St Hilda’s Oxford Crime & Humour Writers Conference Aug 2012 (part 1)

I spent yesterday and today at the St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford 19th (so I’ve missed 18 of them!) Crime Writers’ Conference, this year on the topic of humour in crime writing… crime and humour being my two favourite genres to write and read.

When my editor, Rachel, emailed me the details a few weeks ago I opened the attachment and smiled because not only was it a perfect topic but the final day fell on my 40-something <coughs> birthday I couldn’t resist (I wouldn’t have done anyway).

I had all good intentions of bringing you tonight the notes I created throughout the two days but they have more holes than Emmental so I shall work on them over the next few days and post them when there’s a gap (possibly as a 5a.m. flash after the series of Submission info.s have finished, so next Saturday morning)… which also gives me time to catch up with my 151 emails jumping up and down in my Inbox saying “pick me”.

So, as a taster, here’s the agenda for the weekend…

“Stop, you’re killing me” – humour in Crime Fiction!!

Marcia Talley: Comic Relief Or, What’s So Funny About Murder

Alan Bradley: The Undertaker’s Jest Book Or, I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady

Barry Forshaw: Dark Laughter Hitchcock and his Writers

L.C. Tyler: Mayhem Magna the World of Colin Watson

Natasha Cooper: When You Stop Laughing, It’s Not a Bad Novel

Chris Ewan: Assembling the Team, Some Thoughts on Comic Caper Novels and the Gentleman Thief

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Sacred Cows are for Slaughtering

Val McDermid: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

Simon Brett: (After-Dinner Speaker)

Meeting with Sisters in Crime

Peter Lovesey: ‘Amazed Enquiry Sat on her Face’ and Other Embarrassments in Crime Fiction

Gillian Linscott: My Funny Friend the Comic Role of the Side-Kick

Ann Cleeves: Lost in Translation: Does Humour Travel.

As you can see, a great line-up! 🙂

***

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Flash Fiction Friday 39: The Picture by Will Macmillan-Jones

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the thirty-ninth piece of flash fiction in this series. This week’s is a 418-worder by comic fantasy (“and a little horror”) author and interviewee Will Macmillan-Jones.

The Picture

The Picture hung in the window of an art gallery in the arcade.  Every day, on my way to and from the office, I walked through the arcade with its myriad of tiny exotic shops on my way to and back from the station.  As the arcade was narrow, and roofed with curved glass for natural light, the images of the passers by merged with the reflections of the goods on sale in the various windows.  Sometimes I had fun with the curved glass, making silly faces that bounced backwards and forwards across the street, from shop window to shop window.  Other shoppers would snigger at me, but I sometimes caught them doing the same.

But whenever I reached the art gallery, I would stop, and peer at the portrait of a young girl.  She was pictured in the first flush of her beauty, a sweet smile on her lips, her head lowered slightly so that she seemed almost to peer upwards through her auburn hair.  Her dress swelled and flowed, and when the light twisted, to me, she seemed almost to move.

The label below the frame said, simply, ‘Portrait of a girl’, with no artist listed.  I did go into the shop to enquire, but the price – well let’s just say it would take me a long time to earn that much, let alone spend it on a painting by an unknown artist, however captivating.  For it was captivating, at least to me.  I found after a week or so that I couldn’t walk back to the station without passing the gallery.  If I tried, I felt uneasy, insecure, and when I got home I had no appetite and slept indifferently, and with disturbing dreams.

At last, I decided that I must break this spell, and stayed away from the arcade for a week.  A whole week, it felt like a lifetime.  Then, following a very long day in the office, I was hurrying to catch the last train home.  A violent storm raged the heavens, rain and wind battered the glass of the arcade, as I followed the damp footsteps of the last hurrying commuter.  Rounding the corner, I glimpsed a figure that moved against the glass of the arcade, and seemed to shimmer.  Panting, I followed the foot prints that led towards the glass – and stopped.  The footprints led through the glass, and I shook to see the girl gaze adoringly into the eyes of a lover.  ‘Portrait of a couple’ read the label.

I asked Will what prompted this piece and he said…

In the summer of 2011 I was lucky enough to join a weekly flash fiction competition on the Authonomy authors’ website.  The judging panel was the other writers who entered the competition, and the only prize the experience of writing a completely new short story every week for three months.  But what a prize that was… this was one of them.  Some of the other writers liked it.  I hope that you do.

