Tag Archives: Jennifer Saunders

Autobiographies & Memoirs…

Earlier today I was on the hunt for some black jeans at my local very large supermarket, that will remain unnamed. I have mentioned before that I often find supermarket shopping quite stressful and so I headed off to the book section which always calms me, though it makes my wallet tremble in slight fear. As usual the temptation was too great and I ended up leaving the aisle with none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new memoir Hard Choices. I used the very flimsy excuses of ‘ooh I am going to Washington in a few weeks, it is like research’ and ‘she was brilliant on Woman’s Hour’. I know, I know I am weak – for having to buy a book not for listening to Woman’s Hour it is wonderful listening.

Hilary Clinton

Anyway, I digress. After I had bought it I was explaining to The Beard that I had bought it because it would give me a really unusual, yet direct, insight into the state of the world at the moment and its conflicts, plus American politics and give me some insight into someone who will, hopefully, become the next President of America. He responded with ‘you don’t need to justify buying a famous person’s memoir to me…’

And I think in some way he was right, I was really over justifying it because reading autobiographies and memoirs is one of those things that gets judged really harshly. If I am being 100% honest sometimes with certain autobiographies I have read them and yet not blogged about them or even popped them on my GoodReads book lists for fear of the judgement. I am not talking Jennifer Saunders or Dawn French, I think I have featured both of those. I am talking more along the lines of Stephanie Beacham or Kathleen Turner. No, even I wouldn’t read one of Cheryl Cole (or whatever she is calling herself now) or Jordan’s autobiographies. Ooh, see I did it myself then judging those autobiographies.

Yet some memoirs, like Barack Obama who has sold millions of copies of his, can be really insightful into the world. Then again I read Rupert Everett’s for all the gossip, the second one is written brilliantly though. Oh and I have read all the Spice Girls ones so far, I am still waiting for two of them and because of being part of the Spice generation I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from getting them for the nostalgia and the truth behind fall outs and all the rest of it. I am getting thrills at the thought. I also have Anjelica Huston’s first memoir ready and waiting on the TBR shelves and will now read it and write about it unashamedly, I love Jelly HuHu so.

So why do we judge autobiographies and memoirs so much, especially as we all love authors memoirs don’t we? (Come on we all do, I bet you have looked in horror as someone is reading some memoir supposedly written by the latest favourite pop star, reality TV star, DJ or comedian haven’t you?) Which ones have you read, be it secretly or not? Who do you wish would do a tell all memoir? Name an author and a celebrity or two I dare you!

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Bonkers – Jennifer Saunders

I don’t know about all of you but I am a much bigger fan of Boxing Day than Christmas Day, you still get all the food, chocolates and see relatives but it all feels calmer and less pressurised and you don’t have to worry about offending anyone if you go off into a corner and read a book. If you are anything like me the festive season is all about reading old favourites (some of the Armistead Maupin Tales of the City series), a good gripping crime or two (next read for me), and the celebrity memoir (I am just about to start Angelica Huston, or Jelly Who-who as I like to call her). One celebrity book that I can heartily recommend, and I do have rather a penchant for them on the sly, is Bonkers by Jennifer Saunders who I think gets it spot on.

Penguin Viking, 2013, hardback, autobiography, 292 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Unless you have been living in a cave or been on the moon since the 1980’s it is very unlikely you don’t know who Jennifer Saunders is. She was part of the Comic Strip before French and Saunders took over the telly box for many, many years. There has been Absolutely Fabulous (which The Beard is obsessed with, occasionally spending the day channelling Edina Monsoon – I know, I know), the Fairy Godmother in Shrek and my very favourite Jam & Jerusalem. Through all these we have come across a lot of Jennifer’s wonderful writing and yet she has always remained rather an enigma, this of course adds to the delight of wanting to read Bonkers. From the start you know you are going to enjoy what is to come.

I have been told that publishers these days like a particular type of memoir. They like a little bit of misery. They like a ‘mis mem’.
Well I am afraid I have had very little ‘mis’ in my life, and nowadays I have even less ‘mem’. So we can knock that one on the head.

Really Bonkers’ tagline gives it all away for you – ‘my life in laughs’ and as a reader you will spend many, many chapters just chortling away. Saunders seems to have chosen to write the funniest moments in her life as sketches that could be in a comedy show, or with subjects like cancer where she became ‘Brave Jen’ to the world she looks for the humour in even the darker parts of her life. She also knows what we ‘the reader’ really want to read about.

