25: Michelle Gallen (winner of the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2023)

Danielle Krage interviews writer Michelle Gallen, whose book ‘Factory Girls’ won the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2023.

Michelle has wonderfully honest and practical takes on the craft and business of writing – from developing the voice and point of view of the book, to successfully pitching it to agents and editors.

The interview also delves into the opportunities of the adaptation process, and is laced with great real-world advice for writers and comedy lovers.

You can find out more about Michelle and her work at:

https://www.michellegallen.com

CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT

Danielle:

Today I have the fabulous writer Michelle Gallen with me, whose novel Factory Girls won the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2023, which is so well deserved. And I absolutely loved it. I’m really excited to dive into it today. But before we start, is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you and your work?

MICHELLE:

Oh dear Lord, people should know how tired I feel right now, how much I enjoy writing, but seriously, it’s hard work. I love it, it’s hard work,

Danielle:

Yeah.

MICHELLE:

But no, just yay, delighted that anybody’s here at all listening.

Danielle:

Amazing. I actually wanted to start with reading because you have a fabulous page on your website with some of your favourite books and I know this can be a torturous question for voracious readers like yourself but when you think about people who use humour in their work, are there any particular authors or books that do come to mind for any ages?

MICHELLE:

Oh, any and all. I know that when my kids were little, I remember we had to do a lot of the picture books and you know, you used to do them on repeat. So anything that felt even slightly funny was great for me. But I remember discovering Not Now, Bernard. I don’t know if you know that one.

Danielle:

Yeah.

MICHELLE:

It’s a classic, it’s that one where the kids like, basically…mom can I have attention, mom can I have attention, mom can I have attention. And then he’s like, there’s a monster and the monster’s gonna eat me. And then the monster does.

Danielle:

Yeah.

MICHELLE:

And like, I can’t. I can’t spoil the ending, but for me it was brilliant. It was both that kind of book that was speaking to me as a parent. He was just constantly going.. seriously, I’ve got something to do. Please leave me alone. No, I love kids books. Funny books. There are so many funny books. Naoise Dolan, a fellow Irish writer, her debut, Exciting Times, was amazing. And then Couples is her latest book, which I have only just started reading, is also fabulous. Anyone and everyone shortlisted, longlisted, who’s won the published or unpublished Comedy Women in Print Award is also like, I mean that that’s my go-to for picking up my next funny books because their unpublished list is so exciting and now that the awards kind of I think in its fourth year we’re starting to see the books that were unpublished coming out and having great success. Oh yeah, no I could go on but I think maybe shush for now and I’ll… I can make more recommendations afterwards on Twitter or something.

Danielle:

That’s fabulous. I love that. Thank you. And you mentioned the prize there, the Comedy Women in Print Prize. So you were shortlisted and also have won. Congratulations. I’d love to know in relation to that, or if you want to bring that out to other prizes as well, you’re welcome to do so…just a little bit of a sense of what that’s like behind the scenes, because we only see it from this side and see the stickers on the books and see the ceremonies. What’s it like actually being a writer who’s going through that process?

MICHELLE:

Oh Lord, well, I’m not sure that writing is fun.I think life can be great fun and hanging out with my friends or my family is really, really rewarding. But like, I do know how hard I found it to write my first book, Big Girls, Small Town, although it was probably more fun than Factory Girls because it was written during lockdown and it was written in kind of… when I didn’t get access to face-to-face time with my family and my friends. And I know that by the time I finished that book and delivered it for editing, or yeah, no, not for printing, I was exhausted. And I knew I was getting really great feedback on it, but I felt like… it’s not like having had a really great night out where you come home and you’re buzzing and you feel great. Like I really felt drained afterwards. And I think I’m trying to manage that better, how to write without kind of decimating yourself.

