The secret to success (well, some thoughts anyway…)

I once heard an anecdote from a famous literary agent’s assistant that made me laugh:

‘Every author wants a publishing deal. The authors who are critically acclaimed want to be commercially successful, and the authors who are commercially successful want to be critically acclaimed.

‘Every author is desperate to win an award. And those authors who win an award are most miserable of all, for they see the award as an albatross around their necks and fear nothing they ever do will scale those heights again.’

(Basically, every author is miserable!)

People definitely compare themselves upwards. None of these authors were thinking ‘It’s so great I have an agent!’ They were taking that for granted and wishing they were more successful. So there’s definitely something to be said for being extremely grateful for where you are now in life, rather than always striving for more.

Ariane Flowers.jpg

But if I had any advice for achieving your goals, it would be along the following lines:

Work out what you want to achieve. You can’t aim for a target you haven’t set. I know many people who want to lose weight, but that’s such a nebulous goal that it doesn’t focus the mind. In contrast, a goal to lose 4 stone is specific and measurable, and you know when you’ve achieved it.

Figure out the steps between you and your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks. For instance, today I weigh 12st 4.2lbs. To get down to 8 stone, I need to lose more than 4 stone, but right now I’m aiming for a ‘Club 10’ target of 12st 2.5lbs, which means I’ll have lost a tenth of my body weight since joining Slimming World. (SW is good like this – it rewards you at least every 7lbs.)

Recognise that you’ll fail before you succeed (especially true of weight loss). You’ll take two steps forward, one step back. If we’re talking creativity, everyone gets rejected at times; everyone has to produce more than will ever be published or used. Just think of all the many drafts of novels. Remember Samuel Beckett’s quote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Keep going. You’ll fall down, but make sure to keep getting up and attempting to succeed. You’ll be amazed by how many people fall by the wayside. The person who succeeds is often the last (wo)man standing. There have been so many times when I’ve thought, ‘Fuck it, maybe I’ll just stay fat!’ but I also know that won’t make me happy. So keep your goal in mind when things get tough.

You never know when your luck will turn – when you’ll come to the attention of a gatekeeper who could change your life, or just get an exciting opportunity. Last week, I was headhunted for a role. It wasn’t right for me, but at least that person now knows I exist.

I also got invited to debate Brexit on Good Morning Britain. They went with another guest in the end, but I wasn’t expecting the invitation, and the randomness of it cheered me up. (Though I was also slightly relieved at being stood down to be honest – pretty sure Twitter would have been unusable for me for about two days afterwards thanks to angry Brexiteers!)

Writers: remember to preface harsh feedback with ‘in my opinion’. I’ve been told before by a literary agent that I can’t write. It floored me; I had to remind myself I’ve written endless columns for the Guardian, and lots for the Spectator and the Sunday Times. That knowledge helped to reframe this person’s opinion as ‘in my opinion, you can’t write’. And, in less polite terms: fuck ’em. Feedback should be constructive, and that wasn’t. Metaphorically kick them in the fanny and move on.

People who aren’t gatekeepers will also be shitty about your achievements. Look at the comments section of any comedy article. You’ll find ‘This isn’t funny’; ‘That’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’; ‘I can’t believe [publication] pays for this crap.’ That’s cool: you got paid and credited and you aren’t the person wasting your life leaving negative comments. Put it down to jealousy and don’t let it bother you. The publication wouldn’t have run the article if they didn’t like it.

Realise that you have to adapt to life’s changes. The Guardian stopped running me regularly in 2010; it hurt as it was the paper I grew up reading, and I still love it. I’d write for it again in a heartbeat, but if not, other publications are available. I also really enjoy writing for the Daily Mash and writing books for Little, Brown.

Sometimes things change because of you, not your employer. I realised I wasn’t enjoying writing for television in late 2007, and made the leap to journalism after six years of telly. I used to love going into the BBC and being the youngest person in writers’ rooms, but now I go into the BBC as an occasional commentator and am sometimes the oldest person on the panel, and that’s OK too. Life changes and you have to change with it rather than be depressed by it.

Oh, and lastly: never self-deprecate! As someone wiser than me once said, ‘People accept the value you place upon yourself’. Keep telling people you’re rubbish and they’ll eventually believe you.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Ariane face

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 41

Me: 12st 4.2lbs (total loss in 41 days: 10lbs)

I need to keep going.

John: 14st 4.75lbs (total loss in 41 days: 2.75lbs)

John’s doing well again!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

It’s party time! (Well, in December…)

Brexit be damned! I’ve decided that, deal or no deal, I’m having a kids’ Christmas party for my daughter this year. So I’m stockpiling Prosecco (for the adults – don’t worry, my eight-year-old isn’t a miniature alkie). Before October 31st, I’ll buy some party snacks that won’t be out-of-date by December, and will send out the invitations to my friends with kids next month.

I haven’t had a party since my do for the eight-year-old last Christmas. I used to have fun birthday parties in my twenties, but they kind of fell by the wayside. However, I’m definitely also having a big celebration next year whatever happens with Brexit, as I’m turning 40. In the same month, my friend John is turning 70, so we’re going to throw a party called ‘Ariane and John turn 110!’

