Writer & Stand-Up Viv Groskop: Laughter Lines

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail features writer and stand-up Viv Groskop. Her memoir ‘I Laughed I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life’ is based on the diaries she kept during a marathon run of 100 stand-up gigs in 100 nights. The story of Groskop’s whirlwind entrance into the world of stand-up comedy  is also a moving and inspiring tale of motherhood, mid-life, following your dreams and the addictive qualities of Diet Coke. Viv is taking a live version of the book to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and if you get a chance to see her perform, you’ll be witnessing one of the rising stars of British stand-up. Also, she’s one of the few people on the planet capable of recounting the entire history of feminism in rap form.

Viv_GroskopViv on creativity

“I know this is really pathetic but I am slightly embarrassed by the grandiosity of words like “creativity” and “muse”. And I generally take a step back from someone who defines themselves as an “artist”. Unless they are Salvador Dali. I think sometimes these terms can put people off making stuff up and getting the job done (which is all “creativity” really is). That said, I am going to say something truly and massively pretentious: the root of the word “creative” comes from the Latin “believe” (“creo”). And if you want to create anything – if you want to do anything at all, really — it helps if you believe in yourself and in what you are doing. Now please excuse me whilst I go and take a call on my lobster telephone.”

 Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early literary and comedy influences?

“I initially wanted to be a nurse. Then I wanted to be a teacher. But then around the age of six I started watching a lot of television and reading a lot of books and suddenly I wanted to perform or write. This is fortunate as I would have been an “angel of death” nurse and a “why are you so stupid?” teacher. There’s a whole section in I Laughed, I Cried about watching Doris Schwartz (Valerie Landsburg) in Fame. She was the geeky one who wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress so decided to become a stand-up. I was obsessed with her in the early 1980s. Doris downgraded from actress to stand-up. I downgraded from stand-up to writer. Because even writing seemed like an impossible thing for me to do. I really had no idea how to go about doing any of these things. Which is probably why it has taken me until the age of forty to start a lot of the stuff I should have started a long time ago.”

How long did it take to put together I Laughed, I Cried

“I had an impulse to do 100 gigs in 100 nights long before I decided that I wanted to write about it. And even after I had done it, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put it out there as a story in a book. I had found myself in a strange and unique position in my mid thirties: I could change direction in my life if I wanted to (because I’m freelance as a writer) without completely up-ending my life. Once I realised that, I started to perform comedy because I did not have an excuse not to. My progress was agonisingly slow, though, because life was always getting in the way. I needed a push and a fixed time frame to push me up to 100 gigs. I didn’t want to feel that I had to write about it. And I didn’t know if I would want to write about it, especially if it failed and (spoiler alert) I didn’t get to the end of the 100 gigs. I got a deal to write the book (through a literary agent) about six months after I finished the 100 gigs and I wrote the book in the next nine months, based on extensive diaries I had written during the process.

I still don’t know if I should have written about it. As the book doesn’t make me across as (a) a very nice person or (b) a very good stand-up. In my defence it all happened in 2011 and I can pretend that was a very long time ago.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“The internet both kills and inspires everything. I waste millions of hours on Twitter, Facebook and aimless Google searches. I had to go to a library with no Wifi in order to get the book finished. I’m always researching these “block-your-social-media” apps you can put on your computer. But I know it would be pointless as I get most of my ideas and my information from the internet as well as all the distraction and wasted time. I think it’s a pretty good trade-off, to be honest. I’m constantly collecting ideas and chasing stories without having any idea whether they will lead to anything. They might turn into a phrase in a joke or a magazine article or the germ of another book or an idea that I can pass on to someone else who could make something better out of it than I can.”

