Wednesday 12 October 2022

A Slice of Cake With... Stephen Hall

Stephen Hall is an Australian television writer, author and actor with dozens of credits to his name. He’s appeared in some 30 TV shows, four movies, two stage musicals, and several Melbourne International Comedy Festival shows. In 2016, he was hand-picked by John Cleese to play the role of Basil Fawlty in the world premiere season of Mr Cleese's play 'Fawlty Towers Live'.

He's also written and run pub trivia nights, he's been a teacher, a postman, a barman, a cleaner, a waiter, a stand-up comedian, a removalist, and - for one torturous afternoon - a call center employee.

In 2005, he appeared on 'Temptation' (the reboot of '$ale of the Century'), and won seven consecutive nights, taking home “The Lot”. In 2006, he won the title of 'Australia's Brainiest Quizmaster', on the show of the same name.

From May 2019 - May 2020 he wrote the first draft of his debut novel, Symphony Under Siege, releasing a new chapter each week online.

He lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and daughter.

What kind of books do you write?

I deliberately write across a variety of genres. Coming from writing TV comedy and light entertainment for the last 25 years, I'm comfortable jumping around from one style to another. 

My first book How To Win Game Shows is non-fiction: a mashup of anecdotes, interviews, 'How To' chapters full of tips and hints... and an autobiographical element, which recounts exactly how I did it. 

My second book Symphony Under Siege is an out-and-out swashbuckling science fiction comedy adventure, which I wrote as a serialised challenge to myself, posting a new chapter online each week for the year that it took me to write it. 

My third book is called 50 Things To Be Seriously Grateful For Today* *and 50 not-so-serious things to illustrate them, and I'm describing it as “a non-fiction book that's chock full of fiction”.

Can you describe your writing why?

I've been writing, or making up, stories and characters and gags to entertain people for as long as I can remember. I loved Creative Writing in school, and decided very early on that I wanted to be an actor and a writer. 

And I have been! For all this time, I have been! How wonderful. You know that saying “Find a way to get paid for something you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life”? 

Well, that's wrong. It's trite, it's simplistic, and it's dismissive... but there's a kernel of truth in it. 
I work really hard at writing. But I'd much rather work really hard at writing – and acting - than ANYTHING else. And, in my time, I've actually been a postman. 

I love writing, it stimulates me. And now, as I draw closer and ever closer to 'official' retirement age.... I'm looking forward to retiring INTO writing my books.

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

Hmm. Maybe this bit from Symphony Under Siege (a flashback explaining how the space pirate captain Salazar Sharp originally acquired his ship) might give you an idea of the tone I'm going for...

Later, Felicity told Salazar about her ex-husband; about his irritating habits, his infidelity, his vindictiveness…
Salazar listened but wasn’t sure why she smiled as she said this.
“… But now,” she finished, “none of that’s my problem! I’m free! Free, free, FREE!” 
Ah. That’s why.
“What did he do?” Salazar asked.
“I just told you.”
“No, I mean for a job.”
“Oh, right. He called himself an Independent Long Haul Consignment Contractor for the FrontierLine Corporation. I called him a stinkin’ freighter jockey”. 
A thought occurred.
“Hey, I don’t suppose you want to buy a beat-up old interworld cargo freighter? I got it as part of the settlement, on this weird condition that if I sell it, I give any proceeds to him.”
Salazar’s eyes lit up. A ship of his own? That would mean mobility, increased earning power… independence! It’d mean an end to schlepping around the galaxy on whatever ride he could scam his way onto. It’d mean a permanent roof over his head. If he had his own ship, everything would change for him. If he had his own ship, Salazar would be free too.
He stopped himself - what was he thinking? There would be no way he could afford an actual ship. Even a beat-up old one. With his finances, buying his own ship was only a daydream, nothing more. 
“How much do you want for it?” he asked resignedly.
“From you? One dollar.”
Salazar stared at her - was she serious? 
She smiled as she nodded.
“… And I’ll be sure to pass that entire dollar on to him!” she laughed.
“Really?” asked Salazar incredulously.
Salazar extended his hand and she shook it.
“Deal!” he said.
“Deal,” she echoed. “This is your lucky day.”
“Oh, don’t I know it!” he purred, as he scooped her up in his arms. She squealed happily, and they kissed again…

