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  • Helen Lederer

‘Boldly going inside the mind…’

Helen here – oooo! the excitement about writers is not only finding out what FONT Nancy might use for her everyday but where she gets her ideas from. Thank you SO MUCH Nancy Peach for sharing. I forgot to ask if you like to wear a poncho for writing. I had one once but left it on a beach...

Nancy Peach, on the 2020 CWIP Unpublished Novel Prize longlist with Sandwich

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I heard about the CWIP prize last year when I was writing an extremely non-hilarious book and felt a brief flash of regret for the missed opportunity – it seemed like a totally genius idea to celebrate funny female fiction. So, this year, when I had been reliably informed that my current book Sandwich was, ahem, mildly amusing, I decided to enter – and what an absolute joy to be longlisted!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m sure this answer gets trotted out by everyone, but I’ve loved writing ever since I was little. In primary school I was given extra sessions to sit and make up stories in the deputy head’s office (I don’t think this was detention) and my teens were spent filling a diary with the most self-absorbed, melodramatic tosh the world has ever seen (thankfully, the world will never have that dubious pleasure).

At medical school the writing took a back seat as most of my time was spent sitting exams, revising for exams or drinking myself into a coma after exams, but once I’d qualified as a doctor I started again and began a novel about a GP who had a variety of interesting patients; like an All Creatures Great and Small, but for humans.

This ground-breaking work of literature was interrupted by the sequential arrival of three small children in my life and it wasn’t until my mum was diagnosed with early onset dementia that I hit the keyboard once more. I started an anonymous blog because I wanted to be able to rail against the injustices of the world and also laugh about the completely bonkers things that happen when a family is hit by dementia – and I didn’t want to have to write in a measured, sensible way. I wanted to be inappropriate; to tell the truth in all its dark hilarity. And from that blog Sandwich was born.

Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

At any given moment I have about four books on the go, both reading and writing. There are many novels I’ve started and not finished but I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned them, more that I’ve left them to mature, like a fine wine, or a stinky cheese.

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

No. Most of my teenage years were taken up with smoking, drinking and having highly inappropriate thoughts that do not need to be shared in this forum but have featured in the aforementioned diary.

Can you describe what your novel’s about in two sentences?

Sandwich is an ode to the sandwich generation (you’ll see what I’ve done there, with the title?) and chronicles the life of Penny, a forty-two-year-old mum of three whose own mother comes to stay and brings her dementia with her. It focuses on the difficulties of juggling the needs of family members at both ends of the age spectrum with the comedy and screaming chaos that this inevitably involves.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your book?

It’s fair to say that my humour is dark. Medics’ humour is, by virtue of necessity, as black as it comes. As coping mechanisms go, ‘laughing in the face of adversity’ is a pretty good one if the level of adversity is a manageable three or four out of five. Chortling your way through the Spanish Inquisition or the Battle of the Somme may not have been so successful.

Can you read funny books when you’re writing your own? Who do you enjoy reading?

I LOVE a funny book! My all-time favourite is Adam Kaye’s This is Going to Hurt which is without question the most brilliant book ever written (sorry, every other author ever). But I also love Mhairi McFarlane, Marian Keyes, Caitlin Moran and Gill Sims. I like clever comedy; the well-observed humour of the everyday - and all these women manage to nail it. In terms of journalism, Marina Hyde is the most talented wordsmith who can skewer politicians like no other. She is a modern day Thackeray and if she ever writes a book I will camp outside her door until I can read it.

Where do you write?

I was going to tidy up the desk that I share with my eight-year-old daughter in order to make it look a bit more Instagrammable, but then I thought, no. Feel the reality. Feel the humanity. And yes, those are Iced Gems – food of the gods, and yes, that is a stuffed meerkat from the car insurance commercials. Move over, Tolstoy.

You can’t find the right words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

c) I refer you to previous answer – food of the very gods, so it is.

What difference has being longlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering next year?

The CWIP longlisting, as well as being THE MOST EXCITING THING to happen in lockdown, has made a real and tangible difference to my writing career (she says in an extremely grandiose tone). Some of my work was already out on submission and a few very lovely agents were showing interest but being able to throw this little grenade into the conversation kicked it all off.

Suddenly, I had three offers of representation from fabulous people and I now have a real, live literary agent. And not just any agent; the actual Tanera Simons of actual Darley Anderson. The combination of this and the fact that the CWIP announcement, with my name on it, was in The Bookseller and the Evening Standard, means that if nothing else amazing happens for the rest of my life, I’ll be okay with that.

CWIP hasn’t just opened doors, it’s blown the bloody doors off – so anybody out there who’s writing a few lines and making themselves chuckle, and maybe wondering if it might make someone else chuckle too – DO IT.

Thank you, Nancy. CWIP loves dark, (both in confectionery and literary) so we love you too. And we're chuffed to bits you've found an agent, thanks in part to the CWIP longlisting for Sandwich.

Nancy Peach is a practicing GP working within the NHS. Her job has provided her with an insight, and she’s fascinated by the people she meets. Nancy’s sense of humour is quite dark and she prides herself on finding comedy in really quite inappropriate scenarios - an essential skill for dealing with the shock of her mum's dementia. She feels that laughter is the best medicine and channels this into her blog

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