Not too long ago, Jenny Colgan, like much of us, was bored out of her mind working an office job. Unlike most of us, she did something about it. Enter Amanda’s Wedding, Ms. Colgan’s hilarious debut novel about two friends plotting to take down a former friend’s wedding. She followed that up with Talking to Addison, a touching, yet hilarious story of love, infatuation and trying to steal someone else’s boyfriend in the time of the Internet.
I discovered Ms. Colgan recently on one of my random book hunts, where I happened upon her latest, at least on my side of the pond, The Boy I Loved Before – a fantastically enjoyable read that manages to make time traveling funny and new, if not completely logical. (A small point, really, as no one ever has managed to make time travel the least bit logical.) Finding myself actually laughing out loud, something I don’t think I’ve done since the last time I reread The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I demanded loki read it, then went out to find what else Ms. Colgan had written. I quickly snapped up and devoured Amanda’s Wedding and Talking to Addison, but unfortunately it seems that so far Looking for Andrew McCarthy, Working Wonders and her just-published Where Have All the Boys Gone? are not available in the United States. A crime, that. What’s a girl got to do? Start a petition? Maybe, but we thought we’d start off my asking her a few goofy questions.
Jenny Colgan: Ex-office drone. Ex-stand up comic. Best-selling author. And most current gracious victim of PopGurls’ 20 questions. Enjoy.
1. Your books, while fantastic, are strangely difficult to find in the U.S. Do you ever tour over here, and have you found any differences in U.S. versus other audiences?
Thank you. I’ve never managed to sell well in America; my first publishers never really put much ‘oomph’ behind it. Never mind! I did do a thing in New York at a little theatre there but I’m afraid I packed out the audience with ex-pat friends who I knew would understand my accent.
2.Postcard from the Hedge‘s title got changed. How much say do you, or do you not, have in the naming of your own books? And have you ever come up with a really hellish title, hoping that they would hate it so much they would jump at the chance to use the title you really wanted?
Ha. Well, I have no say really, and have to trust their judgment on the whole. The one book I insisted on keeping the title of – Talking to Addison – nobody ever gets right, even my mother, and asks me about Talking With Addison or Looking for Addison McCarthy.
3. Also, do you have any say in the design of your covers? If you absolutely, positively hate a cover with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, will they change it to make you happy?
I sometimes do hate my covers – you should have seen the UK version of Working Wonders – but you have to remember I just do the words, not the pics. In that case though I was right, everyone hated it and nobody bought it.
4. Do you Remember the First Time? is The Boy I Loved Before in America. Why do they do this? Do they know it drives me crazy?
The Boy I Loved Before was the first title the UK publishers liked and it was sold in the U.S. on that basis. These are very technical questions. Is this a book marketing magazine in disguise? The bad thing about the name change is people buying it twice by accident and getting annoyed and blaming me.
5. Disney calls, and they want to turn The Boy I Loved Before into one of their trademark musical cartoons. This, of course, requires someone to pen an infuriatingly catchy sappy theme song from hell. Who pens it? What is the title? Sample lyrics? Will it be a touching duet, a la Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey with “A Whole New World” from Aladdin? Or something more touching and wimpy, like “Part of that World” from The Little Mermaid? Who gets the honor of singing it?
Ooh, I fancy something upbeat like “The Bear Necessities.” About how boys just have to be nice and things. I’d get Chris Isaak to sing it, because he’s so sweet.
6. What is you nerdiest hobby? (Mine, for example, is my raging addiction to crossword puzzles. I take quite a bit of shit for this, but I like to tell myself they’re just jealous.)
You think that’s bad? Wait for Sudoku. I’m telling you, it’ll hit you bad. Apart from that, I’m a fiend for Scrabble. All novelists are geeks though, it’s part of the job description that we spent our entire childhood hiding in the basement reading books.
7. You reference Eastenders a time or two. For those of us not familiar with this show, could you give us a quick synopsis? Or a long, detailed one?
It’s hard for Americans to understand: it’s a soap opera with about 40 really unattractive characters who have no money or jobs and everyone is really, really depressed all the time. Go to Google images right now and google “Eastenders characters.” Really, they’re the actors, not a police line up.
8. Everyone’s got a TV show that, if they got busted watching it, might cause them a bit of shame (and no, no matter what people might say, mine is not Charmed. Don’t listen to them, they’re crazy.). Of course, asking you to name it online is sort of the opposite of keeping it a deep, dark secret, but what would your secret TV shame be?
Oh, America’s Next Top Model, undoubtedly. Being British, we particularly enjoy Noted Fashion Photographer Nigel Barker. One might say that locking food- obsessed teenagers up and making them claw each others eyes out was somewhat unethical and possibly torture, but we say, bring it on.
9. You were, according to your website, a Buffy/Angel shipper. So…that whole necrophilia thing…not an issue for you?
I was. Not an issue. However at the moment I’m extremely into Josh from The West Wing. Is that wrong? Not season six, obviously, where he gets all old and creepy and weird about Donna. Season two, when he gets shot and looks all sad and noble and clever.
10. Did you think the last season of Angel blew? If so, what would you have done differently? Perhaps Angel would have been a puppet all season long? Maybe given Knox some much needed love?
NO! Everyone who says the last season of Angel blew is wrong. Fred was the most annoying character since Joss Whedon’s latest autistic savant anorexic in Firefly, and turning her evil was a Good Thing. Plus it had more Wesley and less Gunn, plus Angel turned into a puppet, plus it had Spike in it plus the final episode was a zillion times better than Buffy. Sheesh, there’s no pleasing you people.
