Aug. 9, 2021

16: Hidden Tools of Comedy review & Chris Paling interview


It's a half and half treat this week! Half book review ("The Hidden Tools of Comedy" by Steve Kaplan) and half interview - a lovely natter with novelist, and writer of "A Very Nice Rejection Letter", Chris Paling. In addition to this we obviously also briefly discuss Lion dressage.
  
https://www.chrispaling.com/

https://www.kaplancomedy.com/product/book/
 
Music by Dan-o Songs

Transcript

hear ye hear ye welcome oh welcome indeed to the failing writers podcast where merry folk commune on their long and burdensome voyage towards creative eminence glory and riches

hello bienvenue and welcome to another failing writers podcast i feel like like uh steve wright zoo clap there shouldn't we like

there's also quite uh quite an olympic intro as well to match the ongoing sporting activity of the world at the minute so although that's going to be out of date when this goes out but it's it will be wouldn't it so maybe i don't know it seems like they've been going on for an awful long time yeah because they keep thinking of random events yeah that's true some of the stuff that's in the olympics is i mean it's brilliant but it's kind of crazy isn't it it's mad that everything isn't in but you find yourself watching it that you'd never watch it like i watched the entire mountain biking yeah i have no interest in mountain biking whatsoever but then by the end of it you start thinking you're some kind of expert that's right and going oh yeah well that's quite a big it's a big drop that one is that's two tenths there hasn't he with that yeah because the sideways camera he's got a he's got the wrong ties on to be fair i don't know why he's chosen all experts i did actually start watching the dressage i've realized that if they want to you do walk a bit like that though so i see why you i see where you find that that's how you kind of yeah it does it does hyper extent it does just like very slowly strut within a very measured tiny little steps yeah um and i was thinking if you know that if they want to sort of open that out to the real people they probably need to change their name dressage to uh horse dancing yeah strictly horse strictly horse you're just gonna get a you know a more diverse audience and uh and ryder yeah i think you're right john i think it is the name of the event that's stopping more ordinary people getting into what do you say more diverse you mean like using different animals yeah yeah totally yeah because round here you know we do have the odd horse but there's a lot more sheep and cows yeah you know what i mean there's margaery graham from rotherham on uh sally the sheep we could not from all the different countries without different ones yeah people turning up on antelopes and elks and lions yeah wouldn't it spice it up a bit yeah that's what they should do food for thought yep send that to the olympic committee definitely and a couple of emails today we're not going to turn that down are they olympics aside yeah and let's just say it was an international opening so wherever you are listening in the world uh welcome alby and vernon yeah phil common uh so today we've got quite an exciting like a hybrid episode haven't we um it's like half and half you know when you go to a pizza place and you discover that they can do half and half yes and it is one of the most exciting days of your life it's a little bit like that so we've got a bit of a bit of chat coming up and then later on we've got an interview we have indeed we are interviewing the excellent chris paling who's written a book that the title of could be literally written for this podcast it's kind of uh it was a deep synergy wasn't it as soon as we saw her about it and john got on the case and asked him if he'd come on but yeah it just seemed like and the obvious choice of person to interview yeah with his book a very nice rejection letter uh the diary so that's that's coming up in the second half of the show but in the first half we should we have to ask the question don't we what have we been writing this week chaps um i could start that by saying nothing absolutely nothing is it just me or is this this week seems to be this one has just i don't know where it's gone yeah i've had the best of intentions but i haven't really found any it's just i haven't not done anything it's just the weeks vanished yeah just time has gone although actually saying that i have actually written something that i haven't written for a very long time because we've all we've all been doing some actual adverts haven't we we have this week yes we've got a little uh a little job of writing the start of some some little um video skits i guess yeah creative advertising i never thought i would do that ever again uh it's been about 15 years yeah i could tell when you sent your stuff through dave actually it looked it had a feeling yeah just out of practice yeah i wonder if we'll get to uh ring russell if they'll ever air and we'll actually get to show people well if i've learned anything in my copywriting career john is when you do stuff at this stage of a project it will bear very little relation to what actually comes out at some point that is very true or it'll be some weird hybrid or something and wait till the client gets their hands off do you remember when you used to get clients you'd write some you'd think i'm gonna i've got some brilliant ideas here so you do him maybe two or three different campaigns very separate with a different a different angle in a different nub a different point of view different characters and they go in and they go i love this this is anything brilliant at this me oh these are brilliant brilliant hey denise can we have a listen to these they're brilliant they're brilliant yeah brilliant so what we want if can you take a bit of the first one and then that the second paragraph we like that in the in the second one and then the bit with the other carrot can you put those in the other one you just sat there with your your heart would just sink and you think it's not yeah god not even possible because you know you'll go away and have a go at trying to do that i think that's often the problem that you kind of did and then with the audio producer managed to actually get something that sounded decent and you'd just be making a rod for your own back because he goes yeah that sounds good you said it couldn't be done look yeah but deep down you'd know it's just garbage clients always right hey well um as long as we get paid for it hey that's the main thing yeah but yeah that's that's been quite it's been quite good fun i suppose trying to get back into the mindset of creative writing um it's good to have