Updated: Apr 11
Academicfahn on writing, running a website, and "the Lads!"
Ever since I discovered Foil Arms and Hog back in May of 2020, I have considered the lads to be my three Irish muses for all things creative in relation to writing. And I think this photo (my absolute favorite of all time) could act as a visual representation for this creativity because it so aptly captures their emotional and comedic range. You can see it all there, or at least I can. As a writer, I've wanted to create new visions of FAH on the page; that is, of the men themselves, but also characters that resemble FAH, but are of my own creation. I've experimented with a range of genres and styles since I started writing about FAH, from analytical to fictional (and no, I had never written any fan fiction before FAH.) Suffice to say that FAH, in their role as muses, have provided exceptional and varied material for me to think and write about over these last three years. Likewise, running this website has offered a wonderful platform to showcase my own writing, but also the art and creations of others. I've loved adding to the community and supporting other fahns in their artistic endeavors. And that is why I created the annual FlAsH Fiction writing contest, now in its 3rd year. Writing has always been about joy for me; it is a way to fall down a rabbit hole of ideas for each new project and that is very rewarding.
For this series, I've interviewed a range of fahn artists, but never anyone who focuses on writing. So, I decided to try my hand at examining my own work, but with a different perspective: I would get other fahns to ask me questions about my writing or anything else they were interested in hearing me discuss. I received a total of 58 questions, quite enough to cover a range of topics. Out of that total, I've chosen 22 questions that I believe offer an interesting and balanced interview.
Twelve lovely fahns responded to my call for questions. I am not naming the fahns who contributed, but suffice to say I am very grateful to each and every one of them for their kindness in thinking about questions for me. I don't believe it's easy to generate thoughtful questions for someone - I've learned this firsthand interviewing FAH - and I have to say that some of the questions surprised me, while others I expected, and still others really made me think. It goes without saying that this is going to be a long interview, so strap yourselves in and let's go!
I’m curious to know what your biggest writing dream is?
The first question in this category was also the very first question I received after my call out and I really love it! Ever since, I've been thinking about it. This fahn asks (I'm assuming) what my ONE biggest writing dream is, but I actually have two writing dreams and it is hard for me to separate them because they both sit in my heart and I want them very badly. One may be easier than the other, in the long run, but they will both take lots and lots of time and energy if they are to come true.
Okay, here goes. Writing dream #1 is for my book on Emma Frances Brooke to be published. Now, this would require writing it, but I've been researching and writing about this author since 1999. Part of my PhD dissertation was devoted to her most famous novel, A Superfluous Woman (1894). And I've since published several articles and encyclopedic entries about her life and writing. At one point in my academic career (in the not too distant past) I had a press who was interested in publishing a book on her, but that never materialized. So, here I am with the dream still intact and it has not come to fruition.
Dream #2 is to publish a detective fiction novel based on my original FAH novels that I've written. I've even got brand new names for the lads; it took me ages to come up with these and I still don't have a suitable name for Arms. Sigh! The writer's dilemma! I just can't seem to come up with a name for him that works, though I've tried lots of possibilities, including: Jimmy, Robbie, Eoghan, Hugh and the list goes on (any fahn suggestions?) I'll share here the names I've chosen for my new characters so far. I've dropped the nicknames/stage names: Foil becomes Avery Nash and Hog becomes Max Hope. I already have two Avery Nash stories in their beginnings. He is my favorite evolved FAH character and the one I've spent the most time developing. So, it would be wonderful to someday publish a detective fiction novel that I could dedicate to the lads who started it all!
Does anyone else in your family write?
The short answer is YES! I come from a family of academics and professors. In my immediate family, all of my siblings do some kind of writing, either creative or academic. In my extended family there are many professors/academics and creative writers. So, writing comes to me naturally, I guess.
And do your family and friends read your work?
The short answer is NO! My family does not read my creative or academic writing. Honestly, I'm not sure I would want them to read anything either, but they've never shown any interest in my work. I have a few close friends who read my creative writing and even fewer close friends who have read my academic writing.
What is the longest amount of time you have spent on research for a particular aspect of a story, to then go on and use the least amount of that research in the actual story?
I found this to be a really fascinating question. I do A LOT of research for all my stories and I had to really think about what I've researched and then not used much of or none at all. I wrote several chapters for FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1 concerning a relationship with a woman Foil actually falls in love. Part of what he loves about her is her independent spirit. As a character, I wanted her to be an adventurer and a flyer, so I had to do a lot of research on women flyers and what kind of freedoms women had in the 1930's - 1950's. I gave this material to a friend outside the fahndom to read and she didn't like it so it didn't make it into the novel. At the same time, I also wrote two chapters about a real church in LA called St. Cecilia's and I had to do a lot of research on the building, plus research on Catholic nuns in the 1950's. These chapters also did not make it into the first FAH novel, but when I wrote the convent chapters for Red Ribbon Murders some of that research came into play for that plot.