11. What is your number one irrational fear?
Snakes. That’s not irrational, though, they are horrible. Okay, long coloured scarves on people, cause they remind me of snakes. And cats, which are just hairy snakes with legs.
12. Would you respect a man who ordered a girlie drink, i.e “Sex on the Beach”, a Piña Colada or anything that came with an umbrella on your first date? Would there be a second? I mean, clearly they’re brave, ordering that in front of you, so I suppose that should be taken into consideration.
Totally. My husband is a super-macho marine engineer and he drinks cosmopolitans, the little pink ones.
13. The staff at Johnny Rockets, a 50’s themed eatery in the U.S., are forced to dance routines to entire BeeGee songs. Do you think this is rather cruel and unusual punishment? If you owned a restaurant, how would you torment your waiters?
Well, you know what you’re getting with that job. I would torment my waiters by getting them to be very, very nice to customers. I know you’re used to that in the U.S. but in Britain it’s pretty tricky. And don’t even start me on France.
14. Photos of you, $150.00 worth of puddin’, Jon Stewart, a small flock of geese, Billy Idol, a vat of crazy glue and Madonna are all caught in a trashed hotel room together. What do you say when contacted by the tabloids?
I would be DELIGHTED. Jon Stewart is one of the main reasons people still like your country. He’s singlehandedly out there, making people think, “Okay, they aren’t going to blow us all the kingdom come, because there’s Jon and Matt Groening and Television Without Pity and… oh my God, is George W. telling them to teach Intelligent Design in the schools?? We’re all going to die!!!!”
Sorry, got distracted. I do like America very much btw. Anyway, please, also, tell Madonna that that new accent isn’t fooling anyone, even if Guy does have to sit at home going, “Yes, darling wife, you sound exactly like the queen.”
Small sideline: she’s just bought a stupid bloody Kaballah centre ACROSS THE ROAD FROM OUR HOUSE in London. That’s all we bloody need, Demi Moore flopping about in a baby costume.
15. Taking over the world is not as easy as it looks, evidence the pain of Brain on Pinky and the Brain. If you were to attempt a world take over, what would be your game plan?
I think I’ll leave that to Dogbert. Who wants all the fuss of telling people what to do? I’d rather get my own snacks and be left in peace.
16. The Olympic committee calls and says “hey, we’re going to be in your neck of the woods, and we feel like we’re one game shy of having a really, really great Games. So we’d like to offer you carte blanche – create a sport for us to fill that void, and we’ll name it after you.” What would that sport be? What would you name it? Any specific rules you would be quite strict about?
I am racking my brains, but I hate all sport so much I can’t even think of vaguely anything at all.
Warning: the questions below refer to actual plot points in Jenny Colgan’s novels. Proceed at your own peril
17. You note that most first books are based quite a bit on the author’s life. Please tell me this doesn’t mean you spent all day in an airport waiting for a shifty boyfriend, a la Mel in Amanda’s Wedding. Lie to me if you have to. However, if you did, or if “a friend” did, and one were inclined to hang out all day at an airport, what would you (or your “friend”) suggest one do for fun?
No I didn’t, but if you’re going to be stuck in an airport, try and make it a British one, we have whole shopping malls in there. That’s always puzzled me about American airports; you’re bloody fantastic at shopping but there’s nothing to buy except lifesavers, US magazine and a hat saying ‘Welcome to Delaware!’ In Britain, we have Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Harrods, huge bookstores, you name it. Everyone shops at the airport.
18. On your website you listed Talking to Addison as your favorite. Why is this? Because someone named Addison annoyed you in this life? If not, but you know someone named Addison, did he take it personally when you shoved him off a pier, gave him a major head trauma and had people sing show tunes to him?
Because it’s cute and I think it’s funny and the characters are based on friends of mine. But I’ve never shoved anyone off a pier. Yet.
19. I loved The Boy I Loved Before, but I have to ask, how the bejeezus is the ending possible? I know, I know, I’m questioning a book where I have accepted the premise that Flora gets put back in her 16-year-old body, her parents are also restored to their younger, slightly-less-insane selves, and apparently the little chippy her dad was off with and his buds followed suit, but still. She’s with her dreamboat and a new job, Tashy gets Olly and her parents are happily together, yet they only went back in time a month from Tashy’s wedding, so how did everything snap to? And if their lives changed, why didn’t Clelland’s younger brother? And if his life didn’t change, did she really lose her virginity to him? Even if it did, but it was just a dream to him because he didn’t really change with the whole time warp, did it really happen? And what happened to her crazy Italian friend? And the woman who took her place in her life and apartment and crappy job and…I think you can see how I might have gotten confused here. Any help you could give me here would be helpful, as it’s been keeping me up nights. Okay, it hasn’t, but still.
Oh, don’t. Okay, all you need to know is this: the ‘everything changes’ ending was swiped from Back to the Future. Olly and Tash fell in love in a month, and Flo never met the Italian girl, or young Justin, but I added the wink for fun. And the woman who had her apartment was just a metaphoric thingummy jig. Is that useful?
20. Anything you’d change in any of your books? Would, say, in Amanda’s Wedding Mel choose Angus over Fraser? Would Josh realize he likes the sassy hospital nurse more than Kate? Or would Ellie not find Andrew McCarthy? (This is presuming she does, indeed, find Andrew. My inability to find the book over here makes it difficult to find out the outcome.)
I would make Mel choose Angus, yes. It has been mentioned before. Many many times. I know this sounds preposterous, but it’s even in some Italian girls’ PhD thesis.
Josh is still not very sexual, but Kate doesn’t really care about that, so they work out okay.
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