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From bawdy poems to kissing…by Niloufar Lamakan

Niloufar Lamakan

Congratulations on being longlisted for our unpublished prize! Could you tell us about your novel in one sentence?

Thank you. It’s so exciting to see my book on the longlist. I keep looking at the CWIP website to make sure I didn’t imagine it!

My novel in one sentence? Sixty-year-old Sophia has sworn off love forever, but will a year-long dating challenge filled with unexpected and hilarious encounters change her mind?

Have you always been interested in (comic) writing, or did you fall into it unexpectedly?

Writing comedy was not something I planned. In fact, I hadn’t even made a conscious decision to become a writer, as I still have my interior design business. I did a short creative writing course at City Lit a few years ago, just to try something new. I had a vague idea to write a family saga set in Iran–my country of birth–at some point in the future. I enjoyed the course so much I started attending regular classes and met an amazing group of women who have been tremendously supportive of my writing journey. One day in class, we were working on poetry, and I wrote a simple, rather bawdy poem and read it out. Everyone laughed, and that’s how it all started.

Have you ever kept a teenage diary?

I wrote one briefly, basically to record my first kiss, but after a while I abandoned it in favour of more kissing.

We’d love to hear about where you get ideas for your wondrous wit? Do you have any tips you could impart to aspiring witty writers?

Inspiration is all around us if we pay attention. It might be an overheard conversation on a bus, or the innocent things children say. I like to watch and read observational comedy. Other people’s humour can make you see the world in a different way and inspire fresh material. Having someone to bounce off ideas also helps. After a session with my wonderful writing coach, I always come away with a long list of comedic situations to develop. I went to a chocolate tasting workshop once and that gave me an idea for a scene in my book where a handsome charming man teaches a room full of women how to taste chocolate. The atmosphere was so erotic, it almost caused a mass silent orgasm. Can I say orgasm? Too late!

My tip for aspiring comedy writers would be to read your writing aloud and see if it makes you laugh. If it doesn’t, try again.

Speaking of which, where does your writing magic happen?

I have to write at my desk with a big screen and a separate keyboard. As soon as I sit and my fingers brush the keys, a literary tap turns on, and the words pour out. But I’m not sure I should inflict a view of my desk on your readers, as my attic office resembles a Dorian Gray inspired painting! During lockdown my office felt too lonely, so I moved downstairs to the dining table where my picture was taken. That’s where I wrote the first draft of my book.

What is the best piece of content by a witty woman you’ve read/watched/listened to/experienced recently? Some of my favourite books are on the CWIP longlist! I adored Lessons in Chemistry and One Day I Shall Astonish the World, to name but a few. The last truly witty and touching book I read was Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce. The two lead female characters were astonishingly real, and each had their own unique sense of humour. The American comedian Ali Wong makes me laugh out loud. Her comedy is close to the bone but all the more hilarious for it.

Finally, what does being longlisted for the CWIP prize mean to you? Do you have any advice for other witty writers thinking about entering the prize?

As a first-time author, putting my work out in the world has been scary. You hope that others will like your writing but there are no guarantees. Being longlisted for the CWIP prize has been a turbo boost to my confidence as a writer. I’m currently writing my second novel and feeling more positive about that too.

My advice to would-be entrants is absolutely go for it. Entering a competition focuses your mind. While preparing my work for the CWIP prize, I found myself thinking of new edits and making significant improvements to the manuscript. And for an author, there’s nothing like receiving the email from CWIP with the word ‘congratulations’ at the top!

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