Often I do much more research than will ever make it into the story, but I feel that the research that I do informs the story eventually. For example, when I wrote Heroin and Hell for the FAHnArtChallenge in October 2022, I did a huge amount of research on what kind of drugs can or could have been shot into the arm veins in the 1950's. I also extensively researched how a body responds to heroin, how someone experiences withdrawal from the drug and what happens systemically to the body. It really mattered to me that I got these details correct because I thought it would make for a more believable narrative.
Writing about the past means that I have to research all sorts of subjects, including neighborhoods and I've found that photogrpahs are excellent tools for this sort of information. Also, pictures from the time period of dead bodies are helpful to shed light on how police and detectives handled all kinds of murders and forensic details (if applicable.) I really love to research all sorts of subjects for my stories because I want them to be authentic to the time period.
What is your favorite piece that you've written so far and why?
Oh, another very tough question, indeed! I talk below about six very loved pieces (or excerpts) of mine. One that I did not include was my most recent novel that I gave to FAH: Heroin and Hell. I wrote this for the 2022 #FAHnArtChallenge. Here it is in one of my all time favorite photos that I have of the entire crew! And you'll see my novel in Foil's hand. This picture was taken on November 16, 2022 by Arms after the meet & greet at their Milwaukee, Wisconsin show (he sent it to me over Instagram messaging.) They're also holding mugs that I had brought for them especially, as a thank you for the interview the previous month. But back to my favorite piece of writing. Certainly, at this point, the novel was by far the most favorite piece of writing I had done for some time. I really was able to immerse myself in the story every single day (though ultimately it took me longer than a month to write) and I just really liked the plot that I created. It was gobs of fun and and because I had to use the word assigned each day for the challenge, I actually found myself shaping the story around the words themselves. This was an entirely new way for me to write and I really enjoyed that process.
How long does it take you to write a poem (from the first ideas to the finished piece.)
I thought this was an interesting question. Since I'm writing "flash" poetry and this is inherently short, it often takes me no more than an hour to put together a poem. I've never timed a creation, but I would say that the hour's time is pretty standard. But sometimes it can take me longer, especially if I'm trying for a certain sentiment or feeling. I have to get into a writing groove - a state of mind. I have to go somewhere else and find the inner core of the poem in my heart. I feel my way forward with the poetry I write. I am not a mind writer, but a heart writer. I think this is true of my short stories and novels as well. It might even be true of my academic writing, but far less so.
On the FAHn website
How did you come up with the name academicfahn?
Such an excellent question!! Well, I had to go back and see if I made any notes about this. Nope. What I remember is that I wanted a domain name for my website that captured the essence of what I am: an academic and a fahn of Foil Arms and Hog. I also really wanted to make sure that my domain name was a unique one and could be a .com and not a .org or a .net or something else. Any domain name - if at all possible - should be a .com (at least in the U.S.), so that it is easily found. But I don't remember fiddling around with this for too long. Honestly, I think - like many moments in my life - this just came to me and materialized in my brain. And it works! I can hear Foil now, "you would be surprised at how little we worked at that" and in this instance that is a very true statement.
What were your aims and objectives when you began the website, and are they being fulfilled?
Another fabulous question! I wrote a blog about this very topic, which I published on July 23, 2020 (along with the entire website), but it is definitely worth a revisit to think about again. I hoped to create a site that fahns could use as a source of information for many topics to do with FAH. I knew I wasn't going to be able to cover everything about them, but I wanted a website that helped fahns understand who FAH are as comedians and artists. When I began the project there was nothing like what I envisioned and there still isn't (almost) 3 years later. I also wanted a place for other fahns to have a voice to showcase their own insights into FAH and their comedy. Of course, everything that I published had to be seen by FAH and liked. I was very lucky to be able to send them the published website and have a conversation with Foil in real time. He asked that I change a few things and he also asked that I take some information down. I did everything that he asked because their approval of the site was incredibly important to me. When Foil wrote that I had their "trust and backing" that is because I worked very hard to create a site that was true to FAH's values of integrity and respect.
I would say that the website has very much fulfilled my expectations! Both Arms and Foil have read parts of the website (not so sure about Hog), including the blog posts and the detective novels. And fahns have had opportunities to showcase their art, their ideas, and their insights into and about FAH. I hope that I have helped and am helping to create a community of thinkers!
On FAHn Fiction
Where do you get the inspiration for your stories?
Phew! This is a hard, but totally worthwhile question. I think it is easy to talk about this subject in a shallow way or to bring in platitudes but I took this question very seriously. Of course FAH offer a ton of inspiration; as I mentioned above in the introduction, FAH are my Irish muses. But beyond FAH? Well, that's a bit tougher to figure out. Sometimes ideas for fictional stories come to me in a flash of inspiration - like they literally pop into my brain and then if I like what I'm thinking about, I usually write it down in my phone so I don't forget and can return to it later. Other times, I might work a snippet of an idea into a longer story, like I did for Heroin and Hell. The Prologue was originally part of the first novel I wrote, FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1.
When I'm out walking with Pudge or even running errands, I try to take notice of what is around me, including listening to people talk or seeing a particular place that strikes me as interesting. For example, one day I was out and parked near an alleyway. I took a picture of it because it felt gritty and old and I thought it might be a place that my FAH detectives would find themselves. Definitely the physical environment of a place can be inspiring. But not all moments of inspiration have to be grounded in a place or what I see. When I wrote Saints FAH: A Medieval Fairytale, my inspiration for that was a conversation that I had with a fahn friend concerning my own poetry.
