Jason Quinn and Jonny Magnanti – creators of “Leeds LS80”
Interview by Hereward L.M. Proops
Booksquawk: How did your writing partnership come about? I'm guessing you guys have known each other for a long time.
Quinn: It was a long time coming about really. Getting on for thirty years really. We were students at Park Lane College in Leeds back in the early eighties. We weren’t in the same class but we did appear in college plays together. In fact when I first met ‘Ginge,’ as we all knew him, I was a bit wary. He had a reputation as a flirt and my girlfriend, Breezey, was very fond of him. And he had a good singing voice whereas I was tone deaf. I thought of him as that lad who sang “On the Street Where You Live” and made good pizzas at Ike’s restaurant. Then, when we both moved down to London, our paths kept crossing. My girlfriend threw me out of the house and I sought refuge at his pad in Ladbroke Grove and after a week or two he was pulling his ginger locks out and sent me to stay with the real life Dunno.
It was around that time back in 1990 that we appeared in an awful play I had written, at a pub in Hampstead. It was shit, and Jonny thought it was shit too. It’s odd but after a lifetime of bumping into each other it took a new millennium to get us to pool our talents such as they are. I started up a jokey blog on MySpace. Jonny read it and liked it and said “Let’s do this together.” He wrote one with the same characters and I was impressed and a little jealous. So we began work on what was to become our first book, which appeared in daily instalments on MySpace.
Magnanti: Jase was too cool for school. At college he was the maverick subversive who put the lecturers backs up. He wrote his own productions and put them on with Spud. The two of them were thick as thieves and I longed to be in their gang. Jase left for London first and me an’ Spud stayed on another year and became friends.
We kept running across each other for years, enjoyed each others company fleetingly and then another huge gap. That’s London I suppose. I remember the play in 1990 well but importantly I remember an evening over a few drinks when we talked through a story, beginning, middle and end. I came away thinking, “That wasn’t so hard”.
I’d always wanted to write but didn’t think I was capable. Jase sent a joke blog and I thought it was hilarious and yes, the proverbial lightbulb appeared over my head and we were off! I would and could not have done it without Jase. He opened a locked box and I will be forever grateful to him for that.
Booksquawk: So far as I can tell, one of you lives in Spain and the other in England. How on earth does that work?
Quinn: We keep saying it would be great if we shared an office, but to be honest, waiting for Jonny’s pudgy fingers to find the keyboard would drive me mad. We generally start the week by plotting out what we think we can write. We have a skeleton outline and we designate chapters to each other. Then when he’s done his bit he’ll send it to me and I’ll rewrite it and cut it or vice versa each adding their own bits. It works well really because even when we disagree with a cut, the space between us gives us time to cool down and think about it. We haven’t actually had that many serious disagreements.
Magnanti: Agreed. Even before Skype it was never that difficult. Only the phone bill was bad at first. We compliment each other very well and we have known each other such a long time that we don’t let ego get in the way. I have a good eye for plot twists and Jason has a really brilliant eccentric out of left field touch.. Our humour and dialogue mix really well. Of course I would get a bit fucked off if Jase cut a bit that I thought was funny but we are long in the tooth enough to not get precious about anything. Importantly we enjoy it and sometimes especially with the Dunno stuff and LS80 we have a right laugh. There’s talk of Jase moving to Blighty and of us sharing an office but the thought scares me. There’s no knowing what he’ll do.
Booksquawk: How much of “Leeds LS80” is based on your own personal experiences?
Quinn: Too much. We’re both present in the book although some of our experiences also creep into the other characters too. While we’ve romanticised our lead character a bit and can’t pretend to know his inner feelings, I think about 90% of it happened to one or the other of us or the people we knew.
Magnanti: Yes, most incidents occurred but were exaggerated for the sake of comedy and laughs. The descriptions of houses, flats, the college and work places I would say are 100%. Certainly our colleagues who were with us at further education college at that time would recognise themselves and that environment
Booksquawk: 90 - 100% real? That's a pretty terrifying thought. So, have either of you ever serviced old women for money?
Quinn: Ha! That was actually an aspect of another lad we both knew. I think, or rather I hope, I can speak for both of us when I say, the old ladies we serviced always refused to pay.
Magnanti: Unless it was for running errands and tending their gardens. That came about because I had a flat behind the college at the time and we had this thought, “What if we’d have offered ourselves up as escorts?”
Booksquawk: The drama teacher Derek Wales is a fantastic comic villain. Without opening Booksquawk up to charges of libel, is he based on a real person?
Quinn: This was always one of the things that spooked us when writing Leeds. Derek is just the sort to read it and sue us after eviscerating us. Let me just say that there are elements of him that are very real, although in fairness, I don’t think he was ever married to a junky prostitute. That said, the last time I saw him, I’d just been expelled from Drama School in London and I bumped into him in a pub and he came over and said, “I always knew you were born to fail. Yeh. Yeh.”
