‘Who knew people wanted a funny book on punctuation?’: Lynne Truss on writing Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The novelist recalls how some ‘wonderful stuff about commas’ helped her book surpass all expectations to become a No 1 bestseller

Looking back to 2003, everyone involved in the publishing of Eats, Shoots & Leaves has reason to be proud, but at the time we were as surprised as anyone. Who knew there were millions waiting for a funny book on punctuation? Certainly I didn’t. My last novel had sold poorly (and I’d received a large advance), which made me poison as far as another publishing contract was concerned. So I decided that the next book must have intrinsically modest aims. The punctuation idea seemed ideal. Surely no sane publisher could ever say to me: “Lynne, I have to tell you that your book on punctuation has failed.”

I was 47, living in Brighton, working freelance. It wasn’t an easy time. For all of the 1990s I’d been under contract at the Times, first as the TV reviewer and latterly as a high-profile sportswriter. But in 2000 my sister died and I resigned my job because whenever I ventured out of doors I burst into tears. By Christmas 2002 I felt strong enough to attend a social event in London – and there I bumped into Andrew Franklin of Profile Books, who had by chance heard Cutting a Dash, a radio series I’d presented. “Do you think there’s a book to be written about punctuation?” he said. I replied, honestly, no, there were several fine books on punctuation already, and I wasn’t an expert. But he persisted, and a year later we went to the same party with a No 1 bestseller on our hands.

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