Ten days later, on landing platform #8302 of the city’s vast spaceport, Salazar introduced his new (although technically very old) ship to the nine members of his crew.
“What do you think?” he asked, as they all met in the ship’s shabby communal area for the first time. 
“Well, it’s not much to look at,” sniffed Worrell. Karlsen nodded in agreement with his friend. 
“I reckon I could do something about that…” 
“Good, AJ - good!” Salazar enthused. “See, that’s what I like to hear. Positive suggestions!”
Salazar turned his attention to the pilot. “Quinn, can you fly it?”
Quinn looked insulted. “With one arm tied behind my back, Cap’n. It’s a FrontierLine 3183 interworld freighter - they’re set-and-forget. Anyone could fly this thing. In fact, flying this thing is gonna be boring.” 
“I could do something about that, too,” offered AJ. “A few little improvements to make it a bit more interesting...”
“Thank you!” said Salazar. “See? Constructive contributions - that’s what we need.”
“I got a constructive contribution, Cap’n.” 
“Yes, Fletcher?”
“Ship’s got no weapons. I say we fit it out with plasma cannons - four should do it.”
“Good idea,” said Salazar.
“And three destroyer class energy mortars. On each side. Plus we’ve gotta have some SPR seeker missiles; three - no, four. On the port side, and then another four on the starboard side.”
“And we don’t need all that space in the Cargo Hold,” added her pal Gotmund. “We could convert it into a bomb bay.”
“Yeah!” said Fletcher. “And torpedo tubes. We need torpedo tubes. Four. No, five. No six! Six torpedo tubes! And we should also - ”
“Great, great,” said Salazar, holding up his hands. “Lots of good ideas there. Thank you.”
He looked around happily as his First Mate Jiang stepped forward.
“Cap’n,” she said. “Although it looks structurally sound, this ship is old. It’s dark, it’s dingy and dirty, and it needs updating in every area.” 
Salazar beamed. “Yeah! Perfect, isn’t it?” 
“Hello?” came a woman’s voice from somewhere outside the ship.
“Aha! She’s here!” exclaimed Salazar, pulling two bottles of Betelgeusean Firewater from somewhere inside his overcoat. “Come on!”
All hands followed him as he bounded down the gangplank, holding the bottles aloft. 
“Great! You made it!” Salazar said, striding across the landing platform and handing Felicity a bottle. 
“Of course,” she smiled.
“Everyone, this is Felicity,” Salazar announced to his crew. “Felicity, this is… everyone.”
There were polite nods all round.
“Felicity will do the honours of christening our ship with its new name… ”
He paused for effect.
“… the Cheeky Albert!”
There was an unimpressed pause. Then each crew member produced a shot glass from a pocket and held them out, eyeing their captain expectantly.
“‘Albert’? Why ‘Albert’?” asked First Mate Jiang.
“Dunno - it just came to me in a dream,” Salazar said, opening his bottle and trying to remember if he knew anyone by that name. “It just felt right.”
Felicity shrugged and walked towards the ship, as Salazar poured each crew member a shot of the potent liquor. 
Standing before the ship’s bow and brandishing her bottle above her head, Felicity proclaimed “I hereby name this ship… the Cheeky Albert!” 
She shut her eyes tightly and smashed the bottle on the hull, laughing as booze and bits of broken bottle rained down upon her.
“The Cheeky Albert!” yelled the pirates, downing their drinks. 
As the pirates all lugged their bags aboard, Salazar moved closer to Felicity.
“Hey, I just wanted to say…” his tone intimate, “these last couple of weeks we’ve spent together have really meant a lot to me.” 
Felicity smiled uncertainly. She felt faintly embarrassed on the young man’s behalf.
“I have to go now; there’s a couple more people I need to recruit, to round out my crew…” he continued. “but one day, I’ll return.” He looked earnestly into her eyes. “I promise.”
There was a polite pause.
“Why do you want to return?”
“Oh. Erm. I thought you might want - ”
“Nah, I’m good.” 
“Oh. Right. So…” Salazar squinted over his shoulder at his ship and crew, in a way that he hoped looked manly.
“I’d better go. I won’t forget you, Felicity.”
She nodded. “And I won’t forget you, Salvador.”
“ - Salazar.”
“Good. Alright then…” and he gave her a hug that was more awkward than he expected it would be.
He hoped his crew hadn’t seen that. Bounding up the gangplank with an overplayed air of raucous excitement, he boomed, “So, Quinn! Let’s see what the Cheeky Albert can do!”

Tell us about your latest project

50 Things To Be Seriously Grateful For Today* * and 50 not-so-serious things to illustrate them is a very personal book; the 50 Things are all Things that I personally am seriously grateful for (from 'This Morning's Sunrise' to 'Having My Household Rubbish Collected This Week'), and it's my hope that the reader can be grateful for (at least some of) the 50 Things too. 

Having said that, the other half of the book - in this weird hybrid format I've created - allows me to pull out all the stops and return to my gag-writing roots. After each thing to be seriously grateful for, the reader turns the page to find a random gag-filled page that looks like it's just been randomly stuffed into this book – it might be a menu, it might be a comic strip, it might be a crossword puzzle, it might be flatpack furniture assembly instructions.... I've been greatly inspired by the spinoff books by Monty Python and The Goodies and Not The Nine O'Clock News

Only my book isn't ALL 100% gags – my book goes serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly/serious/silly....

Well, you get the idea. 

What is your favourite cake?

Mm, sure. Well, it's pretty hard to go past a great big slice of a good Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cake. There's a lot going on in your average BFC... rich chocolate sponge, whipped cream, kirsch, sour cherries, grated chocolate, (and my favourite one has a crunchy, biscuity base).... but when it all comes together, it's nothing short of Magnificent. I'm salivating right now, just thinking about it. ˶Hurra fűr Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte!” sage ich.

You can connect with Stephen on Facebook:, Twitter: @How2WinGameShow and visit his website

Join me next week when I will be having a slice of cake with Jack King. 

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

You can also support my writing endeavours through Kofi and help fuel the creativity by buying me tea & cake - it's what makes the world go round!

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find out more about her books on her website Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop. Never miss out on future posts by following me

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