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Jeff Zycinski talked about his book in an entertaining and theatrical event with actress Karen Bartke at St Duthac Book and Arts Festival

By Margaret Chrystall

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REVIEW: Jeff Zycinski and Karen Bartke: Travels From My Twilight Zone

The Underground, Tain

St Duthac Book and Arts Festival

THERE were many surreal, even dark moments in Travels From My Twilight Zone with writer Jeff Zycinski ­– yet it was probably one of the most entertaining book events possible.

Tongue twisters as audience participation, retro sweeties to win, the rebirth of an alter ego stand up, an encounter with a childhood superhero and, throughout, the performance skills of Scot Squad actress Karen Bartke to read and voice the characters in some of Jeff’s stories. It all ensured the theatrical banished any risk of dullness.

Jeff Zycinski and Karen Bartke. Picture: Mark Janes
Jeff Zycinski and Karen Bartke. Picture: Mark Janes

And the central subject matter of Jeff’s second book was potentially deadly serious – the story of his encounter with mouth cancer and, happily, successful recovery.

‘Morphine, memories and make-believe’ is the subtitle of Jeff’s second book.

His first was The Red Light Zone, the story of his career in radio­ – hence the red light, and no worries it would include Jeff in fishnet stockings, Jeff reassured us. His radio career started at Moray Firth Radio and ended as head of BBC Radio Scotland before he retired after 30 years in 2018.

“When I wrote the first book it was quite easy writing about my life and I wrote a chapter on each of those years,” he told the packed room in Tain.

“I thought ‘Maybe I’ve written everything interesting about my life’. But then I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write about my childhood’.”

One of eight children growing up in the East End of Glasgow, Jeff shared some of the stories of his childhood, and about his Polish father, beautifully told, most with his signature dry wit.

But after all, as he told his receptive crowd, writing a memoir is just like a novel except you are the main character.

“It’s just telling stories, and I’ve done that all my life,” he said.

Audience at The Underground for Jeff Zycinski's event. Picture: Mark Janes
Audience at The Underground for Jeff Zycinski's event. Picture: Mark Janes

A reaction to the morphine Jeff had been given during his nine-hour operation led to surreal thoughts and inspired some of the stories Karen brought to life for us.

A crossover perhaps from the morphine and Jeff’s previous career as a manager meeting BBC union officials was Negotiating Positions – having to achieve downsizing with the animals in a zoo. Karen’s Polar bear was spectacular.

And for the return of Jeff’s comedian Johnny Sellotape, he donned the character's signature hat and striped blazer to present Mr Sellotape’s brand of comedy ­– “it’s tacky, but it sticks”.

Brodie Nairn of North Coast Glass made a relaxed, intuitive host for the festival, introducing Jeff and Karen and presided over – and provided intriguing questions – that revealed plenty.

What had Jeff wanted to be at 10? All the way from chemist, film director and writer to, at just 13, being on the radio! Karen had wanted to be ... an actress.

Jeff’s first job? Stacking shelves to pay his sister for … her typewriter. MC

Travels From My Twilight Zone by writer Jeff Zycinski is out on Lunicorn Press. Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/Twilightzonebook/. Follow: @JeffZycinski

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