It’s amazing who Amazon class as “Rising Stars” these days. Attracted by an email of their latest list of rising stars, by none other than the cover of her latest book, it came of no surprise that such a cover would be backed up by a wealth of experience that gives rise to my hope that this, my next guest, could possibly deliver one of the most interesting, hopefully amusing, of Simon’s 10 Q Interviews to date…
The good money says you have heard of my next guest, but for those who may not be familiar with her works, which apparently includes Amazon, let me introduce you to her…
I am delighted that Natalie Haynes has agreed to join me and run the gauntlet of Simon’s 10Q Interviews.
Natalie is a columnist on the Opinion pages of The Independent newspaper and has previously written for Readers Digest, The Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph.
Hailed a rising (tsk tsk!) star in Amazon circles, they omit to mention that Natalie Haynes
has already published several novels, in several languages. Indeed, the first of which won a PETA Proggy Award back in 2008. They also omit the fact that Natalie Haynes is a veteran comedian with a decade long career on the stage, a TV panellist on mainstream television and a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4.
For the benefit of those at Amazon who decide upon one’s stature, please read on as Natalie Haynes, the *ahem* “rising star”, has been on the judging panel of; the Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. She also happens to be a paper reviewer for Sky News…
So, let’s see how the writer, judge and radio presenter and television panellist gets on as she runs the gauntlet of Simon’s 10 Q Interviews…
SD Q1: Natalie, I have one burning question to start off with… Given that you have written for most broadsheets, currently write columns for some of the most well known magazines in the world, have published a bagful of award winning novels and texts, translated into numerous languages, have been a TV panellist and regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 4, not to mention your role in judging one or two of the most prestigious of book awards on the planet… How, oh how did you managed to recently become labelled as a “Rising Star” by Amazon and; have you since taken out a contract on any of their employees, who would you recommend as suitable to carry out said mercy killings, and what kind of slow and painful death can they expect by way of retribution for their sins?
NH A1: Ha ha ha. I am definitely less affronted by it than you (mainly because it makes me sound younger than I am, without the inconvenience of lying about my age). My strategy is to try not to be offended when it looks like people are trying to be nice. Thus, when someone mailed me recently, praising my ‘total lack of vanity’, I decided to assume they meant it kindly, and not that they were hinting that I should brush my hair before stepping in front of a camera…
SD Q2: You spent a decade of your career as a stand up comedienne, I might add with tours that took in much of the English speaking world. Your Amazon bio states that on realising you preferred tragedy to comedy you turned your hand to writing. Does that mean people stopped laughing? I mean, with comedians now packing the likes of Wembley Stadium and the O2 Arena for their gigs, pressure aside, it would seem like a big ask to walk away from such glamour, or, was life on the road simply getting in the way of a more traditional and run of the mill lifestyle of the like which minions such as me might enjoy?
NH A2: I think I stopped yearning to make people laugh. Though, if you ever see me at a book festival in front of an audience, you’ll notice I can rarely resist a cheap laugh (and by ‘rarely’ I mean ‘never’). For years, as a comic, I wanted nothing else. But after a decade of doing it, I realised that I was looking for something more permanent than a gig I would only remember doing for a few days, before it merged in my memory with all the rest. Also, I bought a flat, and I wanted to be in it sometimes. Those 1000 mile weekends get you down after a while. I still come out of retirement very occasionally for benefit gigs, but I am basically done.
The good thing is that now I get to do things like the radio series (Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics) which lets me do something very close to stand-up, but in a lovely venue near where I live. And then I get a radio series out of it, which feels a bit more long-lived than a single gig. Plus, they’re about classics, which is my great love.
And the other good thing is that I now have time to spend writing. When you’re gigging, the whole day is spent waiting to go to work, travelling to the gig, preparing to go on etc. It’s hard to focus on another big project. Now I can commit to writing, it means I have something to show for all the work: a book sits on your shelf and reminds you you created something, which I love.
My last gig, as a professional comic (in case you were wondering) was at the Hammersmith Apollo, for one of Robin Ince’s gigs. Nice to go out to 3000 people. It felt like a very good ending to a career which spanned almost 12 years and quite a few gigs with more comedians than audience in the room…
SD Q3: In 2008 you appeared on “University Challenge – The Professionals” hosted (presumably) by Jeremy Paxman. Sadly, on that occasion your team lost. But within that same year scandal hit the program following the finals of the main program and after a media sensation the program winners the “Corpus Christi” team were disqualified over what appears to me to be not a great deal more than a technicality. What are your views on that event, do you think as Brits we take these things far too seriously, and who, in your team, do you pin the blame on for losing in the celebrity version of the show?
