Writing in a satirical age: The origin story of The Great American Cheese War

Satirical Comedy
10/10/2019 | POSTED BY Abbie

Paul Flower, the author of The Great American Cheese War, shares his personal take on why satire is the weapon for our times.

Crazy world we have here. In the U.S., 40 percent of the electorate is under the spell of a third-rate con man with orange skin and a personality disorder. In Britain, a smaller, younger, goofier(?) populist is following a series of leaders over the cliff of Brexit.

Every day, we face a category five storm of horror politics. Twenty-four-hour news networks bombard us with the lurid details of leader ineptitude and social division. And online, the world comes together. To tear itself apart.

Conspiracy theories—lies dressed up to parade as truth—are growing like bacteria on Trump’s Twitter feed, making it nearly impossible to discern what’s true and what’s not.

Such theories have been part of American culture since the day Alexander Hamilton met secretly with a cabal of German violinists to plot the overthrow of Russia’s Catherine the Great.

You see what I did there. (I hope.) By creating a wacky theory of my own, about Hamilton and Catherine, I spoofed the notion of conspiracy theories. The “cabal of German violinists” softens the sting of the criticism. Well, unless you’re a German violinist.

It’s satire.

For some people, satire at a time like this is completely inappropriate or at best, futile. What’s the point of making fun of the already absurd Boris Johnson or the real estate huckster in the fat suit who waddles into the oval office every morning around 11:00 a.m. to destroy the free world?

For me, dark humor is in my DNA.

When I was in eighth grade, I played cornet in the band. I was pretty good, thank you. But when we competed in a festival one autumn Saturday, the judges gave us a four rating. The highest rating was a one. The worst bands usually received threes.

After the event, my dad smiled, said “Hi, Paul,” and waved, palm out—four fingers up. Message received. A four rating was awful. But even when things are awful—especially when things are awful—you have to laugh.

Humor isn’t just an emotional diversion or an immature reaction to a difficult situation (although I’ll own both). It allows us to see today’s conspiracy mongering and lies for what they are. It shines light on the ridiculous and dangerous without all the screaming, fire-breathing, and division.

So go ahead. Fly your Trump-in-a-diaper balloon. Wig out at the Boris haircut.

By satirizing all of this, maybe we’ll find what we need most: the truth. And a good belly laugh.

Find out all about The Great American Cheese War here – and leave an online review to let us know what you think!

Review quote about The Great American Cheese War

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The “difficult” second album

Social comedy
03/04/2019 | POSTED BY Abbie

Author Isabel Rogers gives a behind-the-scenes view of the making of her second novel, Bold As Brass – coming to a bookshop near you this July.

Cover artwork for Bold As Brass

Cover by the clever people at Head Design, who also did Life, Death and Cellos

It wasn’t difficult, though. When I originally met my editor, Abbie Headon, she put up with me waving my hands around Kermit-style while I shuffled seventeen sheets of paper with plots written on them, spider-style, all over the kitchen table. She sensibly ate cake throughout. The point is: I have loads of plot ideas. The difficult thing was deciding which one to go for.

In the end, the second book in my Stockwell Park Orchestra series is called Bold As Brass. (No, I didn’t search the internet in case my jaunty title coincided with a Cliff Richard album. Why would I? Or indeed if a Dragon’s Den entrepreneur had written an autobiography of the same name. We are unlikely to be confused with each other.)

*MY* Bold As Brass combines eviscerating satire of both the public school system and your bog-standard state comprehensive (sorry, Academy) with skulduggery from a washed-up composer and some frankly outstanding posh names. There is an off-duty police officer, a tweed outfit that puts the smoking into ‘smoking jacket’, and precision laser deployment of the words ‘stook’ and ‘befurbelowed’. Plus a trombone player called Carl. There are children and animals. There is gaffer tape and a drain plunger. There is a highly controversial brass fanfare. Take that, Cliff and Hilary. Bet you can’t compete with that kind of content.

