“I wanted to represent scruffy bookish women”

Comedian, Performer, Writer & Broadcaster

Josie is one of the country’s most critically acclaimed and well-loved comedians. She has been performing stand up since the age of 14 and has garnered numerous awards since, including the prestigious Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe. Apart from touring the world with her stand up she also presents Short Cuts on the BBC and co-hosts the Book Shambles podcast with Robin Ince on The Cosmic Shambles Network.

So the reason that I wanted to make a costume that was a cape of books, and with a home made cape of books, and the reason that I wanted my superhero to be fairly low key and fairly natural is I wanted to represent the idea that…I wanted to represent scruffy, bookish women who like to self-educate, and the power that exists in knowing who you are and being that and not giving a damn about other people’s opinions of what that might mean.

So when it comes to the books that we put onto the cape, I wanted to have female authors as well, I wanted to represent people having their own individual voice and being strong enough in their own shoes to broadcast that. But strong enough in yourself to kind of have your own voice, and so that for me is what it represents: it represents telling your story in your own way and that way’s allowed to be as ramshackle and scruffy as you want, it doesn’t make you less powerful.

The Neapolitan novels

This is a t-shirt I was given which is a reference to the Neapolitan novels, the very sad shoe factory, of course, you’ll all know it. What really grabbed me about the Neapolitan novels, I think, was the sheer mastery of the writing: they manage to achieve so much and speak so thoroughly about female experience in this way that I’d not really identified with before. On top of that, they’re, like, Dickensian in scope and wonderfully easy to read, like, I’ve never read things that are more deeply nourishing and literary and smart but at the same time you’re like, oh my God, what’s he going to do next, oh, he’s such an arsehole!

Also, it’s just such a wonderful portrait of the complex friendship you have with someone over 50 years of your life and of really closely relating to another person as a friend, I thought it was marvellous like that. It understands people and it writes about them in a way that is both really page-turnery and really high end, so I really liked it.

Where to start reading Vonnegut

You should start reading Slaughterhouse Five; it’s like when people go…I think they’re scared to start with the obvious one, but Slaughterhouse Five is such a great introduction to Kurt Vonnegut and it’s just a real banger of a book, it’s such a tight piece of writing and it’s so affecting and funny in places, and brilliantly written and a really good example of what he’s like, so I would always say start with Slaughterhouse Five. I’m quite controversial in so far as I don’t like Breakfast of Champions, it’s like my only one of his that I don’t really get on with. A lot of people start with Breakfast of Champions, that’s initially what I tried to read when I was 18 and I went, oh, I don’t like this, so Slaughterhouse Five, I would say, even though it’s like, “oh, what’s your favourite crisp?”, “ready salted”. Sure, it seems like the route one option, Slaughterhouse Five, then I would say, anything else is great, like Cat’s Cradle, Galapagos, Time Quake, Hocus Pocus, the short stories are really fun, you just can’t go wrong with him apart from Breakfast of Champions which I do not think is his best.

Discovering new writers through Book Shambles

What I loved about The Secret River is I found the evocation…I don’t really read historical novels very much, it’s not something…I suppose I’ve read, a friend of mine got me a couple of the David Mitchell ones that sort of do expansive different historical things, but I don’t read that often that kind of thing, I mainly read things about people being sad in 1950s America, so it was exciting to me to read a historical novel but not just that, it managed to be so evocative and so political. I felt like she really, really made you aware of the crushing nature of poverty and how thin and few your chances were against, kind of, the brutality of it and stuff like that, and I was just amazed at how wonderfully that was written in. As well as, just in terms of a descriptive novel that created a world. I thought it did it in such an accomplished way, it was wonderful, it really, I just…I loved reading it. I find, like, there is always this tension because you want to read things that are literary novels that will tell you things about life and so sometimes that makes you feel guilty when you’re really, really enjoying something because it’s telling you a really lively descriptive story. But I thought it managed to do that and still felt like a really moving and important thing that talked about really big political issues like colonisation and racism and poverty and all these things…and it managed to talk about these things with the depth that they need but also be really interesting, talking about, like, food they made which I really like.


Visit the exhibition at Conway Hall until January 31st where you’ll be able to purchase a limited edition comic book featuring all the interviews and images. Or alternatively order online by emailing superhero@cosmicshambles.com