NH A3: I blame no-one but the winners (the Orwellian-named Ministry of Justice, who trounced us and went on to win the whole thing). They were just way better than us, and played as a regular quiz team, so knew each other’s specialist subjects really well. We were four comedians who had wandered in and hoped for the best. But a very good thing came of it – genius comic Paul Sinha was on the team and got a taste for quizzing. A few years and much trivia later, he became a Chaser in the ITV quiz show, The Chase. He is brilliant, and now everyone can see it. So it was all worth it.
SD Q4: Amber Fury is a fairly tragic book dealing with children excluded from school. What gave you the idea for the novel and how did you find education when you were on the receiving end. Were you already a prankster, often in trouble, or, shy yet with a thousand jokes just ready to explode outwards to anybody who would listen, and finally, what was the worst thing you did at school that you got away with?
NH A4: The original idea for the novel was that I wanted to write about forgiveness and revenge. I am utterly compelled by people who can forgive those who wronged them, terribly. I find forgiveness genuinely astonishing (it is not in my gift. My skill is to bear a grudge for a few months and then forget about whatever it it was, which means I eventually also forget I was upset or angry. But that falls a very long way short of forgiveness). I feel much closer to the idea of revenge – wanting to hurt someone who hurt you seems a very human need. So The Amber Fury was first conceived as a way of playing with those two states: which is better for the person who is wronged, which is better for the person who wronged them, and which is better for society as a whole.
I knew Greek tragedies would be the spine of the book, because they address questions of guilt and blame (the other side of forgiveness?) so perfectly.
And then there was Alex, who had undergone such a terrible tragedy (before the book begins), trying to make sense of her life in its aftermath. And then there were the students she teaches, trying to make sense of this profoundly damaged woman while reading these extreme, emotional plays. No good could come of it…
I had a much easier time in education than any of the students in Amber Fury. I was lucky to have very good classics teachers, and that kept me on the straight and narrow, I think. I was both shy (I barely spoke to people I didn’t know until I was a comedian…) and smart-mouthed, which must have been annoying for my teachers, though they rarely let it show.
The worst thing I did at school? Hmm. I kept pretty much my own hours in the last couple of years – I really was only interested in classics by then. So I used to skive off all the general studies courses (I was known as Flexitime Haynes…). Tuesday mornings, I had double general studies, then double games, before my first Latin lesson at 12.30. I skipped all of them for a term, slewing in at about 12.25 in time for the thing I cared about. The school had laid on some sort of Understanding Business course, and I missed every one. Now I spend quite a lot of time doing business admin, I wonder occasionally if it would have helped…
SD Q5: If I were to lend you the much famed Simon’s 10 Q Interview Time Machine for three stops, with just about enough plutonium fuel to get you back to the present day, past, present or future, where would you go, in which era and for what purpose and finally, is there any fourth trip that may tempt you away even knowing there would not be enough fuel to get home again?
Destination 1: Athens.
Era: Fifth century BC.
Why? I want to see Euripides’ Medea performed for the first time.
Destination 2: New York.
Why? I want to drink bathtub gin with Dorothy Parker.
Destination 3: Rome.
Era: 1st/2nd century AD.
Why? To see the Roman satirist, Juvenal, having a good rant. I’d never pick the future – I like to travel hopefully, and I would feel like Cassandra if I’d seen the future and had to come back…
And, is there a Fourth….?
There’s no place like home. I’d stay here. I’m hopeless at goodbyes, so disappearing off to have an adventure wouldn’t tempt me…
SD Q6: You used to write a column with the Readers Digest magazine, possibly the most “hoarded” magazine in the world, or at least a close second to the National Geographic. Once read, other than making great door stops have you ever discovered, from within the company, why people feel compelled to hang on to literally years worth of back catalogues, and with my green hat on, are there any re-uses that I can pass onto the masses other than barbecue kindling, firelighters or, perhaps for students, emergency toilet paper!
SD Q7: Within your novel Amber Fury, the teacher uses Greek tragedy to get into the hearts, minds and souls of the pupils. Who are your three favourite authors of all time, What are your favourite three books of all time and have you used any material from them in your stand up or been influenced by them within your own writings?
NH A7: Just three? I could barely get it down to eight when I did With Great Pleasure on R4…
Ok… Euripides. Because of the extraordinary depth in his writing. The emotion, the empathy, the vision, the language, the deviation from what we expect. The ancients often found him shocking, and so should we. I would be a different person if I’d never read him. Different and undeniably worse. I’d pick his Medea as the one book – an incredible roller coaster ride through sexual jealousy, fear of humiliation, shamelessness, parenthood, self-harm.