What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“I find that I get less blocked the more things I work on. I have a lot of things on the go at once and usually they require different skills. I do a lot of book reviewing and that means sorting through books and ideas and publication dates. I perform at a lot of events and that means rehearsing and memorising stuff. And I’m putting together the programme for next year’s Independent Bath Literature Festival which means coming up with original and exciting ideas and getting people together who don’t necessarily want to leave their room. If I’m not making much progress in one area, I just move to another for a while. By the time I get back to what I started on, I can see it with fresh eyes. (Also I pay for childcare by the hour and this is extremely motivating.)”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to work alone?

“I hated working with other people for many years. I nearly killed people when I worked in magazine and newspaper offices in my mid twenties. I am a born freelancer. In recent years, though, I’ve changed. I am marginally less childish and more curious. I love performing improv and that has really changed how I relate to other people. In improv you have to say “yes, and…” to everything. You can’t block the other person or shout them down or contradict their ideas. (Which would be my natural inclination in most situations. Like I said, I am a really nice person.) After about three years of performing improv, I find that I am genuinely interested in what other people think, often especially if I disagree with them.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create…

Viv Groskop workspace“I do most of my writing on a MacBook Air sitting on my bed or at the kitchen table. I lost my “office” to a child’s room a long time ago. There is no such thing as an ideal writing environment and seeking it out only wastes time which you could use to write. I write on the Notes function on my phone. I write on receipts. I have written on train tickets, on my hand and on toilet paper (Soviet toilet paper is particularly effective). If you have a good idea or a turn of phrase, write it down and put it somewhere. It might come in handy. (Also, you might lose it. But that doesn’t matter. If it’s really important, it will find a way back to you.) Maybe I would be a better writer if I had the perfect room or silence or many more hours of childcare paid for by a wealthy benefactor. But things are how they are and you have to work around them. If you waited for the ideal conditions, you wouldn’t do anything at all.”

Do you have a daily routine when you are writing? 

“I don’t really believe in routine. When you have the chance to work, work. I do find that if I can get up really early, I can get loads done in the hours before anyone else is awake and before there is much going on internet-wise. Sadly, I am hopeless at getting up early so this is not a great solution.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity? 

“Being a parent really changed everything for me and made me much more proactive and efficient at everything. It’s partly the practical side of things: if you’re going to pay someone else to look after your kids so that you can work, then you had better bloody well do some work. But it’s partly a more nebulous, kick-ass thing. I began to think, “You brought these children into the world. You better show them what it’s like to live life to the full. Otherwise what’s the point?” I am still reticent about a lot of things and scared of a lot of things. But having children has meant that I really care a lot less about the things that don’t matter. (Like what “other people” think about you — who are they anyway?) Without my children and my husband, I would never have done stand-up, I would never have discovered improv and I would be some kind of weird, alcoholic, depressed and repressed hack from hell. Having a miscarriage between my second and third child was probably the best thing that ever happened to me: it made me realise that life is short and precious and you’re not in control of anything.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. 

Viv Groskops fish“This is an “articulated fish” which belonged to my grandma, Vera. She made a real point of referring to it as an “articulated fish”. (Its scales actually move so that it wiggles when you touch it.) There was a vogue for them in the 1970s and my grandma used to wear one on a long pendant over a stripy boatneck sweater with nylon “slacks”. I always associate it with her. She had an incredible enthusiasm for life and was a real one for just keeping going no matter what. I don’t wear it all the time but sometimes I put it on just so that I can feel like I’ve got a bit of her about me. It’s not magic but it’s nice and wiggly and sometimes you just need a bit of a wiggle.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“I love acting, I love clowning, I love singing, I love trying to find out about what makes audiences fall under the spell of what’s happening in front of them. I used to play the piano as a child and I miss that. If I could start all over again there’s so much I would do. I would train my voice. I’d learn to do accents properly. I would go to RADA, darling. Instead I read a lot of books about the Meisner technique (it’s an acting thing, a bit like method acting) and I’m a member of the Actors’ Centre. I occasionally go to auditions for roles which require “plus size” ladies. (I’m not joking, it’s a whole genre. I almost got a really big role for a diabetes medication commercial.)”