I hope it’s as much fun as my 27th birthday party back in 2007, which was a 1980s party in my tiny one-bedroom flat in Camden. Here was the invitation, designed by ultimate polymath Graham Nunn, who would also go on to design the Atheist Bus Campaign:

Ariane's 80s Birthday Party edited.gif

My flat was literally about 300 square feet of space across two rooms and two half-rooms, but I managed to pack in 12 friends. Here are some of them:

MM & M.jpg
Graham with the brilliant quiz scoreboard he’d created,
The-Madonna-and-Michael-Jackson-Tug-of-War!

Charlie & Ariane.jpgMe and my writer friend Charlie, who went on to create the amazing series Black Mirror. Is my dress not the most 1980s thing you’ve ever seen?!

Ariane and BenMe and my then-boyfriend Ben, rocking the 1980s theme with his Duran Duran t-shirt.

Ben C and Ariane.jpgMe and another Ben (I collect them). This Ben is now a comedy producer at BBC Studios.

Catie, Charlie, Zarina.jpg
My friend Catie, who went on to be my flatmate for two years, and then married her comedian boyfriend Richard Herring; Charlie; and my then-flatmate Zarina Liew, who I used to produce cartoons with for the Times Educational Supplement.

Graham and Mark.jpg
My lovely friend Mark White with my best friend Graham Nunn, who would go on to be my husband, and then my ex-husband, and is now my best friend again. He’s paying homage to the 1980s theme with his Mummra-from-Thundercats t-shirt.

Friends at party.jpgEverybody holding up their name badges. Each name badge had three
statements on – two true, one false. You had to guess which the false one was.
The game helped break the ice, as a lot of my friends didn’t know each other.

Ben & Hannah.jpgBen and my friend Hannah Forbes Black, who is now a multimedia artist.

John and Zarina.jpgZarina and her boyfriend John, whose surname escapes me because I am now very old.

Matt, Ben, Mark and me.jpgPlaying another game in teams. Everyone sitting on my bed as there was no space!

I can’t remember who won the prize for Best 80s Costume. On the evidence of these photos, it should really have been me, as I don’t think anyone else pulled out all the stops! You can’t award yourself a prize though. I don’t remember that much about the party, which is possibly a sure sign that it was a good one, but has probably got more to do with it being 12 years on… Anyhow, it’s great to still have the photos, though it also makes me feel ancient.

Back then, I wasn’t remotely pregnant, and now this small creature is eight years old:

Lily raincoat.jpg

The party I’ll have for her in December won’t be cool and fun in the same way as my 27th, but Santa (aka my good friend John Fleming) will turn up with gifts, and my daughter will be excited (although she doesn’t actually believe in Santa any more) and suddenly I’ll have something in my eye. I can’t wait.

santa.JPG

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 40

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 40 days: 8.8lbs)

John: 14st 6lbs (total loss in 40 days: 1.5lbs)

It’s fair to say that John and I aren’t doing too well on this diet. There’s still time to turn it around though!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 2)

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post yet, please do that first.

To recap: I’d written a script called Hyde & Sikh for a BBC sitcom writing contest, aged 21. My sassy Asian main character Leila has just been told by her very traditional Indian dad that he’s found a suitor for her. She is outraged and determined never to have an arranged marriage. To make matters worse, a sexist builder called Darren has just chatted her up at the bus stop…

Here’s the next part:

 

SCENE 3:  INT. GRIMP & GRIMP SOLICITORS’ OFFICE (DAY)

 LEILA ENTERS WORK AND WALKS INTO HER OFFICE, WHICH SHE SHARES WITH HER COLLEAGUE AMRIT. LEILA’S HALF OF THE OFFICE IS TIDY AND SPOTLESS, WHILE AMRIT’S IS BURIED UNDER MOUNTAINS OF PAPERWORK. AMRIT IS SHORT AND VERY OVERWEIGHT, AND WEARS GARISH CLOTHES THAT EXPOSE HER HUGE BOSOM TO FULL EFFECT. SHE IS SLUMPED OVER HER DESK, LOOKING THE WORSE FOR WEAR, GROPING BLINDLY AMONGST THE PAPERS.

LEILA:

Amrit! What happened to you?

AMRIT: (SLURRING)

Lasnite. Drunk too mush.

LEILA:

Look at the state of you! You’re meant to be a paralegal, not paralytic.

AMRIT: (LOOKING UP BLEARILY)

Got a hangover, innit?

LEILA:

Innit? Isn’t it what? Shocking that you’ve failed to grasp basic English?

AMRIT:

What d’you mean?

LEILA: (SLOWLY AND LOUDLY)

Where’s your grammar?

AMRIT:

She’s in Nottingham. Mr Grimp’s gonna kill me – I can’t find that bloody affidavit. I know it’s here somewhere.

LEILA:

Of course it is, everything’s here somewhere. You could probably find Bin Laden in here somewhere if you looked hard enough! [Very topical joke in 2002, sadly not in 2019.]

