My very great mate, David W. Robinson is my guest today and as he isn’t too well, I hopped on board the magic carpet to visit him at home. Making a fuss of his terrier, over a cuppa, he told me his wisdom on humour. He is one of the funniest writers I know, so I just listened. It was a real treat and I recorded it all for you to share. Enjoy!
I’m probably best known for my Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, but I don’t stop at cosy crime. I also write hard-boiled, horror, sci-fi, but of all the genres I work in, humour is my favourite.
Let me give you an example from real life. I’m very hard of hearing. Mention it to anyone, and they will slap a stupid grin across their face, cup their ears and say, “What?” in a loud voice.
My response is, “That’s the first time I’ve heard that gag…TODAY!”
Deafness can be so much funnier if only you think about it.
“I’m very hard of hearing.”
“I don’t drive.”
“I thought you asking about my car’s gearing.”
In order to develop this side of my writing, I came up with Flatcap, a typical, Northern know-all, the kind you so often find propping up the .bar in the Rose & Crown. But Flatcap is not all sledgehammer wit. There are some subtleties in there, too. For example, when rushed into A & E with a bad chest, he is confronted with a concerned doctor.
“Do you smoke?”
Conventional wisdom, i.e. pub humour, would have Flatcap reply something like, “Only when I’m on fire,” but Flatcap, for all his age and hidebound opinions, is not conventional.
“Do you smoke?”
“That’s kind of you, Doc, but I’ve just put one out.”
I inject a fair bit of humour into the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, but it’s static humour, based on the character traits of a few regulars, particularly Joe and Brenda. In an effort to transcend this situation I recently created the Midthorpe Mysteries, where the accent is as much on humour and as it is the actual mystery.
The essence of the chuckles in the Midthorpe Mysteries is Raymond as a fish out of water. While growing up on Midthorpe estate, he was not liked. Now that he is a Cambridge graduate, a wealthy and successful novelist, he is even more disliked. His efforts to lord it over the Midthorpers are met with total contempt, and he cannot understand why.
Does it work?
It’s too early to say. Murder, which is at the heart of most mysteries, is no laughing matter, but there are ways to get around that. In Bumped Off in Benidorm, the second Midthorpe Mystery, Mandy Cowling is used as honey trap to circumvent blackmail attempts by a certain party. While she rushes off to set the trap, Raymond learns that the actual target is dead and she has taken the wrong man to her room. Speaking to her later, Raymond is appalled.
Mandy was momentarily worried. “What is it, Ray? What’s wrong?”
Mandy screwed up her face into what she probably imagined was a judicious pout. “Well, I must admit I’ve been with livelier men. I had to do all the work.”
One of the most difficult aspects of writing this kind of humour is to avoid engineering situations purely for the sake of a laugh. The above situation was not ‘engineered’. Fighting blackmail with blackmail is a legitimate exercise in any crime novel.
For the British, sex is a prime target for humour, and I use it, but not to the exclusion of every other situation. As my good friend Iain Pattison pointed out some time ago, we can make the telephone directory funny if we try hard enough. It might not have been the telephone directory. It might have been an A-Z street map. My memory isn’t what it used to be…
What was I saying?
As I toddle through life, I read and hear all sorts of absurdities, often put out as serious news and views, yet ripe for the farcical bent in my warped mind.
Particular incidents which spring to mind are a lady whose mobility scooter ran away with her, another lady with a mobility scooter who whizzed onto a train, couldn’t stop and battered her way through the opposite door, a geriatric woman arrested for sexual assault (the mind boggles) a bus driver who told me that this job would be great if were not for the passengers, and a local authority who insisted that the school crossing patrol man could no longer step into the road to stop traffic because he might get run over. Pride of place had to be the irate owner of a lawnmower who got so cheesed off with its iniquities that he shot it. That was daft enough but the comment from a supplier to the effect that he had probably lost his warranty on the machine had me in stitches.
One of my favourites is stating the bleeding obvious. For example, take the (allegedly) true story of a woman who asked for a guillotine in the library and was told by the librarian that she couldn’t have it because she might hit said librarian over the head with it. In a response that could only be described as Flatcap-esque, the customer said, “Why would I hit her with the guillotine? There are plenty of heavy books I could hit her with.”
It’s possible to derive humour from almost any situation, and where I am concerned, nothing, absolutely nothing is sacred. Even down to the ageing process and its potential terrors, as is demonstrated when Raymond and his mother are talking in Fiagara Nights.
“I just put on my puddled old lady act and they leave me alone. They think I have Oppenheimer’s.”
“You mean Alzheimer’s.”
“I know, but when I call it Oppenheimer’s they’re even more convinced I have Alzheimer’s.”
How the Midthorpe Mysteries are received is a bigger mystery than those in the books. The two titles currently available are doing okay. Not setting the world on fire, but they’re selling relatively well. On the downside, they don’t garner many reviews, and without them, it’s difficult to judge reader reaction.
Reviews, however, highlight another difficult with humour.
It’s personal. What one person finds hilarious, someone else will find inane.
For me, Fawlty Towers was the finest, funniest sitcom ever produced, but my wife has a friend who finds it too silly to laugh at. The same can be said of Flatcap. Most reviewers of the three volumes are positive, if not LOL-ing, but there are a few who simply disliked them as crude and unfunny.
And I’ve no doubt that the same will hold for the Midthorpe Mysteries.
For more information a free downloads, visit http://midthorpe.dwrob.co.uk/
The Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries are written by David Robinson and published by Crooked Cat. For more information and free downloads go to http://www.dwrob.com/