One of the funny men behind Spitting Image, HIGNFY and the website Newsbiscuit, John O’Farrell is this week’s shelf lifer. He reveals which comic writers were his childhood staples, that he might pity-date Miss Haversham and what usually happens when he finds one of his own books in the bargain bin.
I’m enjoying Skios by Michael Frayn – a compelling farce about a great public figure failing to get to a major speaking engagement. So easy to read, it must have been really hard to write.
2) As a child, what did you read under the covers?
I was always drawn to humour – I loved the Molesworth books and Asterix and later read and re-read the collected scripts from Hancock, Fawlty Towers and all the Python books. No scrap that – say I read Dostoyevsky in the original Russian.
3) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?
I’ve been moved by books like Of Mice and Men or Angela’s Ashes, but I never actually cried at a novel. Only when I see my own works discounted in the Bargain Book Warehouse.
4) You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?
To my shame I’ve still not read War and Peace. I might also take something I know I’d enjoy re-reading, say Catch 22 and Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton.
5) Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?
I should probably say the heroines of my novels; anything else would feel like being unfaithful. Other than that, Miss Haversham seems like she’s not been on a date for a while.
6) If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?
In May Contain Nuts I invented a satirical title called ‘The Herbal Homework Helper; how natural remedies can help your child achieve at school.’ Now I wish I’d written it for real – I’m sure I would have made a fortune.
7) Michael Gove has asked you to rewrite the GCSE English Literature syllabus. Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading?
Book; Animal Farm by George Orwell. Play; An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly and poem; An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by W.B. Yeats.
8) Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?
The Mad Hatters Tea party – which is actually quite sane comparison to mealtimes in the family I grew up in.
9) What would you title your memoirs?
‘They laughed when I said I wanted to be a Comedy Writer. They’re not laughing now.’
10) Which literary character do you dream of playing?
I aspire to Homer’s Odysseus but it comes out like Homer Simpson.
11) What book would you give to a lover?
A long one – there’s going to be plenty of time for reading.
12) Spying Mein Kampf or Dan Brown on someone’s bookshelf can spell havoc for a friendship. What’s your literary dealbreaker?
A whole shelf of Clarkson and Jeffrey Archer might make me think we probably wouldn’t agree on everything. Also more than one misery memoir would make me worry that they were doing research. But the real dealbreaker would be no books on the shelves at all.