something that's quite short and over with quite quickly and actually have a deadline for something in it you know what i mean it's writing something that you know somebody's going to read quite soon and give you a decision on it straight away so that's yeah and pay pay you anyway yeah that would be so many ways completely the opposite of the exact opposite yeah yeah yeah makes me wonder why i got out of it in the first place so dave in these short 15 second little skits that we've been doing for the aforementioned uh client project yep did you find that you were able to structure them better because you are about to you are about to give us a review of the book i tried to implement the tools uh in this in this 200-page book into those 15-second adverts as much as i could uh no i didn't but um i should probably should hark back to this is a book that you sent me to read ages ago now we did well there was there was a there was a weird week wasn't the way john just got suddenly really aggressive about giving people books yeah yeah i had a proper like chip on his shoulder about making other people read books yeah and after that he's the only one who hasn't done it yet yeah i have read it though oh i just haven't talked about it fair enough what's the book called david the book is called the hidden tools of comedy by steve kaplan he's been a consultant for dreamworks and disney and hbo and aardman and he's been doing this apart from that what's he done though dave exactly what has he done we know he knows what he's on about um so brownie's been doing these workshops for years and years and years um it's like quite a well-respected man in la and someone told him you should write a book of that so he has and i've read it and i will reveal its contents to you now can i just ask dave have you done any work on your ability to give marks out of 10 since last week because that was um no i've left i've left that to the end right um i'll try and give it a 10 at the end yeah and then we'll have a better idea as well of whether that kind of matches with what you're saying yeah exactly yeah okay but um the review is it was good okay did you like it did you like it i liked it a lot uh no it's really i'm getting seven or above then sorry we're not there yet carry on six and a half uh no it was it was really good um because it's not so much it's because there's a lot of books and things out there like about how to be funny which i often don't think work very well because i do think it's pretty difficult to teach someone to be funny if if you're just not yeah yeah um but this isn't so much about like how to be funny it's more about how to how to fix a scene or a story or something that's not quite working right okay so it's about sort of recognizing the things that get in the way of your comedy um so yeah yeah it's so it's assuming that you are funny and can write funny yes in the first place otherwise presumably you wouldn't be doing it exactly you've gotta you kind of got to have written something to begin with and this helps you make it funnier yes it's it's it's kind of it's as much about what to leave out as it is about what to put in and it's great because it uses like as you're reading it you get a real sort of sense of what it would be like to be in one of the workshops because he he puts in the examples of clips that he would play in the workshops and there's things from like mel brooks and seinfeld and groundhog day groundhog day groundhog day groundhog day groundhog day um and some other examples from movies where things don't work so well and then you know actually talks you through why that works and and why it doesn't um and one of the sort of really good examples is he talks about apparently there's a like an early draft script of groundhog day somewhere online that you can read um and it's absolutely full of gags like like every other line is a joke pretty much and he said like you can sort of you can trace where it begins to work better as they start to take gags out and one of the reasons for this is it's kind of all about character so you've got this if you've ever seen groundhog day this guy wakes up and he's in the same place as he was yesterday and he's trapped in this sort of perpetual day and if you imagine yourself in that sort of scenario the last thing you would probably do is try to be funny you know start to make little quips and gags every time someone says something you'd be you'd be absolutely desperate to get out and it's when they started to follow that path of being true to the character that everything else had room to be funny yeah and it makes an awful lot of sense it does i think the main lesson of the book is like don't try to be funny just like set your characters up properly and let them set the situation probably and the comedy should just sort of happen really yeah because actually groundhog day is quite a good example of that then if it had gag gags in previously as the days go on and on and on it becomes more and more sardonic doesn't even kind of depressed about the whole thing and the humor comes out of that and he's sarcasm and it's heavy yeah and then it gets quite black and cheap little gags yeah exactly and he uses steve kaplan has this sort of he calls it a comedy equation um there aren't any numbers in it which is probably a good thing and what he saw and this is kind of it's specifically for like screenplays and movies really but it kind of works in anything and what he says is that comedy is about an ordinary person struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the required skills and tools with which to win yet never giving up hope and if you think about it that kind of describes all the sort of like the best comedy characters um but if you take any of those elements out at any point it sort of stops being funny so you know you think about uh basil faulty and faulty towers he has this dream of like the perfect up market hotel but he doesn't have any of the skills required to achieve that he's not he's not a people person he hasn't got any money hasn't got sort of breeding anything like that but he never gives up hope he's constantly trying to achieve the impossible and that's that's why it sort of keeps being funny like if he if he loses hope at any point if he just falls into despair it stops being funny and it becomes you know a tragedy yeah and another example i thought of the other day is like the last series of only fools and horses where they suddenly become millionaires after trying to be them uh it just instantly stops being funny yeah yeah i think that was a way of shooting it down though yeah yeah exactly and that's that's exactly why yeah that was that was a way of going right