An evening with Dawn French at Falmouth Book Festival
15 October 2021
This story was written by Falmouth University Professional Writing MA student Jon Cox.
Dawn French was at her captivating best as she talked about her new book Because of You on the first day of the inaugural Falmouth Book Festival on Wednesday.
In an intimate fireside chat format, the comedian, actress, presenter and writer, Dawn French, brought showbiz glamour as well as her much talked about new short grey hairstyle (the best in the house, she joked) to a full Princess Pavilion.
With a wicked sense of humour, French naturally worked the crowd with anecdotes good-naturedly lampooning the publishing and television industries, the audience as well as herself as she opened the inaugural Falmouth Book Festival. Even after some levity, and she referred to her new book Because of You as a bitter-sweet story for grown-ups, she was able to bring the house down just with a cheeky smile or her famous chortle. Her interviewee, Mary Morris, artistic director of Arvon, subtly guided the event along with French generally bossing proceedings.
French came to fame in the 1980's with her best friend and long-term collaborator Jennifer Saunders. They appeared in Channel 4's The Comic Strip Presents, part of a new wave of alternative comedy, which also launched the careers of Rik Mayall and Robbie Coltrane. The two friends later wrote and starred in French and Saunders. French then went on to star in Murder Most Horrid andTed & Alice and made a guest appearance in Absolutely Fabulous, before The Vicar of Dibley solidified her status as a national treasure.
Writing a 'strange and messy experience'
Prior to the publication of her new novel, French sold an estimated 20m pounds worth of books in the UK alone. Despite her commercial success, French harboured doubts about her writing ability, worried her success as a writer was a result of her status as a celebrity. She was thrilled to bits then that Because of You was longlisted for the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction, seeing it as an endorsement of her writing ability by the literary establishment.
French referred to writing as a 'strange, old, messy experience' but one she liked, particularly enjoying the development of characters, where her acting experience helped.
French admitted she got into writing by accident. She published an autobiography in 2008 after an unauthorized biography by tabloid journalist Alison Bowyer left her livid. Dear Fatty (the Fatty jokingly refers to her friend Saunders) was followed by three novels, A Tiny Bit Marvellous (2010), Oh Dear Silvia (2012), and According to Yes (2015). In between, she published a non fiction book Me. You. A Diary (2017).
A Tiny Bit Marvellous was greenlit for an ITV comedy-drama series but was shelved as French became unhappy with the treatment, which veered too far from the original.
French referred to writing as a 'strange, old, messy experience' but one she liked, particularly enjoying the development of characters, where her experience acting helped. She writes at the same desk, using pencils (a sharpener was about as high tech as it got, she joked), and particularly liked gifts publishers would send her if they wanted to publish her books.
Pride in her position at the University
French is also, of course, chancellor at Falmouth University. She said she was particularly proud of her association with the university and how she could use her leverage for its benefit. Students provided additional lifeblood to Falmouth.
She finished off the evening with a hilarious anecdote about taking the job – saying she only took it because the University agreed to her demands for ginormous mayoral jewellery and a funky student-designed outfit.