Facing up to the Dark Side

Making Friends with the Voices in my Head

Yep. That's me in the black wig. I have no shame.

Yep. That’s me in the black wig. Nice.

OK. I can live with not being funny (see last blog post). But this. This is a revelation too far.

And yet I know it to be true. The evidence is overwhelming: I have gone over to the dark side.

Regardless of subject, the source of  my inspiration, or the age group I write for, I  find myself taking a path that I didn’t intend to follow. A dark path: more sinister than the road I consciously chose to travel.

I recently watched my husband riding the dodgems with our son. His face was pure joy: full of love and light. I was inspired. I wanted to capture this moment. Eternalise  his glee in order that others might share it.

So, I took that moment and I began to write.

A few hours later, I had the outline of a story about a bitter borderline alcoholic, with a dark secret. Somehow, I had taken that beautiful moment and dragged it downwards into the abyss. It emerged totally unrecognisable. My protagonist, no longer a joyful father, but instead the kind of weirdo you’d be  scared to sit next to on the bus.

This dark side has taken me by surprise. When I started my writing journey, I set out to write funny books. Books that brought laughter and light into the lives of children. Somehow, I turned into Darth Vader: the dark side of the force is strong with me.

I am no pioneer. Writers have explored the darker side of childhood for many generations. Yet somehow, I never realised that this darkness is what I am drawn to.

And I am drawn. Completely. I have no choice but to let the darkness envelop me. I used to be slightly in awe of those writers who spoke of stories that had their own momentum; of characters who sprung to life, demanding to be heard; voices in their head that wouldn’t be silenced. Now I understand exactly what they meant.

I also understand that these writers, whilst talented and committed, have no special powers. No supernatural abilities. They are simply gifted listeners. They accept that their characters have something very specific to say, and rather than fight them, they embrace their inner voices.

And so, I make no apologies for stating, that from this day forward, I am going to make friends with the voices in my head. Fine tune my listening skills.  Accept the dark side and let it take me where it will.

Writing Funny: there’s always room for a bit more goo

Sooty and the Crew (Image is a link to thesootyshow.com)

I went to see The Sooty Show on Sunday. Yes, that’s right, The Sooty Show; sixty-six years on, old banana-cheeks is still entertaining the nation’s children.

The puppets have been updated, Mathew has been replaced with a younger model, Richard Cadell, and there’s even a bit of Gangnam style dancing. But other than that, nothing much has changed. It’s the same old tried and tested slapstick recipe: water pistols; knock knock jokes and cakes in faces.  Highly predictable, but coming from Sooty and his crew, funny all the same.

Humour is so subjective. As I  tell my husband, just because you laugh at your own jokes,  doesn’t mean they are funny. Why is it then, that this little yellow bear has such universal appeal? Are the old jokes the best? Or can you only get away with cliché if you are a custard-cheeked bear?

In April I entered the Slush Pile Challenge: a quarterly competition ran by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  This particular challenge, was aimed at those who write funny. The task was simple: submit the first chapter of your book and make Penny Holroyde, literary agent with Caroline Sheldon, laugh.

We got a few sniggers. Penny suggested that some of the entries almost made her laugh, but none of them quite did it for her. Acknowledging that humour is  subjective, Penny noted how many of the entries fell back on ‘the perceived tried and tested sure-fire funnies’. The things the writer felt to be funny to children. Her top tip was to concentrate on dialogue: a vehicle that is perhaps easier for portraying humour than expositional set up.

Penny’s feedback, caused a few ruffles; it’s hard to be told you’re not funny. At the time, I sat quietly in the background. A few months on, having started the re-writing process, I have been thinking again about what Penny said. Mostly, I am happy to take it on the chin: seeing the same old tried and tested jokes must be pretty tedious. However, I can’t accept that there is no longer room for the odd fart joke.

Watching Sooty confirmed it. Goo and poo and stinky farts are funny: to younger children at least. And whilst, I will always endeavour to do more than regurgitate the same old dad jokes, sometimes the tried and tested does work. I mean, bums are funny too. If you don’t believe me, try reading Giles Andreae’s Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants to a group of year one students.

But I agree entirely with Penny: it’s all in the execution. It’s the dialogue and the great story telling, and not the bums alone, that make such books funny.  Sooty and Richard know this too: dialogue is polished, timing perfect, and whilst the jokes are the same, the style is very much Sooty.

And that I guess, is the key. If you are going to rely on the tried and tested, at least personalise that goo with your own unique voice. Add to that, the right dialogue, the right world building and the right timing, and there is, always room for a bit more goo.

So Much for Lara


With the school holidays, I haven’t had much time for writing related activity. So, I thought I would reblog this post which I know made a lot of my early followers laugh. I am pleased to report I no longer look like a playmobil knight – or at least I don’t think I do?

Originally posted on RieWriting:

Every writer needs to develop a thick skin, thanks to my son mine is coming along nicely.

Well so much for Lara Croft, apparently I am a fatty with a boys haircut. After spending hours of my valuable writing time hunting down school uniform, my son thanked me for my endeavours by telling me my belly resembles that of his teacher. He stressed very strongly that she has a baby inside her tummy.

He didn’t actually mutter the word fatty but that is what he meant. His teacher is  eight months pregnant, last time I saw her she looked like Mr Greedy.

It wouldn’t be so bad being a bit of a tubster if it wasn’t for the fact I also have a boy’s haircut. He pointed this out a while ago,  wistfully asking why my hair couldn’t be more like his aunty’s, long and blonde. When I…

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