Magnanti: Yes, he was pretty much as we wrote him. Thing is he was a phenomenal teacher. His A level class had a 100% pass rate or summat daft like that. He played up to and really enjoyed his role as pantomime villain and he was a real bugger for the female students.
Booksquawk: What has the reception to “Leeds LS80” been like so far?
Quinn: Mixed really. Of course it was never going to be mainstream. But it really is a case of love it or hate it. When it first appeared in daily excerpts on MySpace we were shocked by how the Americans got it. They actually loved it, and this wasn’t the self interested Authonomy type readership, this was people reading for the hell of it because they found it fun. It’s odd but the only people who say the accent in the book is confusing, are English. Probably the same Englishmen who pretend they can’t understand what Scotsmen are saying. Americans don’t have a problem with accents in books, after all Mark Twain did it way before us.
Magnanti: Spot on from Jase there. It’s frustrating. I can only quote Mr Goldman here and say “Nobody knows anything.”
Booksquawk: There're a number of videos on Facebook of Jason in various states of undress. The character of Sly spends much of the novel naked. Is there a connection here?
Quinn: Ha! While Sly isn’t me, there are bits of me in him… and I’m not talking about my todger up his bum. I did used to do the wandering about naked bit for effect.
Magnanti: And the rest! Please refer back to question 2 re; my fears for sharing an office….
Booksquawk: Which writers influence you?
Quinn: For me it’s got to be PG Wodehouse. I know our stuff is a lot bawdier and childish, yet at the same time, I like to think it has a kind of feel good factor. Sure there’s a Yorkshire Ripper in Dunno’s world, but we know he won’t really get him or his pals. At heart, Dunno is very positive, almost as positive and British as Midsomer Murders, only we’ve got black people in there too.
Magnanti; I’m a dialogue fan. It has to be real. I write my characters from an actor's POV so when it comes to writing dialogue I become the character I am writing and ‘drop’ myself into the scene. The dialogue then becomes enjoyable for me to write. As actors, me and Jase have read some right crap in our time and it amazes me how it ever gets made…people just don’t talk like that! So….I love Elmore Leonard and Joseph Wambaugh, Alan Bennett and PG Wodehouse. American, Yorkshire and upper class twit but one thing in common, superb characters and brilliant dialogue
Booksquawk: Why did you decide to self-publish through Amazon? Do you feel that Kindle and other ebook readers will change the publishing industry?
Quinn: I think the ereader already has changed the publishing industry and incredibly quickly too. Just a year ago I’d have balked at the idea of using a Kindle. Now I can’t do without it. As for why we decided to self publish with Amazon, a couple of key reasons. The first was that I don’t think we could really see a mainstream publisher going for it. They’d insist on taking out the Ripper, the swearwords and the dialect. Sure, for a big advance I’d happily do that, so would Jonny, but it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be our Dunno. It’d be some other c*nt. After its surprise popularity on MySpace I think we just thought, let’s put it out there. It won’t cost us anything. If anyone likes it, great. If not, sod ‘em. And of course the fact that we can make the book as cheap as anything helps too. I think Sly would be thrilled to have a book that costs sixty-nine anything.
Magnanti: I’d like to add something that you touched on in your review Hereward. It’s great that you can put your stuff out there but at this moment it’s still quite difficult to point people in the right direction. There is a lot of wheat with the chaff. The likes of Booksquawk will certainly improve the chances of your book reaching a larger audience but it feels like it is still early days. It’s all about publicity I guess.
Booksquawk: Are there any plans for further collaborations?
Quinn: Absolutely. We’ve got two more up our sleeves already written. One is a kind of follow up to “The Palace of Wonder”, and the other is a sequel to “Leeds LS80”, although really I should say “Leeds LS80” is a prequel to this, because we wrote this one first. It’s got all the same characters in it, Dunno, Ginge, Spud and Sly, only in this one, they’re in their forties, facing the mother of all midlife crises.
Apart from that we’ve got a lucky bag of ideas that we’ll dip into as and when.
Magnanti; Yes, we bounce ideas and stories off each other all the time. The BBC are reading episode 1 of our adaptation of “The Palace of Wonder” as we speak and we work with animators on ideas for Graphic Novels. There are also three Dunno Christmas specials knocking about…when we start on something we start fast and go at a lick. Doing a blog at a time on MySpace was great training because we got a following who would want to read the next chapter practically the next day so there wasn’t time for writer’s block or staring at the walls. More importantly when we get into a story we love it. We have a right laugh and have been known to call each other at crazy hours with some brilliant plot twist or other. It is because of the fun we have working together that has softened the blow I guess on encountering the indifference we have faced so far…I stress ‘so far’ because as a writer it is important that you NEVER EVER give up. (See William Goldman quote in question 6!)