I did (it’s really sad). Thank you, Will. I’ve been writing a short story a day since May 1st (for Story a Day May then 5pm Fiction) and I’m loving it. 🙂

Will is a fifty-something lover of blues, rock and jazz.

He presently lives in South Wales, and has just fulfilled a lifetime ambition by extending his bookcases to fill one entire wall of his home office.

Working as a professional tax consultant, he writes to escape the stultifying boredom of his job.

He has an irregular blog, www.willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com where he “rambles incoherently about writing” and he can also be found at www.thebannedunderground.weebly.com.

His publisher’s website is www.safkhetpublishing.com. You can read my interview with Will here and with Safkhet publishers Kim & Will Sutton and their authors Sheryl Browne and Bruce Moore.

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with publisher Ilaria Meliconi – the four hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 012 (Nov 2010) – writing comedy

The twelfth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast was released on 8th November 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first eleven episodes (see earlier blog posts in the ‘podcast’ category), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting then a mixed bag. This episode talked about comedy, starting with the following hints and tips:

– Humour is tricky because, like most art-related work, what one person likes, another may dislike…or in this case may or may not laugh at. Don’t be put off though as it should be as enjoyable to write as to listen to (OK, harder work but do give it a go!). Coronation Street is soon going to be celebrating its 50th Anniversary (I was at their 35th sitting next to Alf Roberts actor Bryan Moseley at lunch, but that’s another story). Coronation Street can be hilarious with ‘Benny Hill’ type sketches (one example that springs to mind was Tyrone/Molly’s disastrous burger van venture that ends up on fire so they drive it into a pond!). Eastenders, although mostly seriously (sometimes depressing), has the occasional light-hearted sketch and it’s lovely to see Alfie and Kat back as they’ve had a few opportunities in the past to lighten the mood. Sketch shows are very popular, from Lenny Henry impressions to comedy series such as ‘Men Behaving Badly’ or ‘Black Books’ (if you’ve not seen the episode with Bill Bailey playing the piano – you’ve missed a treat). Most reflect real life, though obviously with the routine or mundane aspects removed. I’ve mentioned the BBC’s writersroom website before and it also has example comedy scripts (www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/insight/tv_comedy.shtml).

– Back in 2006 British TV station Channel 4 ran a poll of top 20 sitcoms and Frasier was 1st followed by Fawlty Towers, Seinfield and Porridge. Dad’s Army was 7th then Blackadder, Spaced, The Office and Father Ted. In fact only 6 of the Top 20 were American. The BBC ran a similar poll and Only Fools & Horses came out on top. Two OF&H sketches are often re-played on TV…the one where Del leans against the bar (you can see it at You Tube or www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/only-fools-and-horses-bar-sketch/43) and the other where Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert have been commissioned to clean a stately home’s chandeliers (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/only-fools-horses-chandelier/103). In case you don’t know them, I won’t spoil the outcome for you but suffice to say that there was little dialogue and the sketches worked mainly due to visual action (another favourite of mine is Morecambe & Wise’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ breakfast scene – www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/morecambe-wise-breakfast-sketch/122). One sketch that works due mainly to dialogue is The Two Ronnies’ Fork handles (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk/two-ronnies-fork-handles/72). You can find classic and modern clips from the British Comedy Classics site. Their home page (www.britishcomedyclassics.co.uk) has five example clips and a comprehensive search facility.

– Wikipedia’s situation comedy (sitcom) section (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitcom) is packed with information and explains sitcom as follows: “As opposed to ‘stand-up’ comedy, or the telling of jokes, the situation comedy has a storyline plot and is more or less comedic drama. The comedies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Shakespeare and Moliere in post-Renaissance Europe were essentially situation comedies. The essence of the current, modern situation comedy on television is that the characters remain in the same situation from episode to episode. The situation is usually that of a family, workplace, or a group of friends. The term was adopted to distinguish sitcom from other comedy formats: sketch comedy, which generally featured new characters and situations each outing, or the humorous monologue or dialogue, which did not feature characters. Often these other formats were presented within a variety format mixed with musical performances, as in Vaudeville. The emerging medium of radio allowed audiences to return to programs, which allowed programs to return to the same characters and situations each episode and expect audiences to be familiar with them. Thus, while the humor in sitcoms varies, it is usually character-driven, which may result in running gags during the series. Due to the need to retain the same situation over many episodes, in many sitcoms characters remained largely static. Events of individual episodes typically resolve themselves by the end, and are rarely mentioned in subsequent episodes. This episodic nature is mirrored in many dramas as well, but there are also many sitcoms that feature story arcs across many episodes, where the characters and situations slowly change over the course of their run.”

