WITH her fifth book out on September 6, radio comedy doyenne SANDI TOKSVIG is launching it with a touring show direct from Edinburgh Fringe mixing in stand-up, storytelling and hopefully some hot gossip centred around her career and her love of writing. CATRIONA REEVES spoke to her about her historical novel Valentine Grey, and the live show it has inspired.
CATRIONA REEVES: Your new book, Valentine Grey, is about a girl who dressed as a man to enrol as a soldier in the Boer War. Did you enjoy writing it?
SANDI TOKSVIG: Very much so. It’s taken about four years in total, and has involved a massive amount of research - probably too much, but it helps give a three-dimensional feeling to the book. I became totally immersed in its world; I even broke down in tears because I killed a character.
It’s a very odd feeling now that I’ve finished writing it - I’ve been working on it for such a long time, and I’ve had stuff all over my desk to do with it, which I only finally tidied away yesterday
CR: Part of the story focuses on Valentine’s cousin Reggie. She disguises herself as him to join the fighting, leaving him free to stay with his male lover in Victorian London. Was it important to you to have gay characters in the book?
ST: The gay element to the story wasn’t central to it to begin with - that evolved later on. I started with the central story about Valentine, but then I became interested in the character of Reggie as well, and his own battle developed. I find that happens with character; they take over and create their own story.
CR: Your live show is called My Valentine - is it all about the novel?
ST: The show does involve me talking about the book, but there will also be jokes and silliness; I’ll look at why people write and what they write about, and there will be a bit about silly book titles. It’s a mix of sensible and silly.
There will also be a question and answer session - I’ve got some good gossip if people ask the right questions.
CR: Do you consider yourself to be mainly a writer, performer or comedian?
ST: I like all of it - I get to do so many different things; writing the books,the radio shows [Toksvig is chairman of Radio 4’s The News Quiz] and television [she is a regularly panellist on QI]. I’ve got a play opening soon, and a new quiz show for Channel 4... I like the variety. I do also love writing; in a room on my own, enjoying the peace and quiet.
CR: You pop up quite regularly on the BBC comedy panel show QI, but not many women do - why do you think that is?
ST: I really don’t know - I think they must fear us. I’m good friends with some of the other women who appear on QI, including Jo Brand, but they never put us on together. It’s very rare that there are two women on the same panel. It’s odd, because there’s lots of women who appear on the News Quiz.
CR: You’ve had a long and successful television and radio career, but a lot of people in their 30s or so fondly remember you for your time on No. 73, the 1980s ITV Saturday morning show. Did you enjoy being involved in children’s television?
ST: No 73 was the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on. I was fresh out of uni, straight into a TV job that lasted six years. I didn’t particularly aim to work in children’s television - I never really had a career plan. I’d been in Footlights at Cambridge, and joined The Comedy Store Players [an improvisational comedy group based at London’s Comedy Store club]. Whose Line Is It Anyway? [Channel 4’s long-running improv show] came out of that, and one thing led to another.
My secret is that I never say no to anything. Well, it has to be of a certain standard; I avoid anything with “celebrity” in the title. I was asked to do the dancing one, but I decided that I’ve coped so far without learning how to tango, so I can probably live without it.
Sandi Toksvig will perform My Valentine at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Saturday, September 15.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on August 23, 2012