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Retro tampax cake can help word count

Dear modern reader - while assembling my entirely natural tableau of artifacts for the splendid humorous journal that is Chortle and their Shelf Isolation feature where comedians share the contents (and secrets) of their shelves, I was minded of a cake I got my sister to bake for my book Coping. (But more on that below.)

If any embarrassment seeps, let’s harness that to fuel today’s humour word count - I’ve gone red already...

Enjoy my shelf!

Helen Lederer shares the secrets of her shelves

On 8 June, the nominations for the Comedy Women In Print prize were announced - accolades set up by Helen Lederer after she became a comic novelist and realised the lack of recognitions for female authors working in the field.

As she promotes a crowdfunding drive to finance the event next year, here she shares the secrets of her shelves during lockdown...

1. Bespoke Ab Fab bottle of Diet Coke

Oddly enough, I'm still hanging on to this highly toxic, non-biodegradable bit of memorabilia salvaged from my goody bag at the AbFab premiere. It's the kind of item you might see on Bargain Hunt as a 'collector's item' even though there's absolutely no Coke in there any more.

I remember being completely pissed on the way home (and before), teetering on the new shoes (a mistake) and rifling through the goody bag on the pavement for chocolate. I can't remember what else was in biros though.

2. Losing It comedy novel

OK so I've got a few of these still to shift if anyone's interested.

This was my first comedy novel which made me happy while I was writing it. First novels are like that apparently which is a bit depressing. I lost a friend because she thought one of the characters was about her. It was. (Joking. It wasn't.. Well, only the bit about....

3. Comedy Women In Print programme

This is a programme for the winner's event of CWIP last year.

Once I'd written the comedy novel, I looked around, rather hopefully, for a comedy literary prize to win and realised there wasn't one, so, I set one up myself. I am now a 'founder' or rather 'mayor' of CWIP which means I must manage other people as well as being good at admin.

I can't do either of these. I know this because people get quite upset when I try and manage them. But at least unpublished writers get a book deal if they win, I find myself explaining to people who might want to support it. Occasionally I have to add the words 'which is a good thing' if they don't appear impressed enough.

4. Coping with Helen Lederer

This was my 1980s parody of a self-help book. At least, I intended it to be perceived as a parody. You never know with people though do you...?

It was my (highly hilarious) answer to Jane Asher's Easy Entertaining. On the other hand, maybe some people may have thought I really was advocating the use of Weetabix and tomato ketchup as a canape?

I had fun creating the Tampax cake and knitted answer-machine cover which may or may not have been taken up as crafting go-tos.

The Tampax Cake

If you're keen, some copies might still be available on Amazon from a bookseller in the Wirral.

5. Photo of Meera Syal and me in the play The Killing of Sister George

I played a European fortune teller (not sure if I had a name) and Meera played Sister George (in a wig - my hair is my own in this pic).

This was quite a fruity production where you had to do things like go to rehearsals and learn lines and block scenes and gossip but never about the wrong people or you got sent to Coventry very quickly.

I got very fond of a nice bar in an alley way near the Arts Theatre where one could sink a few bottles after each show. I remember getting thrown out of there once, in a group, which made it feel less personal..

6. Poster of a stand-up show in Edinburgh, Still Crazy After All These Years

Odd that I borrowed the title from a Paul Simon song but there we are. No one complained. About the title that is. Two people tried to walk out of a performance on one occasion, but they couldn't find the exit door, so they had to stay.

I felt quite sorry for them. I did material about group therapy and divorce, which may have been triggering, or maybe it was ahead of its time.

On the other hand, there weren't many other women doing stand-up then and the other two female comedians had to have the same name to make it easier for the male comperes.

The Assembly Room bar was where no one dared make eye contact in case they missed someone coming in who might be offering them a job. Or sex. And occasionally both.

7. Box of my Melody Maker teenage diaries

These contain harsh evidence of my childhood affliction - the obsession with both boys and Levis. If only I'd done more maths, or pushed myself with the pain ...

This Shelf Isolation feature was originally posted on the Chortle website on 11 Jun 2020.

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