All our old friends are still there, apart from Fenella who is staying with her mother until her wrist mends, and Joshua who is probably working in a Starbucks by now. If you haven’t read Life, Death and Cellos yet (and why not?), please don’t read this paragraph.

What have I made the musicians of Stockwell Park Orchestra do now? Find out on 11th July. Or get me drunk and you probably won’t be able to shut me up.

Better still, pre-order (yes, I know I swore I’d never use that term but it turns out it actually does mean something), because it makes an enormous difference to how much notice people take in the first week of publication. Even more so if you can pre-order through your local bookshop. More books are published in the UK per person than anywhere else. If a bookseller sees one of them is a solid sale before it is even published, it blips their radar and they get interested. Otherwise, the Farrago link here can connect you to Hive (a friendly online book ordering system that also donates to your chosen local bookshop) or others. It will be in eBook and paperback versions.

As another incentive, if you tell me you have pre-ordered AND ARE TELLING THE TRUTH, I’ll send you a personal card to use as a book mark. Not that you’ll need it as you won’t be able to stop reading, obviously. Either tweet me or use the contact page here.

And if all this hard sell makes you feel awkward, let me explain that my publishing deal was for two books. If they don’t sell well enough, I won’t be asked to write a third (and quite understandably too). But I’d really like to – just let me dig out these spidery plot diagrams…

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Five Secret Things About Orchestras

Social comedy
05/02/2019 | POSTED BY Abbie

Isabel Rogers, author of Life, Death and Cellos, spills the beans on what really goes on behind those music stands…

I could never have written Life, Death and Cellos if I hadn’t spent a lot of time playing in orchestras. If you never have, they might seem a daunting bunch of people dressed in black looking serious. There’s a guy (almost always still a guy) with untidy hair waving his arms around at the front. But things aren’t always how they appear.

The baton

It may look like a conductor waggles his baton, the orchestra starts automatically and then carries on until the notes run out. In fact, there are specific arm movements to indicate what beat of the bar you are on. Usually bars have two, three or four beats ­– sometimes five or seven if a composer is particularly adventurous or hungover, and there’s compound time where six beats pretend to be two groups of three… look, it’s complicated, is all I’m trying to say. There’s a bloke doing one-handed semaphore with a little white pointy stick, using movements that differ between people as much as handwriting does.

To start a bar, the baton draws an imaginary vertical line downwards. Imagine you’re waiting to play on that first beat. Do you start when the baton is at the top? When it starts to move? When it hits the bottom of an as-yet-unspecified length of line? When it starts changing direction? Do you follow the conductor’s eyebrow lift, his sniff or his buttock-hitch?

The secret, of course, is to time your entry to a microsecond after your neighbour and thereafter confidently lead the way.


When the oboe plays an A for everyone to tune to, not everyone plays an A. The strings do, then twiddle about on their other strings to make sure everything’s okey-dokey. The horns will pretend to play an A but really they’re thinking E, because they transpose, which means every time they play a note they are lying. Trumpets will pretend to play an A but sneak in a B. Clarinets can’t even agree among themselves how much to pretend: it could be either B, C or F sharp. This is for historical reasons I can’t go into here and also life is too short. Just know that junior orchestras spend a LOT of time arguing about what note the horns or trumpets or clarinets got wrong once they’ve stopped, because everybody knows it is a lie. This is why musicians have trust issues. That and the drinking.

Fun with transposition

I once played horn in a piece that started with a horn fanfare, followed by an identical trumpet fanfare. Just before we started, the whisper came down the line of horns to ‘play it up a tone!’. We could of course transpose at sight because horn players are brilliant like that and have to do it all the time, for historical etc. see above reasons. So, we played it and it sounded AMAZING. The trumpets came in and sounded AWFUL and WRONG and couldn’t work out why. We did it again: same result. By the third go, the trumpets were looking stressed and the conductor had started to twitch. We eventually owned up, but never underestimate the satisfaction of making another section of the orchestra look stupid. It is low-grade war all the time. The conductor sometimes barely brokers peace deals.

