Archive for August, 2009

Little Ideas

31,August, 2009

John Scalzi’s wonderful science fiction blog, Whatever, has a section called Big Idea, where authors discuss the idea that sparked their novels.  I submitted an essay for Big Idea but John said that since Shadowmagic  is published in the UK that his American readers would find it too difficult to buy it (even though it’s sold through Oh well, Whatever’s loss is Gratuitous Socks’ gain.

Here is my essay   Little Ideas.

Paperback cover 3

Little Ideas

There was no Big Idea for Shadowmagic, just a lot of little ones that added up.

I have always loved first person narratives about a serious situation where the main character keeps his/her sense of humour: Corwin in Nine Princes in Amber, Jim diGriz in the Stainless Steel Rat and (even though, John, I read your book after I wrote Shadowmagic) John Perry in Old Man’s War.  For my first Little Idea, I wanted to create a character like that.

My second Little Idea was to try and create a book that would be as captivating for my 12 year old son as Roger Zelazny’s Amber series was for me at that age.  While writing Shadowmagic I spent half my time trying not to just transcribe Nine Princes in Amber – hopefully I succeeded.  What I did take away was a first person character that was transported into a fantastic situation where he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.   The reader learns at the same time as the character.

Little Idea three, came from a video game I used to play on the Atari ST – Dudgeon Master.  DN had an interactive map that only revealed new areas of the dudgeon after you found them.   The idea of a land that appeared fully formed only after the rightful king found it was a big part of the first plotting of Shadowmagic.  As the book became fully formed, that idea almost disappeared.  But if I can give a reader just a tiny experience of the feeling I had, in the wee hours of the morning, as I screamed at the sight of a giant dungeon rat appearing on my monitor – I’ve done my job.

Four, Macbeth.  Don’t worry folks, there are no thys and forsooths in Shadowmagic but the idea of a character that allows a soothsayer’s prophesy to shape their life -only to find that the prophesy was completely different to what was expected – has always intrigued me.

Five, and this is a biggie, was a play I saw, years ago, in a little theatre in Cork, Ireland.  It was called Women in Arms and I don’t even know who wrote it.  It was a play about a group of people who told stories from Irish mythology to keep their spirits up.  From that I learned of the ancient Irish texts like: The Tain and the Ulster Cycle.  Stories, that I think, put the Arthurian stuff to shame.  Through my love of Irish mythology I found the myth from the O’Neil clan about how the Red Hand of Ulster came to be on the flag of Northern Ireland.  Telling it would be a spoiler but trust me – it’s a good one.

Six, I wanted Conor, my main character, to realise that his father was much more than he thought.  I’m a dad- cut me a break.

Lastly, I wanted it to have humour.  I make my living as a stand-up comedian and humour is literally my life.  I’m a firm believer that there is no situation so dire or so tragic that still doesn’t allow or need a good joke.  It gets me in trouble at funerals sometimes but I still hold firm to that philosophy.

I wrote Shadowmagic just to see if I could.  I didn’t even expect it to be published but the response I have received from it has been amazing.  It’s given me faith in my writing and (if I may be overly dramatic) it has changed my life.  I won’t make that claim for you readers but I’m sure you will like it.

John Lenahan


Product Description from

A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different. Conor thought he was an average teenager. OK, so his father only had one hand, spoke to him in ancient languages and was a bit on the eccentric side but, other than that, life was fairly normal. Until, that is, two Celtic warriors on horseback and wearing full armour appear at his front door and try to kill him. After that, things get pretty weird. Shadowmagic is a fantasy adventure for young adults (although grown ups will like it too). Written by one of the most popular magicians in the country it brings a fresh approach to the genre and will have a broad appeal beyond the fantasy sections.

About the Author
John Lenahan is a popular TV magician who became the first person in 85 years to be expelled from the Magic Circle. He has had a prime time BBC1 TV show called ‘Secrets Of Magic’ and also a BBC2 series ‘Stuff The White Rabbit’. He was the voice of the toaster in ‘Red Dwarf’ and has made guest appearances on numerous variety shows. He has toured with Jack Dee, Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood. Shadowmagic was an award-winning podcast novel prior to being signed to Harper Collins

Have a look at Shadowmagic’s  reviews on

Danny & Me

29,August, 2009

Britain’s finest broadcaster, Mr. Danny Baker was kind enough to have me back on his BBC Radio London show to promote Shadowmagic.

danny baker

Have a listen here if you missed it and then never miss another one of Danny’s shows again.


