adele pretended to be her own tribute act – but what if she swapped places with one of her impersonators? Would people be able to tell that the person playing the massive arenas wasn’t her? And what would it be like if she took the tribute act’s place, performing in little unglamorous venues…

Thus, Sally Marshall was born. Hardworking and gutsy, she’s been a tribute act for twelve years, performing as Epiphanie, the world’s biggest megastar. One ordinary day, she comes home to find Epiphanie – the real, actual Epiphanie – sitting in her kitchen. When Sally picks her jaw up off the floor, she discovers that Epiphanie wants to make her a life swap offer she can’t refuse…

Beth Miller


Buy the Starstruck eBook from Farrago today

Get it in paperback (UK only) from Amazon, Waterstones, or Bookshop.org

Related articles