In reading about blogging lately, I came across a useful article called 40 instant business blog post ideas and thought it would be fun to insert my own name into the title of one or two of them. Here’s the first. It was great fun to write! I hope you enjoy reading it.

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At first glance, Margaret K Johnson may seem to be quite a complicated, hard-to-pin down mix. She is confident and determined enough to have had a go – three times – at stand-up comedy, and loves teaching, since it allows her to share her passions and to enable others to pursue theirs. But put her in a room where lots of people are talking together, even if it’s a group of her own friends, and she can clam up.

This could partly be due to the writerly practice of people watching, and it is quite probable that Margaret is, in fact, squirreling away nuggets of conversation and observational detail for her books. However, this could also be a simplistic view of the author’s behaviour. Those who have known Margaret K Johnson intimately for a number of years, will be aware of several key reasons for her lack of confidence in social situations, and these have little or nothing to do with her being unfriendly, distant, disinterested, self-absorbed or even downright boring as might appear to be the first impression.

The truth is, Margaret K Johnson has always been shy, and the possession of an overly strict father and a relentlessly teasing brother did little to remedy this situation. Given the additional fact that her mother saw fit to perm the author’s hair in the summer holidays preceding her commencement at senior school, thereby giving her new peers and teachers the impression of Margaret being somewhat poodle-like, it is not surprising that this situation continued into her teens.

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Unfortunately, just as Margaret was finally beginning to settle into senior school and had made managed to make a small group of friends who were prepared to ignore her hairstyle, the decision was made to transfer her to a different class. Although this was because Margaret was doing well academically, it was impossible for her to see this as a reward for making good progress at school. The daunting prospect of having to make new friends all over again, when everyone else had already established their friendship groups, left the author emotionally scarred, even before the unfortunate incident when she mistakenly used the word “pheasant” instead of “peasant” to describe Joan of Arc’s upbringing during a talk to the whole class.

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It is true that Margaret K Johnson ought to be able to move on from these events, and that there is no longer any reason for them to be a part of the fabric of her begin. The author is aware of that she finally needs to address these issues. But in the mean time, should you be due to spend time with Margaret K Johnson, you can take charge of the situation by following these 5 simple steps.

This blog is moving! To read the rest, including the 5 vital steps, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/5-simple-steps-to-take-charge-of-margaret-k-Johnson

Thank you!

Margaret x

 

A surreal night

What do you get when you combine two bickering comperes, performers who have wholly misunderstood the concept of a comedy club and a comedian who persists with audience participation even though all previous signs have indicated that this is at best a bad idea, and at worst, a disastrous one? Answer: an evening at The Redneck Comedy Club in Norwich.

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Those of you who follow my blog will know that I had a go at stand-up comedy as part of my research for my novel The Dare Club. I loved it so much, I had another go earlier this year, taking part in The Funny Women Awards at Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington. Sadly, I didn’t get through to the semi-finals – boo, hiss, sob – but I enjoyed it every bit as much as I’d done on the first occasion, and it was such a buzz to make people laugh.

I’d love to keep performing, because it’s so good for my self-confidence, and a great challenge. As I’ve got a nine year old son, I don’t have the kind of lifestyle that makes it easy for me to obsessively tour around the country gaining experience at various comedy clubs, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out about The Redneck Comedy Club, as it’s local to me. I persuaded a friend to go with me, and off we went to check it out. It turned out to be one of the most surreal nights of our life.

I’m not experienced at going to comedy clubs, so I don’t know whether some of the things that happened are a regular occurrence, but I doubt it somehow. For example, how often are there two comperes vying for the microphone? And do people usually think it’s okay to go up on stage in a silly hat to read out chapter 9 from their steam punk novel? Although incidentally, this was the funniest thing of the night, since whenever the reader in question paused from her reading to offer some kind of a plot explanation along the lines of “Stella had previously been hypnotized in a dark alley” (not what she said, but it’s all a hysterical blur now, so I’m improvising) – the two guys behind me and my friend made sarcastic comments that were so funny I was soon writhing with laughter and fearful for my bladder.

And then there was the final comedian – who made the mistake of asking whether there were any single men in the audience. One audience member piped up, “Well, I’m technically single.” Oh, how that comedian must wish he’d just smiled and moved on instead of asking questions to investigate exactly what the guy meant. Because apparently, the man has a phone app girlfriend. Judging by the way he was speaking, he was very much in love with said girlfriend too, and celebrated the fact that he could change her appearance whenever he chose. He then proceeded to have a kind of breakdown moment, when, hands-to-head, he groaned with sheer horror at the prospect of a real girlfriend “with feelings and problems”. The poor comedian completely dried and lost his thread, getting drawn into what soon became more like a counseling session than a stand-up performance.

