❉ Award-winning comic writer & performer Katy Wix chats about her well-crafted memoir.
“I felt quite creatively frustrated. I really enjoy performing, but you use your brain in a different way for it. I really, really enjoyed writing this. It was studious and quiet, quite an insular process. I just really enjoyed being creatively in charge and being able to create something that had real depth. I was really ready to try to push myself to create something that had artistic value.”
You know Katy Wix, even if you don’t necessarily think you do. As a performer, she’s warbly spectral witch Mary in the hit BBC sitcom Ghosts,. She’s also prickly, uber-efficient lettings agent Carole in Stath Lets Flats. She plays Fergie in The Windsors and for many years she was the hopelessly impressionable Daisy in Not Going Out.
Her list of high-profile acting credits – from Sherlock, Torchwood and Taskmaster to Agatha Raisin and This Time with Alan Partridge – goes on. But Wix is also a gifted writer, a talent she’s honed on the Channel 4 sketch show she made with Anna Crilly, the Radio 4 series Bird Island starring Reece Shearsmith, the out-there short film Lamp Lady with Ellie White, and a pair of acclaimed compendiums of comic monologues for women. Now she’s written an intimate memoir, Delicacy, that details her past experiences with trauma and body image issues. Lyrical, distinctive and powerful, it’s a genuinely impressive, crafted piece of work and about as far from a ‘will this do?’ celebrity autobiography as you could possibly get. By the end of it you’ll definitely feel you know Katy Wix.
Here Katy talks to We Are Cult about the process of writing of the book and the relative merits of acting and writing…
Does writing a memoir come from the same kind of place as the urge to perform?
I think it comes from the same need to create. I felt quite creatively frustrated. I really enjoy performing, but you use your brain in a different way for it. I really, really enjoyed writing this. It was studious and quiet, quite an insular process. I just really enjoyed being creatively in charge and being able to create something that had real depth. I was really ready to try to push myself to create something that had artistic value. That’s what I was longing to do with my life.
Delicacy is subtitled ‘A Memoir about Cake and Death’, and each chapter finds a passing mention of cake within the often intense stories you’re telling. How did you hit upon that as a device?
Actually I was quite reticent about it, because I feel like cake’s this kind of feminised object, and I didn’t want the book to be dismissed as being just for women, or that it was like this soft, whimsical thing. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll use cake, but I want to kind of write against it and have that contrast’. Cake’s kind of the scaffolding, but actually really quickly it stops being about cake!
What kept happening was, I knew the things I really wanted to write about and that interested me. And then sometimes, just inadvertently, a cake would appear in the story and I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s strange – that keeps happening, so maybe this is the right theme’. It only happened a few times, but there are a few chapters where I had to slightly more tenuously make the link back.
I knew that I wanted it to be a slightly unconventional memoir, in that if it just ‘I was born and then this happened to me’, I would have found it quite boring to write.
Were you always clear about what you did and didn’t want to write about? Were there times when you were trying to push yourself beyond your own comfort zone?
It’s so interesting, because I’ve learnt so much about about that. I mean, it helps that I’ve had shitloads of therapy, because I think that if I hadn’t already begun to heal a bit, or if I hadn’t already maybe looked at some things… When you read something and it’s so raw, it almost can be a bit uncomfortable. I didn’t want the reader to feel like I wasn’t in control of what I was saying or that it was sort of trauma porn, that I was just going for it. I wanted for the reader to feel moved but safe, but that it’s not like a cry for help. I’m all right now, and it’s safe to write about these things.
Also, I think I just had a really clear internal sense of what my boundaries were – but then there were definitely times where something would feel shameful and I’d think ‘This is good, this means it’s going to be good to read’. Like, the fact that it feels shameful and difficult means that someone will read this and respond to it. So it’s a tricky balance, I think – good shame, bad shame.
Your writing style here is quite spare and lyrical. Did that flow naturally or was it a process of paring back?
Well, it’s funny. A really dear friend of mine – not a known writer, but really talented and they’ve read many more books than I have – I was really lucky that he read everything. He gave me amazing notes and he really helped me, to the point where I sort of feel guilty that I then get all the praise! But sometimes we would discuss a chapter and he’d say ‘I really think the reader wants more detail here, you’re being too sparse’. When I would look at it, I’d say ‘yeah’. It was usually because I was scared or I was kind of hiding. I think I thought ‘if I don’t put in any detail then I’ll feel less vulnerable’. But actually that was just getting in the way of the story, so there were points where I had to put more detail in.
Sharing your writing with a friend, especially something as intimate as this, sounds like it would be a terrifying step.
Oh yeah, completely. It is strange, I’ve almost become a bit desensitised to it now. But also – this will sound like a weird thing to say – but when I was watching the Meghan Markle TV interview, I was thinking ‘the younger generation, they’re the generation that just say stuff’. Because people didn’t, did they? The Boomer generation bottle it all up. I think that’s maybe a good thing, isn’t it? To be the generation of people that just say stuff and tell the truth – I think that’s good.
What did you get out of the process of writing the book? Did it surprise you in any way?
Yeah, definitely, so much. The biggest thing is – and I mean, I feel embarrassed saying this – but really, for me the whole book is about me falling in love with language and reading. At the beginning I didn’t think I was a good enough writer to pull this off, so before I even started writing it, for the first six months I was just reading, reading. I did a writing course and I read loads, just tried to learn more about the craft. I’ve loved that so much. It’s completely changed how I read and what I read. I feel like it’s changed my tastes, whereas before I think I would have just read whatever had been reviewed well or was selling well. I’d sort of go ‘oh, I’m gonna read that book that everyone’s going on about’, and I wouldn’t be very discerning, I guess. Whereas now I feel like one writer will lead me to the next one, to the next one… That was really amazing, to just fall in love with reading so much.
If somebody said to you tomorrow ‘you’re now a writer, you don’t perform any more’, how would you feel?
I’d love it! I’d love it, I’d love it, But I don’t think I’m good enough to do it and make a living full time. It’s interesting. I think performing comes to me very naturally and I don’t have to think about it too much, whereas writing, I feel as though I have to work really hard for it to be any good. So, I don’t know. They’re both very different parts of me, I think. Hopefully I can carry on doing both. This has definitely given me the confidence to carry on writing.
A cheesy final question, then. Which of your characters would you prefer to have been locked down with for the past year – Carole from Stath Lets Flats or Mary from Ghosts?
Ha! That’s tricky, isn’t it? Hmmm. I mean, Mary’s dead. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Actually, with Carole it would be really funny. Yeah, I think Carole! It’d be awful, but you wouldn’t, like, run out of loo paper. It’d be quite efficient. I think she’d be really organised. I mean, you’d stay in your room all the time with earplugs in, but there’d always be milk in the fridge and she would have made a kind of schedule for the day. Whereas with Mary, the thought of being in your flat and thinking ‘Is this weirdo ghost going to just appear any minute?’ – I think that’s more stressful!
❉ ‘Delicacy: A memoir about cake and death’ by Katy Wix published April 2021 by Headline Publishing Group, ISBN: 9781472261199 (Hardback). RRP £16.99. Available here.
❉ Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for Television. He’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.