stef penney

Funny Men

(short story)  (PDF file)

Essay on Modesty Blaise for the anthology ‘Modern Delight’

(Faber and Faber, 2009)  (PDF file)

Article on writing and agoraphobia

(Evening Standard, January 2007)  (PDF file)


I love writing for radio – it’s liberating and hugely enjoyable. So far, I’ve been[19]

fortunate enough to adapt two 24-carat classics for BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial.

I’m really sorry that you can’t listen to them online any more. I suppose the BBC

just doesn’t have enough room on its iPlayer…

Modesty Blaise

Peter O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ was born in 1963 as a comic strip, to be joined over the next twenty years by eleven novel-length adventures. She’s the ultimate action heroine and survivor, the ultimate best friend and uber-boss, and the ultimate drop-kicking, high-life living, glamourous role model. And he wrapped this all up in witty, elegant prose of humanity and sweetness. Bond has nothing on Modesty. So when BBC Radio 4 agreed to commission them, I was delighted. So far we have done ‘Modesty Blaise’, ‘A Taste for Death’, and most recently, ‘The Silver Mistress’.

For a moving account of Peter O’Donnell’s inspiration for the character, read his piece ‘Girl Walking’            .

Buy Peter O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’              .

Moby Dick

Hardly needing an introduction, Hermann Melville’s sprawling epic was a challenge

to reduce to only two hours. At times I thought I had taken on the impossible, but

by excising (with apologies to Melville) much of the discursive and metaphysical

elements, it became a dark-hearted adventure.

Radio Times said, "This gripping adaptation of Herman Melville's epic seafaring

story is saturated with a haunting atmosphere and portents of doom”.

Buy Hermann Melville’s 'Moby Dick'             .

The Worst Journey in the World

An adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of Scott’s doomed attempt

on the South Pole in 1912: a huge, beautifully written book by a sensitive and

perceptive man who was there. I tried to get across how it must have felt for

those who initially missed out on the chance to make history (at the last moment

Cherry was dropped from the final Pole party, having gone much of the way), and

then for those waiting – and waiting – for Scott and the others to return, which

they never did. Being immersed in that world, working in the Scott Polar Research

Institute in Cambridge and reading their original diaries, was an amazing, privileged

experience. In the Institute’s library, you are summoned to tea by the ringing of the

bell from the Terra Nova, the ship that took Scott and his team to Antarctica… 

Buy Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s 'The Worst Journey in the World'             .

Me Cheeta

Me Cheeta, by James Lever, has long been a favourite of mine. It’s one of very few books that makes me laugh out loud, and also cry, every time I read it. Purporting to be the autobiography of Cheeta, the chimpanzee from the original Tarzan films, it’s a scabrously funny low-down on Hollywood’s Golden Age, and also a devastating meditation on aging, belonging and selfless love. The stars somehow aligned to give us John Malkovich as Cheeta, and Julian Sands as Tarzan – and if the ending doesn’t make you weep, then you are not fully human. 

Buy James Lever’s ‘Me Cheeta’             .

Short films

Once upon a time I wanted to be a film director. Here are a couple of shorts I made

back in the day. They’re not remotely like the books, but you can watch them here…

The Knowledge  (11’19”)

A short film about adultery. Or is it?  Featuring Tobias Menzies and Lucy Russell.

You Drive Me  (8’55”)

A hitcher, a driver and a rural road. He wants a lift, she wants to give him a lift.

It should all be so simple…  Featuring Anna Friel and Andrew Tiernan.

Interesting links

The Book Cover Archive

Book cover design fascinates me, especially when you compare designs for

different countries. We had a lot of discussion about the US cover for

The Invisible Ones.

Book Covers: US vs. UK 

And this site compares UK and US covers for some of 2010’s books.

Gives you an idea of the different market tastes out there…

Modesty Blaise Books

My heroine. A great site that shows you all the book covers over

the decades. (The 80s – WTF were you thinking?)