I missed Medea out completely from Amber Fury, because it didn’t fit the story. The tragedies which are in it were chosen to reflect the story I was writing, and vengeful wives just didn’t go with it at all. But I have seen probably 20 different productions of it, and I never get tired of watching new interpretations and readings of it. It’s still performed incredibly frequently, so go and see it…
Jorge Luis Borges – Fictions. I love Borges. He’s my favourite modern writer (by modern, I mean ‘died last century’…). His stories are so elegant and clever and tricksy. And yet his humanity sings through them. He’s the business.
Bill Watterson – The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.
These are so beautifully written and drawn that I could happily spend the week re-reading them for the 100th time. Watterson shows such a fervent joy in these comic strips (made all the more poignant by the fact that he has largely withdrawn from public life since he drew the last strip). I love him, and Hobbes is in my speech patterns too deeply to ever unpick.
SD Q8: During your career you have also enjoyed time as a frequent guest on prime time’s “The Review Show”. Thinking back to the show, who was the most cringe worthy person’s work you had to review, what did you say about it, and if we dropped you on a desert island to pass out the rest of your days with them, how would you explain your views to them and what three things would you take with you as a form of escapism, both from them and your predicament?
NH A8: Oh god. There were some horrendous things. I think the low point was the musical version of Gone With the Wind (which ran at nearly 4 hours, 8 times a week, for – I think – about 4 weeks). It was just terrible. The script was terrible, the songs were awful, the direction was clunky, the poor leading lady looked like she was about to drop by press night (32 hours a week, onstage, singing – no-one could do it).
The stage rights to GWtW were owned by a woman who had never written a musical before (she was some kind of obstetrician, I think. I know it sounds like I’ve made that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s true). And it would have been sensible to start somewhere less ambitious than the West End, I guess – maybe if they’d previewed it for years they’d have got something good (I think Book of Mormon, for e.g., took 7 years to develop – musicals are difficult. Good ones especially so). But it was atrocious. If dropped on a desert island with its creator, I would give a false name and hope for the best.
What three things would I take with me? TV with DVD player, a generator, and my boxed set of Diagnosis Murder. But I wouldn’t let her watch any of them, until she says sorry for the bloody awful musical.
SD Q9: Ordinarily, as we draw the interview to a close I would ask this question, but, given that I already have a more appropriate finale, I need to ask this one in advance. So, ordinarily number 10, for Natalie Haynes it’s number 9; If the tables were turned and you were to be the interviewer on Simon’s 10 Q Interviews, who would be your first guest (living), what burning question do you have for them and why?
NH A9: Dick Van Dyke. I LOVE him. I would ask him to talk about Diagnosis Murder and sign my boxed set of it. And maybe to sing something with his barbershop quartet, The Vantastix (I am, of course, not kidding. Their album is a joy).
SD Q10: In the past you have been credited with being the most booked guest on More 4’s “The Last Word” television program. Therefore it seems only apt that I should offer you “The Last Word” in this interview. Before I do so, thank you very much for taking part, best of luck and continued success for 2014 and beyond. Any topic, as funny as you can muster… Natalie Haynes, feel free to indulge and please enjoy “The Last Word/s…”
NH A10: Thanks for having me, and letting me bang on about classics and Dick Van Dyke. I’ll steal the last words from Juvenal’s Satire 10. It’s the one done by Samuel Johnson as The Vanity of Human Wishes. It’s all about being careful what you wish for – don’t wish for money, you’ll be the object of conmen, don’t wish for power, you’ll be assassinated, don’t wish for beauty etc etc. You shouldn’t wish for anything, he says – the gods know what’s best for you. Then, when pushed, he gives his answer. We should ask for ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ – a healthy mind in a healthy body. And then he goes on: ‘Ask for a brave mind, with no fear of death, which puts a long life last among Nature’s gifts, which can bear any hardship, which doesn’t know anger, and which lusts after nothing.’
SD Comment: Thank you Natalie…
If you would like to know more about Natalie and her latest works, please scroll to the bottom of the page and watch the video in which Natalie discusses her latest novel The Amber Fury. Alternatively visit one of her Author pages on Amazon by clicking on the appropriate link below;
The Natalie Haynes interview took place on 02 June 2014.
Simon Duringer © 2014.
Simon Duringer is both a Goodreads author and Independent Interviewer. If you have enjoyed reading this interview, why not download a copy of The Word: The Best of Simon’s 10Q Interviews, featuring 28 equally interesting and exciting interviews, available on Kindle, Prime (#Free) and Paperback. Links to Simon’s Amazon Author Page are as follows;
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