Shadowmagic in Harrods

28,August, 2009

I had a book signing event in the Waterstones Bookshop in Harrods today.


I sold out the allotted books in under two hours.


Man am I good at this selling stuff.  I even sold two books to people that didn’t speak English.

John L

A lovely piece of dialog.

26,August, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a program that I refused to watch because of it’s obvious banality.  My then young son wanted to watch it but we as concerned parents wouldn’t let him.  Then, as my wife and I were driving in the US listened to a highbrow arts review program on public radio, the presenter astonished us by claiming that Buffy was the best show on TV.  So we gave it a go and you know what?  They were right.  Humour, suspense, pop culture satire, subtle right of passage metaphors – this show had it all – along with a great cast and courageous writers and producers.  (They did one episode were no one talked and another that was a musical.)

I know I’m either preaching to the choir or to those who will never see it since it finished half a decade ago but I was reminded about how wonderful the show was when I happened on it today while channel flipping and I heard this lovely piece of dialog:

“You have to have patience.”

“I tried patience but it took too long.”

Today and tommorow.

26,August, 2009

I’m on Danny Baker’s Show today (Wednesday Aug.26) on BBC Radio London 95.5  at 4:00 pm  and tomorrow (Thursday)I’m sighning books and performing magic in Harrods.  In their Young Adult Book section. (That’s a floor above the Waterstones book section.)

My other favourite Comedy Store open spot moment.

25,August, 2009

My other favourite Comedy Store open spot moment happened the very next weekend after the standing O night.  A man, who was older than the normal want-a-bees, spoke to me before I went up to introduce him.  He told me that he had some things to set up and that I was going to have to cover while he prepared the stage behind me.

“How long?” I asked.

“About 15 minutes.”

It was pushing 3 am and I had been on stage between every act since 8 – I told him that he had three minutes and that was being generous.

I jumped on stage and heard the sound behind me of big things being dragged and nails being driven in with a hammer.  I didn’t turn around.  The crowd started laughing and I had fun asking audience members to describe what could possibly be going on behind me.  The whole thing must have lasted for almost ten minutes before he whispered in my ear that he was ready.

I turned and was completely shocked to see that he had built an entire New York City skyline out of plywood – complete with windows and a five foot tall Empire State Building.  I turned around and said “F*%# me!”  I couldn’t help it I was that surprised.

I introduced him (sorry I can’t remember his name) and he stomped onto the stage to the soundtrack of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York.  I say stomped because on his feet he was wearing three foot long rectangular wooden boxes painted to look like Cadillacs.  While Frank crooned he hopped around doing a ridiculous straight legged dance that the audience seemed to enjoy.  Just as the choreography was getting, old the lights dimmed and all of the windows in the New York skyline – lit up.  The crowd loved it.  As the song reached its famous crescendo, “If I can make it there…” the lights dimmed even more and the headlights of the Cadillacs lit and started spinning – disco style – in the front of his box shoes.  The audience went absolutely wild.

After the show the Comedy Store manager Kim Kinny said to the guy, “This is not really our kind of act but I can’t ignore that response.  Call me and I’ll book you in for a regular spot.”

The guy replied, “No thanks, I’m not interested.  I just wanted to see if I could do it.”

A legendary act – then poof – he’s gone.

Oooh, more people saying nice things about Shadowmagic.

21,August, 2009

Sanity has returned, Shadowmagic is no. 24

20,August, 2009

OK, it looks like sanity has returned.  An hour after telling everyone I was the no 4 – Most Read Book This Week on  Word must have gotten back to the Bookarmy website programmer.  I can imagine him spitting Doritos as he shouted, “What the…”

Bookarmy logoSo Shadowmagic is now no. 27.  Still pretty respectable me thinks.  The two above me are: Lovely Bones and Slaughterhouse 5 and the two below me are:  The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Enders Game.

I’ve never read Lovely Bones but the other three are some of my all time favourites.

There is still time to sign up for bookarmy and rate your favourite books – hint hint.

No. 4 baby!