What are you working on next?

“I’ve got a work-in-progress show of the book, I Laughed, I Cried, at the Funny Women Pop-Up Fringe in Edinburgh on August 18 and 19. I still haven’t worked out if there’s a way of talking about stand-up in the context of a comedy show. I guess I’ll find out on those two nights. We’re also taking Upstairs Downton: The Improvised Episode to The Hive at Edinburgh with Heroes of the Free Fringe. It’s a Downton Abbey spoof in full period costume. All the people in it are amazing and come up with the most extraordinary things. It’s going to be the most fun. In the autumn I’ve got more shows based on the book across the UK. And there’s the small matter of about 180 events to put together for the Independent Bath Literature Festival 2014. I’d better get in some extra Diet Coke.”

I laughed I cried cover Viv Groskop’s book I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life is out now published by Orion. You can follow Viv on Twitter, Facebook or visit her website. You can book tickets to see I Laughed, I Cried in Edinburgh 18 and 19 August: 10.40pm or to see Upstairs Downton in Edinburgh, 1-25 August, 5pm at The Hive, click here

 

Artist Sandra Turnbull: Sense and Sensuality

Catching The Comet'sTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail hosts artist Sandra Turnbull.  A group show,”I Love You Because,” featuring 40 artist’s interpretations of Elvis, opens next week in London and includes Turnbull’s work. Prior to becoming an artist, Sandra co-managed the band Eurythmics and, after many years of nurturing the creativity of others, she has finally come to honour her own talents. A disclaimer: Sandra introduced me to my husband and once painted a picture of my bottom; two things I am immensely happy about. Check out this website to see the full scope of Turnbull’s vivid, sensual work.

Sandra Turnbull

Photo of Sandra Turnbull by Robert Goldstein

Sandra on creativity…

“My creativity  usually resides in my guts but it changes. When I was working on All About Eve, an exhibition about girls who work in the sex industry, it was in my gut and my nether regions!  My current body of work, The Buddhas, is in my heart and soul.

I reckon I channel. Thoughts come from… who knows where?  The muse visits me in surprising ways; in my sleep it leaves an imprint of an idea to paint. I wake with a vivid colour  and often a finished painting  just floating behind my eyes. After the idea, I look for a model to make it real. My best friend Jay has a great body and has made many appearances  in my work. My mate Jane also  crept into  several early water paintings. My partner Robert [Goldstein, ph0tographer] has a striking face, perfect to paint.  I don’t take too much credit for what I do. I put in the experiences, then some divine force charges through me and spews out images – it’s a compulsion – I don’t have a choice.

‘A Painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places,’ my Godson Mickey said to me  a few years ago and I wrote it on the wall of my studio in black felt tip as an inspiration . My creative process has no censorship .

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early artistic influences?

“I was sent to dancing school most days from 2 years old. My parents didn’t know what to do with all my energy and dancing  became an obsession .  I ran away from home at 16 to join a dance troupe and that became my life. When I gave up  professional dancing,  I took up painting to fill the  creative void .  It was at this time that Hyper Kinetics was born and I became  one half of the management team for Eurythmics.  My dad, Annie Lennox, Joan Rhodes, Picasso, Robert Goldstein, all made me think I could do anything, either by example or by encouragement. So if I had a creative idea, I just went right out and made it happen.”

Please describe how  you put together the piece for the Elvis exhibition and say a little about solo projects you’re currently developing.

“The curator Harry Pye asked me to get involved with the Elvis show in early 201.3 I threw myself at it and finished the piece in March. It is almost as I envisaged it . That’s how it works for me . I conjure up a colour  get the ground prepared and then imagine what the finished painting looks like and go from there. In parallel,  I am working on the Buddha Series so I could only see Elvis as a Buddha, crossed-legged with the American flag pressing through his face. I loved painting Elvis. It made such a change from the Buddhas.  Before I paint, I do lots of visual research so I looked at every photo ever taken of Elvis and a lot of his impersonators… How do they get away with it ?!

