AWC members were joined last night by novelist Laura Marney, author of No Wonder I take a Drink and Only Strange People go to Church. As the book titles hint, Laura possesses a wry, witty, and slightly irreverent, even dark sense of humour which infuses her work and manifested in the workshop, last night. She created a warm, open, and relaxed atmosphere and evidence of this (the recording of the night is not to be missed) emerged as several of the members who participated, revealed their facility for petty, vengeful, and scathing insults; all delivered in a spirit of light-hearted fun. Remind me not to get on the wrong side of anyone in the group though. Having attended many AWC evenings, I can honestly say, I have rarely heard so much laughter.
For most of us writing humour does not come naturally, but Laura encouraged us to think of it as a skill we can all improve. She invited members to participate in several exercises, my favourite being what I will refer to as, ‘the spiteful postcard’. Laura presented us with the following scenario:
“Imagine you are writing a postcard to someone you really really hate. You have my full permission to get as petty and vindictive as possible.
Dear … [insert name of chosen target]
I’m in … [your dream holiday destination]
Having a wonderful time … [doing your dream activity]
Now add something spiteful, petty, and vindictive to contrast”
My favourite was from Maggie Bolton whose postcard read…
I’m in Australia. Having a wonderful time scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. There are some really gross fish with big, flabby lips. They’re called groupers or groupies or something. I thought of you. I know you like fish – well, the battered kind, with chips.
Hope your haemorrhoids are responding to treatment.
Laura gave the group some excellent advice for developing humorous writing skills. She exhorted members to practice, practice, practice and recommended that, each morning, we write down ten jokes. She said, they did not need to be good, in fact many might be rubbish, but one or two might be gems and others can be edited. Laura still employs this approach every day in her own writing.
You can tell Laura loves a well placed swear word and she did warn us at the outset. Combine a swear word with the innocence of childhood and you have the ingredients for comedy gold. Swear word warning! I recently saw a video on Facebook in which an angelic, three-year-old is looking out of a window into a garden where a goat is chewing some grass. “It’s a fucking goat,” she exclaims, pointing at the animal. Trying very hard not to laugh, an off camera adult says, “No, it’s just a goat”. The toddler ponders this response for a moment before retorting with conviction, “No, it’s a fucking goat.” Ah, that we should all be so unrepentant.
In writing, the power of three can really sell an idea and it works just as well for humour. Laura demonstrated this by getting members to try an exercise where they had to invent three unexpected and ridiculous things related to the statement, “Before lighting a bonfire you should always …” and “The only three things you need in life are …”. Members created some gems with Carolyn O’Hara introducing a political theme with, “Before lighting a bonfire you should always gather dry kindling, remove all pets, and tie up Boris Johnson.” The most visceral cheers, however, were reserved from Suzy Kelly who penned, “The only three things you need in life are money in the bank, a roof over your head, and the downfall of the patriarchy.” You struck a chord, Suzy.
Laura explored the idea of subverting expectations, telling us a story in which there was a young couple, who although unmarried, had given one another rings. The young man’s ring was stolen by another girl with whom he err committed an indiscretion, and though burdened by the fear of detection and no doubt trying to conjure a believable excuse for his girlfriend, he went out for a meal the next evening with the family. To his shock, the girl with whom he had been delicto inflagrante, was the table waitress and she was wearing the ring. Fortunately, she did not betray their familiarity. While the young man did his best to conceal his unadorned finger, tucking his hand behind his back, or under his chair, the group ordered pizza. In due course the waitress returned and there on the pizza was… With a collective, anticipated dread, the AWC members, exclaimed, “The ring!” No, we had been duped because Laura executed the punchline saying, “No, cheese and tomato!” We all enjoyed being deceived and it was a masterful example of employing an unexpected punchline. The shape of humour is never a straight line and employing twists and turns is an effective way to bring mirth to your writing.
I loved Laura’s energy, openness, and sense of fun and this was a hugely enjoyable workshop. I find writing good humour difficult, but I will be much more confident about giving it a go in my future writing activities. I highly recommend watching the Zoom recording which you can find by following this link https://www.ayrwritersclub.co.uk/laura-marneys-writing-novels-with-a-smile-evening-22-september-2021/, where you can glean more of Laura’s laughter wisdom.