All excellent material for something, I’m sure! But will I return to brave those bickering comperes? I’m not sure. Watch this space!

 

Competition Time!

On Tuesday night (29 April), accompanied by my wonderfully supportive friend Sarah, I braved a tube-strike affected London to make my way to Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington and my heat of the Funny Women Awards 2014. I had hoped to be able to bring you footage, but that’s proving to be more problematic than I’d thought it would be. Hopefully I will be able to post it some point fairly soon.

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My one and only other stand-up performance was in May 2013 – almost a year ago, and I did it as research for my novel The Dare Club. Since then, I have been focussing on writing and marketing the book. Besides, I didn’t need to perform again, did I? Those scenes were written now. Surely I didn’t want to do it again? Except that…I did. When I was setting some goals for myself in the New Year, performing stand-up comedy again appeared on my list. Clearly, I hadn’t finished with it. Or it hadn’t finished with me! I needed to try it one more time to see if it was something I wanted to continue with or whether I could say to myself, “You did that. Well done you!” And put it behind me.

So the idea of performing at Funny Women Awards 2014 was born.

On Tuesday evening, Sarah and I allowed lots of time to get to the venue – just as well too, because it took us at least half an hour to find the right bus stop –sorry, Sarah – since I was doing the map reading, I take full responsibility! Finally we arrived – after a fortifying break in a pleasant local park to chill out and fuel up – and went downstairs to the function room. How small it looked after Up The Creek, where I’d previously performed! This was going to make it easier, wasn’t it? Although that empty stage with the waiting microphone was still pretty intimidating.

With both the event organiser and the compère held up by the effects of the tube strike, there was time to chat to some of the other contestants. All of them were really lovely, but also a lot more experienced than me. Gulp!

One woman who was in her sixties and told me that she’d decided the previous November to try comedy because “as we get older, things scare us more, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.” She has performed 18 times since making that decision. Wow! How inspiring. All the time I was chatting to everybody, I felt fairly calm – and excited too. I’d practised a lot, and I suppose I was confident that I’d done everything I possibly could to prepare. I could also vividly remember how amazing it felt the previous May when people laughed at my jokes. I wanted more of that feeling!

The organiser arrived, and the running order was shared. I was up fourth out of nine contestants – the same position I’d been in last time! Perfect. I was wearing the same outfit I’d worn on that occasion too. Note to self – find another outfit, or that one may become your ‘lucky’ outfit, and what will you do if it a) wears out, b) is in the wash or c) you change shape and it doesn’t fit anymore?!!

 All systems were go.

 

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Funny women Contestants, Heat 1, Ryan’s Bar 29.4.14. Me on the far right.

Sorry, contestants 1, 2 and 3; I was watching you, but I can’t remember too much about your acts. Except that the woman before me played a character that was very loud and very Australian. She seemed a very formidable act to follow on from, especially as she ended her act with a joke about chlamydia – something I was about to make a gag about myself…

Then suddenly the compère was announcing me and it was time to go on. Like before, it seemed to take me an age to take the microphone from the stand and to move the stand behind me – I definitely need more practice at that – but then I was turning to say ‘hello’ and plunging in. And finding that, although the venue was small, I COULD SEE ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY IN THERE. At Up The Creek, the lights were so bright the audience was completely invisible. Not this time. I could see who was laughing. And who was not… Also, with fewer people, when there was laughter, it was inevitably not as loud as it had been on the previous occasion. My left hand – the one holding the microphone – was shaking. I just hoped no one could see. Luckily, my voice was not, and I pressed on, remembering all my jokes – hurrah!!!

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Spouting lies about ex-husbands.

 

Then the microphone stopped working.

 

Cold panic. It was a bit like my first driving test when I got to a busy crossroads to find that the traffic lights were out. What the hell should I do? The only thing to do in this situation was to carry on, so that’s what I did. Fortunately, people could still hear me because the venue was small, but I did feel very alone and vulnerable without the mic and it was a huge relief when it began to work again.

 

I got to the end and experienced that same amazing buzz when everybody applauded. I’d done it! Yay! And now I could sit back and enjoy the other acts. Everyone was amazing, and there was so much variety. Fortunately we weren’t in competition with each other at that stage – any of us – or none of us – could be picked to go through to the semi-finals in July. There are 12 more heats to go, and around 60 women will go through to the semi-finals. So, it’s a case of wait and see now. But whatever the outcome, I’m so glad I did it, and I know now that I definitely want to do it again. So I’ll be walking round everywhere with a notebook to jot down things I think I can use for material, and Googling to find opportunities to perform.

