Sunday, 4 November 2018

Candid Schott - Ben Schott is Brought to Book

Ben Schott is a man of many talents – he is a brand strategist, public speaker, photographer, journalist and author. He created a range of quirky, informative reference books (the first, Schott’s Original Miscellany, was published in 2002) that were an immediate success, and became bestsellers translated into 21 languages.

Jeeves and The King of Clubs is his first novel, in homage to his literary hero the late, great P G Wodehouse. It is a fresh tale of Jeeves and Wooster which involves - among other things - the secret corridors of Whitehall, espionage and what really goes on behind the closed doors of St James’s Clubs. It is fully approved by the Wodehouse Estate. 

Kim Vertue asks Ben Schott some questions for The Scrawl...  

Ben Schott
(author photo courtesy Hutchinson)

In the acknowledgements for your book, you describe what it was like to be given your first Wodehouse book, and the lasting impression it left. What was the first book you remember that really ‘hooked’ you, transported you, as a child? 

Almost certainly something by Roald Dahl, and quite probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remain dazzled by Dahl’s ability to write like an adult for children, and to create so many diversely fantastical worlds that, decades later, remain fresh and vivid and real.

Did your decision to write fiction, after your success with the non-fiction Schott’s Almanacs, arise mainly from your admiration for P G Wodehouse? I note that your comments are quoted on some of the reprints of his books... 

I approached Jeeves and The King of Clubs not with a grand, personal vision, but as a deadly serious frivolity. My aim was to create a fabulous, literary 'Heath Robinson machine' – deploying all of the pulleys, levers, gears, cranks, and lengths of knotted rope offered by the Woodhouse oeuvre to create the finest, funniest, and most charming Jeeves and Wooster novel possible. In this endeavour, I was aided immeasurably by fifteen years of researching and writing Miscellanies, which goes to explain why there are a dozen pages of endnotes at the back of the novel. You can’t keep a Miscellanist down!

Which is your favourite P G Wodehouse book?

Ah… well, this is like being asked to pick a favourite nephew – especially in the Jeeves & Wooster cannon. Outside of that milieu, probably Psmith in the City, or one of the many golfing stories. Plum nails the irrepressible optimism (and baffled disappointment) of all duffer golfers, of which I am one.

Who are the authors - other than P G Wodehouse - that have inspired you, and what have you learned from them?

Where to begin?

I love the detail and structure of Virginia Woolf; the profane absurdism of Tom Sharp; the comic complexity of John Finnemore; the linguistic acrobatics of Tom Stoppard; the dark farce of Evelyn Waugh; the languid calm of Anthony Powell; the ear for dialogue of Victoria Wood (and Alan Bennett); and, well, I could go on. Indeed, there’s a scene in Jeeves & The King of Clubs inspired by Edward Gorey’s The Curious Sofa.

As a photographer, do you use visuals to inspire your writing process?

When planning Jeeves & The King of Clubs I did create a complex, multi-coloured fold-out schematic of the plot – detailing what would take place at every point of every day during the week in which the action occurs. Also, I doodle quite a bit when thinking.

Jeeves & the King of Clubs
by Ben Schott

Do you have a favourite treat or tipple while writing is under way? Perhaps a Jeeves restorative cocktail - just for research purposes? 

Coffee. Coffee. And, coffee. Did I mention coffee?

Also, when words are flowing, Champagne. And when words get sticky, Champagne.

What is your writing ritual and regimen? Do you have a daily routine, are you a ‘panster’ or ‘plotter’? Do you write by hand or by smartphone, etc? 

I tend to do my best writing in bed - with coffee - before the day has started. The lion's share of writing is done on a laptop, but I hand-write scenes I find particularly tricky. I use my phone to jot down ideas, words, or phrases when I am out and about, and something even dictate short passages as a voicemail to myself. I set myself no word-count targets, and am deeply suspicious of the 'daily routines of famous authors' infographics that populate the web.

What manner of research did you undertake for this homage to the late, great P G Wodehouse?

The central seam of my research was into the language of the period. I pored over dictionaries of historical slang, and trawled through the Oxford English Dictionary for words and phrases that captured the cadence and rhythm of the 1910s, ’20s, and early ’30s.

They key to Wodehouse, I believe, lies in the choice of every single word, and my aim was to evoke each character’s unique vocabulary and tone. There is, for example, a world of difference between Jeeves saying “Sir.” and “Sir?” – and when he utters an “Indeed, sir?” the floorboards should tremble a little. I also delved deep into the history of London’s Clubland, private banking, bespoke tailoring, auction houses, and transient gambling establishments. All feature in the book.

What message do you think the life, times and books of P G Wodehouse have for today? 

What the world needs now, is laughs, sweet laughs … to coin a lyric.

P G Wodehouse was given the Mark Twain Prize in 1936 ‘for having made an outstanding and lasting contribution to the happiness of the world’ – do you think the world needs more happiness in these exciting times? As someone who gives inspirational talks for business, can you offer us any reasons to be cheerful over the next few years?

I’m not sure anyone who has heard me speak would describe my presentations as “inspirational”, and I can think of few reasons to be cheerful now or in the near future. All the more reason, then, to escape at speed into the sunlit uplands of Wodehouse and Wooster.

What are your writing plans and ambitions for the future?

Plans? Ambitions? Oh, dear me no.

Thank you, Mr Ben Schott!

For more Ben Schott  news, updates and info check-out his 

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