When Humo(u)r Goes Bad…

When Humo(u)r Goes Bad…

“But I just want to make the people laugh!” he cried, as the rotten tomatoes splatted against his tear-stained face and the boos drowned his artistic dreams.

Yes, it’s true. From stand-up comedians to comedy novelists, there are always people out there who won’t find you funny. And that’s good, because originality should set off a range of reactions – some good, some bad. Boring, safe, same-old is easy to do. I’m sure some people make money from it but it’s not very satisfying from a creative point of view. (Though if someone wants to offer me a million pounds to be boring, safe, same-old, I would certainly give it some serious consideration.)

The reviews for my first two novels, We Have Lost The President and We Have Lost The Pelicans, have already proven that not everyone ‘gets’ my sense of humour (or ‘humor’, as most of my readers call it). My small band of British readers all seem to all understand it – no surprise really, given that Brits use humour about every 10 seconds when in a group. But a small minority of my core non-British readership don’t get it. Once again, no surprises, as I write original books embedded in British culture. But what has surprised me is this small minority is very vocal. Believe it not, they can get quite mad and rude about it all – something I never imagined would happen with a comedy novel. And that’s when humo(u)r goes bad. It’s not nice to wake up to one of those reviews – it’s a bit like getting a rejection for a job application. You feel deflated and you start to doubt yourself – even if sales are booming. If you’re ever in the presence of an author when they receive one of these, there’s only one course of action to take: tea and sympathy (preferably involving cuddles). Yes, that’s right. We are very delicate creatures.

In an effort to cope with the comedy doubters, I’ve decided to turn it around and find a brighter side to it all. So, here are some of the funniest critical comments about my lack of funniness (with the book being reviewed in brackets and my allegedly humorous commentary underneath):

Reviewer 1 (President): “I was hoping for a mystery with some humor, not a comical story.”

So, it was too funny? Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment!

Reviewer 2 (President): “Humor quite juvenile – was hoping, at least, some semi sophisticated English humor. Is slapstick comedy in written form, not good…For this kind of humor I would watch old Buster Keaton movies.”

This completely baffled me. Firstly, the book is a political satire based on a vision of the British Government in the future – not the kind of thing Junior watches on Saturday morning TV. Also, comparing a book to American silent movies – who, what, why, when, how? I want some of whatever he’s smoking!

Reviewer 3 (President): “Not sure I ever got the point of this book.”

I did point out to Amazon that this comment was not a review, as the point of a book is to read it. Imagine a review about a barbecue that read, ‘Not sure I ever got the point of this barbecue.’ You’d rightly wonder what type of spicy sauce they were putting on their sausages. But Amazon wouldn’t budge. Still, it makes me chuckle every time, so I quite like it staying up there!

Reviewer 4 (President): “It wasn’t funny or exiting. Unfortunately I bought the next book too. I am not sure I am going to read it.”

I’m sorry it wasn’t funny for this reader. Or ‘exiting’ (whatever that is – possibly the type of feeling that makes you want to walk out on friends and family and find a dark corner to read your book). I love the way this review leaves us all on a cliffhanger. “Will they read it, won’t they read it? Join us next week, to find out!” It’s like a soap opera in three sentences. (Although personally, I’m hoping they won’t read it, as the inevitable one-star review will follow..!)

Reviewer 5 (Pelicans): “The short intro doesn’t really give you any idea of how witless this story is written…I have friends in U.K. and understand their sense of humor can be different but this wasn’t even worth the paper it could have been written on.”

This person sounded really angry. I can imagine him calling his British friends and explaining his comedic angst to them, while they ‘um’ and ‘ah’ sympathetically and check their watches. His username is ‘The glass half full!’ but I think he’s being a little optimistic there.

Reviewer 6 (Pelicans): “bad reading, bad plot. just bad”

As someone who enjoyed a lot of Michael Jackson’s songs, I was tempted to respond with a big ‘Thank you so much! Glad you loved my Thriller. Who’s bad?!’ but I’m not sure they would get the joke.

Reviewer 7 (Pelicans): “not only did I not laugh I seldom smiled”

I utterly love this line. Every time I read it, it conjures up an image of a man so sad, you would just want to go up to him, kiss him on the forehead, and tell him ‘Everything’s going to be alright – it’s just a futuristic satirical British novel that you didn’t find in the least bit funny. There now.’