AMRIT:

Mmm. Come to think of it, he’s quite fit.

LEILA:

Amrit! Ugh!

AMRIT:

You hate all blokes though. (SUDDENLY LOOKS ALERT.) Which reminds me – who was that hunky bloke you were with this morning?

LEILA: (FEIGNING INNOCENCE)

Who?

AMRIT:

Oh, you don’t have to lie to me. Auntiegee gave me a lift into work and we passed the bus stop. We both saw you talking to him.

LEILA:

You appear to have confused ‘talking’ with ‘pest control’. You could have stopped to rescue me.

AMRIT:

I didn’t want to disturb you. So you didn’t fancy him then?

LEILA:

No, he was a total Newark.

AMRIT: (BEMUSED)

But he’s gorgeous, isn’t he? If you aren’t interested, I am. Marks out of two?  I’d give him one!

LEILA:

Amrit! You wouldn’t like it if some sexist idiot said that about you.

AMRIT:

I would. Well, I’d like the chance to find out. What was his name?

LEILA:

Darren, I think.

AMRIT: (MAKING A MENTAL NOTE)

Darren. So you definitely don’t fancy him?

LEILA:

No! (COUGHS). I mean, he’s not totally unattractive, but… no, of course not.

AMRIT:

That’s good – you’d be in for so much hassle if you did.

LEILA:

Yeah. Speaking of which, my Dad started making some noises about arrangements this morning. I couldn’t believe it. After all I’ve said…

AMRIT: (SITTING BOLT UPRIGHT, GOGGLE-EYED)

Seriously? What did you do?

LEILA:

What do you think I did? Said ‘alright then’? I told him where to go!

AMRIT:

I just don’t understand you sometimes. You don’t even want to meet anyone.  And I can’t believe you’re not curious about sex.

LEILA:

Of course I’m not. Sex involves men – it’s bound to be crap.

AMRIT:

You’re turning into the Asian Ann Widdecombe. Next you’ll be saying you’d prefer a nice cup of Darjeeling.

LEILA:

It’s better than alcohol. You shouldn’t drink so much. Alcohol only exists so ugly men can have sex.

AMRIT:

And ugly girls. It’s alright for you, you can have anyone you want. I only get introduced to old men, guys with BO and blokes who want a passport.

LEILA:

Amrit! You haven’t been dating the clients!

 

SCENE 4: EXT. THE BUILDING SITE (DAY)

 DARREN AND HIS WORKMATES DEAN AND WAYNE ARE ON THEIR LUNCH BREAK, SITTING ON A WALL DRINKING CUPS OF TEA AND SMOKING. A GIRL IN A SHORT SKIRT WALKS PAST AND DEAN AND WAYNE WOLF WHISTLE APPRECIATIVELY. THE GIRL SMILES AT DARREN, BUT HE TAKES NO NOTICE.

DEAN [to DARREN]:

What’s up with you? You haven’t leered at a single bird today.

WAYNE:

Or a married one, come to that. You could have been in there. Are you not feeling well or something?

DARREN:

Don’t laugh fellas, but I think I’m in love. I met this gorgeous Asian bird today, absolutely stunning. Her name’s Leila, and she’s all I can think about. But I don’t think she’s allowed to see blokes who aren’t Sikh.

WAYNE:

Why, is she a doctor?

DARREN:

Nah mate, seek, seek. You know, she’s one of them girls who’s got hair down to their arse.

WAYNE:

Oh, right. Just as long as it’s not growing down her back.

DEAN:

Where did you meet her?

DARREN:

At the bus stop outside her house. She lives at number 48.

DEAN:

Well, be there again same time tomorrow morning. Tell her she’s beautiful and ask her what she’s doing Saturday night. The worst she can do is say no.

DARREN:

That’s the least she’ll do. People must ask her out all the time. It’ll take a lot more than that to win her over.

WAYNE:

Tell you what, give me them crisps and I’ll let you in on some of my fail-safe chat up lines.

DARREN: (UNSURE)

Mmm. Go on then. (TOSSES WAYNE THE CRISPS.)

WAYNE OPENS THE PACKET AND PUTS ONE IN HIS MOUTH.

WAYNE: (LOOKING DOUBTFULLY AT THE PACKET)

Curry flavour?

DARREN: (SHRUGGING)

It’s a start…

 

SCENE 5:  EXT. STREET LEADING UP TO ITALIAN CAFE (DAY)

AMRIT AND LEILA LEAVE THE OFFICE AND WALK DOWN THE STREET IN ORDER TO GET LUNCH. THEY ENTER A CAFE, WHICH IS A GRUBBY ITALIAN WITH BOOTHS AND FORMICA TABLES. A WAITER STANDS BEHIND THE TILL.

WAITER: (TO LEILA)

Ciao, bella!

LEILA ROLLS HER EYES UPWARDS.

AMRIT:

Her name’s Leila, not Bella.

WAITER: (TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO AMRIT IN BROKEN ENGLISH)

No, I say… ‘You’re beautiful.’