But then, I mean, the upside of that is then it comes out and people are really genuinely like moved and laughing at it. So…I’d been shortlisted for the comedy award, Comedy Women in Print award for my first book and for this one I got shortlisted again. I was really excited because for the first time it was again it was locked down. So there was like shortlisted and then you find out in Zoom somebody else has won. But the actual shortlisting was so amazing. It was such an exciting thing. But this time I got to go to London. I got to go to the Groucho Club and hang out there, which is a very frightening place to be. It’s full of really, famous people. And it’s like full

of like really smart, elegant, sophisticated famous people. And the problem I had was I’d utterly convinced myself I hadn’t won for a range of very reasonable… you know, a range of very reasonable things that happened. For example, nobody told me where the event was or what time it started. I kind of thought, well, maybe if I won, they would have told me to arrive. So there were a couple of other little things that I just thought… it’s OK, I haven’t won. So I’ll just drink a load of champagne and have a great time and I drank so much champagne that I… accidentally, no, I didn’t actually mean to drink as much as I did, but somebody else wasn’t drinking and I’m like… you can’t let champagne go to waste. And yeah, so I was actually trying to go to the toilet when they announced that I’d won and I didn’t hear this at all. I was so fixated on, I really need to go to the loo. And so then they announced I’d won and my friends had to tell me that I’d won and they did push me up on stage. I was literally speechless because obviously I hadn’t prepared anything. Obviously, I’ve maybe drunk a little bit too much. Obviously I was also really shocked and I really needed to pee and I was like, this is just not the best situation. I mean, it’s amazing, it’s fabulous, but also like… so yeah, it was incredible. I think I didn’t maybe make the most of like being in such an amazing place and around so many fabulous people. But it was really overwhelming. Brilliant, but overwhelming, like all these legends, like comedy legends

…all these people that you’ve grown up seeing or watching on TV or listening to and seeking out. And they’re all just in the room. I got a photograph of me and Jo Brand. And I was like, me and Jo Brand,

Danielle:

Wow. That’s awesome.

MICHELLE:

I know? So sorry, I’m such a fan girl. Like I don’t, my life is mostly a school run and writing quietly in a room.

Danielle:

I love it, amazing. And the judges, one of the things that’s attributed to them in terms of feedback was they said, ‘laugh out loud funny, grabs me halfway through the first sentence’, which again was my experience because the voice is so compelling. And I wanted to ask you about that. It’s never particularly easy asking about voice. I’m always fascinated by what point of view authors choose because there’s so much that can come with that choice. And then there’s also the constraints. What was that process like for you with Factory Girls? Was that something that came early, that you had to work at? What was that like, the point of view for the book?

MICHELLE:

So when I started writing the book it came out in first person and that was really interesting because it was really angry but alive and vibrant and Maeve’s voice was there from the get-go and I kind of sometimes feel not that I’m writing a character but they’re being channelled or something I know that sounds a little bit spooky but it really is that. My characters often feel funnier and braver or more angry or they feel quite different to who I think I am.

So Maeve came out in first person and I had written 127,000 words of this book. And I sent it to my agent and as soon as I sent it to my agent, I went, no, oh God, no, it needs to be third person. And I made her stop reading it and let me rewrite it in third, which she wasn’t excited about because she felt first person was really compelling.

But somehow third person gave this little sense of distance that I think is quite important and maybe allowed a touch more maturity. And like I had to be really careful in this because she’s quite young, like Maeve is 18. I mean, she’s really savvy and she knows a lot. She’s an 18-year-old who’s lived a lot, but she’s still young.

But third person gave me just enough space to let that voice, let her voice be there, but with a little bit of distance. But yeah, like writing in first person is, when I first wrote it, it was, I mean, I loved it, but it did feel like being a little bit possessed, channelling or something.

Danielle:

Yeah. That makes total sense. And that’s so interesting because one of the things that I really particularly love about the book and where the humour sits for me is in the descriptions, but like in all ways… the descriptions of the characters, of the setting, the mood. And one of the notes that I made to myself was like, this is so interesting because to my mind, it still feels completely in line with Maeve’s worldview, which we don’t always get in third person, but in a really beautiful way, but still then you’ve got, like you say that distance of third person in terms of how the scenes are set. So that makes total sense because the descriptions are fabulous and so funny.

So I wanted to ask you as well about, again, not an easy question, never easy talking about humour in terms of big works like fiction, but in the sort of micro level of when you’re drafting your scenes and then also then when you’re pulling it out to that macro level of trying to think about the whole shape of the book…. What ways do you think you think about comedy intentionally when it comes to trying to fix things that aren’t working, or trying to balance the book? Like what kind of language do you even use in your head to think about the comedy and how it’s working?

