In Lynne We Truss

Article excerpt


LYNNE TRUSS had an unlikely hit with a book on punctuation.

But, as she tells NIGEL ANDREW, bitter sibling rivalry means she's glad her sister didn't live to see her success

When Lynne Truss's bestselling book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots And Leaves, started to take off, her mother was so proud she couldn't stop telling everyone. On one visit to the chiropodist's, she asked him if he had ever heard of the book.

'No,' he replied. 'Well,' came her jubilant retort, '420,000 people have!'

Sales are now way over three million, but it's just as well Lynne has cheerleaders like her mum on her side. Though she is the friendliest and cheeriest bestselling author you could hope to meet, she is temperamentally inclined to fret rather than to rejoice. She has, in the jargon, 'self-esteem issues'.

I first met Lynne 20 years ago when, at barely 30, she had taken up the hugely prestigious post of literary editor at The Listener, a fine magazine, now long defunct.

But it would take more than that appointment to convince her that she was actually any good. Getting the best English literature first degree of her year at University College London had briefly suggested to her that she might have some talent, but when she failed to get a scholarship to finance her PhD, she was set back again. 'That was,' she recalls, 'the only time I've dabbled in hubris.' From the age of 18 to 30, Lynne was in a seriously undermining relationship.

'My boyfriend would always say I was stupid, but I kept saying to myself, "I can't be that stupid - look, I've got this job." But I felt stupid, because he said I was. Some people,' she adds with fine understatement, 'have more robust self-esteem.' She laughs.

Lynne laughs a lot, but then she has a lot to laugh about. Eats, Shoots And Leaves brought her fame and wealth, or at least financial security. Security?

What am I saying? 'I keep thinking, one day I'll phone up the building society and ask for my balance and they'll say, "Zero zero zero zero point zero zero",' she says, in her self-deprecating way. Still, she does at least have a handsome London flat to show for her success, and a house in Brighton where she now mostly lives.

Famous or not, she is still very much the same Lynne she always was - at 51, she even looks much as she did 20 years ago. And now she has a new book coming out so, naturally, she's fretting. This book, coming after Eats, Shoots And Leaves and her blistering polemic on the collapse of manners, Talk To The Hand, is something very different. A Certain Age is a collection of radio monologues, originally broadcast on Radio 4 as two series. Six are about women and six about men. They were written either side of Eats, Shoots And Leaves.

Lynne has always done a great deal of radio writing - indeed Eats, Shoots And Leaves and Talk To The Hand both came out of radio series. Radio drama is what she has always most enjoyed doing. She says, 'Working with actors, having ones you admire come in and do your stuff and be funny - it's such a big deal to me. I love it.' A Certain Age attracted a clutch of top actors - Dawn French, Simon Russell Beale and Stephen Tompkinson - and it picked up glowing reviews from the radio critics, as the pieces are beautifully written. They tell their tales in a manner pioneered by Alan Bennett in his Talking Heads monologues. …