AMRIT: (BEAMING AND PULLING DOWN HER TOP TO SHOW MORE CLEAVAGE)

Ooh, thank you!

WAITER LOOKS A BIT FRIGHTENED.

LEILA:

I’ll have a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta please.

AMRIT:

Egg and chips for me.

SUDDENLY LEILA SPIES DARREN IN ONE OF THE BOOTHS AND FLATTENS HERSELF AGAINST THE SWING DOORS SO HE CAN’T SEE HER.

LEILA: (HISSING)

I have to leave!

AMRIT:

Give it a chance. You probably won’t get food poisoning.

LEILA:

No – I’ve just seen Darren over there!

AMRIT:

Where? Where? 

 SHE STARTS CRANING HER NECK ROUND TO SEE IF SHE CAN SPOT HIM.

LEILA:

Shut up and stop it! Don’t look at him. And don’t you dare talk to him. I’m going back to the office now – you get the food and come straight back, okay?  Promise?

AMRIT: (PUTTING ON AN INNOCENT, WIDE-EYED LOOK)

Of course. What else would I do?

 LEILA LEAVES.  AMRIT MAKES COMPLETELY SURE THAT SHE’S GONE, THEN MARCHES STRAIGHT OVER TO THE BOYS’ TABLE AND EYES UP DARREN HOPEFULLY FROM A DISTANCE OF ABOUT TWO METRES. THEY STARE AT HER GARISH TOP AND MAKEUP IN DISBELIEF.

WAYNE: (SARCASTICALLY, NOT LOUDLY ENOUGH FOR AMRIT TO HEAR)

Phwoarr! Another eight pints and I’ll be right in there!

DARREN:

Don’t be so horrible.  She’s probably very nice inside.

WAYNE: (SURVEYING AMRIT’S RATHER EXPANSIVE GIRTH)

Yeah, but you’d have to dig through a lot to get there. Is that Leila? Don’t fancy yours much!

AMRIT HEARS HIM AND TURNS BRIGHT RED.

AMRIT: (HOTLY)

I’m Leila’s best friend actually, so anything you say can and might well get back to her.

DARREN SITS BOLT UPRIGHT, SHOCKED.

DARREN: (HASTILY)

Oh, Wayne’s only joking. He always says the opposite of what he means. I’m Darren, Darren Hyde, this is Dean and this is Wayne (GESTICULATES AT THEM RESPECTIVELY.) You’re Leila’s best friend then?

AMRIT:

Yeah, known her since primary school.

WAYNE:

Then maybe you can tell us why she’s so up herself.

AMRIT GIGGLES DISLOYALLY.

DEAN:

He means, why was she so snarky with Darren when he asked her out?

AMRIT:

God, did he? Oh, she’d never go out with an English boy, her father wouldn’t let her.

DARREN:

If she did, would he send her back where she came from?

AMRIT:

What, Newark General Hospital?

DARREN:

Eh? No, um, Asia.

AMRIT: (SHAKES HER HEAD PITYINGLY)

You clearly don’t understand much about our background, do you? But I’d be happy to teach you about it over coffee sometime. (SHE WINKS IN WHAT SHE HOPES IS A SEXY FASHION.)

DARREN: (RECOILING IN HORROR)

Er, no you’re alright.

AMRIT: (SHRUGS, CLEARLY PUT OUT)

Suit yourself.

DEAN: (LEANS OVER TO DARREN AND HISSES INTO HIS EAR)

What are you doing, man? If she’s Leila’s best mate, she can fill you in on her background and parents a bit, and you can work out the best plan of attack.

DARREN: (HISSING BACK TO DEAN)

Alright, if I have to. (NOW SPEAKS TO AMRIT.) Er, actually, coffee sounds… good.

AMRIT: (BEAMING ONCE MORE)

Brilliant. My name’s Amrit by the way, and you can meet me here tomorrow at 1pm, just you and me (GLARES AT WAYNE). Then we can have a nice long chat.

AMRIT WADDLES OFF, COLLECTS THE TAKEAWAY AND LEAVES, AS DEAN AND WAYNE START LAUGHING AGAIN.

WAYNE:

I think you’re in there, mate.

DARREN: (PUTTING HIS HEAD IN HIS HANDS)

Oh God.

 

SCENE 6: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE (EVENING)

LEILA ARRIVES HOME FROM WORK TO HAVE HER FATHER GREET HER EXCITEDLY AT THE DOOR.

DAD:

Hello Leila.  How was work?

LEILA:

Oh, wildly exciting. I had a Mr. P. Niss wanting to change his name by deed poll, a 93-year-old demanding a divorce so he could marry an 18-year-old, and a couple fighting over custody of a hamster.

DAD: (SMILING, NOT UNDERSTANDING)

Very nice. And did you make much money?

LEILA: (SIGHING)

No Dad, we have this conversation every day. I make money for the company, not for myself.

DAD:

Well, soon you could have more money than you ever thought. (HE SMILES A PROUD, KNOWING SMILE AND PRODUCES A PHOTO OF A VERY LARGE, UGLY ELDERLY ASIAN MAN, WHICH HE HOLDS UP IN FRONT OF LEILA.)