There are certain subjects that I'm drawn to for my detective fiction stories, such as kidnappings, drug addiction, murder (of course!), and the brutality of men towards each other and women. And a lot of inspiration for these subjects comes from my own research. Maybe I will find an interesting detail or fact along the way and that can turn into a new story or it can be added to something I'm already working on and take that piece in a different direction. In a more immediate sense of inspiration, I am definitely influenced by my own academic training in 19th century British literature. As well, I have a love of children's literature and fairytales, so no surprise there that I've taken on these genres when writing fahn fiction.
My most recent bit of inspiration occurred on a plane, as I was flying from Florida to Chicago. The television in the seat was set to ONLY sports and I watched several polo matches. I know nothing about polo - the horsey kind - and I suddenly thought, this would make for a very good story with my FAH detectives (though I'm trying to write this as an Avery Nash / Max Hope story at the moment.) I currently have three chapters of what might turn into a novel. I've had to do A LOT of historical research on polo in the United States, specifically polo in California in the 1950's. It's been an interesting journey so far. I've recently begun to also examine women's polo in the U.S., an altogether sexist history and one that I am planning on including in the novel as well, in various aspects and characters.
So, really inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere for me. And once again, that is the fun thing about writing. There is always some new path to venture down and explore.
When writing fanfic, are your characters as you would imagine the lads in that situation, or are they your inventions using the names: or what percentage of each?
This is a really fabulous question! And the answer is that the lads' characters have evolved almost entirely into something of my own creation. When I first started writing my novel FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1, I wanted to include as much identifiable information and characteristics of the lads as possible - their stage outfits, phrases that they had used in particular outros or in Patreon live streams, or subjects in their sketches. But to create truly engaging characters that have longevity and reader engagement it is not possible to continually base my FAH characters on the real people solely, so I began to add descriptions to their characters that I felt reflected the personalities that I wanted them to display in the stories.
Also, I decided early on that I would turn their personalities upside down. In real life Arms, for example, is a bright, sunny, happy person. But my Arms character became a dark, brooding, mysteries man who loved blues music and nursing a glass of whiskey. Foil, who is this kind, gentle, open and genuine person in real life became a womanizer in the novels who was what I call a "man of action" and who would rather save a life than talk about his feelings. Hog, the clown of the trio, became this stable family man who has a soft spot for children and the helpless.
However, even though I have made some drastic changes to their personalities, the "essence" of the men are at the heart of the characters. Like the real men, my characters show a high integrity for truth, justice, and respect of people who matter (especially women - I have to get that feminist twist into all my stories.) They are also willing to acknowledge defeat, to say when they're wrong, and to change their ways. So, I don't really think of my characters as having a percentage of the lads' values, but I have deliberately made my detective characters into heroes and very good men. I guess I see FAH this way too, so I would say that my characters are reflections of them on a basic level.
I think this response of Foil's to a particular moment in FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1 says it all for me about the essence of the men themselves that I try to infuse into my FAH fictional characters:
"Also, the lads learning to appreciate and respect the women a little bit more. No harm there!!"
This comment surprised me because I knew Foil was really reading the novel very carefully and closely. But it also made me know that I had written characters that reflected the men themselves and their values about people, especially women.
How did you come up with the idea of "FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1" and "Red Ribbon Murders?"
I knew I wanted to write a detective novel about the lads and I wanted to set it in a time period that I also thought might be interesting to research. I decided on post WWII and Los Angeles, mostly because I didn't know much about the city. I considered other cities, such as Chicago or New York, but those didn't appeal to me. It never occurred to me to put FAH in the present time period and it also never occurred to me to write about their sketch characters. I only wanted to write about them, but I was super nervous when I sent the first links to the novel off to Foil. I really wanted his blessing about the entire project and when he received the first chapters he wrote:
"Wow, this is bloody brilliant!!! I've just read a bit so far but it is totally sucking me in. You've put so much creativity into this. I LOVE it!!! There's so many lovely little 'bits and bobs', I got a good laugh out of their motto! Mildred is a fantastic character! And I love how Foil got his nick name. This requires a proper read, but it's so well written it a pleasure to read it. I don't know what to say really, other than it's great and thank you so much. A few years ago when we were trying to come up with plots for sitcoms we toyed with a detective agency. But didn't really develop it. This has so much to it and the noir vibes add so much too. Brilliant!"
And then later, he explained: "Using our stage names only makes it all the more fun to read!!"
I have to say that FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1 evolved as Foil read it. I knew he was reading it, as I was writing it, so I beefed up his character in a way that I might not have if he wasn't so intimately involved with the project. I wanted a recognizable name for the agency and chose Swine's and then offered a backstory for why that name came to Arms. It was interesting to get (sporadic) feedback from Foil as I went along. In terms of the plot itself, Warehouse 1 is a real building in LA and the Frolic Room is one of the oldest bars in the city (several chapters are devoted to it and Hog's character goes there to play cards and win), so it was really fun to incorporate those bits of LA history into the plot. And a kidnapping, importing poached endangered animals, and the Irish mafia just seemed to all fit together. I'm amazed now at how much plot material I squeezed into 47,168 words.