If you are standing in a bookshop and have accidentally picked me up (as it were), I can guess what you might be thinking. Oh no! Not another celebrity autobiog by someone cashing in on TV fame!
But let me tell you…
Yes! That is exactly what this is.
I realize they’re everywhere nowadays. Like a disease. But a lot of books out there are by babies. Biebers and Tulisas. They’ve only been awake a couple of years. Next we’ll have tiny foetuses writing books.
The thing that this one has going for it is that I am really quite old. I have also met quite a few celebs, which is always a good sales point. I was told to stuff it with celebs and royalty and a touch of sadness.

 So unlike some memoirs  that I can think of, where the writer spends at least a chapter on every audition they tried and failed at from the age of three until fame came a knocking, or how they spent seventy pages picking the perfect dress to wear for a party when they went to their first celeb bash etc, we get an insight into Jennifer’s childhood, some of her first trips away (one which has a link with Ernest Hemmingway and inspired Edina Monsoon), how she met Dawn French and how that initially didn’t go as we might expect, how she felt about making shows on her own, her dealing with fame, dealing with cancer, dealing with children getting older, all with some lovely celeby stories and lots and lots of giggling along the way.

I also felt I got to know her a little bit better, and as she has said herself these are the sort of stories you tell at dinner parties, they aren’t the most intimate of moments but stories you share with people you are getting to know. Interestingly her letters to Joanna ‘Jack’ Lumley, or faxes, and her thoughts on cancer and on the Spice Girls musical closing (not to compare the two) show her at her most natural and funny and honest and rather vulnerable, in both cases letting us in all the more.

So a big recommendation for Bonkers, which I think is the most suiting of titles, if you are a fan then you will have already got your mitts on a copy, or found it in your stocking a few days ago maybe? If not then when you next head to your local bookshop, which of course we all do with our book tokens (I got some woo-hoo) after Christmas, then you might want to add this to the ‘pile of joyous books to read over the festive period’ that I am sure we all have on our bedside tables at the moment.

If you want to hear more about the book, and have a few more giggles, then you can hear Jennifer and I having a pre-Christmas natter on the latest episode of You Wrote The Book here.

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When Savidge Reads Grilled Jennifer Saunders…

How is it Christmas Eve already? I hope you are all getting in the festive mood? I have already scheduled something fun and festive for tomorrow, as I am not going to be logging on the internet all day as a) I will be with loved ones b) I will most likely be drunk by about 10am – it is the only way to get through Christmas for me. But before I go all bah-humbug I thought today I would do a couple of posts of Christmas Eve cheer, the first is absolutely fabulous and the second rather spookier.

First up though is something very special as a few months ago I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Jennifer Saunders. This was to record the Christmas special of You Wrote The Book, but actually ended up with me spending a few hours in London’s Capital Building whilst Jennifer recorded various interviews and shows for the radio etc. and had a good old natter in between recordings and takes, before recording the episode which you can listen to here.

When Simon Met Jennifer

When Simon Met Jennifer

It has got to be one of the highlights of my year, if not one of the highlights of my life as I am a HUGE fan (not quite as much as The Beard who has never been so jealous, hopefully I didn’t go too fan boy) and Jennifer was absolutely bloody lovely darling. There was much laughing to be had, so I thought I would share it with you all if you have a spare fifteen minutes in the pre or post-Christmas – enjoy!

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Incoming Thoughts…

Be warned this post contains a lot of incoming books, my thoughts on them and a bit of an angry rant. First Note: If you love this sort of post then carry on, if you don’t then hopefully you will be back tomorrow for the return of The Persephone Project. Second Note: I have decided Savidge Reads might be going rogue over the next few months in preparation for 2014, partly brought on by the books I have received and the thinking they have made me do, and a more no nonsense style is required which if you a) scroll quickly down to the bottom of this post before you leave b) reach after looking at a bit of book porn you will spot. Savidge by name*… where was I? Oh yes these incoming book posts.

It is funny how these kinds of posts can divide people. Some people see them as delightful posts of Book Porn and some see them as a blogger or reviewer just showing off. I go both ways with it dependent on the blog. I would assume by now you know which of those camps I am in, if you need to be told it is the Book Porn camp then I suggest you leave and don’t darken my blogs door again. Ha! So who is ready for some bookish nattering…?

So last week I was in London. This was in part to interview the amazing Jennifer Saunders, who I was very nervous of meeting and who was really lovely and I bonded with over psychopaths, for the Christmas special of You Wrote The Book, go to a press event of Penguins (where I met Deborah Levy and had a moment of mutual fandom, very strange but very lovely) as well as going to the Not The Booker event on The Saturday. I decided to make an extended break of it and catch up with friends I had not seen for a while. Naturally one place I had to go was Persephone Books to see Nicola Beauman, its founder, who I have been writing to for the last year or so since The Persephone Project started. We had a lovely cup of coffee chatted about books old and new and I was even allowed into the printing room (with a sneaky peak at one of their possible future books) and down into the Persephone cellar where the damaged books live. I didn’t leave empty handed…