Ideas

In this section of the topic podcasts, I give provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts picked from my http://twitter.com/sentencestarts Twitter page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

– Humour is notoriously difficult to write especially because what one person finds funny another person may not, so write a passage of dialogue, of if you can a whole piece, where the people can’t see eye to eye but it works out OK in the end.

– Try taking a normally-dark location, for instance, a cemetery or church, but make it light-hearted. Maybe one of the characters is trying to take another character’s mind off the seriousness of the situation.

And today’s sentence starts…

1. My mind is working overtime…

2. There was no mistaking the sound of…

3. Noel couldn’t help it…

4. As the monk lifted up his hood…

5. Sophie sank to her knees and…

6. You had plenty of sleep but you still feel tired… (second person)

7. He wasn’t exactly what Joan had been looking for in a companion…

Recommendations

– An www.amazon.co.uk search for ‘writing comedy’ found nearly 2,500 books including one I have, sixth on their list, entitled ‘Writing Comedy’ by Ronald Wolfe published by Robert Hale.

– Needless to say the internet is swamped with comedy writing sites and one I found via a Google search for ‘writing comedy’ was www.sitcom.co.uk/writers.

– There’s also a very interest article in the Guardian newspaper’s archive from September 2008 (www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/22/comedy2) by Richard Herring, David Mitchell and Robert Webb; the latter two hailing from ‘That Mitchell & Webb Look’ comedy show (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0092s71).

– One of the other Google links took me to Southampton’s Solent University which has just started a BA (Hons) in Comedy – Writing & Performance, a 3-year full time course.

– E-How’s ‘How to Write Comedy’ page (www.ehow.com/how_8540_write-comedy.html) is great and again I’ll put the link on this episode’s page on my website. It provides a list of things you’ll need (joke books, spiral notebooks and pens – simple enough) alongside 11 instructions: Keep in mind that good stand-up comedy writers are neither anointed by God nor born into it; they just write a lot. All you need to do it is a pen and some paper. Steal time; compose jokes in your head while you’re stuck in traffic or shaving. Write with a person in mind. Get into their pattern of speaking. Duplicate the person’s style, but use different topics or subject matter. Do this for many different performers. Don’t show anyone your work until you think it’s terrific. Research and analyze topics that interest you. Ask questions about your topic. Understand that a joke occurs at the intersection of two ideas. Connect ideas that go together or are wildly opposite. Manipulate your audience. Take them down a particular road and then surprise them with something else. Pull the rug out from under your audience. Employ good timing so that they don’t step on the rug too early or get on it and then get off before you’ve had a chance to deliver the humour. Respect your audience at the same time; they are your bread and butter.

– There are loads more comedy writing pages at www.e-how.com and doing a ‘comedy’ search on e-how’s home page brings up 6 pages of links!

– There’s a great called www.phill.co.uk which is packed with details of over 900 British TV comedy programmes, actors and actresses, DVD releases and more.

Flash fiction

The last item of each topic podcast is a piece of fiction – either flash or poetry – and episode 12’s was a monologue called ‘Unfunny Ha Ha’:

“Marcia do this, do that.” I’m fed up with it. It’s not called DIY for nothing. But that’s all he’s good for. I sometimes wonder why I married him but then I see his smile. I look at him standing by the car and I melt like an ice cube in Barbados. Not that I’d know, never taken me further than Barnsley and that was a holiday never to be forgotten – for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks, caravan, wettest summer since 1842. Say no more. At least I have that to be grateful for. His lack of utterances. Just looks at me with those big green eyes and, well… aforementioned ice cube puddle all over again. And he does make me laugh. His wit, sharp as a plastic knife but some people can be too clever, can’t they? Genuine. And kind.

I think I’m too hard on him. It’s not his fault. Wasn’t his fault. Wasn’t looking where he was going, the driver of the car that hit him. Dropped a CD on the floor, the lad had said. So now all I have is the pictures. Dotted around the house like a Dalmatian. My favourite’s the one in the study, by my desk. Took it when he wasn’t looking so he isn’t laughing, isn’t smiling but it’s the real him. My Harold. I still talk to him. “Ha” I say. That’s short for Harold. He didn’t like Harold and can’t say I blame him. I say “Ha, make me laugh.” And I swear I can see his lips curl.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and that some of the links will be useful for you. You can find other transcriptions of my podcast here.