this is done finished don't never can never be funny again don't you can't make us do any more christmas yeah exactly um so yeah so it's it's a it's it's a really good really sort of inspirational book um and i as i was sort of going through it i kept thinking ah you know i i could apply that to some things that i've written and i guess the best sort of review of it is that once i'd finished reading it i instantly wanted to start writing uh another series of anything for you so that's that's going to be my next project is to try and write another series of that but yeah use these tools yeah to see if i can make it better i'd say that was a very good review that it actually inspired yeah inspires you to want to keep writing that's all you want really yeah yeah it absolutely does it's sort of what was it like in terms of how how um prescriptive was it or how did it just kind of did you feel like it was just giving you the tools obviously inspiring yeah it's i think it's very it's very good in that sense because it all the way through he kind of keeps reminding you this isn't it's not like um it's not an instruction manual it's not like how to write something funny or how to be funny these are tools to use uh when something isn't working or you know to fix or to make something as good as it can possibly be but it doesn't at any point say do this do this and do this and you will have something funny so in that sense i just found it yeah i found it really good is it funny to read or is it very is it like like weirdly dry and uh yeah that's a good question that because so often the people that write funny aren't that funny yeah it's i mean they've almost been bred out where they are capable of seeing something really funny and their response rather than laughter yeah inevitably go that works yeah but they might yeah but in a way like comedy is a serious business isn't it like if you know the ins and outs of it you're not really trying to anyway we should probably just ask dave whether it's funny or not i mean i suppose we could while is it it would make sense i suppose or just guess what do you think no um i think it's not that funny to read i think it's probably got elements of humor in it i think it's clear from the from the writing that he's a funny guy but he's not again he's not trying to be funny in it um you know he's just sort of making a point um and then handing over to a clip so there's like some sections from something about mary um just kind of showing here's an example of where it does work and here's an example of of like where it doesn't work so yeah it's not it's not like a laugh out loud it's quite interesting isn't it that you're able to he's able to pick out examples of um major massive feature films where there's something that obviously doesn't work in it yeah and it's quite when you think how much revision and how many script editors and how many people and writers and stuff and directors have been involved in the whole thing that at some point someone's not gone ah that doesn't quite work yeah it's quite actually quite brutal about one one movie in particular um trying to find it he sort of really hammers into it for for a good while and keeps sort of ha every time he mentions something that doesn't work he harks back to this one particular movie do you get the feeling he didn't like the person who wrote quite possibly some sort of beef yeah with the guy who did it um but again it's not he's not sort of really prescriptive about saying oh you should find this funny or you should find that funny he's just sort of saying look this works uh like this sort of objectively works and like comedy itself is very subjective in it you know if i think he kind of says right at the start if somebody does something and you laugh then it's funny you can't argue whether it's funny or not it just if you laugh it's funny but it's about taking that and making a better piece you know it you know a better movie or a better sitcom or whatever is he he's not specifically talking about movie screenplays is he's talking about series he's talking about books a bit of everything yeah i think it's it's kind of about character and story really um yeah which obviously applies yes yeah sort of you know it's it's more he sort of uses more sort of movie examples uh i think that's kind of where most of it comes from but then again he does use a lot of seinfeld as well but it's it's all sort of you know sort of staples of story and staples of of character which you could apply to anything really and do you think it's do you think there's a cultural uh there any cultural differences between the us and the uk did it feel like that is probably bang on in the uk as well yeah he does i think i think there's actually a bit where he talks about the difference between sort of british comedy and american comedy um but he also uses like you know like i said faulty towers as a as an example all right he uses that example yeah i think it's just they're pretty much just kind of universal rules oh yeah he talks about like uh somebody was saying the other day weren't they about how like in america the culture is much more about winning uh and you know sort of supporting you know being being behind the guy who's gonna win whereas in this country we're much more sort of for the underdog am i happy to see them fail yes yeah but what he's kind of saying is that the sort of the key of like comedy is that the person has to keep trying they have to have hope that they're going to win all the time even though they don't have the skills required to actually succeed they have to sort of keep on trying yeah yeah well it's like i said we enjoy kind of the humor of watching them fail yeah and not have the tools as long as they come back in the next episode and try again yeah you know you delby is a brilliant example of that isn't it yeah exactly and you know delve is a great example of uh of summing up the sort of you know the character goals in a catchphrase you know you know this time next year we'll be millionaires that's basically that's the whole thing that drives him all the way through so we can never achieve that but he's got to keep going forward you noticed there's a parallel between that and this podcast how we how we keep striving to make a good episode having the hope but not having the skills too it's true that's true what makes this perfect a perfect comedy that's why it's funny yeah yeah exactly well we have to keep failing that should be our excuse dave we'll get to a moment now where you can show how much you've learned uh since last week yeah um what would you give it in terms of marks out of ten i think uh i would i think i would give it i think i would give it

