Thursday, 15 December 2011

It does you good to laugh. Jeff Lee and Barbara Silkstone.

It Does You Good to Laugh (as a well known comedian used to say.)

When I had my first book, Belfast Girls, up on HarperCollinsAuthonomy web site a couple of years ago, I labelled it, in accordance with their requirements, as “romance’, ‘thriller’ and ‘comedy.’ An American commentator said, ‘Why is this called ‘Comedy?’ Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any comic bits.’ After getting over my initial reaction (with difficulty), I courteously directed him to Chapter 8, where Sheila meets Francis and he ends up soaked by the lawn sprinkler while trying to seduce her.  Well, I think it’s funny, and so do quite a few other people. But it didn’t convince him.  But humour is such an individual thing, and American humour can be quite different from British humour.

Most of the books I enjoy are, if not funny throughout, at the very least full of witty comments – ‘wisecracks’, they used to call these. Nowadays we say ‘oneliners.’  And to me it adds a huge amount to a book if it’s amusing as well as gripping and exciting.  When (again! – it must have been a traumatic experience. It’s certainly left its mark!) I was on Authonomy, I was always very relieved, in between the regular diet of vampire books or serial killers (and often both in one), to come across an enjoyably funny book.  Two of these were Jeff Lee’s beautifully named The Ladies Temperance Club's Farewell Tour, and Barbara Silkstone’s The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland aged Forty-two and Threequarters.  In both these cases, the clever titles immediately told me that I was in for an excellent read.

Jeff Lee has recently signed a contract with Pfoxmoor Publishing, and his next book will be coming out under their imprint, but The Ladies is still available on Kindle and I can certainly recommend it if you like black humour and lively characters.  Vonda, Kay and Francine are friends who meet regularly to spend an evening together.  Vonda is only too glad to get away from her long-term boy friend, the unpleasant Jack, and to show off a bit to Kay, who knows no better than to order fries in a high class restaurant.  Unfortunately, at the end of one of these evenings the effect of the drinks consumed leads Vonda to hit Jack over the head when he is being particularly horrible. And her two friends determine to protect Vonda from the consequences of her action. Jack is stuffed into the freezer of their motor home, and the three ladies set off into the blue yonder with only the sketchiest of ideas as to what to do with the body.

Jeff Lee
Jeff Lee has a vivid writing style which brings his characters to life and wins them our sympathy. Vonda is far from perfect. Before she gets together with Jack, for instance, she is stuck overnight in a hotel when her plane is grounded by a winter storm. We’re told that Vonda didn’t mind.

‘She had several quarts of vodka and aquavit to keep her warm. As well as her plane’s pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer.’ 

But Jack is such a dreadful man, and treats her so badly, that we feel he deserves everything he gets.

We are right there with Vonda when she takes her fatal swing at Jack’s head.  When she suggests that he might come out of his office and say hullo to her friends, he yells at her, ‘Why don’t you just take a hammer and cave the side of my skull in? I might enjoy that a little more!’ So Vonda replies demurely, ‘Whatever you say, dear,’ and takes a smack at him.

In another type of book, with serious treatment, this might be a moment full of horror.  Jeff Lee, instead, has us laughing.

I mustn’t spoil the rest of the book for you, the hilarious journey and the final outcome.  The scene in the Mall, in the Theme Land Restaurant, where Vonda loses her head, climbs on the table and starts throwing things, is one not to be missed.  The mousy Kay comes out of herself and sorts out the trouble by explaining that Vonda is upset because of a death in the family – she’s just lost her long-term boyfriend.

Well, yes.  So she has.

Jeff Lee’s next book, I hear, is set in Hollywood. Something to look forward to.

You can buy The Ladies Temperance Club's Farewell Tour here:

And then there’s Barbara Silkstone. What can I say?

Barbara Silkstone
When I first came across Barbara Silkstone and her Fractured Fairytales a couple of years ago on Authonomy, I was amused and impressed by the excerpt from her first book, The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters, which I read there. The title not only draws on Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice, but also links the book to the very funny Adrian Mole, Aged 13 and Three-Quarters which I read with joyful laughter when the series first came out, years ago.

Alice in Wonderland was probably one of the first real books I read, as opposed to picture books. (My little sister was awarded it as a Sunday School prize when she was a bit young to be able to read it, so I seized on it, read it from cover to cover, and still have very happy associations with it.) So Barbara’s book – what should I call it? A take off? A pastiche? Or perhaps a tribute? –  delighted me.  Her funny, feisty heroine Alice, reminiscent of Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum, was a real find, and the thriller plot was gripping and page turning.

And now, here comes another equally attractive thriller with a connection to a much loved children’s book, Wendy and the Lost Boys.  Confession time – I’ve never actually read Peter Pan. (And why on earth not, you may well ask? I don’t really know!)  But I first saw the Walt Disney cartoon at quite a young age and was enthralled by it. I’ve since watched it with my children and found myself still loving it. So Barbara’s new book held an immediate strong appeal for me.

Wendy Darlin, like Barbara Silkstone’s earlier heroine Alice Harte, is funny, feisty, and Stephanie Plum-like, but, unlike most of the very funny minor characters, she is a realistically drawn individual whom we connect to straightaway and for whom we find ourselves rooting throughout the book.  Wendy is soft-hearted. She allows herself to be sucked into trouble with the terrible (but very amusing) villain Charlie Hook, captain of the Predator, a pirate ship in modern terms, purely because she can’t turn down the appeals for help from Marni. Wendy doesn’t even like Marni much, but she is the daughter of an old friend, and Wendy feels that she has to step in, and onto Hook’s yacht.  So here she goes, plunging into a set of events which are hair raising, exciting, and laugh out loud funny; and meeting up with a set of characters whose idiosyncrasies make them by turns appealing, revolting, funny and terrifying.

