The Penny Brothers – Mark and Jon – were born and raised in the Midlands in the Sixties. Their shared love of comedy developed over many years of watching, listening to and reading the greats, including performers like Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise, Tony Hancock, Ronnie Barker and David Jason and writers like Roy Clarke, John Sullivan, Eddie Braben and Galton and Simpson. They started writing together to make each other laugh and have carried on for the sheer hell of it.
The unfolding Hymie Goldman saga is essentially a farce but in a world seemingly gone mad, writing farce has become more challenging than ever before. Still, Mark and Jon have always enjoyed a challenge and have always believed that laughter is the best medicine – but who wants to take medicine?
Mark Penny graduated in law from Birmingham University before training as a Chartered Accountant. After five years of travelling the world as an auditor, he has worked in various senior level finance roles over the past fifteen years. He lives in Solihull with his family and enough domestic pets to form a small zoo, writing in the evening.
Jon Penny left school with one Art O-Level before heading for the bright lights of London, where he promptly disappeared for several years. Resurfacing in the wilds of Scotland in the Nineties, he seemed to rediscover his zest for life, the universe and everything and is currently completing a degree in Fine Art. He lives in Gloucestershire with his five children and a motley assortment of dogs.
Below is a Q&A with the authors.
1. Did you agree on a basic plot-line before you started or is each instalment a complete surprise? At the beginning there was no plot, just the central character of Hymie Goldman. He was envisaged as the everyman – much like Galton and Simpson’s vision of Hancock – suffering beneath the weight of his dysfunctional life and with a full complement of weaknesses and affectations. We each wrote whatever we wanted to, building upon what had gone before, with only an implicit understanding that the story should chronicle Hymie’s journey from abject failure to success through sheer persistence and effort. In that sense he was always intended to be a hero, however unlikely; a luxury never allowed to Hancock.
The element of surprise was something we valued and nurtured in the writing because it lies at the heart of every good story and most successful comedy. Surprising each other was part of the fun of writing the book. However, after a while the characters seemed to take on lives of their own so it became necessary to map out the plot and re-write certain parts to reflect a shared vision of how the characters would behave and where Hymie and the story were heading.
2. Is it easy to make things quite far fetched in a bid to out-do each other? The plot takes place in an “alternative reality” rather than being far-fetched ie the story is internally consistent, grounded in reality and entirely plausible within its own terms of reference. There are occasional visionary or dream-like sequences, but these are simply brief insights into Hymie’s mind; reflecting his emotional journey to complement his physical one.
Writing the novel together was both enjoyable and challenging. We never experienced a collective failure of imagination although inevitably there were compromises on both sides in the interests of plot development. The final novel has certainly benefited from having co-authors as it placed us under a shared obligation to constantly stretch ourselves – in both the quality of our ideas and the form of our expression. Jon likens the process to two stage magicians desperately trying to out-do each other in front of an audience; “you start pulling rabbits out of a hat and end up trying to figure out how to conceal an elephant up your sleeve.”
3. Who do you base your characters on? The main characters of Inspector Decca and Sergeant Terse on the one hand and Hymie and Mike on the other, draw a broad line between Establishment and Outcast respectively. They are composites of all the people we have ever known but are also, to a degree, defined by their roles. In contrast to most detective genre writing, the police characters - except the senior officers; who have been promoted to their level of incompetence - generally know what’s going on, while the detective duo blunder about in the darkness of their own ignorance. The villains are caricatures “with a twist” and the bit-part players are the people you work with or bump into at the bus stop.
4. Who influences and inspires your writing? Given that there are two writers the melting-pot of influences is all the greater. We are both avid readers with eclectic tastes. Jon would tip his hat to Alexandre Dumas, Tom Holt and many of the pulp writers of the Fifties. Mark is a great fan of P G Wodehouse, James Herriot and Conan Doyle. We both share an abiding affection for TV and film comedy going back to Will Hay (there’s a skit on one of his old stage routines in the book), through Tony Hancock to Harry Hill and taking in all the great British comedians along the way. We are also great film buffs; enjoying Hitchcock, Film Noir and all action adventure films as well as screen comedy. The Golden Pig was written with a film sensibility i.e. stressing the visual aspects of the storyline as much as the narrative.
5. What are you writing next? We are currently writing a sequel to The Golden Pig. Hymie’s second case is essentially a missing persons investigation with a twist and will involve him in another series of madcap mishaps and adventures around the UK.
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