“I was just enjoying myself at my party and then it happened!”
Helen Lederer is recounting an incident two weeks ago in which she fell over and ended up in hospital.
In fact, the first thing she does when we speak is apologise if she sounds woozy during our conversation.
She explains she had been hosting a party at her Dulwich home for her birthday the night before our interview had been due to take place and had taken a tumble which resulted in her getting carted off to Kings and a set of stitches in her head for her trouble.
“You do feel as though you are invincible but vodka and fizz – it’s lethal,” she adds laughing heartily.
“The thing is that I don’t drink loads but I’m going to have to make a joke about it - how I got carried off to Kings! I like to find the humour in any given situation….”
Despite her obvious discomfort as we chat a few days later though now thankfully on the mend, she’s on good form, warm, friendly and very funny.
Known for her self-deprecating humour Helen needs no introduction. She is an actress, comedian, writer and now novelist, having this year published her debut comic novel Losing It.
Hilariously funny it is about Millie a middle aged divorced woman, an agony aunt for a magazine, who is in debt, over weight and so desperate to change her life that she agrees to be the front woman for a new diet pill.
Describing it as “mid lit”, Helen insists it is not autobiographical but acknowledges the similarities between herself and her heroine.
“I don’t know many women who haven’t had to face the things she has to,” she says. “Intelligent women who have that whole mother daughter relationship, or losing weight or ambitions to change her body somehow, or divorce – women can relate to that.
“I’m not the kind of person to write an autobiography but Millie is modelled on me as I’ve done everything including trying to lose weight.
“I suppose my concern is to find humour in these situations just as I would find in real life when I get myself into odd situations.
“Of course it shouldn’t matter what you look like but it does.”
Does that depress her I ask?
“Yes of course but it’s the way it is I suppose.
“It’s written to make people laugh,” she adds. “A few people have said they laughed out loud when they read it which is great.
“In fact, people have been very kind about the book – I think it’s because they can relate to her and her journey.”
Helen will be discussing the book at this weekend’s Dulwich Literary Festival, organised by Dulwich Books’ Sheila O’Reilly, and says she’s looking forward to having a chat with her audience.
“The book shop is a really good one and so when they said they were organising the festival and asked if I’d like to be on the list I said yes,” she says warmly.
“They do lots of talks and interesting, exciting events and activities and the line-up is quite special.
“Also it’s in Dulwich and as I live here it’s quite handy.”
For audiences who come and see her it will also be a chance to listen to Helen talk about her long career which has included stints in hit comedy TV series Ab Fab and Bottom, as well as performing as one of the country’s top comedians.
“I will go with the flow and talk about the 80s and 90s and my route into comedy which isn’t conventional and then do a Q&A which can be very amusing,” she says.
“I have got a section with a series of photos of jobs I have done over the years which looks like a duvet cover – it looks rather good and is quite fun. So we can always talk about one of the photos on it.
“Sometimes people want to know about the process of writing or just about what has happened recently in the world I have been inhabiting. It doesn’t matter, it will just be agreeable banter.
“I will of course be talking about the book and will be interested to see if they’ve read it and what they thought."
Given that she has been making people laugh for more than 30 years in a career that has been on both stage and screen not to mention the many scripts she has penned, how did it take so long to write this novel?
“Life,” she says simply. “Life has a habit of getting in the way. I have wanted to write this book for about seven years but things just happen, whether it’s a job or something else.”
And she is genuinely surprised and delighted Losing It has been nominated for not one but two literary prizes.
“It’s delightful but a total shock,” she says. “I can’t quite believe it but just to be nominated is amazing because you don’t go into this expecting it and I’ve never been nominated for anything in my life.”
So what’s next for Helen I ask? Her second novel is being penned as we speak, the first draft of which she hopes to have finished by Christmas, and she is filming Ab Fab in which she has a “small role”, before going up to Scotland to do a “scary thing” of teaching about comedy novel writing.
“I will be open about only having done one,” she laughs. “I will enjoy that experience although it’s well out of my comfort zone.”
And then of course now that she is a fully fledged novelist there are all the literary festival to do.
“It sounds exhausting,” she admits. “But I love it all and don’t like not having anything to do. I like to be busy although a lot of it is about me making things happen.”
And then adds, “so please come and see me in Dulwich at the festival – it’s going to be fun!"
Visit www.helenlederer.com or www.dulwichliteraryfestival.co.uk or call 020 8670 1920 for full listings.