‘It’s really about how we will never know everything about the people who are closest to us.’ So says Jenny Eclair, one of the UK’s most successful and popular comedians and actors on her latest book, Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, a brilliantly observed family drama of mothers, daughters and sibling rivalry.
Here Jenny reveals to Tesco how it all came about…
What made you decide to write Life, Death and Vanilla Slices?
I was due to write a book and the idea just came. I only write well when I’ve got good characters to write a story for. I think the characters come first.
The theme of female relationships runs deep throughout the novel. Were any based on real life?
There’s a bit of my friend Judith in Anne: her bosom is Judith’s – I’ve seen it in the swimming pool. There’s a bit of my sister Sara in her too, though not physically – my sister is very, very flat chested. Jean is physically most like my maternal grandmother, a pretty woman – Jenny Jones of Blackpool, she was a mill girl made good, all fur coat and matching shoes and bag.
Life, Death and Vanilla Slices looks at returning to family and roots. Can you tell us about a memorable return home for you?
I don’t have any dramatic home-coming stories to tell, I’m afraid: I visit my parents too regularly for anything to be a massive surprise. They live up north in a place called Lytham St Annes, it’s sort of by the sea but on a rather muted bit of coast. It’s near Blackpool, which is less muted. Lytham has a windmill and very little rowdiness – I couldn’t go back, not to live. I think houses are very important to me because I was an army child; all my books are very specifically ‘housed’.
In the book Jean always buys vanilla slices for special occasions. What would you eat to celebrate?
I was anorexic for many years so I stopped eating all sorts of things and, oddly enough, I never, ever got back into the habit of cake or chocolate – people are always surprised that I don’t like chocolate or cake! I’m a savoury girl. Then, just before I hit fifty I developed an allergy to tomatoes: they give me mouth ulcers. My favourite home-coming food is spaghetti bolognese, but I haven’t been able to eat it for five years. My mother dreads me visiting, she never knows what to cook.
Here in London we have posh fish and chips on a Sunday night, from a place that does Thai fishcakes and roast salmon, so when I’ve been on tour I really look forward to coming home and having that.