Good Luck Buddha

One of Sandra’s Buddha Series

“I went to China in 2010 and came back needing to paint Buddhas. I was surprised how Buddhism is treated like superstition. Catholicism is the new religion there, crosses have replaced the Buddhas. I have painted 23 or 24 Buddhas. I sold a few and now I make prints and sell those so I can save the originals for a show next year.  I have another idea on the go too; Cut and Paste  which involves a central life-size image, surrounded by  collage. I am now obsessed with collecting magazines and own 10 pairs of scissors in all sizes… it’s my Blue Peter moment.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I can kiss the lips of my painting – that’s when I know it’s finished. Weird I know, but it’s a fact. ”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what is guaranteed to kill it?

“I am inspired by vivid colour, sexy bodies, music, wide open spaces, depression, dreaming, and I’m uninspired by tiredness, idiots and anger.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked?

“I have never felt painting is a chore, thank God . A challenge yes, often, but that’s half the fun .

If I am ever blocked I paint pictures on boxes. My friends save boxes for me;  chocolate…shoe…biscuit…soap… any old box, large or small,  and I paint naked people on them … that usually gets the juices flowing and opens a few portals.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work or do you prefer to create alone?

“I work alone, I’m not keen on input. Robert might make a suggestion for a painting and I kindly suggest he might like to do that himself. I have been know to take the odd title he suggests for a piece of work though 🙂

Sandra Turnbull StudioPlease talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“I have my studio at The Chocolate Factory N22 and have been there since 1999. I only paint there and it is my favourite place (see left).

My  heavenly studio is set up so I can walk in and not even bother to take my coat off and start painting . I’m usually working on 2 or 3 pieces at the same time so, whichever grabs me first, I start. It’s compulsive behaviour. Sometimes I am so into it that I forget to put music on. Other times I walk in, put a track on, start painting and play the same track on repeat all day. Sometimes I cry to the music I am playing and that affects the work. I eat a lot of crisps when I’m working. ”

Do you have a daily routine when you are painting and what is it like?  

I’m a daytime creator.  I plan my diary so I have carved out times to paint. I switch on during the drive to my studio.  My life is like an army manoeuver: I teach pilates full time, I’m a governor at a local special school, I train in marshall arts, yoga and weights, and this is apart from relationships and responsibilities with the home, family and friends. I have to plan or  it would all go pear-shaped very quickly.

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process…

Sandra Turnbull TalismanHere are three objects (see right):

1. My iphone doc…music is a driving force.

2. The palette of Joan Rhodes. Joan was the first person to encourage me to paint . She just said ,’Do It Sandra, put your work on the wall.’

3. The saying of Tom Waites: ‘You must risk something that matters’ – how true.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master? 

“Acting … I love acting . I did a course through Central St Martins in London and then a performance  at The Old Red Lion last year and, by all accounts, I was very good .  It was completely exhilarating and I will definitely do it again.”

 What are you working on next?

Buddhas – lots of them.

ElBuddha

ElBuddha by Sandra Turnbull

“I Love You Because”, a group show featuring 40 artists interpretations of Elvis curated by Harry Pye and Chloe Mortimer opens with a Private View on July 18th 6.30pm – 9pm at the A-Side B-Side Gallery, 5 to 9 Amhurst Terrace, London E8 2BT (The gallery is open Thurs to Sun, 12 till 6pm).

To find out more about Sandra, please visit her website, follow her on Twitter or check out her Facebook Page.

Musician KT Tunstall: Desert Boots

Catching The Comet'sTailI am delighted to welcome singer/songwriter KT Tunstall to Catching the Comet’s Tail. KT’s new album, Invisible Empire// Crescent Moon, is as haunting and plaintive a record as you’ll ever hear, capturing a unique time in the singer’s life. Recorded over twenty days in the middle of the Arizona desert, Invisible Empire is musically stripped down, as emotionally raw and vast as the landscape which spawned it. Yep, it’s a good one, perhaps even her best yet.