MICHELLE:

For me, it’s like, I don’t know, like in real life, I can be funny, but I’m not as funny as most people I know. Like I’m, like my brother, my littlest brother said to me, how can you win an award for comedy when you’re not even the funniest person in our house? No, what’s funny is he’s not even the funniest person in our house, we have somebody funnier. So like my family are really like quick-witted, really smart, and when I hang out with them, I always feel like I’m always like, I’m definitely the person who’s thought of the funny thing an hour later. Or, you know, I’ll say something funny on texts cause I’ve thought of it and I’ll text them and I’m delighted to set my wee funny thing out there. And then there’s like six other funny things coming on the text WhatsApp group afterwards.

So I think, I suppose I just grew up in a really… like in a, in a kind an oral culture, you know. We’re entertaining each other and having funny conversations, even in the middle of really dark times. It was very important. to make people laugh, I guess. And being around that and being slightly terrified because I was never the funniest person in the room. But I suppose what it is when you write it, you get the chance to do it over and do it over and do it over. And I am someone who drafts things not to death, but it kills me even now when I see something and I know it could be funnier again.

And one of the really nice things at the minute is. We’re working on the adaption of the book for a TV series. And that means you get to go back into those scenes that are sitting there on the page in print, but you can actually tear them apart and put them back together again. And then you can think about the visual humour. How do things work? How something might work from a camera point of view? How something works just strictly? Is it funny as the dialogue goes? Really hard work. And definitely in real life, I would love it if I could just keep rewinding my interactions and making them better, but you can’t, you’ve just got to go with what happens or what you’ve said or done in real life.

Danielle:

I love that. I’ve got so many questions I want to ask you, but because you mentioned it, I did want to ask about the TV adaptation. Not where it’s at in the process. I know it can be such

a complicated business. I won’t even go there unless you want to. But in terms of you as a writer, are there any different perspectives that adaptation has given you because it is its own kind of beast in terms of like you say, trying to think about how that’s going to work visually? Is there anything you think that the process has stimulated in you, either as a separate entity or that you’re now taking back into your fiction?

MICHELLE:

No, I think so for this particular adaption, what’s lovely is it’s giving space for the mother’s personality in a much different way to the book. Because in the book, it’s Maeve’s perspective and she’s kind of writing her mom off as this depressed old fart. She’s just like… why would I even listen to my mother? What does she even know about life? But everybody who read the book was going… that mother character, she’s done… they could see all the stuff sitting under these little… Maeve would dismiss her mom and everybody’s like, what’s her mom’s backstory? And of course she had this enormous backstory in my head that I couldn’t put in the book without being disloyal to Maeve’s perspective.

So now what’s great about the TV series is that you get to unpack this kind of angry, intense older female character, and of course work through Maeve’s own kind of trauma and Maeve’s drama and Maeve’s excitement. So that’s been really interesting that you can give things a completely different focus, even while you’re still exploring the same narrative, even while you’ve all the same characters, just by shifting the medium, you can do a very different thing. I love that.

I’m working on the adaption of Big Girl, Small Town as well. And again, that’s another one where my first book was really, really funny, but very like it’s almost like a character study. Like it’s deliberately keeps the big heavy plot elements at a distance. The protagonist, Majella, really wants to keep out of the drama, keep out of this kind of murder mystery that’s gripped the town. But obviously for TV you can’t just show somebody lying about in bed eating chips, right? You

have to really bring Majella’s character and her need for routine and the ordinary and like her quiet life kind of into this more exciting… Yeah, push the plot further forward without shoving her into the background. For all of these things, I think it’s incredibly hard. And how does anybody do this for a living? Like, God’s hard work, you know. I used to work in tech,, it was a lot easier.

Danielle:

Yeah. That was actually on my list to ask you about. So I saw that you worked in tech and I was just curious whether there are any developments in tech that you do find exciting in relation to writing. Because often the things that we currently hear about in the writing landscape with tech  it’s often with quite a sort o fearful lens on. There’s lots of talk about AI. There’s lots of talk about copyright. So I just wondered, because you have sort of straddled both those worlds, whether they feel very separate or if you see any things on the tech horizon that you think is actually good for writing or writers. You also might be no, that’s fine.

