Last week I made an off the cuff remark on Twitter about teenagers being worse than toddlers and it got more hits than almost anything else I’ve ever posted. Some people laughed in recognition, some mothers of toddlers were horrified at this window onto the future, some people told me off for stereotyping and one lady kindly noted ‘you reap what you sew’. Her reaction reminded me that the pressure put on women by other women is alive and well, but more than that, that comedy is always subjective (especially on Twitter).
When you’re writing comedy, it’s important to grow a thick skin, preferably right over the one you already had to grow as a writer anyway. Not everyone is going to find you funny, not everyone is going to laugh at the things that had you cackling into your laptop. For reasons I still can’t fathom, some readers consider it their civic duty to criticise comedy writers, loudly, warning others in brutal online reviews that You. Aren’t. Funny. As hard as it can be not to take it personally, you have to ignore them. Because what they mean, whether they realise it or not, is that it’s not funny to them.
And that’s okay. The golden rule when I’m writing a funny scene, or inserting a bit of witty dialogue, is that if it makes me smile while I’m writing it, there’s a good chance there’ll be other people who will find it amusing too. They might even find it funnier than I do. Or they won’t think it funny at all. At the end of the day, it actually doesn’t matter, as long your writing is good. If you produce a quality story, with strong characters and snappy dialogue, being funny is just the icing on the cake. John Hodgman is quoted as saying “don’t concentrate on becoming a better humour writer, just concentrate on being the best writer you can be. If you’re funny, the work will end up being funny. And if you’re not, the work will still end up being good.” I think that’s a good rule to write by.
JANUARY BOOK CHOICE:
The book I’ve just finished up reading is actually pretty in keeping with the story at the start of this post. Other Parents by Sarah Stovell is set in the world of competitive parenting, PTA horror, secrets and small minded mentalities. I bought it for the title and the zippy front cover and because I assumed it would have protagonists who were over the age of 30 – still a rarity in the publishing world, despite there being a huge audience of middle aged book buyers out there who might like to read about themselves occasionally. I’ll dive into this another time, but suffice to say it’s something I base a lot of book choices around – plus I’m a sucker for a pretty front cover… so I admit I didn’t read the blurb and made several assumptions about the content. As a result I kept waiting for a murder to happen… spoiler: there is no murder! But there is plenty of action. It followed a few different storylines from multiple points of view that challenged and provided enough twists and turns to keep me interested. An enjoyable, sometimes dark, sometimes witty, horribly familiar-in-places story that’s perfect as a book club/holiday read.
JANUARY TV CHOICE:
I just finished up the third and final season of Dead to Me (Netflix), starring more wonderful middle aged women Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, supported by Prince Charming himself, James Marden. I have simply loved this oh-so-dark comedy, and was sad to see it end, although it was definitely the right time. A masterclass in getting your characters into trouble, and then really leaning into that, I have really enjoyed the way the writing shifted from comedy to tragedy with such grace and presence of mind. It’s a study in female friendship and grief that I thought was beautifully, madly, deeply done, with thrash metal, copious swearing and high farce brilliantly executed by the cast.
MY MONTH AHEAD:
January is half gone already but the rest of it is busy! On Tuesday 17th I’ll be joining Jo Good on BBC London as one of three guests on her ‘Chewing the Fat’ segment. I’m on at 11pm if you fancy tuning in.
At the end of the month I’m getting on a plane to Dubai to take part in the Emirates Festival of Literature, which I’m pretty sure is going to be a highlight of the year! I’m running a masterclass in comedy writing and appearing on a panel with Cecilia Ahern and Alexander McCall-Smith, amongst others – plus catching up with some other writers from the region, who I haven’t seen in a really long time. I really can’t wait to devote the week to all things books, and, having lived there for nearly a decade, spend some time in my old home with dear friends too. It will be wonderful to go back to where my writing journey began, and hopefully spark some new ideas for new stories as well.
See you next month,