An image of author Gyles Brandreth leaning on his hands in front of a purple background with colourful pinwheels. Next to him is a collage that includes a teddy bear, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes clothbound classic, The Old Wive's Tale and a fish finger sandwich.
21 Questions

‘I’d serve Oscar Wilde my fish finger sandwich’: 21 Questions with Gyles Brandreth

The author of What Goes Up White and Comes Down Yellow? on admiring William Shakespeare, having a close encounter with romance novelist Barbara Cartland, and his ideal writing scenario.    

Writer, broadcaster, former MP, Chancellor of the University of Chester, and wearer of fun and fabulous knitwear Gyles Brandreth has turned his hand to writing riddles. And how he can find the time to do everything in his busy schedule and be so accomplished is a great wonder and cause for admiration.

Following his hilarious What’s Black and White and Red All Over? , which was published in 2021 and came out in paperback earlier this year, Gyles’ new book is filled with some tough brainteasers that will get you scratching your head, such as, what tastes better than it smells? And what has a bottom at the top? Gyles also delves a little into the history of riddles and shares some of the best ways to solve them should you ever come across a riddle that’s super tricky.

To mark the release of What Goes Up White and Comes Down Yellow?, we spoke to Gyles and asked him our 21 Questions on life and literature. Below we learn about his love of fish finger sandwiches, discover he has a teddy bear collection in a museum, and that his new book was inspired by his grandchildren.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

William Shakespeare – because he knows EVERYTHING.

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

My first Rupert Bear Annual.

What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde – a book that (amazingly) I read from cover to cover and inspired my love of language, my love of poetry, my love of theatre, and eventually the seven novels I wrote: Victorian murder mysteries in which Oscar Wilde and his real-life friend Arthur Conan Doyle feature as my detectives.

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

'I most admire William Shakespeare because he knows EVERYTHING'

I host the annual Funeral Directors’ Awards – and I was once an MP.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Mark Twain’s advice: the secret of success as a writer is APPLICATION – 'apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair'.

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

I always feel bad going back to a book when there are still so many I haven’t read.

What’s the one popular children’s book you’ve never got round to reading?

The Harry Potter book series.

If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______

Prime Minister (and there will be some people reading this who will wish I WAS Prime Minister!)

What makes you happiest?

Cake.

What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?

I collect teddy bears and my teddy bear collection is open to the public in The Bear House at Newby Hall near Ripon in North Yorkshire.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

9am to 6pm with no interruptions (no phone, no email) apart from a fish finger sandwich at lunchtime and a piece of cake as my reward when I’ve hit 1,000 words.

'If I didn't become an author, I would be Prime Minister'

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?

I would like to tell you about my close encounter with the romantic novelist, Barbara Cartland, and when I know you better I will…

If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?

Oscar Wilde and I'd serve him my fish finger sandwich: it’s my signature dish. He wouldn’t notice; he’d be concentrating on the Perrier-Jouet champagne.

What’s your biggest fear?

Dying before I’ve written my masterpiece.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Being capable of writing my masterpiece.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

Seriously, Looking for Trouble by Virginia Cowles, a young war correspondent’s account of the outbreak of the Second World War. It’s the best work of non-fiction I know.

Reading in the bath: yes or no?

No.

Which do you prefer: chocolate or crisps?

Chocolate-coated crisps for me, please.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

Today I’ll say The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett. Tomorrow, I’ll give you a different answer.

What inspired you to write your new book?

My seven grandchildren. They all love jokes and riddles. And so do I.

What Comes Goes Up White and Comes Down Yellow? by Gyles Brandreth is out now.

Image at top: Flynn Shore for Penguin

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