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Rebecca Rogers’ witty extremities - from Hell to Michael Palin

Rebecca Rogers' study space

Working from bed – where the magic happens.

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize?

A friend from a writing group sent me the link. I was really flattered she’d thought of me, but like any under-confident menopausal 50-year-old, I thought — there’s absolutely no way I’ll get anywhere with this, so I shelved the idea. However,… I’d just started a new job as a work coach, and in our training group we were learning some motivational coaching techniques. I’d volunteered to role-play (*shudder*), and the ‘goal’ that I came up with was to submit to the CWIP prize. My colleagues were so supportive, and it was brilliant to be able to tell them that I’d made the long list.

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

I’m a single mum with grown-up boys, and I work in the local job centre. I’ve always worked, and writing has been a big part of my roles; I think it’s possible to be creative in a corporate environment, with each customer letter being a tiny piece of flash fiction. A few years ago I started a blog about divorce and it served as a brilliant training ground for me to develop my writer’s voice; I soon realised I didn’t have the tools in my kit to be a literary writer, but that perhaps those hours spent watching Monty Python and Blackadder in my youth might not have been a complete waste of time.

Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form?

From about the age of 13 I kept a shambolic diary, full of some poor lad called Chris Baynham (had he smiled at me that day? Or ignored me? Apparently, it mattered above all other things). Occasionally I would write about Paul Young and George Michael, and how I was going to marry them both — unsuccessful on both counts, I’m afraid. There was absolutely nothing in there about schoolwork. Did I do any? I honestly don’t remember.

Can you describe what your novel, THE PURGATORY POISONING, is about in two sentences?

Dave wakes in his own 1980s version of Purgatory and finds out that he’s been murdered by one of his so-called friends. Aided by a rogue angel, Dave gets sent back down to earth to solve his own murder.

Did you set out to write a funny book?

Not really. I think it’s the only way I know how to write.

What inspired you to imagine life after death with a humorous slant?

I wanted to write a novel about Purgatory because the concept fascinates me. I tried to read Dante’s The Divine Comedy for inspiration and research but I’m going to be honest — it isn’t actually very funny — apparently, it’s only called a comedy because it’s got a happy ending. Disappointing.

Once I had the place, I knew that Michael Palin had to feature strongly as a main character. I’ve grown up with Michael; The Holy Grail was the first film I ever saw at the cinema and my family were Monty Python obsessed. Then there was Ripping Yarns, and all of his travel programmes, of course. I’ve seen him twice in the flesh and both times wanted to run up to him and scream DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU MEAN TO ME? But even I knew that this would have been odd and that I would probably have been arrested.

How did you set about inventing these worlds?

Well now, to say that Purgatory and Heaven and Hell are invented is a bit controversial. But I suppose the image of them I have in my head is entirely mine. After all, if they do exist, no one really has the foggiest what they look like. I wanted Heaven to feel a bit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and Hell to feel a bit like the grimmest of British campsites after heavy rain. I love the ‘80s, having lived through them as a teenager myself, and wanted my version of Purgatory to reflect that glorious decade; the music, the nylon, the shark tooth necklaces. What a time to be alive! (Or dead, of course.)

Who do you enjoy reading?

I’m a sucker for a crime thriller, from Lee Child to Val McDermid. But I find myself returning time and again to Terry Pratchett, who continues to make me laugh just as long and hard now as he did when I was a teenager. That man had magic at his fingertips.

What’s your favourite type of humour?

The clever sort. Or the new sort. Or something that is unpredictable and springs on you from left-field. Humour that is brilliantly observed (Caitlin Moran), authentic (Jo Brand), creative and crafted (The Horrible Histories team).

Basically, my favourite type of humour is anything that makes me laugh.

What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight?

Within two weeks of starting my new job, I’d caused a security breach, been told I’d got my top on inside out (twice) and caught the hem of my new dress in the spokes of my bike on my commute, flipping me off into the gutter and arriving at work looking like I’d spent the night in a coal bunker.

Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine?

I live in a small cottage with my two sons, who are both 6’8”. It’s like living in Alice in Wonderland, if I’m honest. Space has been particularly tight throughout covid, when at times, we have all been working from home together. I’ve therefore become adept at ‘working from bed’ (see pic) – it’s not great for my neck but I think I’ve found the perfect pillow position to support my head for at least 45 minutes before I have to stretch and go downstairs to raid the fridge.

Currently, I’m squeezing my writing magic into the gaps between work, kids and cleaning the toilet. It’s not sustainable, to be honest. But the plan is to take some time off work to start on my second novel; a follow-up to The Purgatory Poisoning, with the same angelic detectives and a whole new mystery to solve.

Helen Lederer ‘I’m with you Rebecca - I once met Michael Palin in the Isle of Wight in the early 90’s - and actually said ‘do you know who I am?’. He didn’t…

2021 Unpublished Longlist
‘The Purgatory Poisoning’ by our Rebecca Rogers is seventh from the left

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