MICHELLE:

So I am quite geeky and I do find that if I talk about what I think is looming then writers get really

depressed.

Danielle:

Yeah, I’m open to it though, because I also work in tech.

MICHELLE:

Yeah, well so, I mean, AI doesn’t really care about books and novels and where things come from. And I think broadly speaking neither do most humans…they quite like to get their content for free, and when they want it and how they like it. And I think we’re going to reach an inflection point quite quickly where AI will be able to not just write the books or write the screenplays, but generate the sorts of things that it thinks people want to watch. And of course it’s been trained massively, not just on, you know, library content and books and music, anything that can be digitized essentially, but also on what, for example, kids have been watching on YouTube for the past 15, 20 years is it that we’ve had kids YouTube?

So I’m afraid my whole perspective on this is probably quite dark. But then I also take it that I personally would be very interested to see what AI would design for me. I’m really interested in what it thinks I like, given that it can only ever understand the me that I either feed into the digital world or the me that consumes something digital. So I’m just curious…what would AI make for me?

But second of all, I think I always will want to be exposed, just like in my own real life. I love to read certain books. I love TV. I love cinema. And most of all, I love being in the real world with real people. So this is about maybe being really conscious about what you’re doing. What your actual consumption choices are. I like to spend as much time as possible with real people rather than consuming content. And I say that, but real people are exhausting. People are very tiring. Danielle. Very, very exhausting people in real life. But then so can, a book can also be exhausting. But the thing is, you can always put a book down and it doesn’t freak out. It doesn’t lose its temper because you’ve walked away from it for a while. So. Yeah, I think tech is incredibly frightening and exciting and is going to be a massive game-changer. And I think maybe most of us don’t actually understand the extent to which things are going to change and how fast.

Danielle:

Mm hmm. It’s the speed. Yeah. I’m interested because I’d always rather have the conversation than avoid the conversation and see what’s there and have a look into the dark cupboard.

MICHELLE:

I’ve become the person… I was having this conversation quite openly and particularly the last time I had it with people, I felt it wasn’t going well and I can understand that because people… You know, I’m the sort of person who would get in a taxi and go… oh, you’re a taxi driver. How do you feel about, you know, robot taxis? I mean, it’s coming. Now, they’re already in San Francisco. I’ll say it and they’ll go.. Michelle, this is not how you make friends.

Danielle:

Right.

MICHELLE:

Not that you need to make friends with the taxi driver, but maybe you shouldn’t say to him…wow, five years before you are out of a job maybe. And it’s not going to happen that fast, but there are so many things that will be automated. And what will that mean for us is such a big question.

Danielle:

Yeah. And I think it’s interesting with humour as well, because I think that’s such a specific area. And I have tested out chat GPT with different bits of humour and I’ve seen such a difference in the simple non-fiction tasks I’ve given it that are akin to writing a blog post, versus as soon as I try to move into fiction, and as soon as I then try to move into humour, we’re in a whole different landscape, which is both fascinating and gives me hope for human creatives like ourselves too.

MICHELLE:

I would say though, chat GBT is basically the sort of, I don’t know, it’s kind of like the Jeeves of

AI and it has been told to be so bland and so servile and so unfrightening because we don’t want to frighten people. And it’s also quite old in many ways, I think. And I’ll send you some links about other… AI that are writing really incredibly smart, like frightening things. That you would think are being written by really good humans. And this is the space, I think, I mean, chat GBT does a grand old job, right, of, you know, factual, you know, write me a book, report it on, I don’t know, War and Peace, it’ll do it. Write me a job spec for whatever. Even actually, it’ll write a TV pitch for you. I got it to do a TV pitch for me just to see out of curiosity. Like I’d been working

really hard on a pitch and I thought… I wonder what it would do. And it did kind of, I would say at the time, we’re going back six months, it’s probably better now, but like sort of intern level type pitch, you know, where you’re like, oh, good try. But it did, put in three things in its pitch that I hadn’t put into mine. And I went, oh. It clearly has a checklist of things. You know, it’s read more TV pitches than me. Of course it has. And it has a checklist of things people might ask and those three things where things are, well, maybe I’ll just borrow that. So..and chat GPT is not the smart one. So yeah.

