In my first blog for GHB, I wrote about the importance of humour in children’s books, and how the concept of embarrassment plays a major role in my work (and, for that matter, life). I know that if I can create a situation in which one of my characters is faced with the possibility of humiliation, then the laughs will come.
Another source of humour for me is the simple observation of everyday life. I scribble down random scenes and snatches of conversation in my notebook, and sometimes the very act of seeing, of transcribing the mundane, generates a kind of comedy. It may be that you need to contort reality a little to make it funny, but other times the naked truth, once transformed into words, is enough to raise a smile, or a guffaw.
So a major part of the creative process for me is simply going through my notebooks, and finding things that I can salvage and reuse. Many of my best comic scenes are generated in this way. But not everything makes it.
Here are a few random pages from my little Moleskin notebook, which never have, and probably never will make it into a novel, but they still manage to me chuckle.
With the McGowan family here in Yorkshire to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Typical conversation (this one with my sister, Moya, but it could as easily have been any of them):
“You know the nuns in York have got Aunty Bridget’s knickers, don’t you?”
“Aunty Bridget’s knickers. The nuns have got them.”
“They had to go somewhere after she died.”
“Why would the poor nuns want Aunty Bridget’s old knickers?”
“What do you mean? They were good knickers. She had hundreds of pairs. And they weren’t old. They were all brand new.”
“But she had written her name inside each one with that indelible pen of hers. You know, because of her obsessions.”
“So there’re dozens of nuns walking around York with ‘Bridget McGowan’ written inside their knickers?”
“They don’t mind. They don’t know about her problems. And they were good knickers.”
This morning I put a sock on my right foot. There was a hole strategically placed so my big toe stuck out in a grotesque manner, like something from a 1970s sitcom. So I took it off and put it on my left foot. But the hole was now exactly over my other big toe, which poked its head out, tortoise-wise. How is this even possible? It seems to go against all the laws of nature. I have a theory, but it involves Schrödinger’s cat, and I totally hate theories that involve Schrödinger’s cat. Can there be an explanation that doesn’t involve quantum uncertainty?
I really hate it when a thing (often an aerosol) has an outer lid and an inner lid, and when you try to take off the outer lid the inner lid comes off as well, so you have to try to winkle them apart with a knife, and then you completely cut your thumb off and feel obliged to chase your children around your flat with the severed thumb, because otherwise it would just be wasted.
Slaving away in the British Library. Definitely a slightly different feel to the place at weekends. Even more weirdos and eccentrics than usual, researching their theories on alien invasions, anal probes, the possibility of communicating with angels, the use of rainbows for faster-than-light travel, etc etc. And the hairstyle of the day is a sort of long, lank, greying flange encircling a glistening pate. The old gentleman next to me has just drawn a page of equations with his stubby pencil. I’m convinced that it is meaningless gibberish. Why do I think that? Because after pausing for a few minutes, he blew his nose, examined the contents of his hanky, holding it up to the light and viewing it from every angle, and then got back to work, having found the solution. I feel rather at home …
OK, this is me again, now, not my notebooks speaking. My point, I suppose, is simply that around you, every day, things happen that might or might not be transmutable into comedy gold. So watch, think, write.