I’m delighted to be welcoming Sue Clark today to chat about her novel, Note to Boy, which is publishing 23rd July.
I love the research Sue did as well as her plans for a virtual launch and I know you will too. Enjoy!
Eloise is an erratic, faded fashionista. Bradley is a glum but wily teenager.
In need of help to write her racy 1960s memoirs, the former ‘shock frock’ fashion guru tolerates his common ways. Unable to remember his name, she calls him Boy. Desperate to escape a brutal home life, he puts up with her bossiness and confusing notes.
Both guard secrets. How did she lose her fame and fortune? What’s he scheming – beyond getting his hands on her bank card? And just what’s hidden in that mysterious locked room?
Note to Boy, the comedy fiction by Sue Clark, is published by Unbound 23 July 2020 and is available in paperback and digital formats.
Hi Sue, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Note to Boy in 20 words or less.
She wants her celebrity life back. He just wants a life.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
Note to Boy tells of the mayhem that follows when the worlds of Eloise, an outrageous fashion diva, famous in 1960s Swinging London, and Bradley, a downtrodden modern teenager collide.
She’s an elderly, extrovert, gin-soaked diva. He’s a seventeen-year old who’s learnt it’s safer to keep his eyes down and his mouth shut. She has a past she likes to boast about. He’s already given up on his future. Yet against the odds, as this comic novel describes, the two of them become a formidable team.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most Sue?
It’s sometimes not the big action scenes that are the most satisfying to write, I find. There’s a short scene early on, when Bradley and Eloise begin to become more accepting of each other.
A ‘sixties song comes on the radio and Eloise holds up her arms, inviting awkward teenager Bradley to dance with her. Reluctantly, he accepts. At first he’s embarrassed but the cheerful pop tune soon gets to him and he starts to relax. Of course, Eloise has to then ruin it by over-reacting. The sweetness of the moment lingers, however, and for a few days after, they both find themselves humming the tune.
Why? The whole scene – even a specific song – popped into my head fully formed. It just felt right. I didn’t have to force it.
… and the hardest?
The final few chapters. Though I knew when I started writing what should happen at the end, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. I wanted an ending that was emotional without being sentimental, satisfying without being predictable, uplifting without being glib. And, of course, it had to be funny. I hope I got the balance right.
Did you do any research for your book? What resources did you use?
Most of the research was done at first-hand.
The climax takes place at a vintage clothing auction. I had no experience of one so I attended a major sale at a specialist auction house in London and observed. It was an amazing eye-opener. The clothes ranged from the wondrous to the wacky, the bids were eye-wateringly high and the bidders were, to say the least, a colourful bunch. It was a glimpse into another world that greatly helped me in the writing.
For Eloise’s past in Swinging Sixties London, I simply had to recall what it was like for me as a young woman around that time, living near Oxford Circus, working for an American film company, and shopping in Carnaby Street. Fab and groovy times, man!
Panster or plotter?
I’m one hundred per cent pantster. I can’t do it any other way. I’ve tried. Even if I draw diagrams, create timelines and stick up post-it notes, they never work for me, because the story develops so much as I write it.
Plus, I find it hard to write chronologically. I’m drawn to certain scenes and characters and write them as the ideas come. That’s draft one. In the next and subsequent drafts, the task is to fashion those into some sort of coherent narrative shape.
I usually know where I’m starting from and where I’m heading but what route the journey will take is something that evolves as I sit at the keyboard. I’m a ‘beginning, a muddle and an end’ writer.
Which authors have influenced your writing Sue?
So many but I’ll pick three contemporary writers and three classics, all humourists.
Of current writers, I admire Kate Atkinson, Lissa Evans and Helen Fielding. Of the classics, I love Tom Sharpe, David Lodge and P G Wodehouse (of course!).
What they have in common is an amazing ability to tell a story that has resonance and depth but with the lightest of light touches. I believe there’s almost no fiction that’s not improved by at least a touch of humour.
Have you joined any writing groups?
More than a decade ago I took a two-year, part-time creative writing course in Oxford. When the course ended, a group of us couldn’t bear to be parted so we continued meeting.
Over the years we five have encouraged, cajoled and critiqued each other in equal measure. We still remain friends, though these days when we meet it’s as much about lunch as it is about literature.
Do you make use of local resources for promoting your book?
The bookshop in the town where I live, Mostly Books of Abingdon, have been wonderful. The owner, Sarah Dennis, always found time to ask about the progress of Note to Boy and now it’s being published she’s helping me organise the book launch.
When it became clear a physical launch wasn’t possible – I’m writing this as we’re still in lockdown – she proposed a virtual event. We plan to have imaginary canapés and computer-generated cocktails, though the celebrity interviewer will be real enough. On 23 July, publication day, I shall be in conversation with Paul Mayhew Archer, legendary comedy writer, co-writer of The Vicar of Dibley and latterly stand-up comedian.
Finally, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
The best part so far has been the unboxing of the first copies of the book. It has a beautifully designed and very striking cover but I wasn’t prepared for the visual and emotional impact of seeing it for the first time, nestling in its bubblewrap. The thrill of lifting that first copy, running my hands over its cover, planting a little kiss on its spine, and breathing in that lovely, booky smell is a something I’ll never forget.
Thank you for being my guest Sue. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Sue Clark has grilled John Humphreys, quipped with Ronnie Corbett, danced with one James Bond and had a one-sided conversation with another, and penned funny lines for the likes of Lenny Henry, June Whitfield, Roy Hudd and David Jason. She’s been a BBC radio and TV comedy scriptwriter on such shows such as Alas Smith and Jones, Weekending, The News Huddlines and The Jason Explanation, a copywriter, a PR, a journalist, a magazine editor, a writer of guidebooks, a secretary and was, briefly, paid to read books all day long for a film producer. And now she’s written a novel.
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