KT on creativity… 

KT Tunstall Portrait“I’ve mostly felt like a conduit for songs, although that has shifted on  Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon. It has presented a new process of deeper personal expression which feels much more internal this time.

I’ve always called myself a ‘lightning bolt’ writer. The idea comes very quickly and strongly. I can’t schedule when to write, it pretty much comes when it chooses. I do have muses, often they inspire more than one song.

If I had to choose a physical place where my creativity resides, I’ve always had a sensation that it is about 4 feet above my head, moving past at great speed, like a wispy river.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early creative influences?

“I had pretty free reign as a child to try whatever I wanted, as long as I promised to put some effort in. No-one else in my family was inclined towards playing instruments or performing, so I was the black sheep. I asked for a piano at age 4, and took up stage acting at 8. I was a tap-dancer, played classical flute also, and always loved art. Music and creative writing always felt like a world I belonged to from when I was very small. Music in particular felt like a language I understood.

I wanted to be an actress from the age of 8, but as soon as I taught myself guitar and started song-writing at 15, I became much more interested in writing my own material and being in charge of my own path.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t dreaming of living a life based around creating and performing. I wasn’t into listening to music until into my mid teens, but when I was small I loved the Sesame Street and Muppet Show music which I still think is exceptional. I was also a big fan of Roald Dhal and Dr Seuss, and still am.”

How long have you been working on your current album and can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you first envisioned? If the original concept has changed, in what ways? How do you know when a record is finished?

“My new album took 20 days to record in 2012; 10 days in April, and 10 days in November/December. It was all recorded in live takes to old reel-to-reel tape in Tucson, Arizona. It was heavily inspired by meeting and working with Howe Gelb, frontman of the band Giant Sand, who produced the album with me. His invitation to go out to the desert started the creative process. Being there shaped it greatly also. He has a great maverick attitude to life in general which permeated the music. There was no great album vision, just a desire to make simple, rich recordings of live performances, drawing out as much emotion as possible.

I was also inspired by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins’ gorgeous album Diamond Mine. It’s a stunning record, and renewed my love of, and faith in, beauty and simplicity.

I am fascinated by the notion of ‘finishing’ creative work. The only way I can describe it is that you just somehow know in your belly. I always feel a bump of excitement when I feel the realisation that something is finished. I asked a German artist friend of mine, Jonas Burgert, the same thing as he makes huge, very intricate work. He said the same; ‘you just know’.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what and what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Landscape and travel have always been a great creative catalysts for me.

As for killing it, being around people and cities all the time. I need space and time to myself to write. And someone attempting to tell me what to do is never helpful.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore? What do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“Creating is always pretty thrilling for me, but I only ever attempt it when I’m feeling inspired. I think if I had to write to timetable, I’d go off it pretty quickly. Making something where there was nothing feels like a wonderful, alchemical process for me. If it felt like a chore, I’d have to assume that whatever I was making wasn’t worth it. I do believe that the nature of the spirit and energy used to make something remains part of it.

I’ve never felt ‘blocked’ as such, I have just had to wait longer at times for new material to arrive. If nothing is coming, I leave it until it does. The longest I go without writing is when I’m I tour, so it can be months at a time. But often that long break leads to a concentrated output of work; I wrote the first half of the new album, probably 8 or 9 songs in total, in two months after a long period of not writing.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? Please say something about how you involve others in your creative process  or do you prefer to work alone?

“If I had to choose, I would write alone. I don’t feel as able to replicate the deeper relationship I have with work that is 100% my own when it comes to collaborative work. I didn’t write with anyone else for 10 years, and when I first moved to London my publisher asked me to try out co-writing. A lot of it was soulless and depressing, but I did develop two or three really cherished partnerships with writers that I love and trust, so anything I do with them I know will be great quality in my mind. I find collaborating useful if I am in a lazy phase, it often kick-starts my creative brain again.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to create. 