Danielle:

Hmm. Interesting. It’s a good way of putting it, the blandness, and like you say, I’m sure that that’s only one example, there’s many more. But that’s such the opposite of your book. Your book has such a specificity to it. And so many things that I just had this visceral reaction to that were so wonderfully like gross or delightful or sad or poignant….just amazing, incredible ways of expressing what things feel like and those tensions and dynamics. So I was curious whether you ever take things out because you feel like it’s gone too far… because obviously you’re juggling so many interesting pieces and different people have called it a black comedy or darkly twisted because there is all this setting and the troubles in Ireland and you’re weaving such a beautiful dance between those things as happens in life. But were there ever any bits in the book that either for yourself or from feedback from… beta readers or from editors or agents that you took out because you felt like an audience or a reader might not be able to engage, it might be too much.

MICHELLE:

So we had 127,000 words on the first pass, so it was really quite good to be able to chop that. And actually it’s very useful for TV because you can go, somebody will say, well, what about this? I have already written that scene, you know, that I kind of have so much material sitting there that I can work with. We did cut things from the book less because we felt, anybody felt the humour was offensive. We had to work very hard. I suppose I grew up censoring myself in a way, because I did grow up in Northern Ireland. I grew up in a time where you had to be careful about what you said and who you spoke to. And even I think I still am quite protective of, even speaking personally. I let my characters speak and do what they do, but I’m very careful about what I personally might say about the conflict or people or things that happened.

But for Factory Girls, I don’t remember taking out anything that people would have found offensive. We did interestingly remove two non-Northern Irish characters from the book because my editors felt they weren’t sufficiently developed to have them in the book, even though I had this huge story in my head. But partly because we didn’t have the space in the book. There’s so many themes in the book that we didn’t have the ability to develop the kind of what’s it like to not be from Northern Ireland and to work in this factor environment, that it’s not just that binary between Catholics and Protestants. But like as they rightfully pointed out, that’s a whole book in its own right, you know, to actually give that story the space it requires, you would need to give it a book. It’s not, you know, you can’t just have characters that meant a lot to me and had a huge backstory for me, but. in terms of the book would only have had a very small amount of text.

But no, I think one of the hard things about comedy is that things that we know were OK to say 10 years ago or were considered not too bad 20 years ago, suddenly, you know, as we educate ourselves or as, you know, tastes change or as culture shifts, things that were acceptable are not acceptable and rightfully so. So there’s always this How do you write a book about an historic 1994? It’s not like far away history, but 1994 things were quite different and also in Northern Ireland they were. So writing things that were really not that nice at the time and come across even harsher now was another thing. So we had to keep making sure that came across in the marketing of the book as well. This is 94, we have, you know, girls who’ve grown up without the internet, who’ve grown up in a conflict situation, who only know really what. their family and their community, what they get from TV and like maybe Blue Jeans or Jackie magazine or what they read in the library. And they’re also being kind of manipulated or influenced by the various kind of patriarchal figures in the book.

So yeah, it’s a bit of a dance, right, to try and make sure that you don’t make things too sugary or make things for me, it’s really important not to take things too far away from the truth or from how times were. But also not to terrify people, to sort of really like turn a reader off or to lose people because there’s like proper messages. Like I feel like I am trying to share important themes even if the work is very, very funny.

Danielle:

Absolutely and I so admire the way that you did that as I’ve read the book multiple times. First time just to purely be engaged with…I was just absorbed in the world. But then because it was so good I had to go back and read it again from a technical perspective because I was like.. how did you do that?

MICHELLE:

I do that. Yeah, you do the emotional read, right? You do the read where you just let yourself

be the reader or the viewer.

Danielle:

Yeah.

MICHELLE:

And then you do the one where you go, yeah, hang on a minute, how did we switch from this to this? Yeah, I do that. When it’s technically good, I’m like all over that double-reading.

Danielle:

Yeah, yeah. So, Factory Girls, I highly, highly recommend it.