LEILA:

Great. It’s the Sikh Jabba the Hut.

DAD:

Nay, nay, Leila. Do you not know him? He is a very successful businessman, millionaire, very educated. His name is Devinder Brar, he is a music mogul, and he wants to be introduced to you! He is coming to meet you on Saturday.

LEILA: (DISBELIEVINGLY)

Sorry, is it April Fools’ Day? Or am I merely hallucinating? Forgive me, but I thought you just said you were setting me up on a blind date with some fat old man.

DAD:

Yes, I know – I cannot believe how lucky we are either!

LEILA:

Dad, have you forgotten all those conversations we had? You know, the ones where I told you I was never, ever getting paired off with some random bloke, no matter what people are going to think? You said you understood.

DAD:

But you are older now, and back then there wasn’t anybody suitable.

LEILA:

You mean, there wasn’t anybody rich. You know yourself that the scriptures say you’re not supposed to even consider money.

DAD:

No, I know, but… Leila, since business has been so bad, you know how much we’ve had to struggle. And now if it all goes well with Devinder, we can all be secure.

LEILA SIGHS AND FLOUNCES OUT.

 

SCENE 7: EXT. THE BUS STOP (DAY)

DARREN IS WAITING AT THE BUS STOP WHEN LEILA ARRIVES.

DARREN:

Leila! How’s tricks?

LEILA:

Sadly I haven’t yet figured out the one where I make you disappear.

DARREN:

Er, right. Listen, you look amazing, but a bit tired. That could be because you’ve been running through my mind all night.

LEILA:

Couldn’t find any signs of life though.

DARREN:

I know you probably don’t have dreams about me, but I wanted you to know –

LEILA: (INTERRUPTING)

On the contrary, I had a fantastic dream about you just last night. You were standing right there…

(SHE POINTS INTO THE ROAD)

…and the bus came.

DARREN: (EARNESTLY)

Seriously Leila, jokes aside, I really like you. I know you’re Sikh and I’m not. I know you’re brown and I’m white, but I wouldn’t care if we were green and purple. I have a very open mind.

LEILA:

That must be how your intelligence left your brain.

DARREN:

I know I’m not the smartest and am quite ignorant about your religion. But I’m going to learn more about it. Do you speak Indian?

LEILA:

I don’t know. Do you speak British?

DARREN: (LOOKING VERY CONFUSED)

I suppose so. But what I really want to know is, what are you doing on Saturday night?

LEILA: (PUTTING HER HEAD IN HER HANDS)

If you ‘really want to know’, my potential husband is coming round. He’s never met me before. He is old and fat. As you can imagine, this does not fill me with joy.  However, my parents are really hard-up. My dad’s business isn’t going well, my mum’s disabled and we’re not doing too well on just my salary, and this man’s a millionaire and would sort all that out. Any ideas, Einstein?

DARREN:

You could have kids with me. I’d even wear a beard and turban, I’d learn Indian and convert.

LEILA:

I don’t think my religion would have you.

DARREN:

How do you find out? Is there an application form?

LEILA: (ROLLING EYES)

Darren, I commend your persistence, but I really don’t want a man.

DARREN: (PERPLEXED)

But Leila, I’ve waited all my life to meet you.I’m prepared to wait for you forever.

LEILA:

That’s fortunate, as that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. Isn’t this your bus?

BUS NUMBER 2 PULLS UP TO LET PASSENGERS OFF

DARREN: (SHRUGS)

Yeah, but I want to stay here and talk to you. It’s the highlight of my day.

BUS NUMBER 2 DEPARTS

LEILA:

What, above mixing concrete and laying bricks? Oh look, you should have taken your bus, ‘cause here’s mine. Goodbye.

SHE GETS ON THE BUS, LEAVING A DEJECTED LOOKING DARREN STANDING FORLORNLY AT THE BUS STOP.

Continued in part 3 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 36

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I went to a book launch with amazing catering last night and didn’t eat a thing. This makes me both sad and happy.

John: 14st 3.5lbs (total loss in 36 days: 4lbs)

John is stealthily plugging a book he wrote.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 1)

In 2002, aged 21, I was waiting in a queue at HMV when I spotted a booklet at the tills for BBC Talent. It was an initiative designed to find new writing and presenting talent, and one of the contests was a comedy scriptwriting competition: the BBC Talent New Sitcom Writers’ Award.

I thought I was pretty funny, but had never written a script in my life. The BBC wanted applicants to send in the first few pages of a sitcom script, but I didn’t have one. Fine, I thought, with characteristic 21-year-old chutzpah: I’ll write one! I’d had a good run of luck in the previous few years – winning Miss Harrow and getting a First in my degree – and so I told myself it was worth entering, even if I didn’t get through.

I’d been staying with my religious Asian grandparents in Leicester the previous year. They’d had an arranged marriage when my nan was just 19, and I wondered what it would have been like to be forced to have one myself. Though it might not immediately seem like an ideal subject for a sitcom, I thought the idea of rebelling against such a marriage had comic potential. I’d considered writing about this idea since staying with my grandparents, but had been finishing my degree and hadn’t done anything about it.