Red Ribbon Murders came about a bit differently. But some of the same parameters remained: LA in 1954, but this time I focused on Hog and his wife, Laura, who I had already introduced in the first novel. I literally had an inspiration one night to start writing about Laura and Hog's marriage. Then I wrote the chapter about Hog receiving the first key on the red ribbon, then the next chapter about Foil and his aunt Eleanor, who is a Catholic nun. The next chapter was about Arms and Ruby and then I also knew that I wanted to incorporate Mildred more because she was and has been the most liked character that I've created so far, outside of FAH. Everyone has said that they like Mildred. At this point, I am up to 55,347 words with absolutely no end in sight.
How long did it take you to finish "FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1"?
I wrote this novel (or novella, as it really should be called) in three months: from mid-July 2020 - mid-October 2020. I didn't tell FAH about it or send it along to them until mid-August.
How did you get into setting up the FAHn fiction writing contest?
From the beginning of running my website I really wanted to have a writing contest, but it took me quite a bit of planning and organizing to get it up and running and off the ground. I wasn't sure what kind of writing I wanted to focus on at first, but choosing "flash fiction / poetry" works, I think, and it has the added benefit of being able to use the F and A and H visually, as well. FlAsH fiction - how lovely is that?! An actual genre of fiction that people write and publish and it just happens to also promote the very Irish comedy sketch group that we all know and love! It was just perfect.
I started working on the first iteration of the contest in October 2020, for a launch date of May 2021. As well, I had to get FAH on board and that took some time and prep to reach out to them and to get them to commit to the project. In the second year (last year) FAH couldn't be involved because they were too busy, but this year (2023) they've already committed to contributing the prizes to the winners. And there is a little extra FAH surprise in the works too that I hope to be able to share in April, just before I launch the contest and open up for submissions in May.
On the FAHndom
Talk about one or two things about the fandom that really took you by surprise.
I thought this question was super interesting and I've been thinking about it a lot ever since the fahn sent it to me. There are definitely two things that I know I can talk about. 1) I was very surprised by the vast artistic abilities in the fahndom. The first #FAHnArtChallenge in October 2020 was simply amazing and showed me how creative everyone was who liked FAH. Being a part of this fahndom was the first time that I felt at home with my own creativity (I have never been in a fan community before.) I was surrounded by so many people with an interest in tackling FAH's work from various angles and artistic visions. But there wasn't nearly enough writing for me, so this is another reason why I created the writing contest, just so I could encourage more fahns to dig deep into their creative hearts and try their hand at some fahn fiction.
2) I was surprised by the country diversity in the fahndom and how easy it was to connect to people through social media, something that I hadn't done much in the past. My world at the beginning of the pandemic had been very full and then suddenly nothing. I was without a social connection. I was cut off from community and it was very hard. At the time I was living in Cambridge, England. I had been going out all the time, I was involved with a choir, I was performing and then nothing. Bam! It all was gone. Being a part of this fahndom put me into contact with people across the world in a way that I had not ever experienced before and this made me feel like I was and am somebody. To say I'm a fan is one thing, but to say I'm a FAHn is quite another. This means that I am somebody special, part of a community of people who are not just devoted to this Irish sketch comedy group Foil Arms and Hog, but we are connected by a common appreciation. We are an alliance. We are different, unique, and bound together by our weird devotion to these three Irish guys, who are themselves quite weird, quirky, and form a community of their own.
The uniqueness and creativity of the fahndom is epitomized in something that Foil wrote to me back on October 19, 2020: "The lockdown has seen so much happening in terms of art / articles / edits / novels! / etc it's so amazing to see this community come together and I'm really taken aback. I'm prouder of that than anything we've created directly like a video or a live show."
On Foil Arms and Hog
How did you find FAH and what made you want to start a website and write about them?
I've talked about this before, but I first found FAH on May 5, 2020. They showed up on my Facebook feed and I laughed. The laughter came effortlessly and I thought, "hey these guys are funny" and I watched a few more sketches. But I didn't really take the plunge down the FAH rabbit hole until after the George Floyd murder on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That murder changed so much in the world, while changing nothing at all. But it was utterly depressing and I found that I needed some relief from all the horrible news that was going on in the U.S. and around the world. I had recently created a professional website for myself and as I began to do research on FAH, just out of a purely personal interest, I thought it might be fun to create a fan website devoted to some aspects of their career. I wrote a brief "history" of their comedy career, gathered their interviews together, created a page devoted to just FAH and a media page directing people to their social media sites. And writing about them and their sketches was a natural offshoot of my interests in their comedy. It was a lot of fun to use my academic skills and apply an analytical framework to their sketches.
Have the lads ever said anything to you or given you some advice that has always stayed in your mind?
