A brief word of warning before you start, Ian Martin is a swearing consultant. Don’t read this interview if you are offended by strong language!
Ian Martin, The Thick of It’s renowned Swearing Consultant turned Faber author, was interviewed by Donal Conaty, author of the political satire of the IMF bailout The Eighty-five Billion Euro Man. Here they talk bad language and great books…
When BBC 4’s The Thick of It brought political satire kicking and screaming into the 21st century it also introduced the splendid notion that someone could have a job as a Swearing Consultant.
That couldn’t be hard, could it? As an Irishman I like to think I can swear with the best of them. I can’t. Very few if any of us, however, if any of us, could do it as well as Ian Martin. His peculiar talent for comic swearing as demonstrated on his satirical website Martian.FM got his foot in the door at The Thick of It as a Swearing Consultant on series one. He soon established himself as a writer on later series of the award-winning comedy that savagely ripped apart a political landscape culture where only the spin had substance has come to characterise the show.
With The Coalition Chronicles (Faber & Faber, September 2011) Ian Martin has taken his sweary brilliance to parliament with a satirical account of the first year of Britain’s Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government.
We all see our politicians giving the same dull, evasive, answers to the same dull questions on a daily basis. But what would they say if we weren’t listening. If the microphones were switched off and the cameras weren’t present.
They would hurl dogs’ abuse at each other in a very entertaining fashion according to Martin. The fact that he presents his fictionalised parliamentary debates with all the trappings of the real thing makes it all the more entertaining as Britain’s current leaders lyrically abuse each other.
It would be a big ask to sustain a full book on a talent for swearing but there is much more to The Coalition Chronicles than that. There is a joy of language in it and it reads as though it was fun to write. It is full of great lines and great observations and asides. The debates are presented as scripts and the actions and transitions in the scripts are as funny and pointed as the dialogue. In a feat beyond reason, Ian Martin has even managed to make David Cameron and Nick Clegg interesting.
Is it childish? Switch on Prime Minister’s Questions or Leader’s Questions in the Dáil. Yes it most certainly is childish and deserves to be represented as such.
That is unless you are Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail who found himself deeply offended that a high brow publisher such as Faber would publish such a book. When I put some questions to Ian Martin he had a colourful response to Quentin Letts: This is the link for the Daily Mail article:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2022950/F-words-Now-Fabers-right-The-Thick-It.html
DC: Is The Coalition Chronicles essentially an accurate depiction of Parliament?
IM: Action and dialogue are spoofed. But their conduct, its narrative structure, is modelled very closely on House of Commons procedures and debates for the period covered in the book. It’s constitutionally ‘correct’, but filled with what Quentin Letts called ‘explicitly derogatory spewings’.
Here’s another explicitly derogatory spewing: ‘Quentin Letts: wanker. Oily Daily Mail fuckdollop.’
DC: When the Sunday Times recently featured you and Jonathan Lynn (co-creator of Yes, Minister) on finding a formula for being funny, the newspaper suggested television had abandoned satire. Do you think that is the case?
IM: No. TV hasn’t abandoned anything. It’s just much more risk-sensitive. The BBC is under direct threat from this piss-shower of a government.
DC: If so, did The Thick of It set the bar too high? Does satire need to draw its breath and refocus after a programme like The Thick of It?
IM: Satire is not an ‘it’, any more than the ‘gay community’ is one big gay. It’s just loads of smartarses cracking jokes, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Something brilliant will be along in due course. Plus, get rid of that fucking erroneous possessive apostrophe in your fucking question. (it was there, we fixed it)
DC: Do you hope to see The Coalition Chronicles televised? Do you think it would work on TV?
IM: No. The book allows for monstrous caricatures. If you did a TV version, people would probably sue. Unless you did it as a puppet show and called it Shitting Image.
DC: Are some things beyond satire or post-satire?
IM: Famously, there are precisely 47 things beyond satire. But only members of the Royal Institution of Satirists are allowed to know them.
DC: I know that you collaborate with your brother Paul on Martian FM but as I understand it you do the writing. How does writing work for you? In short bursts?
IM: At home, yes. Short bursts. If I’m on a deadline, I try to string loads of short bursts together, like a string of sausages, to form larger bursts. I can’t work longer than an hour without a fag.
DC: Do you have a disciplined approach?
IM: Yes, I think so. Journalistic training. Fill the space, hit the word count and make the deadline.
DC: Do you find it easier to work on a solo project or to collaborate, as I imagine you did on The Thick of IT?
IM: Neither, both.
DC: As The Coalition Chronicles satirises the coalition’s first year were you at any time concerned that it wouldn’t provide enough material? Did you find inspiration where you expected it or did the parliamentary year offer up some surprises?
IM: No, the premise was funny from the moment Cameron and Clegg held the spring press conference and ‘joshed’ with each other. The biggest surprise was that after worrying all the way through that the Murdoch phone-hacking thread was overdone a bit, it turns out that Murdoch was in the end running along the shaft of the Coalition’s first year like a jagged blue vein.
DC: Is satire important and why? Does it have a function beyond making us laugh?
IM: Political satire, you mean? All examinations of political power are worthwhile I think.
DC: Finally, in order to write this book you had to pay attention to some appalling people. Was it worth it? Will you be okay?
IM: Yes, it was a lovely, intense writing period. I liked it a lot. I’m fine.