After such a long gap since the last book by writing duo Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur it was a lovely surprise to have their latest publication – The Shitshow – drop through the letter box. Once again it follows in the footsteps of earlier successes and rips into all those who need to be brought down, writes Michael Holland.
This is a double act that knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the trust that has built up allows them to write remotely – one in the West Country, and one, McArthur, right here in Southwark where it was easy for me to pin him down for an interview.
Why has it been so long since your last book? ‘We are powerless over the timing. The publisher projects a massive “S” into the night sky and we emerge from the misty mountain under which we slumber and start swearing at stuff.’
What is it about? ‘The book is about, well, the state of the world. But funny. Well, hopefully. We’ve ranged across quite a vast number of topics this time. So, yes there are inevitably the Brexit and Trump references – but there’s stuff about film and telly, the rise of the robots, fruit (a consideration of what easy peelers are all about), vegetables (online reviews of frozen peas), space exploration, some riffs about historical stuff… There’s even a poem – about when pro-hunt activists recently nailed dead crows to the telly naturalist Chris Packham’s gate.’
How do you work remotely? ‘We decide what we’re going to write about collectively and then we write separately and edit each other. Because we’ve worked together for a long time now it’s generally obvious who should do what. Sometimes I’ll be writing something and will just naturally leave a gap: it just seems obvious that a Steve bit should go there. Sometimes we’ll take something the other has done and run with the idea, or slash it to pieces – which can be more controversial obviously (“You’ve crucified my art, you utter bastard! Why not stick a knife into my heart and be done with it?” – that kind of thing). I think the secret of collaboration is that you have to have a shared vision of what you are trying to do: then discussions or the occasional row are about how best to get to where you want. Otherwise it’s just a battle of wills.’
Is this book a catalyst for a spurt of new writing and books? ‘I certainly hope so. There’s quite a list of stuff that didn’t make it into this book – for time reasons, length and so on – which we are keen to crack on with. We’ve been very lucky to work with editors who have been very supportive and sympathetic. But, at the end of the day, it’s obviously much easier for them to do that if they can flog a few copies.’
What is your research method? Are you taking notes all the time about life in general? ‘Basically, yes. And again, because I’ve been doing this for a while, you get better at it – in the sense that I make far fewer notes these days but the notes are more useful. You get a sense for what might be interesting or important. There are certain things and themes that just interest me. Steve and I talk about the sort of stuff that ends up in our books anyway; that’s how it started in the first place. Obviously there is overlap with other writers and comedy things and so on, but for good or ill we are to some extent ploughing our own furrow, I think. Too late to stop now, anyway.’
Where can people buy it? ‘It’s available at all online booksellers at various prices, but we like to use good independent bookshops where at £12.99 it is still a snip.’
Anything you’d like to add? ‘The people of Southwark are the best people.’