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Interview with John Gradwell, author of Funnybone

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Tell us about your new book.
My novel Funnybone is the spoof memoir of 96-year-old former northern music hall and variety star Frankie Funnybone. This first volume of four, which takes us up to 1951, sees Frankie mistaking Wallis Simpson for Jimmy Jewell, saving Neville Chamberlain from murderous Nazis and ensuring his posh pals, Burgess and Maclean, get off safely on their foreign holiday. Oh, and getting married at Balmoral with the King as his best man.

Frankie was originally a minor character in a sitcom I wrote for Radio Four, entitled Are You From The Bugle? It was broadcast in 1996 and included in the cast was 23-year-old Peter Serafinowicz (ED: Shaun of the Dead)  who played Frankie.It also featured Mark Gatiss (Sherlock)  and Come Dine With Me voiceover star Dave Lamb. Since then, whenever someone mentions the series to me, they usually bring up Frankie and his famous catchphrase “I’ve come on me bike” so I decided to resurrect him as the subject of my first novel. The sitcom was repeated on Radio 4 Extra in June this year.

That’s quite a stellar cast. Do you feel that Are You From The Bugle? has stood the test of time?
The BBC didn’t let me know Are You From The Bugle? was on again so I missed it on Radio 4 Extra. However, I recently enjoyed listening to the tape of Episode Two, in which Frankie appears. So it must have stood the test of time, at least in my opinion.

Where it does feel dated is in the subject matter. The sitcom is about a local newspaper and the lack of new technology and the well-staffed newsroom make it sound antiquated. Nowadays there would be one reporter covering the whole area.

Did you only realise that you had a potential central character on your hands with Frankie Funnybone because of the feedback, or did you know from the start?
It was the feedback that did it. When I wrote the sitcom I had no idea that I would ever encounter Frankie again. I’m glad I did though, even if Frankie is always having a go at me. You see, I’m the rather fussy editor in the memoirs who occasionally corrects the old git.

Has anyone ever mistaken Funnybone for a real memoir?
I suppose some people might have mistaken Funnybone for an actual memoir from the description. However, once they started reading it, things would soon become clear, especially when Wallis Simpson turns up.

What genre would you say your book is?
It’s a comic/historical novel.

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
I put the first 7,000 words on the writers’ website YouWriteOn and had some really positive responses, so much so that the book moved quickly on to the site’s best-seller list. These encouraging comments seemed to come from men and women equally and a proportion were from abroad, mostly the USA and Canada. I was unsure whether the book would appeal to younger people but since it was published in July, a few people in their twenties have said they really enjoyed it. And at least one top comedian has given it his seal of approval. On his blog, Dave Spikey called Funnybone “quirky, funny and enlightening.”

How long did it take to write?
About two years.

We’re guessing that you had to do a lot of research.
On the research question, I already knew a fair bit about 1930s politics so that just needed a bit of extra reading and fact checking. I knew less about the Cambridge Spies but the internet helped a lot on that. It was quite fun fitting in real people’s movements with those of my fictional characters although I expect that historians will be able to pick holes in my narrative. Never mind, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.

What was the most challenging part of your creative process?
As always with me, it’s getting the first draft down on paper. Once that is done, however ordinary the result, I find I can move on to the most enjoyable part – the editing. From there to the completed work usually lasts longer than it took to produce the first draft but it doesn’t feel that way as I find the process challenging and stimulating. When the work is completed to my satisfaction I then show it to my wife Carole who is an excellent editor and unafraid of telling me exactly what she thinks of it. More rewrites follow until we are both satisfied with it.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was a newspaper sub-editor in the North West until I took voluntary redundancy from the Manchester Evening News five years ago to concentrate on my writing. As well as the sitcom mentioned above I’ve had crime dramas broadcast on both BBC Radio Four and German radio.

I’m a season ticket holder at Bolton Wanderers FC and a recent member of Lancashire Cricket Club. I also spend far too much time doing cryptic crosswords and killer sudokus when I should be writing.

Sports fan, cryptic crosswords, sudoku – and writing: are you addicted to long hours of suffering rewarded with short periods of joy?
Tons of suffering, little joy.

Have you got a blog where readers can keep up with your work? Do you use social media?
I have a website www.johngradwell.com which includes news, an extract from the book, comments from readers and a blog by Frankie. It also has links to how you can buy the book and to my Facebook and Twitter pages. My Twitter link is @jgradwell and you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/john.gradwell.

Where else can we buy your book?
As an ebook from  Amazon at £1.98, from Kobo at £1.99 or in paperback from Amazon at £8.99 (free p and p) or FeedARead at £7.99 (plus p and p). It can also be ordered from any bookshop.

What’s next?
I hope to begin the second volume of Frankie’s memoirs, 1951-68, when I complete the biography I’m currently writing of a sporting hero of mine, Roy Hartle. Roy was a famous tough guy full-back for Bolton Wanderers in the 1950s and 1960s. This should be completed within a couple of months leaving me free to concentrate on Frankie. I’m also in advanced discussions with a producer about making a short film of a script I wrote which did well in the British Short Screenplay Contest.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Bradbury

    I’ve read Funnybone. Brilliant!
    Echoes of Flashman?
    “Are you from the Bugle” was also excellent (though very different -Gradwell is versatile as well as funny and informed).

    Bill Bradbury

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