Let’s face it, after the year we have had we could all do with a good laugh – and author Jane Ions’ debut novel is the perfect antidote to all the doom and gloom.
The retired teacher’s book Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters, published last month by Hebden Bridge-based Bluemoose Books, is a wonderfully entertaining piece of comic writing, peopled by warm, believable characters that leap off the page.
The narrative is told from the perspective of Sally Forth, a kind, well-meaning middle-aged politician’s wife with grown-up children, demanding friends, quirky lodgers and a part-time job as a teaching assistant. Her drily witty account of the everyday ups and downs in her life and relationships is a real tonic.
“I didn’t really know who Sally was going to be when I started writing,” says Ions.
“She seemed to take on her own character and I just let her develop. I didn’t model her on anybody and I don’t think of her as me – but I would quite like her as a friend.”
When it comes to writing with humour, Ions has an impeccable pedigree. In the mid-1980s she submitted a speculative piece to the Sunday Times magazine for their A Life in the Day slot and to her surprise it was published.
“I’m pretty sure I am the only complete non-entity ever to have appeared on that page,” she says, laughing.
The piece gained a lot of attention and Alan Coren, editor of the satirical magazine Punch at the time, got in touch. “He wanted someone to stand in for Hunter Davies while he was on holiday. So my Mother’s Day page replaced Hunter’s Father’s Day page in Punch over the summer of 1985.”
After that Ions wrote occasional pieces for various national newspapers and magazines, but tackling a novel always appealed. “That was my ultimate aim, but it was really only when I retired from teaching that I started to think ‘right I will give it a go.’”
It took her a year to write the first draft of Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters – and then a few months editing and polishing, paying particular attention to the comic elements. “Humour is where I think my strength lies as a writer,” she says.
“It is the reason I write and why I enjoy writing, but it has to be done carefully and with great respect for the reader because you don’t want to be condescending to them or digging them in the ribs to get a laugh. I do a lot of honing, paring the humour down to its essence. It has to appear effortless.”
There is a lovely dynamic between the generations depicted in the book and the younger characters are very well drawn. “I spent many years teaching A-level Psychology to 16-18 year olds and I loved it. I enjoyed their company and I suppose I got to know their mindset.”
She also touches on issues facing the younger generation such as housing and employment. “If you are interested in young people and their lives, then those problems are never far beneath the surface,” she says.
“And I didn’t want to write a farce that wasn’t connected to real life.”
The response to the book so far has, deservedly, been hugely positive.
“That has been really nice,” says Ions. “I hope it will make people laugh. That would be wonderful – laughter is such an essential part of being human.”