Joel Golby: Clapton-based writer releases book of essays

Joel Golby's first book is out later this week. Picture: Amelia Perrin.

Joel Golby's first book is out later this week. Picture: Amelia Perrin. - Credit: Archant

The VICE journalist known for his hilarious features on popular culture has his first book out this Thursday, February 21.

Golby only thought of the book's title three days before his final deadline.

Golby only thought of the book's title three days before his final deadline. - Credit: Archant

In The Guardian, a couple of weeks ago, Joel Golby wrote about how both of his parents had died by the time he was 25 and the response was overwhelming.

The piece in question is a shortened extract lifted from his debut book – titled Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant – and is a wonderful essay on grief and the hurricane of turmoil that comes with it. Beneath the article, the comments section was soon flooded with an outpouring of emotion.

“In my head I was like: I’ve finally written the one truly funny thing about grief,” says Golby, “and then I was getting texts from mates saying ‘you made me cry, you bastard.’

“I wasn’t expecting it, if I’m honest. I was blown away by the reaction.

Originally from Chesterfield, Golby has lived in Stoke Newington and Clapton for the past five years

Originally from Chesterfield, Golby has lived in Stoke Newington and Clapton for the past five years. Picture: Bekky Lonsdale. - Credit: Archant

“The first piece I ever wrote for VICE was about my parents, and this was the 2019 reboot. It was extracted from the essay that sold the whole book, basically. I was aiming for funny rather than tear-jerking.

“You know when you write something and you’re like – that’s a good one. I stepped away from it and I knew it was the best thing I had personally written at the time.”

For fans of his writing, The Guardian article may have been a departure from what they usually associate with a textbook Golby essay. This is, after all, a writer who regularly ranks people on how likely they might be to eat a worm.

My first encounter with his writing came in 2015 when a friend sent me this article on the many, many perils of a first office job. While my colleagues went about their tasks, quietly and diligently, there was me: snorting with laughter, fighting back tears and generally making a real racket.

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So will this signature style of comedy writing also feature in the book?

“That’s the thing – it’s quite a melancholy essay that everyone has now read, but the rest of the book is funny,” he adds.

“It’s a book of essays that are closer in tone to what I do with my VICE stuff, where I’m trying to make a feature out of something quite small.

“During the writing of it, I kind of wove more of myself in to it than I would under the VICE tone of voice. By accident it became a bit more memoir-y than I was setting out for.

“There are some bits that are really dumb; really stupid, short-and-sharp essays that are just there to make people laugh.”

And so for every essay on more serious topics like alcohol, loss and friendship, Golby’s book also features plenty of stories there to be funny.

Stories like his ranking of every Rocky movie “on a very intense metric” and about his “hate – with a bit of begrudging respect – for Wayne Rooney.” Golby writes about Saudi Arabian camel pageants, how he always wins at Monopoly and, naturally, a piece speculating on whether the cartoons from the M&Ms advert could beat him in a fight.

The 31-year-old says the name for the book came to him while in the shower, about three days before the final deadline. Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant is also out in the US from March 9, and it’s fair to say a few Golby-isms had initially been lost in translation for his American editors.

“There were so many words and references that I was using so casually that they just did not understand. They sent me a two-page glossary, and said can you fill this in and tell us what you mean?

“One of my favourites was that they asked me to define ‘Big Tesco.’ I was like: It’s a Tesco, but bigger.”

Originally from Chesterfield, Golby has now lived in Hackney for almost five years. While deep in the process of writing his book – during evenings and at weekends – he explains how he would walk to Palm 2 for a coffee, then on to the Charles Bakery, and finally for a lap of Clapton Square whenever he needed a break from his desk.

Speaking about what he hopes to achieve, Golby adds: “My goal up to this point has been to write a book that I’d be happy to stand next to in five years, and not something that feels quite fleeting.

“I wanted to write a book that I would pick up in a bookshop. I’ve had offers to write books that I wouldn’t want to read before, but this was the first time I was confident that I’d be happy with every word of it.

“And then just a couple of awards,” he laughs, “nothing major, just like: an actual award I can hold with my name engraved in it. Something I have to buy a suit for. An uptick in people saying hello (and recognising him in the street) and then… let’s say three awards. That’s a humble amount to ask for, right?”

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant by Joel Golby (Mudlark, £12.99) is out on Thursday February 21. It can be pre-ordered here.

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