Sunday, 26 September 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan

After the success of '100 Stories for Haiti', Greg McQueen is putting together another fundraising anthology. This time it is in response to the floods that devastated the lives of so many people in Pakistan this summer.
My story, 'A Little Bit of Heaven', is one of those accepted for inclusion in the latest book. I feel incredibly lucky to be picked again, and will of course keep you updated with progress on '50 Stories for Pakistan'.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Make 'em laugh!

I confess I find humour difficult to write. For one thing, it is so subjective. I'm afraid of sounding artificial or strained if I deliberately try to be funny. When I think about what makes me laugh, the humour tends to arise out of a combination of characters, rather than just being a witty one-liner. Take Basil Fawlty, for instance. Always in trouble and frustrated by those around him. However many times I watch Fawlty Towers, it always has me in stitches.

In fiction, there is a moment in one of Anne Tyler's novels where a character accidentally shoots his mother with an arrow. (Non-fatal, I must add!) I read Anne Tyler's books over and over, but every time I come to that particular section, I cry with laughter. It's not only the incident itself, but the way all the characters interact.

I've concluded that the challenge of writing humour is setting up that whole situation by going back to the basics of character building. What do these characters have in common, and how are they different? There you begin to see that potential for humour in how they will bounce off each other.

The reason I'm thinking about humour today is that I've been reading judges' reports on some of the bigger writing competitions in recent years. Several times I've seen judges comment on a general lack of humour in the entries. For example, Tracy Chevalier, after judging the Bridport Prize in 2007, said she wished the entrants had been "jollier about it"!

So why the focus on gloom, doom and death? Ok, we are in a recession and the news is pretty depressing. Maybe we think a funny story will be too lightweight for the judges and won't impress as much as a serious one. But every story needs some light and shade, and just because a story is humorous doesn't mean it cannot also have a serious theme.

If you are blessed with the gift of humour, making judges and editors smile could be a point in your favour. We all need a laugh sometimes, don't we?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

An autumn sniffle

Don't you hate it when you have a few days off work, only to feel yourself going down with a cold the moment your freedom begins? I love September, but my Loved One has generously shared the first of his autumn sniffles with me. Luckily I don't have anything too urgent I have to do. I just about have enough energy to noodle around on Farmville and browse eBay for Shelley plates!

Anyway, I did have a short story published in the September issue of small press magazine Delivered. I just wish I felt up to starting something new. I think I'll go and get a hot water bottle to stuff down my jumper.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Feet and drawers

When I went to Derby recently I was intrigued by a new shop, where women were sitting with their feet in glass tanks filled with water. I asked my friend what it was. "It's a place where you go to have fish nibble your feet," she told me.

I am such a sad, out-of-touch person that I hadn't heard of this latest craze. A special type of fish cleans up all that horrid dead skin around your tootsies, apparently. When I mentioned this to someone at work, she said her friend had done it and it was £10 for 15 minutes. Or it might have been £15 for 10 minutes. I can't quite remember which, as the very thought made me cringe. If you can bear to watch, a brave BBC reporter tries it out for herself here.

And this week I've heard about another funny fad. A colleague told me about somebody she knows who has refused to get married next year, because 2011 is an odd number. She went on to tell me that a lot of younger people now think all odd numbers are unlucky. Her own daughter will only have the volume on the radio at an even number. Goodness - folk do make life hard for themselves!

I'd love to know how this superstition came about. And also, if anyone has tried the fish thing do let me know what it was like.

Finally, I was rooting in a secondhand shop today, and a chest of drawers made me smile. Not that I wanted to buy it, but I liked the label sellotaped to its top. 'Chester draw'. If you say it out loud, that does sound like chest of drawers, doesn't it.