Watch this space. And do be funny and inspiring if we should happen to meet up. I promise not to mention any names.

 

 

Stand-up and Abseil Down

I’m doing it again!

I’ve signed up to take part in the Funny Women Awards 2014, and my heat takes place on Tuesday 29 April – the day after my birthday – in Stoke Newington, London.

“ You’re so brave. I could never do that,” is a common response when I share the news with people, but what I suspect they’re really thinking is “ARE YOU COMPLETELY OUT OF YOUR MIND?”

Time will tell. When I performed stand-up the last time, it was as part of my research for my novel The Dare Club – I wanted to experience it so that I could write authentically about someone finding the courage to do it. Here’s the link to see me performing on that occasion at Up The Creek in Greenwich. But this time I don’t have that motivation – I’m doing it for the pure pleasure of it. Yes, pleasure – because the feeling of achievement afterwards was completely amazing.

This time it will be different – I have to deliver a 5 minute set. Last time it was 3 minutes. There will also be a competitive element, and alas, my mate Sharon can’t be there to film me and offer me support. I tried to convince her it wasn’t too far to come back from Mexico where she’s going to be on holiday, but she wasn’t convinced.

Anyway, I have some new material to add to some of the stuff I used last time and I’m doing a lot of practising in front of a mirror with a hairbrush microphone. (Or a pepper mill, depending which mirror I’m using).

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The stand-up heat will be one event in an exciting week for me – on Thursday 1 May I’m on Future Radio in Norwich, chatting about The Dare Club and how it has inspired myself and my friends to set up our own dare club! Our first event is a 20-metre charity abseil on 21 June in aid of the charity Keeping Abreast. If you’d like to sponsor us, we’d be very grateful! Click on the link here.

 

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The setting for our Charity Abseil on 21 June

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Checking out the venue

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Join The Dare Club!

Drum roll please ….Today’s the day! The Dare Club is published!

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For this book I have scared myself stupid swinging through the trees high up in the forest canopy at Go Ape.

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I have also done something I never imagined I would do in my wildest dreams – I actually went up on stage and performed stand-up comedy! I know, I said the same thing too – “I could never do that!” But I did, and there’s a YouTube clip to prove it!

Watch me performing at Up The Creek in Greenwich here.

So join Aleysha, Nick, Colette and Emma as they attempt to scare themselves into forgetting about their problems. Will it go smoothly? Of course not! But they’ll have a lot of fun trying!

And as a special bonus to celebrate the launch of The Dare club, my novel The Goddess Workshop is available for 1 week only for the bargain price of 99p! That’s until 11pm on Sunday 1 December.

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What have daring things have you done? I’d love to know!

Margaret X

www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

 

Music Wars and angst-ridden poetry – laughing at my teenage years

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I’m taking a few weeks’ rest from novel writing while my son’s on school holidays, and in between trips to the park and clearing out his playhouse, my head has finally got some space in it. Yay!

As some of you will know, back in May this year, I performed 3 minutes of stand-up comedy in London as part of my research for The Dare Club – the novel I’ve been writing. If you’d like to see me in action, here’s the link – Margaret Johnson does Stand-up at Up the Creek, Greenwich.

It was an amazing experience, and one I’m keen to repeat some time. Now my head is temporarily free from my characters’ conversations, I’m hoping that ideas for more material will come to me, and I’ve been thinking about my teenage years because I think they’re ripe for poking fun at.

I wasn’t someone who rebelled very much, but I was in the habit of shutting myself away in my room to write angst-ridden poetry. I thought these were works of art, but of course, they were terrible. My brother and I tried to drown each others’ music out in our neighbouring bedrooms – he always won, since he was into Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath and I was into Elton John.

Later on, I graduated to people like Ian Drury. One of my favourite  Ian Drury tracks – Plainstow Patrica – started off with a shocking string of obscenities. Whenever I played it, my mum was guaranteed to want to get to the airing cupboard which was in my bedroom.

Sometimes I think about the future – will sing-alongs in old peoples’ homes be different then? Will we be singing songs by Ian Drury and The Sex Pistols instead of Daisy, Daisy and Down at the Old Bull and Bush?

I hope so!

www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: Margaret K Johnson Author

Twitter: @margaretkaj

My Stand-up Comedy Challenge Achieved!! Yay!

I did it! Last Tuesday night I went to London and performed my 3-minute stand-up comedy routine at Up the Creek in Greenwich in front of an audience of around 200 people! I’ve been waiting to tell you about it until I had the footage, and now I can reveal all!