a nine an eight and a half one eight and a half between eight and a half and nine that is a uh eight and three quarters is that's i mean that's mathematically where you're going there then but i'm not gonna say what out okay well one step at a time that's good that's a good step eight

and actually i've just found the example of a really terrible movie that he mentions it's called alex and emma you ever heard of a movie called alex no never heard of it there might be a reason why there you go luke wilson and kate hudson so you know it's quite quite a big movie i think but um yeah it's an example of of getting it wrong rom-com uh i think it's a rom-com sort of thing yeah so what do you think what do you think alex and emma got as its average score on rotten tomatoes it's a percentage score a 37. yeah i was gonna go low eleven eleven wow so he was probably right to use that was right wasn't it yeah critics consensus a dull and unfunny comedy which how can he an unfunny comedy that's like the worst slight ever isn't it that's brilliant a dull and unfunny comedy where the leads fail to generate any sparks wow not really what you want from a roncom that is it really it's not ticked a lot of the boxes yeah there's no chemistry and no jokes but yes but like just just to sort of carry that what he's what he said about it is that all the way through you could tell the writers were going so wouldn't it be funny if they did this here rather than it being something like okay what would that character do in this situation do you think that might be an example of a film that would be very hard to write a log line for like you can't see the jokes what is the idea of the film what would the log line be dave probably yeah come on you've seen the film well writer alex sheldon must finish his novel within a month if he doesn't he won't get paid and if that happens angry mafia types to whom he owes money will come looking for him huh that's it so he hires typist emma dinsmore played by kate hudson begins dictating his novel so that's the idea but as alex falls for emma his work takes a different turn and hilarity doesn't ensue there we go thank you david you're very welcome great dave and thomas so john what remind us what is the book that you've read and and are yet to review future episodes oh yeah it was blake snyder's save the cat oh yes which is yeah it's a massive one isn't it it is yeah all right well and it is really good don't give a what don't give it away don't give don't say now whether it's good or not yeah save it for you okay okay now i think i've already said it in another episode if i think i talked about it quite a lot having said that i won't talk about it now for another episode i think i basically went through it no i'll i'll go through in a bit more detail because i think it's worth it i think it's uh i think it's very good yeah any last little uh little tools of comedy dave that you picked up anything any other little tips

give us one more tool before you start before you uh close the box come on let me just have a little look here uh oh so yeah it's a this thing he calls the straight line or the wavy line um which is basically a sort of breakdown or a little change on the old idea of the straight man and the funny man so a lot of people's idea that you know there should be a funny person who's supposed to be saying the funny lines a straight person is supposed to be saying straight lines and what he's saying is that it doesn't have to be that prescriptive um because you know you get a lot of actors um who will always want to have the sort of funny lines in movies uh sometimes like to the detriment of the film because it shouldn't be that character who says that line to make it funny oh yeah um so he was saying it's not about a straight person a funny person you can use this straight line wavelength so as long as there's one sort of straight line and one wavy line in any particular moment it'll work um so it's more about the content than than the character delivery yes yes because he says alex and emma just don't have any funny lines just don't happen but what is what he sort of says is that um comedy comes from uh there's a good quote in there from john cleese about when they first started writing monty python they thought comedy was about like people doing silly things but as they sort of went on they realized comment is about people seeing other people doing silly things so the comedy doesn't come from somebody doing something comedy often comes from the another person who's there seeing it and their reaction to that oh that's that god that shines through monty python doesn't it straight away as soon as you've said it exactly yeah so you know there's always got to be somebody there so kind of the straight the straight man yeah but that but that can change it's just a reaction yeah it can change like through the through the course of a scene or what have you or you know if you think of a movie like the naked gun where somebody says something that's totally wacky there's always somebody else there giving them a look give a glance to cameron yeah yeah and it's that what that's where the sort of the comedy comes from is not seeing someone do something silly but seeing somebody else react to somebody else doing something which then makes you as part of the audience part of that reaction yeah you're sort of in on it yeah yeah so there we go yeah that's good hidden tool of the day good i like it yeah well done for reading sounds like you might have got something out of it as well i really did i was like i was proper i felt proper inspired by it and and like that so i finished the book and i was like right this is what i'm gonna do now um and by the end of the day i'd sort of planned out by the end of the day he'd made four cups of tea and that wasn't even my lawn no i planned out uh the sort of basic storyline for the next for the next series what the sort of overarching story yes yeah so what's going to happen to the characters in general so yeah that's my brilliant very inspirational brilliant well done dave hey maybe we should read some more books i'd say now look what we've done dave now john's gonna start barking out random books again three more coming up you read the bible you read war and peace and can i read uh the big red track a little bit shorter goes up to the field and then i believe it comes back again um but obviously not all books uh can be successful all the time oh i can feel a seamless link coming on dave everything that you write is gonna be well received really so sometimes i suppose at some point you might get rejection letters so if only someone was about to talk to us about that particular subject oh wait a minute what who's this on the line