“Most importantly, I like to be alone. I usually write at home. I need it to be quiet, so seclusion is definitely key.

My favourite writing situation would be a great view of the sea, or empty landscape, or being able to see the stars at night. I imagine a little house perched on top of an inaccessible cliff…bliss.

There is a particular table at The Wolseley, a posh restaurant in London, which I love sitting at on my own and writing in my journal. I feel like I’m watching a Peter Greenaway film and can sit there for hours.”

Do you have a daily routine when you are creating a project? 

“I’m not a fan of routine. It’s taken me a long time to respect my process, and realise when it is happening that it is important and deserves space and time, rather than feeling like I’m just dicking about and could be doing something more useful. These days, I allow myself time, and a lot of tea! I relax into it, let myself drift, and don’t get worried if things don’t get finished in one go.

I used to mostly write late at night as there’s no disturbance, but I am much more of a daytime writer now. I still occasionally have to get out of bed in the dark if I have a really good melody and lyric idea as I never remember music the next morning.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it.

KT Tunstall's Boots“Every time I release an album, I have a main pair of shoes that I will wear to play that music in. I find that it makes a real difference to how I feel when I play, what I wear on my feet. I stamp a lot, and use my feet with my equipment. I remember once needing to change my shoes on stage about 4 songs into my gig because I was so aware that I wasn’t wearing the right ones.

This is the first album where I’ve engaged fully with using image to express myself. It’s been an important step forward for me, feeling that the imagery is meaningful to the same degree as the music. In the past it has always been secondary. These are the boots that will see me through this new album.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master or have you mastered another that we don’t know about yet?

“I am writing a film script at the moment which I’m enjoying as much as song-writing. I’ve always enjoyed visual lyrics, so script writing takes me right into the heart of that.”

Please say as much or as little as you’d like about your next project and the stage you are at with it.

“It’s an animated film script which myself and my friend and collaborator Jim Abbiss have concocted. It started as a music project, which then became a soundtrack. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now and have just finished the first draft, so we’re excited to move on to the next stage of seeing it become a reality.

Although we’re having so much fun writing it, we don’t actually want to finish it…”

Invisible Empire/Crescent MoonKT’s new album Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon is out now. You can follow KT on Twitter, find her on Facebook or check out her website here.

Author Ben Hatch: Cheese, Marriage and Qwerty Keyboards

CatchingTheCometsTailI’m delighted to welcome author Ben Hatch to Catching the Comet’s Tail.  Ben is a master of the kind of acute observation of family life that has you pondering the deeper significance of  the type of breakfast cereal your spouse prefers. His last book, Are We Nearly There Yet? about a family trip around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra, was wonderfully funny and incredibly poignant. The sequel, The Road to Rouen,  takes us on another Hatch family trip, this time around France. Along the way, Ben’s marriage, life and love of fromage are put in equal jeopardy. I think of him as a kind John Cleese/Gerald Durrell hybrid, only featuring cars and condiments instead of animals. If you haven’t put him on your summer reading list, do!

Author Ben HatchBen Hatch on creativity…

“My creative process simply involves sitting cross-legged on the cheese-stained swivel chair in my study for long enough to write something that’s not so dreadful the next day when I come to read it back I have the will power to try and build on it. As unromantic as it sounds, it’s a bit like bashing the end of a near empty bottle of ketchup, the ketchup bottle being my head, the ketchup itself is the words and the plate’s the screen. Hopefully (and I might be stretching this ketchup analogy way too far now) amongst the unusable, thin, red spray of relish they’ll be one salvageable dollop worth dipping a chip in.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early literary influences?