Musicians have the dirtiest minds

Especially in youth orchestras, where the hormones swill around at alarming levels and everyone is in love with everyone else at one time or another, possibly all at once. Trying to get young musicians to play as a unit is difficult, and a conductor must try different approaches. In one symphony rehearsal, our conductor told the horn section – who had to time their chord entry carefully to the end of an oboe solo – to ‘watch Jenny’s back for when she comes’. They never did get it right: one of them always corpsed.

Playing the cello while pregnant can surprise the whole orchestra

There comes a stage in pregnancy when you have to rest your cello on your bump. That’s all fine and dandy when your baby is sleeping. They have excellent hearing, however. Some orchestral layouts have the trombones sitting behind the cello section, and during one rehearsal I’d leaned back in some bars rest to ease my aching spine. The whole trombone section came in very loudly and suddenly and woke my baby, who flung his limbs in all directions in a quite understandable alarm-clock-terror-scenario. My cello, which had been resting lightly on top of him, was also flung off the bump entirely, and the whole rehearsal had to stop while I picked it up and apologised for the inconvenience.

Next time you see an orchestra play, remember some of them are remembering jokes from the last rehearsal, some fancy the conductor, and a lot of them are simply fibbing about what notes they’re pretending to play. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse for you. Sorry.

To find out more about how orchestras really work, join the Stockwell Park Orchestra for a rehearsal or two with Isabel’s latest book, Life, Death and Cellos!

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Christmas in July – the problems of writing out of season

Romantic Comedy
06/12/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Jane Lovering, author of Christmas Secrets by the Sea, reflects on how to get that festive feeling during a heatwave 

It comes as a surprise to many of my friends that writing a book isn’t an instant process. Although I don’t know why, since most of them can’t even write a coherent note to the milkman given four weeks, a following wind and a thesaurus, but there you go. Anyway. Writing a book takes flipping ages. Then you have to build in the time for editing, cover designing and all that, so it can be about nine months from the moment you first have the bright shining idea to the book actually appearing in a form that people can hold in their hands (when it is considerably less bright and shiny and you frequently don’t care if you never hear the word ‘context’ again).

And with this big time delay come inherent problems, the chief among them being seasonality. I was writing Christmas Secrets by the Sea during the summer. A very long, and hot, summer. Imagine, if you will, the sight of an author trying to conjure the sights and smells of a winter storm on the Dorset coast, with concomitant wind, rain and other inclemencies, whilst being subjected to thirty-degree sunshine and an inconsiderate amount of gentle breeze and cloudless sky. It was tough! Fortunately I live in a house with an inside temperature so low that all visitors come in, shiver and say ‘is this place haunted?’ even during the hottest days, so I never had to resort to sitting with the fridge door open whilst listening to recordings of thunder and lightening and rubbing myself with ice cubes to get into the right mood.

So, there I sat, indoors and really quite chilly considering the outside temperature, writing about Christmas, whilst other, more normal, people were running around in swimsuits and leaping in the sea. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember what it’s like to be wanting to drink hot chocolate and mulled wine when you’re gasping for a gin and tonic and you haven’t seen a sprout for months. But that’s one of the tricks of being an author: when you have to imagine an entire story, imagining the taste of Christmas pudding and the sound of a winter storm is easy. The hard bit is describing them so that readers can also imagine the taste of a Christmas pudding, when they might be reading the story in July…

Anyway. I’ve started a new book now. It’s set during a long, hot summer. Guess when I’m writing it? Go on, take a wild stab – I’ll give you a clue: I’m wearing two fleeces and the tip of my nose just fell off.

Jane’s new book, Christmas Secrets by the Sea, will be out on Thursday 13 December. Happy Christmas!

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The Truth About Writing and Comedy

Humorous Mystery and Crime
19/11/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Farrago author Jonathan Pinnock takes a short break from writing his next Mathematical Mystery to share his thoughts on the serious business of humour.