I therefore began to create a family of sitcom characters. But I told myself I couldn’t write about a Zoroastrian family like my mum’s, ’cause who the hell had ever heard of Zoroastrians? Every time I mentioned being Zoroastrian to someone, they either asked ‘What-Austrian?’ or made a joke about Zorro!

So I decided to write about a different Asian religion, mainly so I could make a daft pun. My main character, a Punjabi girl called Leila, was a feminist who hated men (forgive me, fellow feminists, but I was young). She was being wooed by a builder called Darren Hyde, for the sole reason that I could then call my sitcom Hyde and Sikh. Again, I can only apologise…

Me mirror.jpg

Anyhow, the premise each episode was that Leila’s parents would set her up with an Asian suitor, in the hopes that she would agree to an arranged marriage with him. She would then team up with the besotted and unreconstructed English builder Darren in order to scare off the suitor.

So I wrote the script according to the online template the BBC had provided. I found it again in the deepest recesses of my hard drive, and here it is!

HYDE & SIKH

Episode 1: ‘A Hairy Situation’

OUTLINE

Sassy Sikh girl verbally outwits besotted builder, parents and potential husbands alike.

SYNOPSIS

Leila Kaur is a 25-year-old Sikh solicitor living in Newark with her parents, who are trying to find her a suitable husband. Unfortunately Leila thinks men are pathetic, a view compounded by her biggest admirer Darren Hyde – an English builder who lives down her road. Darren is totally infatuated with Leila, and makes it his mission to intercept and thwart all the suitors who come to visit her.

SCENE 1: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE, 48 WARWICK STREET (MORNING)

LEILA COMES INTO THE KITCHEN, DRESSED READY FOR WORK. HER PARENTS ARE HAVING BREAKFAST. LEILA POURS HERSELF A GLASS OF WATER AND STARTS DRINKING IT.

LEILA’S DAD: (STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Hello my sweet flower. You are looking very beautiful this morning. How are you today?

LEILA: (SUSPICIOUSLY)

What do you want?

DAD: (SMILING)

I have some good news.

LEILA: (DRYLY)

Don’t tell me – you’re finally starting to understand the jokes on Goodness Gracious Me?

DAD: (SHAKING HIS HEAD AND ROLLING HIS EYES)

Nay. (GRINS SLYLY AND PROUDLY) I… have found a man.

LEILA: (COUGHING, SHOCKED)

Blimey. You’re having a midlife crisis? Don’t worry, it’s cool with me.

LEILA’S MUM (MRS. KAUR) IS SMILING AND NODDING IN HER WHEELCHAIR.

MUM: (IN A VERY STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Very nice man.

LEILA:

And Mum seems okay with it.

LEILA’S DAD LOOKS VERY SHOCKED AND BEWILDERED, AND THUMPS THE TABLE.

DAD:

No! I have found a man, for you!

LEILA CHOKES ON HER GLASS OF WATER, SPILLING IT EVERYWHERE.

LEILA: (SPLUTTERING)

What? Well… well you can just go and put him back where you found him! I’ve told you since I was thirteen, you’re not arranging anything with me. Goodbye!

SHE GRABS HER COAT AND STORMS OUT OF THE HOUSE, SLAMMING THE FRONT DOOR. HER DAD RUSHES AFTER HER AND REOPENS THE DOOR.

DAD: (YELLING)

Leila, come back here now!

SCENE 2: EXT. THE BUS STOP, WARWICK STREET (DAY)

LEILA STOMPS OUT OF HER HOUSE AND SITS ON THE BENCH AT THE BUS STOP A FEW DOORS DOWN. SIMULTANEOUSLY, DARREN HYDE STROLLS OUT OF HIS OWN HOUSE, WHISTLING, AND DOES A DOUBLE TAKE WHEN HE SEES LEILA. HE COMES AND SITS AT THE OTHER END OF THE BENCH, STILL GAWPING AT HER. LEILA TAKES ONE LOOK AT HIS SCRAGGY VEST, PAINT-SPATTERED CLOTHES AND LEER, AND MOVES RIGHT TO THE END OF THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT.

DARREN(WOLFWHISTLING)

Cor!

LEILA GIVES HIM A DISPARAGING LOOK.

DARREN:

Asian babe!

LEILA:

Earth is full. Go home.

DARREN LOOKS A BIT SHOCKED, THEN REGAINS HIS COMPOSURE.

DARREN:

Nah, they don’t have anyone as fit as you there.

LEILA:

No, not if you’re anything to go by.

DARREN LOOKS INDIGNANT, AND PUFFS HIMSELF UP.

DARREN:

I’m the sexiest bloke in Newark, I am.

LEILA:

Which reminds me, I must relocate.

DARREN:

And I own my own company.

LEILA:

Then why don’t you keep your own company?

DARREN:

I’m an entrepreneur, me. I have to make crucial decisions every day.

LEILA:

Let me guess: Daily Star or Daily Sport?

DARREN SIGHS, LOOKING PUT OUT.

