Lee Williscroft-Ferris catches up with Edward Payne about his new book, Mr Impossible.
TQ: Hi Ed, how are you today?
Ed: I’m very well, thanks. Thank you for having me, I feel very grateful.
Our pleasure. So, is Mr Impossible your first book?
It is my first full-length novel outside of scribing endless mini Point Horror rip-offs when I was about twelve. Do you remember Point Horror? They were always named such ominous titles as Truth or Dare and Hit and Run. I was absolutely obsessed with their brazenness, but I never managed to finish writing my own. I have, however, penned numerous plays since then so I’m not a total novice.
Tell us a little about the background to the book.
Well, I auditioned for a London drama school in 2007 after completing a theatre arts degree at Middlesex five years prior. I only went for a bit of experience really, convinced that my morbidly under-rehearsed excerpt from Midsummer Nights Dream would get me laughed out of the office. To my delight and horror, I was actually offered a place!
To say the experience was unique would be an understatement since there were so many colourful characters and huge personalities, both in my class and in the faculty. There was one person, however, that stuck out in my mind. Whilst this whirlwind of medieval dancing and Pinteresque pauses was swirling all around me, I felt that I had to document it somehow.
Five years later, after a few stop/starts whilst I moved from the big city, I finished and passed it onto a friend to check that it wasn’t just a pile of old crud. She loved it and insisted that I get it published, and here I am on the promo trail.
Its been wonderful.
Without giving away any spoilers, what’s the basic premise of the book?
Well, the action is set in 2012 where our hero, Simon, a wannabe actor, is feeling hugely disenchanted by many things going wrong in his life. There are no decent guys on the London dating scene, his admin job at an environmental charity is as boring as it sounds and, to top it all off, his best mate, Beez, is flying off to Australia for the foreseeable future.
All this gloom should be offset by the fact that he gets accepted onto an evening course at a top drama school; however, the headmaster of the school, Rex Bamber, is a strict authoritarian who delights in dangling the carrot of industry success over the noses of his desperate students. The last thing Simon wants is a power struggle to keep his place at the school, but in order to better his life and follow his ambition, he’ll have to enter into Rex’s little game.
And this game is about to get dirty.
I suppose you could call it a mix of Black Swan and The Devil Wears Prada, as told by a Julian Clary/Lily Savage hybrid.
Sounds intriguing! Have you drawn inspiration from any other writers when penning the book?
Oh absolutely, I am inspired by other writers every day – from Daphne Du Maurier to Ben Elton, Nick Hornby to John Ajvide Lindqvist. When writing this book, however, my main influence has been the writing of Jenny Eclair. I had a revelation whilst devouring and thoroughly enjoying her anti-chick lit romp, Camberwell Beauty.
The novel is not so much a narrative as a social commentary on the British and how capable we are of feeling utter contempt for one another without actually saying anything, obviously told through the eyes of one of the most acerbic women in the business. Its a book that is stuffed full of mean-spirited characters who hate each other and hate themselves.
After reading that, I thought “Oh, so you don’t have to write about anything particularly positive, you can just literally cover the page with sarcastic and twisted comedic bile about horrible people with dark motivations” which seemed to me to be rather exciting.
>Authors Rupert Smith and Jonathan Kemp also gave me the confidence to write about the gay world as I lived it, warts and all. With the diamonds and the dirt. The perverts, pariahs and politics in all their fabulous glory.
So, why now? Why is now the right time to share this story?
The whole process from conception to print has taken ten years of slow-burning graft, but I self-published so I was always going to have to go that extra mile to get everything right. The pooling together of local graphic artists, Fran Wood and Thomas Cambridge, to design the cover also took time and toil to develop properly.
There was such huge gratification in knowing that from the second I typed my first word to the moment I opened the box of the finished product, I have had complete creative control.
I guess I always knew I had a book in me somewhere, and as I was going through another day of nervously pacing the floor before being hung, drawn and quartered in front of an audience of theatrical agents, I couldn’t help feeling that someone really should be capturing what the whole experience feels like. And that someone should be me.
What has the feedback been like so far?
The feedback has been great and I owe so much gratitude to anyone who has ‘liked’ me on social media, watched my little vlogs online or even considered spending their rainy day coffers on this book. The general consensus when reading this novel is that it is as if I am sat on the end of your bed, possibly a little drunk, savouring every smutty little detail of the anecdote that I am imposing upon you. That really is one of the best compliments a writer can get because we all work so hard to get our voices to shine through our prose and I am thrilled that people think I have achieved this.
I am hoping that people in the LGBTQ+ community will enjoy this book and see it as a playful swipe at our unique world. I also urge the drama school lot, who will empathise with Simon’s struggle between his integrity and his art, to pop it in their Amazon baskets too.
I think anyone who has ever vowed revenge on that one arsehole in their lives who continually tried to undermine them for their own gratification will definitely appreciate this book. And, of course, anyone with a devilish sense of humour.
Do you feel that there the book will have a general resonance with gay men who make the move to London seeking better opportunities?
I hope so but I don’t know if it is necessarily about that. It is more about raw ambition and the lengths we go to to fulfil those desires. Do we lay down our arms or do we fight? That is both a gay thing and a human thing.
I think that the memories of the Soho gay village of yesteryear, the wit, the heartache and the string of dodgy first dates are also likely to to be recognised by a gay audience.
What made you ultimately decide to move away from London to Cheltenham?
London is such an inimitable, magical place and I lived there for a long time – thirteen years in fact. But London keeps moving, and the people keep changing and, once you hit your thirties, you really want to be able to afford to grow a few roots in one place. Living in one of the best cities in the world comes with its own pressure – aspiring to be a success in the creative arts ramps it up a few more notches.
In moving to Cheltenham to be nearer family, I gained much more clarity around how to balance my career with my creativity. I don’t think I ever would have found the confidence to finish and release this book had I stayed in London, I would have struggled to feel special enough amongst the hoards of other aspiring novelists.
Has writing Mr Impossible given you the ‘bug’ for writing? Any plans for more books?
Oh, try and stop me! Last year I released my first short story, Hell Wears A Neckerchief, about a group of Girl Guides who unwittingly pitch their tent in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. It’s very different from this one and is currently garnering rave reviews on Amazon, which is amazing to see. I am also halfway through writing my second full-length novel about a coven of witches covertly practising in a local, God-fearing, thoroughly English village.
In a world now where you are able to release your work freely, I don’t think I’ll ever give up. As long as there are unique individuals out there with interesting, funny, jaw dropping stories, I’ll keep writing about them.