When a stand-up comic sits down to write

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The Independent Online
Today we are giving a master class on how to write novels. Sooner or later everyone feels they have to try their hand at writing novels - even fashion models and sportsmen - and this is all to the good. Sometimes these novels even get published - and this is all to the bad, especially when they are by fashion models or sportspersons! What people obviously need is a bit of tutoring in the art of novel-writing so I am glad to say that today I have secured the services of legendary novel-writer Godfrey Catpit. I call him legendary because nobody knows his name, and this is for the very good reason that Godfrey never writes under his own name - he ghost-writes novels for famous models and sportspersons.

Take it away, Godfrey.

Godfrey Catpit writes: Thank you very much. Incidentally, I shall soon be finished writing Tim Henman's first novel, so if anyone out there needs a quick yarn spun, do get in touch. Right, the first inquiry is from ...?

Hello, there.

Godfrey Catpit writes: Hello, there.

I wonder if you can help me. I have noticed that many famous comedians have also gone into the novel business.

Godfrey Catpit writes: It cuts both ways, actually. Some novelists go into the comedy business. There are lots of examples.

Are there?

Godfrey Catpit writes: Oh, yes. For instance, Howard Jacobson is a well- thought-of novelist, and yet he has recently gone right outside his orbit and completed a series and a book for Channel 4 all about the nature of humour called Seriously Funny.

Interesting. What other examples are there?

Godfrey Catpit writes: I can't think of any.

You said there were lots of examples.

Godfrey Catpit writes: I know. That is what we do in master classes. We say there are lots of examples of something and we name one, thus creating the illusion that there are lots of others, even if there aren't. Nobody ever talks back in a master class. Except you.

I see. As I was saying, I have noticed that many modern comedians have gone into the novel business. In the old days they would just do Christmas books, like Frankie Howerd's "Titter Ye Not" compendium, but from Spike Milligan's "Puckoon" onwards there has been no end of these books. I don't think the clown wants to play Hamlet any more - he wants to play Kingsley Amis!

Godfrey Catpit writes: Excellent. Let me make a note of that.

So I was thinking of writing a novel too, and I was looking for your advice.

Godfrey Catpit writes: Are you in fact a well-known stand-up comedian?


Godfrey Catpit writes: Then we have a bit of a difficulty there.

Not necessarily. I do have exactly the same name as a well-known comedian ...

Godfrey Catpit writes: Ah ha!

Godfrey Catpit writes: Excellent idea!

So I thought I would ask your advice.

Godfrey Catpit writes: Go ahead. Ask!

What advice do you have?

Godfrey Catpit writes: Excellent question. My advice is to write well within the character of the comedian whose name you share.

Could you explain that?

Godfrey Catpit writes: You see, if you look at the novels written by comedians, you will find that they always reflect the creator's personality or his stage persona. Milligan's Puckoon was Irish and scatty. Harry Secombe's Welsh Fargo was warm, Welsh and expansive. Frank Muir's recent novel was elegant and fastidious. Ben Elton's novels have always been sharp yet actually quite earnest and a bit long-winded. Ade Edmondson's novel is, I believe, riotously bawdy, surprise, surprise.

But what if the real Adrian Edmondson is shy and retiring?

Godfrey Catpit writes: Then he would be ill-advised to write a shy and retiring novel. He was wise to write it in the style of his stage persona. Thousands of students have revelled in his skinhead approach to life in The Young Ones and Bottom. They wouldn't want him to write a sensitive Booker Prize novel and they wouldn't buy it if he did.

I see.

Godfrey Catpit writes: I mean, you wouldn't expect Hugh Laurie or Stephen Fry to write farting, knockabout novels. They have in fact both produced stylish, suave stories with much attention to prose style.

I get you.

Godfrey Catpit writes: So, after what famous Northern stand-up comedian are you named, in whose style you hope to write this best-seller?

My name is George Formby.

Godfrey Catpit writes: George Formby? If I had known this was a leg- pull, I would never have agreed to do this master class in the first place! This has been a complete waste of time! Goodbye!

Godfrey Catpit will be back again soon, when he has simmered down.