Yes. Foil gave me the following piece of advice about my first detective fiction novel, FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1:
"Just a suggestion by the way but maybe you should put the link to the book in the main navigation bar at the top of your site? It's such an amazing creation I feel it deserves pride of place. You could possible swap some other title into the 'more' section? Just an idea! "
This advice really meant so much to me because it was incredibly kind and thoughtful. And I did take his advice. But this also meant that Foil wasn't just thinking about the quality of the writing and the story, but he was also paying attention to my website and my potential audience of readers/fahns.
Have FAH seen your work and how did they respond to it?
Yes, FAH have seen my work. I've been very lucky that Arms and Foil have both read my analytical essays. I heard from Foil that Arms had read "Arms as a Modern 'Daddy'":
"And by the way Arms also loved that article on the modern Daddy too" [September 21, 2020.]
Foil (as I've said before) has read all of FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1, commenting on the various aspects of the novel as he read along. Here is one of the final comments that he made about his experience:
"Ahhh I can feel the excitement and tension rise in anticipation!!!! Hoping to finish it tomorrow. Thank you so much! So much fun to read a book that you star in!!!!"
Foil has also read a fair amount of my FAH poetry and he's heard me sing. FAH started to follow me on Instagram on October 15, 2020, after I published a song that I had sung a cappella and posted for the first #FAHnArtChallenge. The fact that Foil commented on my singing made me so happy! In his messages to me, he wrote:
"What a wonderful voice! Beautiful, such a lovely song to use. Feels really old style and was very relaxing to listen to. You must have trained vocally, lovely! Thank you!"
[October 26, 2020.]
I don't think Hog has ever read anything I've written. I remember that he said as much when I interviewed him the first time in May of 2021. But Foil did encourage him to read the first fahn fiction novel. Maybe in the future; I can certainly hope that Hog will read something, at some point.
Which of the lads do you think dresses the best and why?
A very interesting question! The best dressed lad, in my utterly humble opinion, is Hog. He is always wearing something incredibly stylish and suave, especially when the lads are on tour and are out and about in a city. He comes across as very well put together and up on the latest fashion trends. And he is not a man afraid to wear bright colors. I really love this about him. Even when he's just wearing a t-shirt and basic trousers, he looks presentable. There's just something very confident and charming in the way he wears his clothes.
Which lad surprised you as being the chattiest?
These two questions stumped me, until I thought about my own interactions with the lads and my interviews with them. I would say that Hog has surprised me the most out of the three. In the interviews he is definitely "on" and very interested in the questions and in responding and being engaged. Hog is, however, given a run for his money by Arms, who is also very chatty. Foil, on the other hand, is more quiet than I expected and in both interviews he has struck me as the most reserved.
In person, the lads are reversed (for me.) Hog is uber quiet and doesn't seem to know what to say to me. Sometimes he has a sort of "deer in the headlights" look when I've approached him. Arms is the chattiest and Foil comes in second, unless I'm talking to him alone (see below.)
Which lad is the first to alter the script?
I honestly wasn't sure what was meant by this question. But let's stick to the interview dynamics and I think it works. When all three lads are together, it is Arms who is the first person to veer away on his own tangents in a conversation. And it is super hard to get him back on track.
I don't believe that there is any other context in which I would know about a "script" proper, so I think that this question would apply only to my own interview interactions with the lads. When it's just Hog and Foil, then I would say Hog, absolutely, veers off script and goes on his own train of thought and away from the original question that I asked. Foil is slow and steady and, from what I can tell, never veers and is, in fact, the one person who keeps the lads on track and focused on me, the interviewer. Although Arms has also been known to get us all back on track too!
Again, in person, the lads are in reverse. Hog sticks to doing whatever the other two lads do. He is not one to strike out on his own with me, at least, and have an independent conversation. Arms could go anywhere and say anything at any time and does. And Foil is pretty straightforward and consistent. But when I've talked seriously to all three lads in person - asking them for interviews or to be involved in the FlAsH fiction contest or handing them presents or talking to them about their show - they all have been very attentive and listened to me. There is no going off script then, it's just all about my time with FAH and for that I'm very grateful.
Why did I choose these particular pieces of writing for this interview?
I've always asked the fahns who I've interviewed to include 5-6 pieces of their favorite art that they will then discuss and examine, from their point of view, in detail, giving readers an insider's perspective about their choices and creative process. And now it is my turn to do just that!
In the last (almost) three years I've followed FAH, I've written A LOT of material about them and like so many before me, I found it hard to choose from the vast array of pieces that I've created. I've gone with things that I really love and go back to read over and over again. I've chosen 6 pieces: two poems, two excerpts from FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1 and my two excerpts from my favorite FAHnalysis pieces, which focus on the FAH sketches, Border Control and Chairheads.
I’ve written 75 FAH related poems [two for songs I sang] since October 1, 2020, all of which have ended up on my Instagram account (where I feel most comfortable sharing my written work with others) and sometimes, but less frequently on my Twitter account. Poems have also been posted occasionally to the FAHn FB page. Some I’ve sent directly to FAH (that would really be Foil, who then has passed on respective poems to Arms and Hog), but most have never been read by FAH at all. Foil commented on a few of them and responded to me very early on when he was still writing messages to Patrons on Patreon (2020/21), but mostly my poems have been read by FAHns.