i don't know what's his name john his name is chris paling a writer whose new book a very nice rejection letter diary of a novelist has just been released he's with us now hello chris chris hello good to meet you hello we're very we're very excited to have you on you don't get many self-confessed failing writers on the failing writers podcast i've noticed i've been looking at your um your back catalogue and most seem to be fairly successful they are but we should point out though chris we are the failing writers you're not the failing writer you haven't been invited on as a failing writer i hope you get that from our point of view you've had a stratospheric career exactly i mean you've had you've had actual books published you know and people people have written nice things about you and cared about your books so uh we just need to make that yeah early on you know there are levels of failure aren't there i'm interested to know that you're a failing writers podcast from a failed writer's podcast which kind of suggests it's a it's a work in progress rather than the work we want to get there though we will one day become failed writers pretty sure yeah something just five more yeah yeah there are three little letters that have a huge effect three little letters that you must respect three little letters that mean the world to me they are ing you're not a sailor tilt you go sailing it isn't nailed on if you're still nailing you're not a failure if you're criss-paling is the operative word you can't be overlooked if you're still looking it isn't overcooked if you're still cooking you're pretty much a fork if you're still fishing ing is the operative let's get cooperative ing is the that was the original reason for the the podcast is that we could try and shame each other into writing more and uh and go on our little journey together and has it worked i mean well it's early days that's just it's early days yeah again yeah let's stick stick with the ing suffix it's working yeah yeah it's working good yeah so maybe we could start if you don't mind chris if you could give us your description of the the book okay around 2006 2007 i started keeping a journal well when i got um i think i got a few novels out then but i just started keeping a journal just for my own entertainment really and then i put it aside and i didn't look at it for years and years i kept it for a couple of years and then i had about of ill health a few years ago and i kept another journal there because i quite liked the journal form uh and then more recently i started another journal after i wrote my last book which was which was about the local library where it worked oh yeah reading aloud another sort of journal and then i was talking to the agent and he said have you got anything on the stocks uh because we obviously can't flog this novel you're trying to pout around and i said not really i just got this some old journal rubbish do you want to have a look at it and he looked at it and he said i think we can do some of this and um the weird thing was that the latter part of the journal becomes about the publication of the book what i really enjoyed about it particularly sort of towards the start was the fact you could tell obviously been written as a journal and it's very kind of transient isn't it right like that because you're not expecting it to be kept or go anywhere really and it's kind of for your eyes yeah there was a lovely genuine honesty undercurrent in it did you go back and tweak things or was it kind of true to itself no it is true to itself i thought i was very much felt like that yeah yeah i didn't want to go back and rewrite myself as the you know the hero of my own story it was supposed to be honest because i remember when i first wrote it i never showed it to my agent then it was somebody called deborah rogers who was this kind of legendary figure she was brilliant but i showed it to her assistant i said look just have a look at this i don't think she was very happy with it she said deborah works very hard for you you know i said i know she does and i suddenly realized that maybe this whole journal was about how terrible my agent was and it's not it's just about kind of relationships between agents and writers and publishers and everybody's trying their best and uh sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn't yeah i think maybe she picked up on the the honesty it's very naked actually isn't it yeah i i um just going back um to when you were younger chris that there was one particularly uh heartbreaking bit in the book which was the time you wrote a sort of i think it was a thomas hardy parody at school and showed it to your english teacher and uh it wasn't it wasn't really received with a great deal of enthusiasm in fact i think you ended up almost like apologizing to your english teacher for writing it i mean i just just thought that was awful and i i'm i'm kind of amaze i think maybe your generation are a bit more resilient than our generation but i think that might have just i think i might have just given up and not bothered writing anymore i mean i did give up after that for about a decade because but that was the kind of school i went to they were they wanted to put you in certain boxes and i had before that written the start of a novel when i was a kid when i was about 14 and i thought i mean this isn't too bad i might be able to do this and i got really excited oh that was the street artist yeah yeah and the pavement artist but it's not you know found it the other day and it's it's not too bad so i wrote this thing and i wrote about 20 pages in the back of my english book and i really literally was called to stand at her desk and she said well what is this and i said well it's this sort of yeah it's a parody of tests of the derbyvilles which we were studying and i i don't know if there's any validity in it but i literally had to apologize you know what's this about why are you doing it and don't make sure you don't do it again really and i didn't you know 20 10 15 years didn't really write again who did they want you to apologize to the the teacher the the class the thomas thomas yeah the history of literature yeah yeah everything everyone had apologized to her for wasting paper in the back of her valuable english if you're an english teacher you'd be you'd be so delighted wouldn't you if someone was inspired enough to write even if it was a parody or even if it was a bit jokey you'd just be thrilled wouldn't you nowadays you would kind of hope so wouldn't you but in that school everything was kind of frowned down upon um it was an appalling place i had a miserable time for seven years but um let's not talk about myself just move on so what got you back into writing then after that pretty bad start well i didn't do any after that for about 10 years and then i suppose in my mid-20s i i was working for the bbc as a sound engineer studio manager i worked across quite a lot of output i worked for radio 4 i did a bit of sport worked a bit on radio one but i worked weird shifts and one afternoon i was sitting at home in brighton in the middle of the afternoon and just sat down and wrote a story i don't know why uh and i thought it was okay and i sent it off to this guy called mitch raper who used to edit this thing called morning story i'm ready and he was a brilliant old boy really i mean he he was incredibly productive he used to produce at least four stories a week virtually every week of the year and he he got the scripts the studio he booked the actors he edited the thing and he did all the continuity details and got it on air anyway on top of all of that he always responded to every story that was sent to him even if it was completely rubbish and he rejected the stories i sent but in such a way that it he suggested that i had some talent and i think it was those letters i got back from dear old mitch that i thought okay i maybe i can do it so i just kept writing really and the stories led to a 30-minute theater which i wrote and that was commissioned and performed and then it kind of all started from there really i mean the story my radio drama career was fairly short um so i gave that up and then and then i wrote a novel and then that was sold and and the writing career really started i was going to say that like rejection is it's a massive part of being a writer in it but there's there are nice ways of doing it and not so nice ways of doing it so is it fair to say that the sort of the manner of those sort of