Thursday, 5 January 2017

Our first ReadItTorial of 2017 - "Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh!"

Welcome to our first Read It Daddy Editorial (ReaditTorial) of 2017 and a subject that, as ever, was inspired by Charlotte and one of those odd little family moments that cropped up as we languished in the 'Twixmas' (between Christmas and New Year) holiday period.

Time off from work is a rare enough occurrence and it always has me questioning what I do for a living and why I do it (beyond the obvious necessity to pay the mortgage, the bills, eat once in a while and put clothes on our backs - that sort of thing).

An even rarer thing is for us to all be sitting in one room all at the same time all watching a TV programme but you probably know exactly how it is when the excesses of christmas food and rubbish weather outside mean that there's really nothing nicer than curling up on the settee watching the idiot box.

We were watching "Peter Pan Goes Wrong" which was basically a spoof play (Pantomime! Oh yes it is!) the BBC televised off the back of a successful West End run. My wife and I had vetted it the night before and passed it fit for consumption by Charlotte, who loves the kind of crazy physical humour that was in the play - even if most of the slightly dodgier jokes sailed straight over her head.

The reason for this article though wasn't specifically to do with the play, more to do with my expectations of what Charlotte would find funny vs what she actually did.

I expected her to laugh her head off at the various accidents (owchy though most of them were) and some of the slightly riskier stuff (people's trousers falling down usually elicits hoots of laughter surely?)

But the things that actually made her laugh were far more unexpected. Relating this back to children's books, it's made me doubly appreciate those folk who've made a successful career out of making children laugh through books - particularly books where illustrations are kept to a minimum and you've got to rely on your command of the English Language (or a durned good translator for overseas markets) to keep your audience entertained.

Now, we've said before that many folk hugely underestimate how easy it'll be to write for children. Write ANYTHING for children, not just comedy.

Aside from books that take the easy route of applying dirty buckets full of toilet humour slathered on thicker than the fatbergs floating in a Victorian sewer system, books that subtly tweak the funny bones of a young audience are truly a marvel to behold.

It probably explains the recent phenomenon of various 'grown-up' comic actors and writers turning
their hand to writing children's novels.

David Walliams is the obvious choice as his books seem to be rapidly nipping at the heels of Roald Dahl's legacy of making kids laugh and grimace at the same time.

We've also seen stuff by Russell Brand, David Baddiel and Julian Clary make a tidy sum for author and publisher alike. Christian O'Connell is also joining the hallowed ranks of comedy writers and comedians ready to tackle the trickiness of writing funny stuff for kids too with his new book "Radio Boy" (coming to a blog near you soon!)

David Baddiel, author of the fantastic "The Parent Agency"  nicely summed this up in a recent interview, tapping into what's essentially driving a hugely successful children's book market at the moment, where the crossover between adult readers and child readers is increasingly blurring into a demographic that's hugely difficult to just comfortably categorise and summarise with something as blunt and simple as age group ratings (which, like David, I really don't think are in any way effective in their current form as anything more useful than a loose guideline).

With David's books, there were brilliant comic touches in there that were obviously aimed at my age group (possibly thanks to David Baddiel being a mere 4 years older than me so probably growing up through most of the cultural revolutions I was lucky enough to grow up through as well) which of course leads to great parent-child interaction as you try to explain something that happened to you in your own childhood.

He does dip into toilet territory too, let's face it, you're always going to opt for an easy chuckle or two when you're writing a book, just to ensure that you cover as wide an audience for your books as possible. But subtle comedy is something else, and something that he achieves particularly well, thanks to characters which you can obviously trace back to real actual people he's known throughout his life.

Making children laugh also seems to involve a huge bucketful of self-deprecation, because kids love folk who can be modest or even prepared to make themselves look completely silly in order to provide some giggles.

Some authors plainly don't get this (Sorry Russell B, there's no room for a colossal ego if you're writing for kids, they just do not buy that stuff nor are they as impressed by it as certain adults seem to be). Others take it to extremes and just end up locked in a loop of silliness that just doesn't work for a broad cross section, but may find an audience amongst kids who aren't in it for the thinkies.

So like a great many things to do with children's literature, it appears to be a finely tuned balancing act. In my limited experience, if I couldn't even write something nor predict something that would make my daughter laugh, it makes me wonder whether it'd ever be worth bothering trying to write something that would tick the ticklish boxes for a whole world full of kids.