Beginning with her husband Croc (Hook’s enemy – representing the crocodile in the original) and Roger Jolley (attractive apart from his brown wingtip shoes, but introducing himself as one of the dreaded SEC people) Wendy collects a number of strange and fascinating people around her. The weird array made up of Joseph, Mary, Annie, and Granddaddy Earl has to be read to be believed – if then! We are in a fantasy world, with people – at least the minor characters – who, like those of Alice in Wonderland, are caricatures, but still in some sense real and easy to relate to. But at the end of the day, it’s Wendy herself who sorts things out, solves the mysteries, and defeats the villain, while solving her own past hang-ups at the same time.

Barbara Silkstone has a real knack of not only naming her characters, but also of creating their idiosyncrasies, to fit in with her original. Wendy’s long lost boyfriend, Peter Payne, for instance, left her because he didn’t want to grow up and face the real world. But Silkstone shows us the dangerous side of this attitude, not just its attraction, unlike Barrie. And the secret of The Lost Boys, and whom they turn out to be, is both original and convincing.

If you like your thrillers to be fast moving, full of action, and with a surprise ending, this is for you. If you like your heroines warm hearted, brave, with a desire for justice but with occasional foolhardiness, this is for you. If you like a writer to be witty, skilful with words, and able to throw in the odd touch of enchantment in her descriptive passages, this is for you.  (Mind you, you need to be happy with a fair bit of humour of the type not suitable for the original audience of Peter Pan or Alice, such as the recurring joke about Hook’s UpUGo, which I won’t spoil for you.)  And if you like an ongoing touch of romance for your heroine, with various candidates for her affections, and a bit of a mystery as to whom she’ll end up with, resolved beautifully at the end, this also is for you.

Sound like your type of book?  Wendy and the Lost Boys is definitely mine!

Like Jeff Lee, Barbara Silkstone has recently signed a publishing contract, in her case with Mark Williams' International Digital Publishing. 

Buy the book here.

As for my own books, they are mainly Irish romantic thrillers, but I’ve included wit and humour as the mood took me. Well. I find bits of them funny. Why not see if you agree?

My first book, Belfast Girls, is still selling steadily. You can buy it in eBook format here.

Or you might still have time to get the paperback for someone special as a Christmas present!

My second book is Danger Danger, also set mostly in Belfast, with excursions to Zurich. These are the eBook links, but again, the paperback would make a good Christmas present, especially for someone who’s read my first book.


I hope to write another blog next week, but if I don’t manage it, then have a marvellous and happy and blessed Christmas, everyone!


  1. Thank you Gerry. I love to make people laugh. Laughter is contagious. :) Thanks for the post.

  2. Glad you like it, Barbara. You can certainly make people laugh.

  3. These books definitely go on my TBR list.

    You're right about humor being regional. I'm an American whose sense of humor has always been more Brit than Yank, so I've had a hard time finding an American audience. I personally like irony and sophisticated detachment more than pie-in-the-face yucks or "take my wife-please" one-liners. (Although a cleverly set-up one-liner like Jeff's bit about why Vonda is upset can have me rolling on the floor.)

    And I've just discovered after causing a big brouhaha on my blog with some self-deprecating generational humor that many, many people are infuriated by humor of any kind.

    But Jeff's book sounds like just my kind of read, and I already know Barbara is one of my favorite writers.

    Thanks for these!

  4. Good to hear from you, Anne. I could have guessed from your own books that you would like humour. Like you, I prefer 'irony and sophisticated detachment,' and although this is sometimes seen as British, there are lots of American writers/films in this style. I suppose I think of American humour as more slapstick because of the huge number of American films recently which feature very physical humour. But British humour is often like this too. I never find it very funny – but each to their own – no disputing about tastes – etc. As it happens, both these writers are American, and their books combine both more subtle humour and broad effects. Anyway, it works! I see Sherwood Ltd is now out. It sounds great – looking forward to getting it soon!

  5. Gerry I read both of these books on Authonomy and loved them. The titles hook you in. Thank you for bringing them to the fore front again.

  6. Tee, thanks for your comments. There were so many good books on Authonomy – as well as the vampire/serial killer ones – and even some of those were good, too, in fact! I should really be grateful for the chance to read so many – but it was a bit of a damaging experience in some ways. However, if it hadn't been for Authonomy I wouldn't have linked up with Night Publishing and had Belfast Girls published, so I expect I should really remember it with gratitude, on the whole – maybe!

  7. As another former Authonomite I am delighted to see these wonderful authors being highlighted here.

    Your own humour has me chuckling quite often, Gerry. I have read both the featured books and loved them.
    You already know just how much I loved your own Belfast Girls and Danger Danger.
    On a personal not I do hope you are feeling much better very soon. I wish you and yours a peaceful and joyous Christmas, much love xo

  8. Thanks so much, both for your comments, and for your good wishes, dear Soooz. For those of you wondering what this is about, I haven't been too well for a week or two. Pretty much okay again now, I hope. A very happy Christmas to you, too, Soooz, and to all my internet friends!

  9. Lovely post, Gerry. And you're absolutely right about humour. My sister lives in America and has some amusing tales of humour-misunderstandings! I love Barbara's writing (Barbara, I haven't forgotten, I will read Wendy over the holidays, my TBR pile is ridiculous at the moment!)and will check out Jeff's writing too. Belfast Girls is also looking at me from my shelf calling, Read Me! I really can't wait, just finding the time is more difficult... Happy Christmas everyone!

  10. Thanks for commenting, Jackie – glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you'll find time for Belfast Girls over the holidays – but certainly no rush, read it when you're ready, and I really hope you'll enjoy it.
    And a very happy Christmas to you, too!