Comedy writer Lee Stuart Evans has written a book set in 1960’s Notts. There’s an article about Lee, his book and his comedy credits, on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website. You can read it via THIS LINK.
NottsLit also caught up with the local lad come Londoner. Here’s what he told us:
Why did you set your debut novel, Words Best Sung, in the 1960s?
“I’ve been a little bit obsessed with all things ‘60s ever since my uncle took me trainspotting when I was 11.”
Why does the decade appeal so much?
“When I was about 14 my mum let me stay up and watch all those “kitchen sink” films that always seemed to be on, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Taste of Honey, Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Billy Liar, Alfie. There’d always be a train whistle squealing somewhere in the background. I loved them. Also, if you were a teenager in the 80s, so many bands like The Smiths and The Jam talked a lot in interviews about great 60s groups (Kinks, Small Faces, Motown groups), films and books, and I gradually grew more interested in that time, the fashions, the politics, the cars, scooters. It still seems like an exciting time, although my mum insists Warsop was never very much like Carnaby Street.”
You mention the Sillitoe’s films. Another interest of yours is his writing and that of D H Lawrence?
“Probably the Lawrence I enjoy reading most of all these days are his letters. You get can hear all his many and contradictory moods, the different sides to his personality, the hurry in which he seems to live. He comes across as a lot more likeable and much funnier than you’d expect from a lot of what’s written about him. Although I can’t imagine him in Yates’s on a Friday night.”
One man who might have been found in Yates’s on a Friday evening was Sillitoe. I understand you met him?
“I met Alan Sillitoe in 2002 at a Barbican screening of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and again in 2008 when he talked about the reissued A Start in Life at Foyle’s bookshop. He was very friendly on both occasions, and quietly chatted about the film and Nottingham while he signed my books. There was a huge queue to get to him both times, but you got the impression he would chat with each of you for as long as you liked. I felt too much of a fool to say how important his books had been to me.”
You've worked with and met many celebrities, is there one meeting you care to share with us?
“Once when I was writing in a London TV office, I nipped out for coffees and bumped into Sean Lock, who I’ve worked with a long time on 8 Out of 10 Cats. Sean’s telling me he’s heading to a meeting nearby, when suddenly he looks over my shoulder as this vaguely familiar voice says, “Hallo, Sean off the telly!” Sean, in his usual casual manner, replies, “Oh, hallo, Paul.” Thinking a friend of Sean’s is approaching, I turn round and there, standing bedside me with a big smile on his face, is Paul McCartney. He and Sean shake hands, and when Sean introduces me he says “Nice to meet you, I’m Paul. It was the day after Barack Obama’s inauguration, and Paul McCartney starts talking about what a wonderful, momentous occasion it was, and how interesting it would be to see how the world might change. After a minute or two, he apologises for going on and says, “My office is just down the road. I’d better be going. Nice talking to you lads. See you around.” Open-mouthed, I looked at Sean and said, “Wow! I didn’t know you were mates with Paul McCartney!” (You assume all famous people have met at some swanky do or other) And Sean, equally open-mouthed, shakes his head and says, “I’ve never set eyes on him before.” It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Sean Lock lost for words.”
You also played guitar in a band. How does that compare to your experiences of performing stand up?
“Playing with a band was by far the bigger buzz, and a lot more fun – for me, anyway. There’s a kind of safety in numbers in playing with a band, a sense that even if you’re absolutely terrible, you’re still having a laugh with your bandmates. I felt I could hide slightly, behind a guitar. Starting out in stand-up on the other hand, it’s just you, alone on a tiny stage, staring out into lots of drunken faces (or sometimes just 7 faces, as I once did) who are immediately disappointed because you’re not someone they know off the telly. They’ve no idea who you are, or what you’re about to say, yet they’ve mostly decided you’re probably going to be awful before you even open your mouth. You’ve got about 20 seconds to prove them wrong, get them on side, or you’re dead.”
It seems like you prefer to write for others?
“I loved writing stand-up. I did a lot of topical stuff, so it was always fresh untried material, which was exciting, but at the same time terrifying. I’d spend the morning writing, the next 10 hours worrying about not remembering it. Next thing, it’s 11pm and you’re coming home on the bus wondering what was the point of that. With comedy, the biggest buzz for me is always when writing with a proper comedian, you pitch a joke and it makes them laugh so much they want to use it in the show. That’s why you do the job. Or is it the money? It’s one of those things, anyway.”
So, the day job is writing for others, letting them grab the credit?
“I always say gag writers are a bit like spies: most people know we exist, but we’re not supposed to go on about it. And if we do, we’ll be found floating in the canal.”
Words Best Sung is published by Notts based Arundel Books.
Set in mid-1960s England, Words Best Sung is the lively, bittersweet tale of Alastair Braymoor, a Nottinghamshire lad who for as long as he could remember had dreamed about two things: steam engines, and Charlotte, the tomboy from the top of the street.
But when he starts work on the railway, steam is just a few years from extinction and Charlotte has run away to the bright lights, leaving Alastair hopelessly in lust with gorgeous but uptight Mary.
After a seaside brawl leads to his pal playing drums for one of the hottest R&B groups in the country, at a concert with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, a boys' adventure to the capital proves a revelation in more ways than any of them could ever have imagined.
With its girls, groups and trains; scooters, Minis and beehive hair-dos, Words Best Sung is a funny and moving coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the changing atmosphere and attitudes of the mid-sixties, and what was surely the most exciting time ever to be young, daft and in love.
“Evoking the North Notts vernacular and humour, Lee Stuart Evans has penned a nostalgic coming of age novel that’ll transport you back to the sixties” NottsLit
“Hilarious, touching, romantic…a really cracking read.” Sally Lindsay
“A lovely, heartfelt story” Dave Johns, star of the Ken Loach BAFTA & Palme d’Or winning film I, Daniel Blake