photo 2 (2)Now the picture here —> actually is missing a book as I left having bought almost as many books as I was given… I decided as a thank you to my lovely friend Catherine who let me stay she simply had to have a lovely new copy of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, my favourite Persephone so far as it has a sensational feel, whilst I saved one from the damaged shelves. I also saved a copy of ‘Julian Grenfell’ by Nicholas Mosley as it is the next Persephone I don’t have, well apart from ‘Few Eggs and No Oranges’ by Vere Hodgson (Persephone’s biggest book so far) which I bought a pristine copy of as a treat along with the one for Catherine. The final one I left with was ‘The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow’ by Mrs Oliphant which Nicola insisted I take as it has a lot of Liverpool in it. She was far too kind and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

photo 5There is something so special about smaller publishers, like Persephone, and how they go the extra mile to make their books look even more appealing as well as having a certain uniformed identity. Between all the Not The Booker chatter this is something I had been talking to Sam Jordison (the chair of the inaugural judging panel) about along with the fact that I was beginning to get this real urge to go rogue and off the bloggish beaten track and read some more undiscovered or off the radar gems. He introduced me to Galley Beggar, a publishing house he co-founded which I had no idea about till then (sorry Sam) and promptly delivered me with two of their latest titles; ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride and ‘Everlasting Lane’ by Andrew Lovett. Aren’t these gorgeous editions, I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but we all do. I am now very excited about discovering both a new publishing house and two new to me authors. If you fancy reading books a little of the bookish path I thought you might like to know these guys are about.

I did leave London with a few more books than that but they aren’t out till 2014, something which I am actually going to talk more about next week. I can say that I think 2013 has been a bit of a safe year in publishing (that will get me emails, sorry but its true – some lovely books have come out, only one or two of which have made me think ‘wow original’ or blown my socks off) though from the looks of things 2014 is looking really, really, really exciting – especially for more off the road novels. photo 3Anyway one additional book I got —> ‘My Brother Jack’ by George Johnston is extra special as it was from Kim of Reading Matters and had come all the way from Australia and is one of her very favourite books. No pressure on me to like it then, ha! I was really touched when we meet for a few pints, and a whole lot of chatter, and she whipped this out as I wasn’t expecting it. Odd but delightful fact, I had taken a load of proofs for her from Penguin yet neither of us had told the other we had treats. Lovely stuff.

Finally, when I got back from London I discovered the postman had had some arduous labour whilst I had been away as there were a lot of books awaiting me. Why mention these too? Well I have started doing something new. When books come in the following happens…

  • If I have asked for it, and I maybe ask for two or three books a month if that (just to clarify), then of course they go straight onto a special set of shelves for reading ASAP – with a little ‘when the mood takes me’ thrown in.
  • If it is for work it goes on another shelf. Almost a high priority one as I need to separate these for fear of going mad.
  • If they are unsolicited I now read the blurb (which I never used to do) and the opening page and then if I think the book is a must read or a must try it stays…
  • If I don’t it goes.

photo 5 (2)For extra clarity, the ones pictured have stayed or are work books and the only ones I asked for were Ciaran Collins ‘The Gamal’; because it is a bit off the beaten track and five people I trust have told me I must read it, ‘Mr Loverman’ by Bernadine Evaristo; because they ran out of proofs at the Penguin bloggers night way back in February and I waited for the paperback, ‘The Woman in Black: Angel of Death’ by Martyn Waites; for obvious reasons that I am obsessed with the Woman in Black and am interviewing Susan Hill soon and want to discuss this with her. Blimey that is a lot of books isn’t it?

You can see why I am going to be having a small cull when the final shreds of this lurgy have passed. I have clarified this all for you more than I normally would because of this…

*Just to underline something. I have blogged for six years and do this free of charge simply for the love. Six years, not six months. Secondly I work freelance on several book pages in several magazines. Thirdly I created a book prize because I love books. Fourthly I make three podcasts free of charge discussing books with other co-hosts or the authors of said books. These are the reasons I have built up delightful relationships with publishers and they send me books, many unsolicited. This has all come through passion, dedication and hard work, leading to a good presence. I do not condone the new attitude of constant ‘book blagging’ – publishers give books out where they want to – but when I hear that a blogger or two have been slating me to several  publishers for getting sent ‘too many books’ and yet also telling some publishers that I said they could ask for books I have to address it. Naturally I am very upset to have heard about this and felt it needed addressing as it has put me in a very awkward position in the last few days.

Right, issue addressed, back to the lovely books and your thoughts… Which of these have you read or fancy reading? What is your favourite Persephone Book? What was the last book you gave to a friend? What books have caught your eye lately? What have you bought, borrowed or been sent of late?

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