“The only way I can talk about creativity in my childhood is through an analogy using Coleman’s Mustard. That’s a lie. I was pretending after the ketchup thing to be obsessed with different relishes. I’m not obsessed by different relishes. My father was in the Cambridge Footlights and a contemporary of The Goodies and half of what would become the Monty Python team but creativity wasn’t actively encouraged in our house. The ability to play sport was however, although unfortunately I was so ungainly I couldn’t work the swing in our back garden until I was about 9 and I am still unable to do a forward roll. My grandmother on my dad’s side and my mum’s sister were both excellent painters as is my sister. I desperately wanted to take after them and I remember the day I showed my dad a picture of the life-cycle of the butterfly I’d completed in 2b pencil. I’d drawn a chrysalis, a caterpillar and a cabbage white butterfly in such extraordinary detail it was attached to the fridge by my mum. Just as it was starting to be acknowledged I’d inherited my family’s artistic streak I was caught tracing a hippopotamus through greaseproof paper and exposed as a fraud. My only creative trigger has been the need to impress my father. I remember the first time I made him laugh. We were on a family holiday eating out. The joke I made was about how my sister had eaten such a lot of crab she’d probably walk out of the restaurant sideways. It’s not that funny but I was 12 and my dad was Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Radio and he seemed thrilled by the idea of “Benjy’s first joke”. From then on all I ever wanted to do was make my dad laugh. I wrote derivative Monty Python comedy sketches for a while then I tried to become an comic actor but I was hopelessly wooden. I fixed on writing books after I fell in love with Catcher in the Rye. Before I’d read this I had no idea books were capable of being funny and moving at the same time. Minus a brief period when I wanted to be a professional snooker player and became obsessed with Tony Meo that I don’t want to go into, that’s all I ever wanted to be.”

How long did it take to write The Road to Rouen and can you recall the first spark of inspiration?

“The Road to Rouen took about five months to write. The inspiration came from the tight deadline. To finish the book I had to get up at 4am every day including weekends for several months. The book is not at all as I imagined it would be. While it’s mainly light-hearted in tone I somehow ended up dissecting my marriage too which I put in jeopardy on the trip by doing some very silly things one of which included almost being gored and another saw me almost get murdered. I know rewriting a book is finished when I start taking sections out and then reinstating them before removing the day after. At that point you’re fiddling and it’s time to let it go.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what and what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“I’m not aware of ever feeling inspired although some days it’s easier to write well than others. But that can often be misleading. Often when I think I’ve written something particularly good, I read it back and realise it’s rubbish but then it works the other way too. That’s why I never throw anything away. My computer is filled with abandoned chapters and scenes that one day I’m hoping to revisit and find some merit in. Seeing and experiencing new things obviously helps the creative process, especially if it’s a situation I feel uncomfortable in. In fact there’s a constant and very annoying tension in my life between avoiding things I don’t want to do because they scare me and the realisation that if I do them it’ll make good material. In an ideal world I’d get inspiration from being sat on the sofa watching telly with a bag of mixed nuts and raisons and a glass of wine by my side but that’s not the way it works unfortunately.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore and what do you do when you feel blocked creatively?

“I’d much rather be rewriting than writing something new. It’s not a chore in the same way working on an Icelandic trawler at 3am reeling in a herring net is a chore, but it’s the hardest part of the job. That’s because you know 90 per cent of what you’re writing won’t survive in the final draft. There can’t be many jobs that are this unproductive. If you worked in any other profession, say as a doctor or teacher, and wasted 90 per cent of your time you’d be fired. In terms of writer’s block, I don’t believe in it. I know this because I once spent seven years writing the same book. That happened because I decided I wanted the novel out of contract. A terrible mistake. A writer with writer’s block is a writer in need of a deadline.”

Please talk a bit about the environment you like to be in to write. 