So how are things going, Jonathan? Glad you asked. As it happens, I’m currently in the throes of completing the follow-up to my mathematical mystery THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE (which I really hope you’ve read, if not, why not, and no, honestly, trust me, you’re really going to enjoy it).

The first thing I’d like to say is that writing the second book commissioned in a two-book deal 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?’

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. Sure, you haven’t actually written that one yet, but that’s next week’s problem.

Anyway, the first book enters the editing and production process and at some point much, much later than you intended, you begin work on Book Two. Fortunately, you have what you think is a half-decent idea and the writing goes reasonably well, but hanging over you all the time is 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, when this point is about a month or so away, you realise that most of your waking life (and a fair bit of your unconscious life too) is now taken up with thinking about the damn thing. The rest of your time is 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 two after all.

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 couple of years or so ago, and today’s dystopian fiction is looking increasingly like tomorrow’s reportage. This is why I think Farrago are really on to 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.

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’re spending five hours or so 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’s next book, A QUESTION OF TRUST, will be published in April 2019 – keep an eye on our website or follow us on Twitter for all the latest Mathematical Mystery news!

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Magical Mystery Paws on tour

Humorous Mystery and Crime
19/06/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

We’re very excited to be bringing you Magical Mystery Paws, a new cosy mystery in the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency series by Mandy Morton – it will be available from bookshops near you from Thursday 12 July.

But if you don’t want to wait that long to meet feline super-sleuth Hattie Bagshot, Mandy will be on tour next week in Cambridge and Felixstowe – don’t miss out!

On Thursday 28 June, meet Mandy at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge, 6:30-7:30 pm. The event is free to attend, and you can book your place here.

On Friday 29 June, join Mandy in His Lordship’s Library at the Orwell Hotel in Felixstowe at 6:15pm. At both events Mandy will be talking about her feline detective and signing advance copies of the book.

Hope to see you there!

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in Stockwell Park

23/05/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Farrago Books has acquired poet Isabel Rogers’ fiction debut, Life, Death and Cellos, in a two-book deal bringing the baton down on the Stockwell Park Orchestra Mystery series. The series, following the adventures of an amateur orchestra in London, is a perfect addition to Farrago’s humorous fiction list, following recent acquisitions of titles by Mandy Morton, Chris McCrudden and Jonathan Pinnock.

The opening novel, Life, Death and Cellos, finds the Stockwell Park Orchestra facing financial ruin after a guest conductor drops dead on stage, squashing and injuring their primary benefactor. In a tale marrying the insight of Sue Townsend with the farcical humour of John O’Farrell, a priceless cello is abducted, a conductor is stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic, and Erin the cellist stumbles (eventually) on her true calling in life.

Isabel Rogers won the 2014 Cardiff International Poetry Competition and has been shortlisted twice in the Charles Causley poetry prize. She was Hampshire Poet Laureate 2016 and her debut poetry collection Don’t Ask was published by Eyewear in February 2017.

Commissioning Editor Abbie Headon says: “I’ve enjoyed reading Isabel’s pithy observations on Twitter for several years, and I was thrilled to discover that, as well as being a very serious poet, Isabel is also a hilarious storyteller. Life, Death and Cellos marries Isabel’s love of classical music with perfect comic timing and emotional depth.”

Isabel Rogers says: “I can’t always be moping about writing poetry. I spent too many rehearsals giggling to waste all that fantastic material, so Life, Death and Cellos muscled into my head and refused to leave until I wrote it down. I hope it might show readers who don’t play an instrument that just because people can master demisemiquavers doesn’t mean they are remotely civilised. Musicians want alcohol and custard creams. Anything else is a bonus.”

Life, Death and Cellos will be published in ebook, paperback and audiobook on 14 February 2019 and promoted through the book trade and direct to the Farrago mailing list of humorous fiction lovers. The second title in the series will be published later in 2019.

Listen up! Audiobooks to make you smile

08/03/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Have you discovered the joy of audiobooks yet? They’re a fabulous way to enjoy great stories when you’re travelling, keeping fit, working, relaxing – in fact, almost all the time!