I wanted to ask you next about…you mentioned writing a TV pitch recently and having to do that. And I also read, so this is winding back a little bit in time, that you went to the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair and had to, like part of it, it sounds like was pitching live there. So I wondered if you wouldn’t mind… if there is any advice that you feel that you do have, because that can be quite tough for writers. And I know there’s all different contexts for pitching, but for example, I have friends who have been and are going to conferences to pitch to agents and editors. So any advice for taking what’s a big book and trying to put it into a pitch to an agent or editor?

MICHELLE:

So I think there’s two parts. And I know that again, because I’ve worked in tech and I’ve done the startups…and pitching startups is so much harder than pitching a book.

Danielle:

Right.

MICHELLE:

And the very first thing that I had to learn about pitching was, you know, it wasn’t an elevator pitch, right? It was just literally like, how can you get somebody’s attention with 10 words? And the elevator pitch is like under 60 seconds. And then you might, if you’re really lucky, get five minutes with somebody. And when I say pitch somebody, I mean, you’re asking them to give you loads of money. You’re not just saying, would you buy my book for 10 quid or 15 quid? You’re saying, please, may I have a million pounds for this random piece of tech that may or may not work?

So I had to learn to just get really focused on, like, you know, what’s my 10 words? Then what’s my 60 seconds? What’s my five minutes? And I had to learn that. And it’s the same. So, for publishing, it’s the same. If you’re able to just really quickly give a publisher, like one line, and then you see something light up, then give them the minute, and then you see something else light, you give them the five minutes. And I did that. I mean, I’m like, I know how to write a pitch. I knew how to do it.

And I also did a lot of research on the publishers. So publishers and agents weren’t coming to me. And I wasn’t like going. Oh my God, my name is Michelle Gallen and here’s what I did. And here’s what I did. And here’s what I did. I’d be all like, Oh, Becky, I saw the first book you ever picked up off the slush pile got shortlisted for the Booker. How are you going to follow that? You know, literally talking to them about something they’d either said on Twitter, something they posted on Instagram, something they’d said in the Bookseller, but trying to get some in or some sort of way of going…. I’ve actually done my homework here. And also because I know that when you’re being pitched at all the time, you know, I suppose you feel a bit like things are bouncing off you. So it’s nice if somebody says takes, if you’ve only got a minute with a publisher, but you’ve taken 10 seconds to try and connect with them. I think that’s quite, quite meaningful.

So write your pitch, rewrite it, rewrite it, read it, record it, listen to yourself pitching. Do all the research you can on the people you’re going to be pitching to. And I think the biggest lesson though from tech was like, I got told that you haven’t had no as an answer unless you’ve emailed the person 10 times. So this idea that you would go, Hi, sent you my book and I was just wondering if you read it. And then they don’t get back to you and you go, Hi, so I sent you my book. I really thought the weather was bad. Did you read my book? And then you do it again, you go, Hhi, I know that you didn’t get back to me the last couple of times, but you’re not doing it passive aggressive. It’s literally like, you know, they’re super busy. You know, they’re super tired. You know, everybody’s overwhelmed, but you’re that polite, determined person who’s going to stick at getting their book out there. So yeah, I actually, I think I wrote a blog post series about this once about how to write your pitch, how to research your market, really listen to advice. And, you know, Practice, practice, practice. I don’t know, it’s hard work. Again, it’s hard work. I love it though. I really enjoy it. I just love, I just get excited. I’m like… here’s this book and I actually think this book’s gonna be great for you. And I think people are gonna love this book. And I can see in my head the sort of person who’s gonna read the book or where it would fit.

Like I’m not the BBC book at bedtime because of all the bad language. But I can be the abridged, you know, wee series where people go, oh my God, that’s terrible, but now I’m gonna buy the book because there is a lot of swearing and there’ll be more in the book, you know.