19,August, 2009

According to the four most read books this week are:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

How cool is that!

John L

The Comedy Store’s Only Standing O

11,August, 2009

I did a gig this weekend at the 99 Club in Leicester Square.  As soon as I walked down the stairs into what was once described as an “underground car park,” the memories flooded back – and not all of them were pleasant ones.  The 99 Club is in the same venue as the legendary Comedy Store.  In the 80’s and 90’s The Leicester Square Store was London’s top comedy club and as The Store’s biographer pointed out to me, I compered (MC-ed for you yanks) there more than anyone.

All of the comics for this weekend’s show were young pups in their 20s.  When they finally figured out who I was, I regaled them with old stories about The Store in its heyday.   Now you have to realize that I worked there with almost every great comedian that that generation produced in the UK.  Eddy Izard, Robin Williams, Jack Dee, Julian Clary, Jo brand, Mark Thomas, Charles Flitcher, Bill Hicks, Emo Phillips, Denis Leary, Mike Myers, Harry Hill,  Bob Mills, Bill Bayley,  and a zillion other great comics that you may not have heard of.  But in all of that time, I told them, I only ever saw one standing ovation.

Compering a weekend at the Store was a grind.  One show on Thursday and two shows on Friday and Saturday.  By the time the proper Saturday night midnight set was finished, it was 2:30 in the morning – but the show was not over.  That was when the Open Spots started.  Anybody could then get on stage and try-out a five minute set – anybody.  It was a snake pit.  In those days The Store was one of the few places in the West End to have a late liquor licence.  Most of the audience was there just for the drinking.  And since the Tube shut down at midnight, they were drunks that didn’t care how they got home.  Almost every comic of my age will tell you a tale of the crucifixion that they received in front of an audience that 300 years earlier would have been called a lynch mob.

One night a short young man with a mop of sandy hear waited in the dressing room.  He stood out from all of the other soon to be slaughtered hopefuls because he wasn’t at all nervous – he almost seemed sedated.  When you spoke to him his eyes focused through you at something behind your head.  His name, I remember, was Tony he said he was an impressionist.  His only request was that there was a chair on the stage.

I introduced him and the audience, upon seeing him, actually settled down a bit – so un-human was his countenance. He placed on the chair a piece of paper that had his act written on it (that’s why he wanted the chair) and did his first impression.

“Nice to see you, nice to see you nice,” he said doing a god awful impression of a famous old school British TV host.  (For you Americans it was the equivalent of someone saying “We have a really good shew,” badly impersonating Ed Sullivan.)  The audience at once realized two things: first that this guy was really, really bad and secondly he didn’t know he was bad.  It had been a long ,rough night.  Even the professional acts had had a tough time with this audience.  The crowd was drunk and tired and they did something that I never saw an audience do before – they instantly and collectively – took the piss.  They broke into a round of cheering and applause that was louder and more enthusiastic than any of the paid acts had previously received on the night.  It went on for so long that Tony had to hold his hands up to quiet them down.  His next impression (and I kid you not) was Jimmy Cagey.  “You dirty rat.”  The crowd went wild!  He continued with about five more really horrible three word impressions of mostly dead celebrities like, Tommy Cooper,  “Juzt like that.” And when he finished the audience – as one –stood and started chanting his name.  It was the cruellest and funniest thing I had ever seen.

I got on stage and tried to introduce the next open spot but the audience wouldn’t sit down.  They continued to clap and chant, Tony, Tony!”  I finally had no choice but to bring him on for an encore.  Tony wandered back on stage, with his rabbit in the headlights stare, placed his piece of paper back on the chair and… he started over again with the same impressions. The crowd went absolutely berserk!  He went through his entire set again and I had no choice but to bring him on a third time.  He would have gotten another encore if I hadn’t stepped on stage (tears where now on my cheeks from laughing so hard) and told the audience that they “should be ashamed of themselves.”  We cancelled all the rest of the open spots and ended the show – there was no following that.

Afterwards Tony seemed completely unaware that anything unusual had happened.  He was as blank as he had been before he stepped on stage.  Kim, who was the manager of The Store back then, spoke to him and said, “I have no idea what just happened up there but I’ve never seen a reaction like it, so I have to book you – call me.”

Tony left and never did call.