Today’s guest post is by Catherine Wilkins, author of the My Best Friend and Other Enemies series and the hilarious new When Good Geeks Go Bad. Here’s Catherine on balancing humour with serious subject matter in her writing…
For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of comedy. Ever since I was a small child my favourite things were stories and silliness.
If you had asked tiny Catherine, circa the 1980s, what she liked most, she would have replied: French and Saunders, Victoria Wood, Timmy Mallet and Roald Dahl.
Then, when I was about ten, I attempted to use comedy to try and “process” a vaguely traumatic thing that happened on a school trip.
We were going to France, and my class had to board the Sea Cat Hovercraft to cross the Channel. (I think it was just a day trip to look at walls and buy Brie for our parents.)
On the journey back home we hit Gale Force Nine winds and had a very turbulent crossing. Almost everyone was sick, including most of the teachers. I had never seen so many sick bags in use simultaneously. And we all had to stay sitting, strapped in, next to each other, watching each other continuously vomiting, and setting each other off in a weird spiral of puke-escalation.
I think I was one of about only three people who wasn’t sick. Which then (like in the days of plague) elevated my status to “important go-between” as the teachers were unable to get to each other to discuss anything.
The next week at school we had to write about our trip. Most people wrote about how pretty the wall was, or how they had enjoyed practising their French to buy cheese.
I wrote a poem about how everyone had been sick. I remember deliberately trying to make it as funny and entertaining as possible, with call backs, exclamation marks, and attention-grabbing lines like, ‘But oh no! Ryan saw Drew being sick! We need another sick bag, quick!’
I didn’t get a very high mark for it. Possibly because the teacher who had to mark it was also described as one of the pukers. Or maybe I just hadn’t mastered iambic pentameter as well as I thought I had.
With hindsight, I now realise it might have seemed insensitive to go on about being sick so much, when maybe some of those people would rather not be reminded about it.
This is an example of how comedy can be a tricky thing to get right.
One of the things I most wanted to achieve in my new book, WHEN GOOD GEEKS GO BAD, was the balance of comedy and seriousness. My character, Ella, is thirteen. She’s a little bit older than Jessica, the main character in my previous books, and she has a bit more going on at school and a slightly more difficult home life. She is dealing with some quite big issues as well as going through a bit of an identity crisis. So I really wanted this to be a book that dealt with serious topics in a light way while still giving them the gravitas they deserved. But I also wanted it to be funny. But without seriously triggering anyone.
I think in the end, with the help of my fantastic editor, the balance was struck at the perfect pitch.
Comedy isn’t always taken as seriously as an art form in the wider world, which I think is a shame. After all, I learnt the word “specious” from The Simpsons; “eclectic” from Frasier and “sporadic” from the comedy film, Clueless.
I think there is a lot to be said for laughing and learning. Hopefully this book delivers both, as well as helping teenagers to make sense of darker times and feelings.
I find when things in my life go a bit dark, it can help me to laugh at them, make them less scary, make sense of them and bring them back into the light. I tried to put some of that into this book, to give Ella (and potentially the reader) the gift of coping mechanisms (mainly sarcasm).
Ella starts to use humour to vanquish her bullies, but also to show off in lessons and get into trouble.
She also starts to rebel, break school rules by flouting the uniform guide, and gets in with the wrong crowd.
By the time she realises all this hasn’t made her any happier, she feels like she’s slipping out of control even more, and isn’t sure what to do.
Will she ever get her life back on track? Will she shoplift? Do Boots have a good insurance policy? To find out you will have to read the book!
Thank you, Catherine! Here’s an exclusive look inside When Good Geeks Go Bad:
Read more about the book here.
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