Danielle:

Yeah. That’s fabulous. What a great energy to do it from. Irresistible. And I did actually watch the keynote that’s on your website, because you’re such a fabulous public speaker too. And I found it fascinating because the theme you were talking about there that I found compelling was failure. And you shared different personal stories to do with that. And I think it’s such an interesting… theme…whether it’s you’re an entrepreneur or a creative. So I’m just wondering currently as a human and a writer…how do you think about failure? If you do. You might be like…Oh, that’s a depressing question for a Tuesday,

MICHELLE:

No, it’s not. We’ve just renovated our house. I know I think I whinged about that before we went live. We moved into a Victorian, not Victorian, but like you know Victorian era house. But it’s literally like all they’d done to it was fix windows and like nailed some surface wiring to it. So we really were living in like a Victorian era house and we’ve had it renovated and that means the wiring’s all away and like the floors are all shiny and there’s lots of paint everywhere

and I swear to God like it was at no point was it perfect but at least at one point nobody had like knocked lumps out of the paintwork… so literally like when we were bringing our furniture back and it got chipped like things got chipped and I’m trying to sit with that whole idea that you know you know we’re all just sort of atoms and we’re brought together in whatever form we’re brought in like a table or like I don’t know… ocean… tree And we do end up falling apart again. And I, I try to take this big, huge, big picture sort of perspective on these things, because it’s so stressful if you, you know, sweat the small stuff. It’s really, really hard.

And in terms of like coming to my work and thinking about failing, I think failing in tech helped me a lot in the sense that the narrative in tech is never that you failed, or maybe your product has failed, but you haven’t failed that as long as you’re up and you’ve more ideas, then you’re gonna get out and do it again, then you’re not a failure, you’ve only learned lessons. And I think it’s very relevant to art because unlike many things that… you write a book and people say it’s great, and then you can write another one and they might say it’s terrible, or it might bomb or it might be the wrong time, or something could have happened that wipes, like COVID can happen and wipe your book out. And so the other thing that keeps me kind of on my path is always looking at the process and not the product. So although I’m a very product person, I would like to write a funny book that tells this story. And I can see the niche in my head…. The other side of it is to actually feel like I’m sitting down and doing a sentence that matters, that then turns into a paragraph that matters, that then turns into a scene that matters, that then… even if it is only read by one person somewhere, and even if the person’s only my husband, although he doesn’t really read my stuff, that this matters. And I think, so that kind of like, the process of being a human who is creating is really important. And you’re never failing if you’re creating, right? Like if you’re actually creating, that’s winning or that’s succeeding. Whether the product… whether the book, whether the movie, whether the TV series succeeds or not, is not entirely within your control. It really isn’t. But doing the work is.

Danielle:

I love that and so beautifully said and so encouraging. Thank you. And as we record this, just a couple more questions. It’s the end of August. So we’re moving into the autumn winter. Do you know what the rest of the writing year looks like for you? As you say, you’ve been busy doing all kinds of things, renovating your house or whatever. But how far ahead do you like to think with writing? Is it deadlines? Is it freedom?

MICHELLE:

No, I have two books I’m trying to finish. So one of them at the minute is book number four, I think of it as. And unfortunately, that’s not the book that everybody wants me to deliver. They want me to deliver book number three. But book number three, I know that I need to do it, but I want to switch, I can be a bit of a Worzel Gummidg, like I need to plop the heads on to do it. So I want to just finish the first draft of book four, which I think is in a really good place. And then I’m going to go back to book three where actually I wrote the book and now I want to introduce this whole other plot into what is quite a loose world. And the plot would be the sort of engine of the book, I guess. Like it’s, so it’s something very structural that I want to do to it. So I want to go back to that.

I’m working on both the TV adaptions and really I’ve had this very disjointed year of not living in my house, you know essentially being homeless while not being homeless like literally going… where are we going to sleep tonight oh we’ve a camper van we’ll be fine and then moving back into your home and being like I don’t have a desk you know I don’t have things set up. We don’t have proper beds or anything and the kids are going back to school this week which you know kids back in school just means that there’s hours in the day where you can sit down and go… that’s it I’m switched on right now I’ll get my work done. So yeah, I guess I need to just take advantage of all any energy, any energy, and any time and make what I can happen. But I’m quite excited about my work. I keep saying to my husband, you know, if I could just live in a hotel and have people bring me food and stuff, there’d be no problem, right? And I’d be absolutely fine. And so that’s the dream. You see, you know, Virginia Woolf’s always like… oh, you need a room of your own. I’m like. Well, in fairness, if you saw her life, like she had you know, butlers and servants and stuff, it’s not really a room. What you actually need is just room service, like of your own. You know, somebody to change the towels and the sheets and like to bring you up the breakfast, lunch and dinner and then a wee gym with a swimming pool or something. Like that’s more room service for writers.