The first poem that I've included is my all-time favorite, which I wrote on March 28, 2021 after a live stream on Patreon with just Foil and Hog [March 25, 2021.] None of us knew where Arms was, but we were reassured that he was fine. I got a very good reaction from FAHns about this poem and that made me really happy. I adore all the melding rhymes and the final lines have always made me laugh. Imagine comparing Foil and Hog to Aristotle? Well, it all works for me.
The fourth time I saw FAH live was in London on April 29, 2022. I met up with a few fahns and we all went to see them at the Apollo. The meet and greet was absolutely phenomenal because it wasn’t a formal one, but an impromptu gathering of a group of us and some stragglers who just happened to see Foil and Arms come out to greet us (alas, no Hog.) I had the opportunity of having a fairly long (or at least for meet and greets) conversation with Foil and Foil, alone! This was the poem that came out of that meeting and I really love it – again, the last line is the best for me. Of course, it’s not exactly evident from reading this poem that it is about Foil, but the reference to the Apollo theatre is a little bit of a hint. Plus there is actual evidence that this really did occur! I'm grateful to Gimme that Please (or J, as most know them) for taking this brilliant picture of us on the night.
There are two moments in FAH and the Case of Warehouse 1 that took a long time to write and that I really labored over for various reasons. I've excerpted those here and I'll talk briefly about each one.
The first excerpt is from Chapter 30: Foil's Revenge, in which Foil and Alice try to escape the menace of the man with a scar, who is simply out to kill anyone in his path. All three of these characters are in Warehouse 1, on the fifth floor and Foil has just rescued Alice from a locked room.
Foil moved swiftly hugging the wall and bringing Alice along with him. She felt almost like she was flying, but her feet were touching the ground. And then they both heard shouting behind in the dark, and Alice knew that the man with the scar was coming after them. She almost fainted then and there, but Foil’s grip on her hand kept her going. He knew they had to find some kind of shelter on the warehouse floor, and stay hidden. Now, he had to make some split-second decisions. The door to the stairs was too far away to reach and he knew the man behind him, no matter who he was, would be close to them in moments. He risked everything dropping Alice’s hand and taking his flashlight out to seek a place to hide. It was their only chance of survival, for he knew the man would kill them both. In the light that he flashed quickly around him, he saw a large shipping container just to his left, and he dove for that dragging Alice along with him. There was only time to crouch down in the darkness behind the container and hope that it was enough of a shield to protect them from whatever or whomever was coming after them.
. . . . . . He gestured to Alice to stay behind him and he moved along the side of the shipping container, holding his gun at the ready. This was not a time for “think first, shoot later.” This was a time for shoot now and shoot to kill. Foil rounded the corner of the shipping container with Alice close behind him. He was tense, but driven by a desperate need to get to the stairwell and now with the blaring lights every movement was dangerous. A bullet whizzed past his head then, and he dove to the concrete floor, hitting his chest hard and almost losing his breath. Several more bullets followed as he scrambled to keep himself and Alice out of the man’s firing range, moving in and out of shipping containers. He couldn’t see where the bullets were coming from, but he knew now that they were spotted, their deaths imminent if he couldn’t get them out of there. Dropping behind a shipping container with Alice on the ground next to him, he could hear her breathing quickly, her fear palpable. But she held herself in check, and followed his lead. He crawled along the floor to another shipping container and moved behind it with Alice, holding her by the arm and keeping her close to him.
My insider's author information is that this scene (which I really love) is based on the Chris Hemsworth film Extraction (2020). I've linked the trailer here for anyone who is interested. The film isn't that good, but the scenes of movement, Hemsworth holding a gun and bringing a young person along with him, perfectly capture what I was trying to portray in Foil's actions. Sharp, distinct physical male prowess and power, but with a sense of abject danger and fear was what I hoped for on the page. I think I succeeded because this is what Foil said when he read this chapter:
Ahhhhh I'm gonna, die, I'm gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!! Thrilling stuff, thank you! And I'm so delighted that the fahns are loving it so much and awaiting each chapter. It's all just so great!!! :)
I had watched the scenes with Hemsworth and the young boy character over and over again to accurately describe the tension that existed with Alice and Foil in these moments of terror as they move around the warehouse floor, trying to elude the villain who is after them. I told Foil about the film I had used when he was reading and this is what he wrote:
"Extraction sounds awesome! I probably would have given it a skip beforehand but feel it now simply must be added to the list!"
The second excerpt I'm including here is from Chapter 33: Ethics of a Kiss, in which Arms is presented with a heart conundrum. What does it mean to kiss his long lost love, Rose, who also turns out to be the criminal mastermind at the helm of the kidnapping / murder case that the Swine's detectives have been trying to solve up until this point in the plot. As they are standing together, squaring off, Rose, also known as the "Empress" declares, "you were always in my heart, Arms." It's a very erotic moment and I worried what Foil would think when he read it, but I guess I'll never know because he never said anything!