DARREN:

You’re not impressed then?

LEILA:

How many times am I going to have to flush before you’ll go away?

DARREN:

Okay, okay, but just tell me one thing – where are you from?

LEILA: (GESTICULATING TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS)

What does it look like?

DARREN:

No, I mean really from.

LEILA: (ROLLING HER EYES)

Newark, you imbecile.

DARREN:

Right, yeh. It’s just that you’re so beautiful and exotic, and Newark, well… Newark’s the only town in England that’s an anagram of ‘wanker.’

LEILA:

You must feel very much at home.

DARREN: (SOUNDING HURT)

Come on, I was only asking.

LEILA: (RELENTING)

My family originate from the Punjab. I’m Sikh.

DARREN: (LOOKING HER UP AND DOWN)

You look alright to me.

LEILA STANDS UP TO SEE IF THE BUS IS COMING (CLOSE-UP ON EMPTY STREET), THEN SIGHS AND SITS DOWN AGAIN. 

DARREN(HOPEFULLY)

I heard a good Asian joke the other day.

LEILA: (SARCASTICALLY)

Now let’s see, would that be the one about the Asian lesbian called Mingita? Or the one about Asian people being so bad at football because every time they get a corner, they build a shop?

DARREN:

Nah, don’t worry love – I’m sexist, not racist.  I’m Darren by the way, of Darren Hyde Construction. I just moved into number 72, so you could say I’m right up your street.

LEILA:

Right up my nose, more like.

THE BUS COMES AND LEILA RAISES HER HAND TO STOP IT.

DARREN:

Wait… can I see you again?

LEILA:

Sure. Let me see, are you free…. never?

SHE FLICKS HER HAIR BACK HAUGHTILY AND GETS ON THE BUS.

Continued in Part 2 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 35

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I fell so far off the wagon last night that it rolled away into the distance. This week is a write-off dietwise – I have a book launch, lunch with a publisher and endless treats in the house for the eight-year-old. Will do much better soon.

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 35 days: 4.25lbs)

Go John!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

What it’s really like doing live telly

Every so often, a producer phones me up and asks if I’ll appear on live telly to talk about a particular issue (generally something to do with atheism). I don’t know why I fear this as much as I do – every telly appearance I’ve done bar one (The Alan Titchmarsh Show, which ironically wasn’t live) has been absolutely fine.

The thing is, I know that appearing on TV raises my profile slightly and I’ll meet interesting people and get a small fee (typically £50 or £100) – so I usually bite down my nerves and agree to go on. Then I dread it until it’s over. But I’ve done around two dozen live TV appearances now, and despite a few panic attacks when I was starting out, I’m beginning to get used to appearing.

So what happens when you go on live telly? Well, first you have to appear on the radar of a show’s producer for some reason. The Atheist Bus Campaign tends to be the way they find me, even ten years on. I reckon I’m now on some sort of atheist telly watch list!

Then they email, generally, and ask if I’d be willing to appear on their show the next day. I say yes if I can, for the reasons above. They then phone and chat to me about the topic in question, to check I’m articulate and can put across a strong point of view. Though obviously not too strong (‘they should all be killed!’ doesn’t tend to go down well).

During this conversation, I force myself to ask the producer what the fee is. I always worry that by bringing up money, I’ll rule myself out, and instead they’ll choose someone who isn’t as mercenary as me. But seriously: you don’t ask, you don’t get – and even if the fee is only £50, it covers any necessary travel and the time taken out of your day to appear.

If you don’t get a fee, you’re effectively paying to go on the show, which is ridiculous as it wouldn’t be a show without any guests – plus most of these shows have big budgets (you can bet the presenters are being paid several thousand pounds per episode).

[I wore this green Dorothy Perkins dress for several TV appearances.]

Sometimes the producer will book you a taxi to the studio – this always used to be the case – but lately I’ve noticed that, as I live in London, they often say ‘It’s probably quickest if you just jump on the Tube’.

It’s not really, as I live 20 minutes’ walk from the Tube station and  it takes £10 out of my fee, but I don’t want to be labelled difficult. Plus I often get car sick, though I’d deal with that this summer for a luxury air-conditioned ride!

I’ll spend the evening before the appearance deciding what to wear. It will largely depend on the colour of the sofa I’m going to be sitting in front of – you need to wear a contrasting colour so as not to blend in!

Then I’ll iron the outfit and put every part of it out ready to wear in the morning. I’ll spend that night tossing and turning in bed, feeling nervous, going over and over my argument for the show in my head, unable to sleep. But back to generalities…

When you get to the studio, you give the receptionist your name and the name of the show you’re appearing on, and they call the runner to come and collect you. They also print out a pass for you, which you’re not meant to wear. At the BBC, your bag gets X-rayed, which is reassuring as long as it doesn’t contain a sex toy. Then the runner collects you and takes you down in the lift to the green room.

The green room is a kind of hotel suite with more armchairs instead of a bed, where all the guests hang out before and during the show. It always has a telly so you can watch the show before you go on, and facilities for making tea and coffee, and sometimes if you’re lucky there’s a tray full of pastries.