Danielle:

Yeah, I love it. I love it. You’ve got it all covered because I was just like, oh, too much room surface and I might have to, you know… but then you’ve got it covered if there’s a gym and a swimming pool as well. It’s a perfect setup.

MICHELLE:

And a bit of a garden. And I’m sure you’d have yoga classes and all. No, I seriously, if I ever win the EuroMillions, I’ll set up a wee writer’s hotel and just do all of that.

Danielle:

I love it. Amazing. And just before we end, I’d love to know, is there’s any parting advice for other writers who are also interested in comedy and interested in fiction? Because on this podcast, I interview people from all walks of life in comedy, because I think it’s all relevant and we can learn from lots, but there isn’t so much discussion around fiction and comedy. There is more in rom-com, also awesome, but that’s its own particular kind of genre and that’s not what your book is even though there are lovely relationships in it. So I’d love to know for people who are out there working on that…

MICHELLE:

So I feel that I’m not structured about what I read and what I take in because my number one influence is the real world. So my number one thing is if you’re trying to write comedy, I did a stand-up course at one point and I was crap at it, but I learned an awful lot about… A, how hard it is and B, how do you pull material out of something… C, you know, how close something might be to you. So one of my problems with stand-up was it was just simply like, it requires you to give so much of yourself rather than channelling, at least in my course. It was very much like… what’s in your life right now that we could all laugh at?

And there’s plenty, you know, but I felt a bit weird about giving that away to an audience full of people, whereas I don’t have a problem doing that with my friends and family. Like I really enjoy sitting down with them and talking and laughing. Bringing things up from years ago. But I also find even sitting on my…right, so this is so random, right? But today I was like really hungry and I was like feeling sorry for myself and I was like going.. what do you wanna eat? And I was like cornflakes. And I thought, I don’t just want one bowl of cornflakes, I want two. And then I didn’t have two bowls of cornflakes, like out of the same bowl, I poured two separate bowls of cornflakes. And see how that’s funny. Why is that funnier?

Danielle:

It is funny.

MICHELLE:

Why is that funnier than eating two bowls of cornflakes? Eating two bowls of cornflakes is kind of weird, but pouring two separate bowls of cornflakes and then eating them one after another is somehow way funnier. And I think there’s things like that, that literally, I think you can watch a lot of funny TV and funny movies and read a lot of funny books, but… It’s this idea that how can you distil your own life into… why is two bowls of cornflakes funny? I mean, if you literally were doing a scene where there’s no dialogue, but somebody did that, you’d be like, what a freak, who does that?

And it’s that idea that you can sit on the train or you can be in the pub or that you’re just constantly going…why is that both noteworthy and maybe weird or really touching? You know, there’s all these thing that you just see in your heartbreaks or you’re like, oh my God.

So I’m always just, I feel like a wee hoover, like hoovering up all, all these things, even just on a really boring day where I’m feeling sorry for myself and I need cornflakes. I know, I know I have to use the two bowl of cornflakes things somewhere in some work somewhere. That’s not very structured. That’s literally saying hoover it all up, hoover it all up, all of it.

Danielle:

I love it. That’s absolutely perfect. That’s a perfect place to end. So where can people go to find out more about you and your work?

MICHELLE:

Okay, so michellgallen.com is my website and my brother keeps saying he’s gonna help me update it again because although I’m really geeky, he’s much better at selling me because… my first ever website, which was michellgallen.com, had a picture of a succulent in a little plant pot and this really sad biography of me. And my brother looked at me and he was like, Michelle! Like, no! So my website has all the ways in which somebody can find my work, contact me, stalk me. But basically anything you need is there, but I do need to update it with more of the things that I’ve been doing. But I just keep going…why aren’t you doing the real things Michelle? Like living and eating cornflakes two bowls at a time in your kitchen. That’s brand new, brand new kitchen. So yeah. Michellegallen.com is where it all begins.

Danielle:

Perfect, I’ll put that in the show notes. Thank you so much, what a delight to be able to talk to you and thank you for your fabulous, funny and heartbreaking books too.

MICHELLE:

Thank you so much for having me, Danielle. It’s been a pleasure.