rejections that you got encourage you to keep going um i don't know to be quite honest i got to the point where i thought i could write but in other people's opinions i couldn't or i couldn't write what it was that they wanted and to be quite honest i don't think any of those rejections actually put me off because i just got so used to receiving them that i just saw yeah here's another rejection it would have been a bit of a shock had any of those stories or plays been accepted um but i didn't really feel they knocked me back to be quite honest yeah none of them were ever very constructive i think there's probably a way of rejecting people like mitch did that doesn't completely destroy their confidence yeah but i think the problem with you know when people are pitching novels stories plays whatever i think the important thing to know when you get a rejection it's not necessarily to think it's a bad piece of work it's just a piece of work that doesn't fit the very narrow definition of what the person you're pitching it to once yes at that time yeah at that point yeah yeah i mean and that's the strange thing about getting published somehow what you've written has hit zeitgeist in such a way or hit an editor's brain in such a way that it goes well i couldn't have envisaged this story coming in but i like enough to know it will fit my catalog and we might be able to sell a few copies you know it and it doesn't mean it's any better or worse than the one he's just rejected it just fits that moment for yeah you know it sounds like and i think i think in the book you talk about it um a little bit but you you kind of talk about uh writing more as a like a compulsion than a desire like you have to write like you never really had a choice about whether you're going to be right something you usually feel in yourselves because you know the fact that you are continuing to write there is a compulsion there and once you get it it is a strange sort of addiction um and you can't not do it it's very strange yeah i don't know what it is it's really hard as well to describe to people that don't have it how not fun and thoroughly unpleasant writing can be yeah would they go well if you think that what why why are you doing it then and and it's actually very hard to get any way past that because that is actually a really good point it's it's not always fun a lot of it is hard work and slightly unpleasant yeah i mean writing isn't that fun most of the time i think i say in the book you know 90 of the time it's it's really hard it's not i think that the joy is having written it's not writing i'm actually there's a lot of joy for me in rewriting um and i think a lot of people who are starting out work too hard at the first draft and go back and back and back i think the point is just to splurge it on the page just get it out there yeah and then rewrite because writing really is refining those first thoughts it's like hemingway's quote you know the first draft of anything is [ __ ] and that's absolutely true because it is and so you've got to get over that self criticism i think a lot of creative writing courses teach people to refine and refine and refine but don't be fine finish it and then go back over it you know it's an interesting point we've we've come across a lot in the last few weeks really isn't it it's just to just to get something down there then you can then you can play around with it but don't don't stress too much about that no absolutely not no do not stress beyond beyond that no so chris you were you were um obviously you're working as a bbc producer when did you find the time to write because that's one of the things that we find incredibly difficult is um yeah just grabbing up moments to actually go and do it and finding that you actually you need a decent chunk of time i don't know whether a decent chunk you need a chunk of time i used to write because i live in bryson and i worked in london i used to commute on the train every day and i used to write on the train basically i wrote the first seven novels on the train so i wrote on the way up in the morning and then i edited on the way back at night so that's where i wrote the first yeah the first seven novels so i had a clear hour in the morning going up and an hour coming back and they're all set on trains yeah they're all about people on trains yeah in fact the first one is partly set on the train um but i think that you don't need a massive chunk of time you just need a regular chunk of time even if it's only yeah half an hour a day as long as it's regular you don't need several hours because when i packed up the commuting i thought this is what i always wanted to do i wanted to write you know full-time absolutely hopeless i couldn't do it i just there was no pressure on that time so i just ended up looking out the window you know and i couldn't write so for me i always needed a pressure on my writing time to to write anything interesting so what did you do to overcome that when when i packed in the community yeah yeah did you have to find something else to sort of fill your time to distract you from writing yeah because when i packed in the commuting i then did a bit of writing at night but then i packed in the beep which is what led me to working in the library as a sort of casual library officer and that's when i started keeping the journals which led to the last non-fiction book so the end of commuting really was the end of the of the novel writing and how did that feel did you feel any way about that when you you'd been sort of working away on these these novels and some success with some of them and some of them perhaps didn't go where you wanted them to to then to someone to read like a journal that you've sort of casually been keeping and say oh we can do something with this uh did that make you feel any any way about you know the sort of time that you spent on other stuff not really because i i honestly don't think any time writing anything is wasted um all everything you write leads you to the next thing you write so even though it might not be published uh you know i wouldn't have written my third novel without writing the second and i wouldn't have written reading aloud without writing this writer's journal in 2003 so one way or another they're all stepping stones every project is a stepping stone to the next one you've had very complimentary reviews for your books i think you were i think you were called the literary stealth bomber weren't you at one point as in nobody had heard of you but but your writing was excellent i mean you're you're clearly considered very good uh by critics but what do you what do you think has stopped you really breaking through what's the kind of key factor i think i i never really particularly wrote in a single genre or a single type of book because i just got bored so every every novel i've written has been completely different from the one before so you know it's absolutely death to building up a readership quite honestly it's very hard to sound really hard to sell so therefore if somebody reads you know i don't know minding or something which is about a relationship between a woman who's losing control of her son and then the next one i wrote was nimrod shadow which was a partly historical novel about a painter there's no there's no connection between the two options so for a publicist they're impossible to sell because none of them did sell you can't go to a bookshop and said you know and say look he did 50 000 on the last one said stock it they won't you know so i think that was part of the problem i think at the beginning the problem was i was writing too much and i think the latter problem is that i just wasn't always writing the same stuff really maybe that is the answer to the question i think i think you're probably i think you're probably right you just need to make it very easy to sell to people what have the sales been looking like for the rejection uh very nice rejection letter oh terrible i think yeah really i don't know i think it's not selling you know it's um you kind of watch the amazon rankings and it hovers around sort of 30 or 40 000 which means it's it's done very few copies yeah and they think it might be a kind of word of mouth slow seller so i'm kind of holding on to that one it does have a slight element of a good uh christmas present type book to it i think can i yeah can i use that on the cover of the paperback it's a slightly absolutely if you don't if you don't think it's too strong of an endorsement

