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VG Lee

VG Lee

Q&A with local writer & comedian VG Lee

HOT’s Xaverine Bates caught up with VG Lee ahead of her reading works from the ‘Her Eye’ series as part of riart Grrrls’ female author series, featuring local artist & editor Rachel Lever.

How did you get involved in the Hen House workshops and writing for the ‘Her Eye’ series in the 1990s?

I can’t actually remember the answer to this. I was living in Stoke Newington at the time and had been setting up reading events with several other women so I can only assume that I heard about ‘Her Eye’ wanting contributions through them. I do recall how excited I was to be included in these anthologies because I hadn’t been published before.

Most of your books are fiction – do you base your characters on people you know in real life, on your own experience, or are they purely fictional?

In possibly every novel I’ve written, at least one character has been based on someone I’ve known or know in real life and these often kick-start a new book before I’m quite aware of it. I find myself writing about someone, making notes about them, constructing small scenarios – I then take these as my foundation and build, taking the character into a fictional life. I’ve used neighbours, relations, friends and now ex-friends!

Diary of a Provincial Lesbian is an intriguing title for a novel – tell us a bit about it.

Many years ago I read Diary of a Provincial Lady, by EM Delafield. During the 1930s she had been asked to write a series of light humorous pieces for a magazine called Time & Tide and these eventually formed a very popular book.

In 2002 I’d moved down to Hastings from London and my life altered considerably, taking for a time a gentler pace. I re-read the book one New Year, and decided to write a novel about a provincial lesbian who having been given a copy of Provincial Lady then tries to write her own. My book wasn’t intended to be a pastiche, more an illustration of how hard it is to remain light and humorous about life, for the duration of a year.

What has been the best part of your career as a writer? Have you done other kinds of writing as well as novels & short stories?

I came to writing quite late – I was forty-two when I started and I found it tremendously exciting that I was actually capable of doing something I enjoyed and was quite good at. At school I was useless in every subject except art, so even now I can still find it extraordinary that I am actually a full-time writer.

In the 1990s I wrote quite a bit of poetry, published in anthologies like The West in her Eye and poetry magazines Poetry Review, Poetry London and Magma. Over the last year I have been a regular contributor of humour to The Lady magazine and I am Aunty Val, Agony Aunt to the online magazine, Gaze – A Modern Review.

Also this year I have written and performed my one-woman play, Lady of the Wild West Hill! over three days at the Brighton Fringe.

VG Lee

VG Lee

In 2009 to celebrate your sixtieth year, you decided to become a stand-up comedian & set yourself a target of performing at sixty venues. Sixty became ninety and you finished the year as a runner-up in the prestigious Hackney Empire’s New Act of the Year 2010, as well as appearing twice at the Edinburgh Festival. Did you have any idea your success as a comedian would be so meteoric?

I would say that I’ve had some success as a comedian, but certainly not a “meteoric success”!  I think because I’m quite a rarity, being an older woman in comedy, I’m often remembered. Usually when I arrive at gigs, it is assumed that I’m someone’s mum or grandmother and I do quietly enjoy upending that assumption.

With my writing commitments I don’t have time to continue travelling all over the country for comedy gigs but I do still perform at any LGBTQ events I’m asked to do, and also Laughing Cows comedy nights, which consists of female comedians and a mixed audience in Birmingham, Leicester and London.

Does your work as a comedian feed into your writing and vice versa?

My work as a writer feeds into the comedian element as I don’t do many gags. I tell stories, but shorter ones for stand-up. The subjects often overlap; people and things that irritate, the hierarchy within allotments and also vegetables!


VG Lee read poems and short stories from the ‘Her Eye’ series, edited by Rachel Lever as part of riart Grrrls’ female author series at Claremont Studios. She will also be featured author for the fifth in the series on 5 September 2013. For more information about the series, click here.

Posted 21:29 Monday, Jun 3, 2013 In: Literature

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