You can chat to the other guests – I always do, though sometimes they’re not very friendly, especially if they’re taking the opposing side of a debate to you. One girl who I shan’t name looked me up and down like I was a piece of muck, then asked disdainfully, ‘Where did they find you, then?!’

Sometimes you’re taken into makeup in a separate room, where a woman tries to make you look more aesthetically pleasing; sometimes the makeup lady just pops her head round the green room door and says ‘You’re fine’ or powders your nose.

Huge Nose.JPG

Then, before you know it, it’s showtime! You’re taken up to the studio with the other guests. The presenters generally say hi then, and you’re seated in a specific place. The studio is always quiet with no windows, and sometimes you can see yourself on the screens and/or the autocue on the camera.

When the presenter starts talking to you, time speeds up. You try and put your point across succinctly and articulately, without interrupting anyone, but it’s all a bit of a blur. If you’re lucky, you can see the questions she’s going to ask on the autocue or her clipboard, so have a few seconds to think about the answer. Usually if I get nervous, I sip the water they put out for guests on the table.

However, almost as soon as you start, the segment’s over and you’re being escorted back to the green room to collect your bag. These days, I check Twitter as soon as I get back to my phone, to see what the reaction to my appearance is. Then, if you’re lucky, you get a taxi home and speak to your friends, who have watched you on live TV.

So to finish, here I am on BBC Breakfast ten years ago, talking about Fawlty Towers while wearing my favourite green dress. I didn’t realise the camera could see me sitting on my leg!

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 28

Me: 12st 5.6lbs (total loss in 28 days: 8.6lbs)

I’m back on the wagon and am determined to stay on!

John: 14st 5lbs (total loss in 28 days: 2.5lbs)

John has fallen off the wagon and seems determined to stay off!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

Calling the devil at Radio 4

In 2008, I created the Atheist Bus Campaign – an atheist advertising campaign running on British public transport with the slogan ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ The UK campaign was only meant to raise £5,500 over six months, but such was the strength of feeling among atheists, it raised £100,000 in four days. It then went global, running in 13 countries around the world, from the US to Germany to Australia.

Because of all this, the press wanted to interview me a lot. One of the keenest outlets was BBC Radio 4, home of regular religious morning slot Thought for the Day. As I wasn’t religious, I wasn’t allowed to do a proper Thought for the Day, but gave the first atheist Thought for the Afternoon instead a few months later. Soon after the bus campaign launch, I was also asked to chat to Edward Stourton on the regular Radio 4 weekend programme Sunday.

Ironically, I was very bad at taking public transport at the time, as I had experienced severe claustrophobia since being violently attacked and suffocated during pregnancy in 2005. If I was ever trapped somewhere I felt air was restricted, and I couldn’t escape, I would quickly start hyperventilating and have a full-on panic attack. This happened most often when Tube trains stopped in a tunnel underground, but it also happened in TV and radio studios, which either have no windows, or windows that don’t open.

The interview on Sunday was arranged for late October 2008. It was to take place remotely in a BBC studio in Weston House in Great Portland Street, London. I was shown into the studio and was told to wait there on my own for a phone call from Edward Stourton. I set my bag down, put the headphones on and waited. And then it occurred to me that I was in an airless studio with the door shut.

So I took the headphones off and ran over to the door, expecting to be able to open it easily – but it wouldn’t budge. I tugged it hard, but it was so heavy that my brain decided it was locked. And then I started to panic. I was going to die there with no air. I yelled as loudly as I could, but the security guard who had let me in was gone, and there was no one in sight. Why had they locked the door? Maybe they wanted me to die there. I started screaming and crying and shaking.

Then I called my friend Charlie Brooker, and told him what was happening. ‘I’m locked in a studio and am going to die!’

He was very calm and said ‘You’re not going to die. The BBC is the safest place in the world. Calm down. Slow your breathing down. Breathe with me – in – out. In – out.’

I breathed along with him, and slowly felt myself relax. Then I noticed there was an emergency number by a landline phone on the studio desk. I told Charlie I was going to call for help, and phoned the number on the desk. ‘I’m trapped in the studio!’ I told the man who answered. ‘Please can you come and let me out?’

The security guard came quickly and opened the door. It wasn’t locked, he told me – it was just very heavy and stiff, in order that the room would be soundproof. I asked him if he could come and sit in the studio while I did the interview, so that I would be able to get out afterwards. He agreed, and I relaxed and took part in the interview. Edward Stourton was very nice and reassuring, and was kindly and avuncular towards me, despite being a staunch Catholic.

In fact, except for my claustrophobia and the heaviness of the studio door, there was only one unsettling thing about the whole experience of doing an interview on atheism: the BBC emergency telephone number I’d had to dial in order to get rescued…

It was 666.

 

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Apologies in advance for our manky feet. We can’t reach them, you see.

Day 2

Me: 12st 11.6lbs (total loss: 2.6lbs in two days)

IMG_2270

John: 14st 5lbs (total loss: 2.5lbs in two days)

FullSizeRender

I am winning by a fraction!

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.