Her radiant auburn hair fell in ringlets around her face, and he was again back in that wheat field in the California sunshine; lost in this reverie, he let himself dream, and his mind wander for a few brief moments before he called himself back, once again organizing his brain into rational thought. It wouldn’t do him or his friends any good if he let himself succumb to her at this point in the case. No, he needed to crawl out of this mire, and get his shit together. Suddenly, the hand holding her gun fell to Rose’s side; he registered this movement, understanding instantly the choice that she was making and how his own life was about to change. Arms looked into her green eyes and knew that he was going to kiss her. She did not withdraw; she didn’t even move away from him, as he touched her face, brushing her curls with his hands softly. Her eyes were open and they looked into his with something akin to passion. He calculated every movement that he made as one too many, but she did not move away from his touch. And then their lips met and he could feel her body completely relax and lean into his. He knew he was heading over the cliff into an abyss from which he could and never would return; she had given herself to him one more time; they had traversed in one instance that grey and amorphous place of pleasure and pain that had plagued their relationship from the beginning. He felt her lean into his solid, masculine body; his was a male force into which she poured herself as if she were some kind of hot, pliable plastic. And he accepted that this moment, this strange surreal moment would remain seared into his brain forever and that no matter what happened with the case, he knew he would never regret kissing her.
Here's some insider author's information about this particular section. 1) I wrote this chapter long before I even knew what Arms would be doing in Warehouse 1 with his fellow detectives. I knew I wanted to write a love scene with Arms and so I wrote this and then built the rest of the novel's plot concerning the Swine's detectives in Warehouse 1 around what I had already written. 2) The final two paragraphs were written for an entirely different piece of fiction from 2015, but I loved the descriptions between the two people and I knew I wanted to modify the piece and use it for this Arms and Rose chapter. I really love how this all finally came together.
Writing about FAH's sketches from an anlytical perspective has been loads of fun for me. And according to Foil, it was an interesting , but strange experience when they first read about themselves in that context. On July 27, 2020, he wrote the following to me:
And although it was weird reading about FAH in an academic way it was brilliant, we're loving it :) We know it's all coming from a really positive place and it's so cool having a resource like that out there. Really appreciate it!
The two analytical pieces that I've chosen to include are my absolute favorites that I've written so far about FAH's sketches. And I'll explain why, below, for each excerpt. I'm just pulling out some of the main arguments for each piece and I'll link the essays so readers can go to the original article.
The first analytical piece is written about FAH's sketch Border Control (2013).
The sketch is a mere 1.38 minutes long and contains frightening, even chilling actions that bring to mind several recent historical events, which emphasize just how powerful and timely FAH’s work can be. Watching this sketch in 2020, against the backdrop of a rise in political change spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the plight of people seeking asylum at borders all over the world, it is clear that this sketch is incredibly relevant now.
The emotional intensity of the sketch feels both disruptive and eruptive, exploding on to the stage with a rapid-fire presence of sound and action produced entirely by the human voices projecting out over the audience. There is an immediacy in the narrative, which is over almost before we know it, but the effects of sound, light, human actions, emotions, and revelations are profound in the way that FAH pushes meaning out at the audience. This is really driven home by Arms, whose singing propels the narrative along and acts as an anchor point for what is happening between Foil and Hog.
. . . . . Border Control, I would argue, is at its core a dramatic play in three acts, which develops in such a way as to show distinct, multi-layered experiences that represent an array of politically charged issues. FAH is definitely playing around with stereotypes in this sketch, two of which can be seen in the first 28 seconds (Acts I & II). As well, they have managed to capture iconic symbols of oppression, fear, brutality, and authoritarian violence in Acts II & III.
There was something prescient when I discovered this particular sketch of FAH’s in 2020. It seemed to speak to so much of what was going on in the world at that moment and I thought it was an extraordinarily beautiful sketch; this was mostly due to Arms’s singing and the way that the sketch was framed on the stage with the lighting and movement. But in terms of my writing, I think it is by far and away one of the best analytical pieces I’ve done for this site.
Before I published this essay with the entire website on July 23, 2020, I spoke to Foil about the sketch on June 24, asking him about the origins of it and he replied:
The Border Control sketch isn't actually based on anything specifically just that general vibe that in movies when someone dies in slow motion music like that plays. It's such a weird sketch that I'm not really sure why it works????
Of course, I set out why I thought the sketch works so well in the argument for my essay, but once again, it was wonderful to be able to reach out to Foil to ask questions about the very sketches that I had explored and was writing about at the time.
On June 26th, he explained further:
We've never really tried to analyse what works and why. but we do know that if you can make someone cry and laugh in the same sketch you're onto a winner.
A little writer’s insight about my analytical process. When I first started to write about FAH’s sketches, I listened to A LOT of music – I still listen to music to help me get inside my creative writing, or any writing, for that matter – but at this point in 2020, I returned to my love of Moby and took a deep dive into two of his albums, Wait for Me (2009) and Innocents (2013). These helped me step into my thoughts and hone my argument more easily. Music has always worked in tandem with writing for me and this time was no different. It just so happened that later in my correspondence with Foil, I discovered that he loves Moby too!
The second analytical piece I've chosen explores FAH's sketch, The Chairheads (2013).