well obviously other than being on this podcast other than like right now uh what what what other sort of moments in your career if there's been any when you've genuinely thought this is it i i've absolutely made it this is this is the thing that's going to accelerate me to superstardom bosh here we go have there been any sort of moments like that no not really the fourth or fifth novel i wrote called new what's it called newton's swing that that one didn't do too badly and there was a moment there where i thought actually that might that might do it but unfortunately it didn't and then i got to this thing uh got shortlisted for mine book of the year and things like that they've always been little glimmers but i don't think there's ever been that really big moment where i thought this is it it's going to happen because i don't really think it is but i'm happy you know it's um it does what it needs to do and i i still write you know and you're talking to me so you found validity yeah well that was going to be my other question because uh talking has sort of failing writers the question about like how how you actually define success as a writer so for some people it would be making a lot of money for some people it would be winning prizes but for yourself like how do you how would you define being successful um being able to continue to write and people wanting to buy that writing um yeah people wanting to hear what you've got to say really that's the definition of success it doesn't have to be 10 million people even if it's only 10 people who want to hear it i think that's the mark of success really yeah i don't i know i'm never going to be a huge seller but as i say i feel really privileged that people are still publishing what i've got yeah what i've got to write for me that's success you know because i know a lot of people write and then they don't get published they're still right so there's no point you know i don't want to whinge about not selling because i know i'm in a very privileged position i think yeah i i mean i certainly write not because i ever think i'm gonna make it but i write for this it's probably the same sorts of reasons because you know that compulsion to write is uh is strong enough but uh but i just didn't i do enjoy doing it you know i actually do enjoy the process i like you i find it very cathartic you know just trying out different possibilities i do find it endlessly fascinating that you've got these characters doing things and you can make them do anything i suppose a bit like a bit of a sort of god syndrome problem yeah i mean it is it's great when you create a character and they take on a life of their own and then they lead you rather than you leading them that's the real yeah and the joy of one thing i think you know they've got a live view just yeah you just feel them along the page it sounds like from uh from how you write in the book that you're very much a discovery writer you're not really ever writing out a clear plan of what you're about to do yeah yeah so you yeah you just kind of start writing or do do you hear the characters some people hear characters talking don't they and then they go um it's strange but all of the novels start with um they it kind of invades all of the senses it's just sometimes it's like a smell or a taste of a place it's never a line of dialogue and it's very rarely an image of anything or anyone it's normally a you get this taste of something when i was writing the nimrod shadow that was set sort of in edwardian london and got this real taste of this coal dust on the palate and then these figures kind of emerge from the mist and then i kind of followed them and then this other character appeared in a contemporary storyline i don't know where she came from but yeah so it is it's quite a good description discovery writer usually about a third or halfway through i get an idea of where it's going to end because otherwise they'd just go on forever and they just meander um but i don't at the beginning ever know where it's going to end so yeah you just go with them really i think i was just going to say to sort of the the the uh sort of inverse of the question i asked before about were there any sort of made it moments have you had any like utter i give up moments where you've just reached a point in the book where you've just gone you know what sod it i i just can't do this anymore i'm not doing it to myself anymore oh yeah loads yeah i've got four or five abandoned novels definitely yeah i wrote a follow-up to i wrote a book about the bbc called silent century about a jaded bbc producer and i started writing a follow-up to that called human resources and i wrote a lot of that i wrote about 180 pages and i just gave up really i just thought what's the point this is just a repetition so i jumped that and then i also jumped the one that followed it so it's probably four or five almost finished novels that i've jumped for whatever reason really yeah but then there's always been something else that sort of made you go oh but this now i've had this idea i've got to write this one yeah there's no i don't normally just chuck something away without having something that when i wrote um the first novel that was sold after the raid i was writing that in parallel with another novel and the agent said no this is this other novel i sent it to her and said no we can't sell this get rid of it but along side that i was writing after the raid i'd written about 60 pages and i went back to that and i wrote that and finished it and that's the one she sold so it's almost like the other novel was scaffolding and it needed to be just taken away and chucked away for the other one to work it was very hard yeah yeah but as i said before nothing's ever really wasted everything leads to something else if you're right what's the next thing for you um the next thing is i've got um i've just rewritten a novel that i wrote years ago and we're trying to flog that um i've got another novel as well so there's two novels on the stocks that we're trying to say they've been written recently or i mean one one sounds like it was an old one but is the the other one more recent yeah the old one was kind of based on on a film script that we were trying to sell that i turned into a novel and then a few weeks ago and reread it i thought actually this isn't too bad so i rewrote that i've got a novel i've been writing over the last year or so which um which is finished but i don't know i quite quite enjoying non-fiction but it's a question coming up with the right idea that needs to be done i don't want to just