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'I'll be 60 next year but the big milestones are not your own birthdays but more about things like losing your own mum or dad'

Comedian and writer Jenny Eclair talks to Hannah Stephenson about still craving stand-up, the rise of funny females and the prospect of turning 60

Going strong: Jenny Eclair, and (below) with husband Geof Powell
Going strong: Jenny Eclair, and (below) with husband Geof Powell

She's been a grumpy old woman, dragged herself through the menopause and smashed a succession of sell-out stand-up tours - and now writing is dominating her life, at least for the time being.

Blonde, bold and brilliant, Jenny Eclair is as straight-talking as ever, her dry humour ripping through our conversation.

The first solo woman to win a prestigious Perrier Comedy Award (now known as the Edinburgh Comedy Awards) more than 20 years ago, she has her literary head on this morning, having just written her sixth novel, entitled Inheritance. It's a family saga set in and around a Cornish mansion, and follows the fortunes - and misfortunes - of the characters who've passed through its doors.

It begins with the death of a child by drowning, and how that tragedy reverberates through generations, as the timeline flits from the 1950s to present day.

"It's a proper family saga," Eclair enthuses. "They've always been very dear to my heart."

Eclair (59) describes herself as a "geriatric stand-up comic and author" on her Twitter profile but says that in reality, she feels like "a cute young thing".

"I will be 60 next year and get a bus pass - and that makes me laugh a lot. But 60 won't be a big milestone. The big milestones aren't your own birthdays, but are more about things like losing your mum or your dad," she says.

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She's opinionated and funny on social media, just as she is in life - although some of her recent posts have had a more serious tone, mourning the fact Boris Johnson is now Prime Minister.

"I'm a staunch remainer," she affirms. "I feel really sad (that Boris Johnson is now PM). I've been doing a lot of burying my head in the sand and watching a lot of reality TV. I just wish they'd make a new episode of Project Runway every single day as my medicine.

"It's really worrying, really frightening. I'm a Lib Demmer but I don't know if they'll ever have enough support to do anything. I loathe Corbyn, I distrust Johnson and I'm politically lost.

"Politics won't come into my comedy. People need a break," she adds. "The country is so broken by this. It's done such irreparable damage."

Her latest novel took longer to come to fruition than she'd planned because of her sell-out Grumpy Old Woman tour, which finished last summer.

"The only way I can write a book is to clear at least nine months. You can't be touring and writing a book. I don't work well out of my own house."

For the last 37 years, she has shared her life with Geof Powell, a designer, with whom she has a daughter, Phoebe. But it wasn't until two years ago that they tied the knot.

"It was all to do with my financial adviser's advice. It's really selfish not to do it and it really affects your wills. When I was told exactly what the ramifications were of not getting married, it really shocked me," she admits. "A lot of unmarried couples are living together in ignorant bliss. You should scuttle down to your local register office and just do it."

What's the secret of their happy 37 years together?

"Probably me going away a lot. We just do get on. I'm still really pleased to see him."

She's currently in-between tours, having completed a three-year stand-up tour of How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane), followed by the Grumpy Old Women tour. She's also signed up for a further two books.

"Now I'm at a bit of a crossroads. There are two more books to do, but I'm very much feeling the call of the stage," she says.

"I really like being funny. It's the least adult thing in my life. I need to gig. I do miss the high spots of touring and the actual shows. I don't miss the slog, the travel and being away from home and I hate hotel breakfasts with a passion now. Every time I go into a hotel breakfast room, I want to smash it up."

She's now planning her next year and has several writing commissions which she won't discuss, aside from revealing that they're not for TV.

"I don't write for TV. I've never been able to. I don't get it. It's a completely different technique."

She still appears on shows such as ITV's This Morning and Loose Women, sometimes when she writes something controversial in her column in The Independent.

"Sometimes I'll write something that'll kick off and I have to go on and defend myself," she reflects.

"To be quite honest, my live work has always created much more of a career and income for me than television ever has. Stand-up has always been my bread and butter. Where would I fit in on television? What would I do? I'm not an actress. I'm not good enough."

She's been on reality shows, including I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! (she came third after Stacey Solomon and Shaun Ryder in 2010) and Celebrity MasterChef, but isn't anticipating getting the call from Strictly.

"I wouldn't be any good at it, which is a real shame because it would be so great to get fit, but I've got a problem with choreography. I just don't pick it up quickly. I'd be a clumsy disaster. I'd be one of those disappointing first, second or third out."

She also has a podcast called Older And Wider with her friend Judith Holder, writer and producer of Grumpy Old Women, in which they take an off-the-cuff look at different aspects of their lives.

She admits she'll need to free up some time to do another stand-up tour, as it takes her three to six months to write each new one.

"I need to go away and create that - it would be a follow-up to How To Be A Middle Aged Woman. They are quite theatrical stand-up shows."

Women's comedy has come a long way since she started her stand-up career in the late-Eighties, she reflects.

"I keep an eye on comedy. The direction in which women's comedy is going is much more interesting at the moment than what a lot of men are doing.

"Women are ploughing very new furrows and are no longer trying to beat men at their own game. They are playing their own game. It's in a wonderful place."

Names to watch out for include Luisa Omielan, Bryony Kimmings and Rose Matafeo, she suggests, as well as Jessica Fostekew, who does a podcast called Hoovering.

"Female comedy has got stronger because people are actually listening to it better," Eclair muses. "Because comedy theatre is no longer a gladiatorial bear pit, more interesting things are being said and heard."

While she has signed up for two more novels, they may be some way off, she suggests.

"Signing up for novels and writing them are two completely different things," she says with a chuckle. "I'm not thinking about it at the moment because I can't write books like that. I'm not a conveyor belt.

"It'll have to wait until I want to sit down for a very long time again.

"I'm not thinking of starting another one until next year, and only if a really good idea happens."

Inheritance by Jenny Eclair is published by Sphere, £14.99

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