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Because I Don't Know What You Mean and What You Don't

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The book is a collection of snapshots that range from romantic to rousing, dystopian to hopeful, satirical to gut-wrenching.

Even if they’re recorded, “they’re just gone, they go… [Whereas] I do feel excited about the prospect that maybe in ten years people might read [these] and be talking about them,” she says. And I expect a lot of readers will come to this for Long's voice and viewpoint, and will be more than satisfied. I loved the little glimpses and vignettes into different worlds and different lives, but if anything the common theme seemed to be a huge underlying anxiety.

Josie's stories are like her comedy - beautifully observed, strange, good-hearted, unsettling and truly funny. Some of the sheer random whimsy may have been edited out of her work over the years, but what hasn’t gone is Long’s essential warmth, heart, and earnestness. I would love to see the ideas and characters in this story expanded into a novel in their own right - I was fascinated by what their back-story was, and would have enjoyed a longer, more satisfying narrative arc than the short story form allows. Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility.

I've been a Josie Long fan for years, and when I learned that her first book was going to be a collection of short stories, rather than a my-life-in-twelve-lessons-memoir-polemic (as we've seen from so many comedians over the last decade or so), it felt so right: Long's work on Book Shambles and Short Cuts, alongside the Radio 4 plays and micro-budget films she's made, feel suited to this genre, and certainly influenced by it. It was weird because I did it to myself but I think it must have been something I needed to do so that was a really interesting experience. I think that’s where it’s like standup because in a show I try and note little details to make it richer.The walls were made of paper and in the story someone makes the mistake of trying to put up shelves and discovering ‘this is just plasterboard, this is not a wall’ and I did do that. I loved London, but I also felt like London wanted me dead,” Josie Long tells me, with a seasoned comedian’s ear for a pithy line.

It's thrilling, and leaves so many questions that I want to go back to some of them and learn more and see how things turn out for them. From a woman who sees an ex-partner on a poster and defaces it, to another inundated by online gossip and gripes, to a guru slash influencer slash con-artist, these are all fractured individuals who are “just about managing” to deal with relentless reality. Gaslighting, coercive relationships, social media, one-sided friendships, regrets, classism, obsession, unrequited love, escaping the rat race, and the horror of parenting children in a modern world are all brought to life in these short snapshots into the lives of everyday people.But how does she feel instead about the fact that these stories are fixed, unchangeable from now on? We zoom into someone's life, stay with them for a short period and then fly off to see someone else's life. It’s the kind of speech that could easily have come from a media-trained left-wing politician rather than a comedian. I see Because I Don’t Know What You Mean and What You Don’t as Josie’s lessons in love, but love in the broadest sense; familial, parental, platonic as well as romantic. While Vanhoenacker takes us on fascinating journeys to Brasília and Cape Town, Liverpool and Jeddah, this is not just a travelogue of the cities in which he lands.

There is a point in one story, “Volunteering”, which is wryly askance about Long’s now double career. Because I Don't Know What You Mean And What You Don’t is due to be published next year, with publishers Canongate saying: ‘Each tale paints a life in miniature and offers an escape chute from the catastrophes of modern life. Radio 4 regular Long was the first woman to be nominated three times for Edinburgh Comedy Award (in 2010, 2011 and 2012) and has previously performed nine UK tour. And later I would carry around this black ring binder full of my stories, like someone might think ‘oh, this 12-year-old has got things to say, oh great she’s got it with her’, but I never finished them.I’m hoping it will mean when I come back to writing a new show it will give me more strings to my bow there because you don’t ever want to get into a rut, creatively. The stories were mainly the soft thought provoking type, with a lot of interiority and reflection, not too much on the comic front. One mixed blessing is the strong influence of Raymond Carver, most clearly in the deliberately unwieldy title of the collection and the echo of 'A Small Good Thing' in Long's 'A Little Dirty Thing'. And between gigging, she’s also spent a decade presenting BBC’s award-winning mini documentary series Short Cuts, hosted a parenting podcast with her partner and fellow comedian Johnny Donahoe, and co-founded Arts Emergency, a vital charity helping young people into creative careers. I hadn’t heard about the author (and stand up comedian) Josie Long before seeing this as an audiobook on BorrowBox, it sounded interesting so thought I’d give it a go.

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