write another book about you know going down the canal and being right about northern england or something like it's gotta it's gonna have a purpose right yeah so presumably you're not commuting at the moment so so you writing just whenever you feel like it yeah yeah right at home now i don't uh up to london anymore um so i yeah and i've i work at the library a bit do a bit painting so i tend to write yeah you're painting your paintings are very good i had to look at them i'm probably spending more time doing that than writing at the moment but i i do only do tend to do one or the other but i will yeah we'll get back to the writing i have got one idea but i'm not sure about it yet it's kind of brewing well we look forward to it whatever it may be thanks thanks well it's been very good to talk to you yeah it's been an absolute pleasure it's been great and uh yeah good luck with the book thanks do you mention it at some point won't you double the as soon as we got you off the interview we're going to give it a massive plug uh we'll do we'll we'll make an advert for it and everything brilliant thanks a lot thank you thanks everybody appreciate it thank you yes thanks cheers all right bob all right terry what's up mate you look well stressed oh it's just you know christmas is coming and we've bought so much junk online during lockdown i can't think of what else to get for the wife oh you should get one of these mate oh what's that it's a book called a very nice rejection letter by chris paling it's relatively inexpensive got some lovely words in it and well it fits perfectly in a stocking unlike the wife eh grab your copy of the book some readers are saying does have a slight element of a good christmas present type book available at all good book shops but probably cheaper at that online place lefties so you should feel guilty about buying from all right bob how did the wife like the book yeah yeah really good uh-huh yeah yeah no in fact she liked it so much she uh she wrote me a rejection letter on boxing day oh um yeah right yeah i know it's um sorry i don't really know what to say um well you know happy new year a very nice rejection letter diary of a novelist by chris palin available now so there you go that i think that does the job doesn't it that's that's an advert as promised yeah yeah i think he should go and buy the book people it's a good read she'd be happy with that shouldn't he and it's weird because although uh it only sounds seems like a few seconds ago that we finished the interview in the time between then and now i've finished reading the book yeah it does take quite a dark turn doesn't it halfway through so there's a there's a reason to buy it without going into any spoilers it's um yeah there's a plot twist that's a genuine recommendation that one there's a christmas type sort of or any other time of year you know treat yourself but what have we got coming up next well what have we got we don't rest on our laurels do we no no no because we haven't got any no exactly yeah do you have any laurels you have to win something to get laurels don't you i think you do yeah but no next week is a really different episode isn't it it is it's it is a bit of a curveball we did our first ever podcast in front of a live audience yes part of the ugly literature festival fringe and we managed to avoid the rain as well which was pretty incredible yeah we managed to avoid the rain because we were under a gazebo i mean the audience got quite quite wet yeah yeah but we was i was quite comfy they have to look after the talent don't they exactly yeah um but it's worth tuning in next week because we we came up with something quite spectacular i think between us between the three of us and the audience our promise was to deliver the greatest story ever written and i think we got pretty blooming close to that close enough yeah to avoid any sort of traits descriptions well probably not in that sense but it was yeah it turned out well didn't it was good fun i think so i think that's probably the best way of describing it we could we can say that we really enjoyed it yeah obviously we can't speak for the audience they might have had an entirely different thing next week but the main thing is that we enjoyed it we had a lot of fun yeah and no one left no one left halfway through that's a good sign right because i thought about it yeah in many ways though it's like uh cows in there if they know the rain's coming they all sat down and then didn't work out because yeah otherwise it would all get really wet what are you saying about our lovely audience in tune with the weather yeah so we told a story using suggestions from the audience and we basically blagged our way through uh how would you describe how would you describe it was a tale of of love loss and light houses yes and light houses there yeah yeah and macabre water sports as well i think that's fair to say yeah giving too much away yeah yeah i don't think anyone is going to piece together from that description what actually happened are they so probably yeah yeah it was a real feast for the senses so make sure you listen next week people for something a bit different yes do it and don't forget if you want to talk to us if you want to make any suggestions or you just want to say hello whatever get in touch on twitter at failingwriters or you can email us baby where can they email us failingwriterspodcast gmail.com or you could just like and subscribe to this podcast which is what podcasters are supposed to ask people to do isn't it so yes we should say oh subscribe and things yeah send the reviewers yeah and tell all your friends do you actually tell them your friends yeah yeah i don't hey who knows we might even if uh if you say something nice about us we might send you some of our merch our new merch what we've got yeah it's less exciting if you say it out loud but if we leave it like that like you've got some cool merch yeah that does make it sound pretty cool yeah if you want some get in touch yeah uh and if if there's a literary festival going on near you that needs uh that needs an act for it let us know yeah we're well up for another one absolutely it was it really was fun

as you'll find out next week until then take care keep writing if that's your thing yeah do keep writing people we need to do some writing as well that we will be yeah we're really quickly asking that question before yeah we've been a bit distracted haven't we by the whole we've been warned you have been warned

cheers where's everybody gone?

Chris Paling

Chris Paling is a British author of modern fiction.