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the essay:
To understand love through the eyes of FAH is to see and feel something unique and original. And although there are few sketches about non-familial love in their repertoire, the ones that do exist focus on love and its power to bring people together, often from disparate groups, or tear them apart. Moreover, in typical FAH fashion love resonates on both an emotional and a political level, especially in one of their most unusual and interesting sketches, "The Chairheads" (2013). This sketch is approached from a cross-cultural perspective, so that we understand that love, no matter who it involves, is both universal and incredibly empowering, though often uncomfortable and even very challenging.
The shift from the live show to the video put up on YouTube is an interesting one; it is much more complex, nuanced, and certainly more provocative than their live sketch. Both are brilliant in terms of content and comedy, but the YouTube video offers more layered political material. FAH explore not only the unique love between a chairhead and a human, but they also examine such subjects as family differences, unpleasant and biased stereotypes, an interesting foray into the purity of race (borderline Eugenics), and finally a celebration of female sexual desire and feminism in the form of the strong, forthright woman who speaks her mind, played so provocatively by Arms.
FAH play a lot with perception and perspective in this sketch. We take for granted that chairheads exist at all, and also that a human would be dating one to begin with, but FAH have that ability as expert comedians and actors to set the stage for a story that we take on board immediately. The sketch opens with melodic music playing in the background and Arms, as Deirdre, is anxiously awaiting her date Jonathan, while her father reassures her, "you look beautiful." This is a rather idyllic scene between father and daughter, and one that plays into the idea that chairhead families are perfectly normal and acceptable. We need to understand this important fact for what is to come later when Jonathan, the human boyfriend, arrives.
Like my essay on "Border Control," readers and fahns alike didn’t seem to know what to make of these two analytical pieces. They’ve never gotten many views, unlike my most popular essay, “Arms as a Modern ‘Daddy’”. And even though I love the “daddy” sketch and both Foil and Arms read my essay, I think my better writing and analysis can be found in the two essays I'm discussing in this interview. The sketches, themselves, from my perspective are far more provocative and complex than most of what FAH has done in the last couple of years. I’m always drawn to FAH’s older material (pre 2017) because I believe it is much more experimental and diverse in its subjects. They hadn’t yet stumbled upon the “series” concept for comedy (Anne and Oisín made their debut January 2017, the first Wordplay sketch was Octoer 2018) and they were still exploring their range and comfort level as artists.
It is true that their first Immigration sketch in that series arrived on the scene in 2016 (see my analysis of that sketch here), but this just bolsters my argument that pre-2017 sketches were far more unconventional than some of the material that started to emerge the following year. That’s not to say that FAH haven’t dipped their toes into the political since then or that they haven’t created thoughtful or thought-provoking sketches. I’m just saying that I was and am drawn to their older material because I’ve found it to often be more nuanced and to have more of a narrative structure. And in Border Control, Sandcastles (analysis here), and The Chairheads we see a definite plot driven sketch with a story line and a lot of intense emotional connections between the characters. I think there is almost a literary quality to these sketches and one that lends itself to analytical arguments.
This is something that Foil said to me after he read my analytical piece about "The Chairheads" sketch and I've never forgotten it.
"Loved the article, very insightful! I'd never actually thought about it from a feminist perspective. If our motto is funny first think later, perhaps Barbara Tilley is the 'think later' part!! :)"
This has stayed with me in my heart. Not only is it exciting that Foil read my essay and saw his own work from a different perspective, but to be acknowledged by the master of comedy himself as being remotely tied to their motto in his eyes is such an honor!
And here we come to the end of this very long "self-interview." It’s been a real pleasure both answering questions from fahns and also revisiting some of my previous FAH writing. I hope that readers have enjoyed themselves along the way, as well. I’ll include two last fahn questions, which I think are suitable for a conclusion. The first is:
If you could do something else [rather than be an academic] totally and utterly unrelated, what would you do?
Long ago, in a far-away time, I wanted to be a veterinarian and for years I did work for veterinarians in both small and large animal practices in my 20’s, believing that one day I would pursue this field of study. But, alas, I found that I actually wasn’t that good at math or science and that writing was a much easier path for me. Perhaps, if I could do something else now, I might go back to animal studies, but I’m so deep into writing that I can barely imagine changing that life route at this point.
The last question in this entire essay is a very suitable one:
What do you like most about FAH?
The fahn doesn’t say what are the many things you like about FAH, but implies through the question that there should be ONE thing that I like the absolute most about them. My first thought when I read this question was that I like FAH’s openness. I feel that I should say something like, I love their comedy or their humor or how they make me laugh or the subjects of their sketches. And maybe all of that is wrapped up in my idea of what “openness” means, but what I’m really thinking about is how much of themselves they give in their live shows and their meet & greets. All three lads exude a genuine warmth in the way they relate to people. We feel comfortable around them, at ease in their presence, and even if we are nervous, initially, they make us feel welcome, at home. I would chalk all of this up to their open sensibility about people and the world, about comedy, laughter, togetherness, and community.
I will close this very long interview with a great big “thank you” to FAH and to the FAHns who have supported me and my writing during these last three years. I’m looking forward to interviewing more fahns for this series! So, keep a look out for future installments!
I'll just post this fab picture of me and the lads from their Vicar Street show, the second night I saw them, on April 15, 2022.