Ben Hatch Creative Space

“As long as I have a qwerty keyboard I don’t mind where I work although I like to be near a kettle, a toaster and a sizeable lump of cheese to gnaw on like a rat. I like to play music in the background and I often loop a particular song. I can play the same track 456 times over without getting in the slightest bit bored of it. However, I work alongside my wife (about 20cm from her in fact. She’s a freelance travel journalist and we share a study) and this tends to drive her crazy so on the whole I work in silence apart from every now and again like just now when she leant over and showed me a picture of a Victorian tap online that she thought we should have in the bathroom because there was a picture of a similar one in the Sunday Times style section at the weekend.”

Do you have a daily routine when you are writing? 

“I like to start early before my kids wake up, before anyone is on twitter or emailing and also so I can act like a weary martyr in the evening when my wife asks me to do something trivial such get up and put the latest Friday Night Lights disc in the DVD player. “Can you? (pained face) I did get up at 5am.” I don’t have a set word count like most authors. Instead I give myself a time limit to complete a chapter.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“I’ve always wanted to work collaboratively. It’s the way they put together American sitcoms and often I’ve pictured myself firing off ideas sat around a table with other writers but in reality the chances are I’d probably not contribute anything under this system because I’d be too shy or diffident and instead I’d merely laugh at everyone else’s stuff feeling disgruntled and intimidated. I don’t like to show anyone anything until right at the end. In the past I’ve shown my wife something too early and it’s always counter productive because if she dislikes it, it’s disheartening and if she likes it, it’s always the bit that you later feel has to be cut but now as she liked it, you’re resistant to this idea, and the whole process slows down.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process.

Ben Hatch Lucky Heather“I have two things I keep connected to my work. One is this piece of heather. (Left) I bought it from a gypsy woman in Ben Hatch's Letter Leicester Square for £1 just hoping for luck just before I went into the Curtis Brown literary agency in 1997. The second is this letter my dad wrote to me when I started living back home after university and had been fired from 8 jobs in as many months where he pretty much calls me an oaf.” (Right)

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?

“I’d love to be the sort of person who could sit on a pretty hill in a loose fitting shirt with unbuttoned cuffs and paint a typical English landscape below me in oils maybe in a soft flat hat with a picnic hamper of sandwiches for lunch in a small knapsack between my feet. That would be immensely relaxing, I imagine. I’d also like to be able to play the piano. I took lessons when my daughter started aged 6 but within weeks she was better than me and I lost heart and quit when she criticised my scales.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity? 

“What’s the Cyril Connolly quote: “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” I believed that for many years and it almost stopped me having kids. Then when I had them I discovered it was bollocks. If anything becoming a father helped instil some discipline into my life and writing. Like how football manager’s always want their players to get married and settle down because they focus more on their game, it was the same with me. Every hour spent working has a premium when you have young kids because it’s time you could be spending with them watching Underground Ernie or making a den out of sofa cushions and travel rugs. It means you have to make your hours at the keyboard count and try your best to get off Twitter and websites where there are admittedly quite humorous objects that look like Hitler.”

Please say as much or as little as you’d like about your next book and the stage you are at with it.

“The Road to Rouen, the sequel to Are We Nearly There Yet? has just been published by Headline. It’s about a 10,000 mile drive around France that I completed with my family. I was researching a guidebook. I thought the greatest danger would be the boredom of spending so long in the car although at various points we’re attacked by a donkey, there’s a run-in with a death-cult, a calamitous wedding experience involving a British spy before I almost end up starring in a snuff movie after a near fatal decision to climb into a millionaire’s Chevrolet Blazer. Although actually the book is really about marriage and the up and downs that everyone experiences along this journey. I’m also currently working on a sitcom treatment of my first novel The Lawnmower Celebrity for the BBC as well as researching my next travelogue which will be a road-trip round Italy. I also have a theory about curing the common cold. Seriously. I’m on to something. It involves sneezing, that’s all I’ll say. Watch this space.”

Road to RouenYou can follow @BenHatch on Twitter and his Facebook page is here, although it is, by his own admission, “Fairly rubbish.”

Road to Rouen is published on May 23rd by Headline books. You can order it here.