Jen behaving badly

But novel calmed her down

Jenny Eclair says she became a novelist because the demands of stand-up became too gruelling.

And she savaged critics who dismissed her as just another comedian turned author.

"Nothing inspires such venom in journalists as a comic who writes a novel," she told an audience at the Edinburgh book festival. "I don't see why I should get slagged off for slogging away for a year in front of a typewriter.

"Comics are more natural writers than you might imagine, and writing stand-up is harder than you think. You always need that punchline."

It was the stresses of stand-up - a life on the road and the demands of keeping up her bitchy stage persona - that convinced Eclair she needed to slow down.

"My child [Phoebe, 12] was horribly neglected. I was always away. She used to call me 'that woman', and it was important for me to be there for her.

"And being stage Jenny is very bad for me - I go into self-neglect and it's very bad because I'm a 40-year-old woman. It would be very rude to behave like that all the time."

But it was also a desire for respectability that drove her to write Camberwell Beauty, a darkly comic tale of suburban lives being ruined by adultery, jealousy and pride.

"It was important for me to leave something concrete behind with my name on it that wasn't a tombstone," she said. "And it's nice for my parents to have some pride in me after all these years - my dad has a car sticker that says 'my other daughter's a barrister'."

She also sees the novel as "a morality tale, a warning to myself that happiness is very fragile and the smallest thing can fuck it up".

Eclair - real name Jenny Hargreaves - says she lives with "the nicest man in the world" and wouldn't want her bad behaviour to spoil that. She admitted: "It's a desperate time when you hit 40. You want to have loads of affairs - it's like a second adolescence and you can make mistakes."

She readily admits that most the deeply flawed characters she created are based on her own failings, for example, giving an attractive character an ugly child to trade on her own shallow feelings.

"I like the fact that I have an attractive daughter," she confessed. "I know her life is going to be easier. That's why I gave one character an ugly child, because that would be difficult for me to deal with."

Eclair also admitted she was a little disappointed when the book, which is released in paperback in October, failed to set the world alight. She even entertained fantasies about winning the Booker Prize.

She says she allowed herself to raise her hopes because she was used to a stand-up world where her style, and the fact she is a woman, was unique. "But as a novelist, there's a lot of others who have proved themselves. I wasn't aware that there was so much competition," she admitted.

"There aren't very many female stand-ups - though there are more of the bitches every year - because women have got more sense. It's a mixture of ego, foolishness and madness and it breeds appalling behaviour."

However, despite the demands of that behaviour, Eclair has a new solo show, Middle Aged Bimbo, at Edinburgh.

It was written after plans for a play fell apart after co-writer Julie Balloo became pregnant, and it debuted at the Melbourne comedy festival.

Eclair, a former anorexic, joked: "The best diet is to go to an international comedy festival with a half-written show."

And after Edinburgh - and appearing as part of the nationwide FHM Tour - she'll return to writing that difficult second novel. "It's going to be tricky," she admits.

Published: 21 Aug 2001

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