Those of you who have been reading my blog regularly know that I set myself this challenge as part of the research for The Dare Club – the novel I’m writing about a group of newly divorced and separated people who set themselves challenges as part of their recovery process. My character Colette is going to have a go at stand-up comedy, so I had to do it. I don’t feel the need to try out all my characters’ dares – after all I have got an imagination. But I really felt I needed to experience the terror of this particular one.

The day started at The London Theatre with a 1-1 with Harry Denford, the comedian who delivers the course. Feeling nervous, I ran through my material, and Harry suggested I cut some things and change others. I wasn’t entirely sure I agreed with everything he said, but hey, I’m the rookie – he’s been doing this for 20years or more, so I took his advice. Then we ran through it again, focussing on how to perform it so that the audience was involved rather than just being recited to. The session finished with him telling me that the other comedians were meeting in a noodle bar near Up the Creek at 5.45pm. “Look for a group of people who don’t look as if they should be together,” he advised me. “All sorts of people do this course.”

I went to Greenwich to look at the outside of the venue. It seemed surreal that later on I would be performing inside! But I didn’t feel tempted to flee to the nearest station to get the hell out of there. It had been far too difficult arranging childcare etc for that! Besides, I wanted to see what I was capable of.

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I killed the rest of the afternoon by alternately taking in the sights of Greenwich and practising my act in toilet cubicles. Close to the Cutty Sark, I spotted a man walking round talking to himself. “I bet he’s one of the comedians,” I thought, and sure enough, when I approached a group of people in the noodle bar at 5.45, there he was.

I made myself eat something and exchanged nervous chatter. Then all too soon it was time to go. I loved the inside of the comedy club, but all those empty seats were daunting. The other comedians had invited between 20-40 guests each! Mad! I’d invited 1, my mate Sharon, who I met when I went on holiday to Cuba. She had promised to film me doing my act.

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Harry told us all to have a go on stage, to practise going on and off and looking at the ‘audience’. The lights were so bright, you couldn’t see anything! How the heck was I supposed to choose someone to deliver my punch lines to? Then we went upstairs to a room dominated by a picture based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, but with the faces of 1980s comedians replacing the usual cast. Julian Clary looked particularly fetching.

The Comedy Last Supper painting

The Comedy Last Supper painting

After a long wait and lots more angst and practise, Harry announced the running order. I was to go 4th, after a guy who looked like a younger Colin Firth. I was happy with 4th – not 1st, but not having to wait too long. Good.

Then it was time to go downstairs.

The place was packed out – not a spare seat! Sharon was at the front with her video camera. It was real – it was actually going to happen!

The chairs for the performers were arranged around the back of the club. It was a bit like one of those hairdressers where you don’t need an appointment and you keep moving round until it’s you turn. But when I got to the last seat, I couldn’t sit down. I was too pumped up with adrenalin. Just before the MC announced my name, I did a few jumps and arms wings, limbering up. I expect I looked like a prat, but that was the least of my concerns at that moment.

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Then it was time. And amazingly, a feeling of calm settled over me as I went up the steps to the stage. We’d been told to take the mic out of the stand and to put the stand behind us. I did so – it took an age. But then I looked out at the invisible audience, said ‘hello’ and dived in.

Ok, it wasn’t perfect.

I didn’t have the mic quite in the right place to begin with so I started off a bit quiet.

I forgot to include one of my jokes, which meant the one that preceded it didn’t work quite so well.

Because I’d made some cuts, my routine was slightly short.

But I loved it! People laughed and it felt amazing. I didn’t want it to end. And when total strangers congratulated me at the bar later, I just felt so proud of myself. All the next day, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt transformed. Who’d have thought that I, who’d once been so painfully shy I couldn’t speak up in front of people at all, could actually go up on stage and entertain a large crowd of people?

I whole-heartedly recommend the experience to everyone.

If you’d like to see my performance, you can view it on YouTube by clicking here. But be warned, it contains swearing, lies and smut, so give it a miss if these are likely to offend you!

Would I do it again? You bet your life I would! In fact, I need to seek out opportunities to make it happen.

And Colette? How is she going to get on? Well, she’s going to have a mixed experience. She’s got a particular reason for wanting to do this challenge, and because of that, she’s going to choose to ignore some of her tutor’s advice. So it could all go horribly wrong for her… Well, it’s fiction, isn’t it? I can’t give my characters a completely easy ride.

Watch this space!

The Dare Club will be out later in 2013. It is the follow up book to The Goddess Workshop, which is available on Amazon now.

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Available for Kindle and in paperback from http://www.amazon.co.uk

 

Coming later in 2013!

Coming later in 2013!

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: Margaret K Johnson Author