Here’s a list of all our current titles. We hope you enjoy them, and we’d love to hear what you think!

The Miss Seeton Mystery Series, read by Phyllida Nash

Picture Miss Seeton   Amazon   iTunes   Kobo

Miss Seeton Draws the Line   Amazon   iTunes   Kobo

Witch Miss Seeton   Amazon   iTunes   Kobo

Miss Seeton Sings   Amazon   iTunes   Kobo

Miss Seeton Quilts the Village   Amazon   iTunes   Kobo

The Bandy Papers Series, read by Robin Gabrielli

Three Cheers for Me   Amazon   iTunes

That’s Me in the Middle   Amazon   iTunes

It’s Me Again   Amazon   iTunes

Follow us here on our blog, and on Twitter and Facebook, to stay up to date with new titles. And subscribers to our newsletter (see link on homepage) will get regular updates too, of course.

Happy listening!

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Win a prize from The Literary Gift Company in the new Farrago newsletter

Competitions and giveaways
25/01/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

The latest Farrago newsletter has just landed, packed with news of bookish goings on at Farrago HQ. If you missed your copy, don’t worry – you can sign up for the next edition on our home page.

In the newsletter, we’ve got a fab giveaway, and we wanted to share it with our blog readers too. Thanks to the Literary Gift Company, we’re offering one lucky reader a stylish mug with a message to preserve your precious reading time…

For a chance to win, answer the question below:

Who is the author of Miss Seeton Sings?
(a) Hamilton Crane
(b) Heron Carvic
(c) Hampton Charles

Send your answer to readers@farragobooks.com by Monday 12 February. Click here for terms and conditions. And for more bookish treats, do check out the Literary Gift Company website.

Don’t miss out – enter today! And look out for another giveaway in next month’s newsletter, plus all the latest news about new titles and behind-the-scenes secrets from the world of books that make us smile.

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The Making of a Mystery Writer

Humorous Mystery and Crime
16/01/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Sarah J. Mason, known to fans of the Miss Seeton Mystery series as Hamilton Crane, describes how she first caught the mystery habit…

To paraphrase Mark Twain: two or three persons having at different times intimated that if I would write an explanation they would read it when they got leisure, I yield at last to this frenzied public demand, and herewith tender a history of my first tentative steps in the crime fiction world.

My father, one way and another, began it all. My mother had gone to hospital. “And when she comes home, she will bring you a baby sister! You’ll be able to play together when she is bigger, but for now you must be very kind and gentle with her because she has a hole in her head, and it will hurt her if you touch it.”

My sister is three years and two months younger than me. Once she came home, a very puzzled little girl spent a long time looking for the expected neat black bullet-hole between the baby’s eyes. No splinters of bone, no blood, no mess – just a neat black bullet-hole, perplexing by its absence. The perfect cosy mystery, except that my juvenile query was not Whodunnit? so much as Where is it? (Memo to well-intentioned parents: do explain things properly!)

My father died a week after my sixteenth birthday. Exams loomed at school. For light relief I picked up his copy of The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin and discovered for the first time that a detective story could be, not only well plotted, not only well written, but could also be fun; sprinkled throughout with literary allusions to enhance the enjoyment of those readers who recognised them, without in any way overwhelming those who didn’t.

Many years later, when my own books were first published, I wrote to Edmund Crispin’s widow and explained that I should like to acknowledge my debt by quoting a line from The Moving Toyshop on the topic of coincidence. Would she mind? She replied, by return, that she would not. I was thrilled. That Sarah J. Mason mystery with its Crispin quotation is long out of print, but in homage to the master Hamilton Crane will from time to time sprinkle a modest literary allusion into Miss Seeton’s adventures, so much less fantastic than the “unlikely events” depicted in Edmund Crispin’s pre-war Oxford.

My life might have taken a very different direction if my father had gone to Cambridge – but he didn’t.

And the rest is mystery history!

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