Okay, that’s enough examples (all from Amazon US). You need a thick skin in this business – which I don’t have – and there is a consensus that authors should never respond to negative reviews. But if they give me a subject for a blog I haven’t written in nearly six months, I reserve the right to perform a dramatic shimmy and declare, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’

Paul Mathews is a British novelist who is apparently quite funny to some people. To other people, he isn’t. Visit his Amazon author pages here: Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Living With a Novelist – 8 Great Tips

Living with a novelist can be hard. I know. I am one. So I’ve put together eight great tips for friends and family of novelists, to help them avoid falling out with their literary loved ones (or, even worse, ending up as that character nobody likes in their next novel).

1) Response Times – novelists are often so involved in their story writing – so immersed in the worlds they have created in their heads – that their response times slow dramatically while writing. As an example, a novelist at the peak of their creative powers will display reaction times only slightly quicker than the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. So remember, if there is a mealtime, shopping trip or household chore coming up soon, issue a call to action at least ten minutes (preferably fifteen) before the time you actual require them to get their backsides into gear. If this doesn’t work, threaten to hide their coffee and chocolate. That usually does the trick.

2) Diet – over the centuries, novelists have evolved digestive systems that mean they can survive on three cups of coffee, half a dozen biscuits and a jumbo bag of Maltesers a day, with no loss of writing productivity. But do try and persuade your novelist to leave their computer and eat a proper meal, if you can. However, don’t tell them they will just be eating – they will often see this as a waste of valuable writing time. Tell them you want to sit down and talk about their novel. Then, before they can even begin to outline their latest plot twist, put the food in front of them and say you’ll be all ears after they’ve finished what’s on their plate. Works every time.

3) Liquids – it’s important to remember that a) novelists function in the morning much better with coffee and b) they waste so much time before actually sitting down at a computer that they often forget to make themselves a cup. Fill that coffee void, and a novelist will love you forever. If you’ve run out of coffee (and try not to), tea can be offered as an alternative. In the evenings, wine or beer is normally consumed if today’s ‘word count’ target has been achieved (this number is extremely flexible and can range from 50 to 2,000 words, depending on how badly the novelist wants a drink in the evening).

4) Napping – while your novelist may have a study and claim writing is a full-time job, be prepared to find them crashed out on their study chair or sofa-bed any time after lunch. Never refer to this as ‘being lazy’. The correct terminology is ‘recharging one’s creative batteries’. Also, never wake the novelist while still sleeping – this can result in grumpiness for the rest of the day, accompanied by comments such as ‘I’m grumpy because you woke me up’.

5) Dress Code – while the novelist may refer to their study or special corner as an ‘office’, please be aware that dress codes do not reflect those in more traditional working environments. Writing in pyjamas or underwear is entirely normal for a novelist – partly because they must get those words down on the page whenever the creative urge strikes them. And partly because they oversleep a lot and feel better if they sit straight down at the computer without spending too long in the bathroom. If you are expecting guests, it is best to turn off the internet, shut down their computer and shout ‘Get in that shower…NOW!’

6) Social Media – while your novelist may look like they’re spending half their day posting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, and Googling things like ‘How much will I get if my book is made into a film?’, ‘What’s the minimum number of words for a novel that I can get away with?’ or ‘Can Angelina Jolie appear in my novel and, if so, will she come to the book launch?’, this isn’t them wasting time. No. This is work.

7) Watching Films – it’s difficult for a novelist to switch off sometimes. A trip to the cinema or a night in with a DVD might sound like fun to you. But for a novelist, it’s a minefield. Their hawk-like eyes and razor-sharp brains will be searching throughout for plot holes, one-dimensional characters, bad dialogue and anything else that proves that the people who make these multi-million dollar dramas are total schmucks who couldn’t write a decent story to save their lives. Listen to the novelist’s post-movie analysis and nod understandingly for as long as necessary. Then distract them with an ice cream and move the conversation on to what biscuits are on special offer in the local supermarket.

8) Novels – if you know a novelist, it’s a seriously good move to buy their novel. It might seem like a very simple gesture to you. But to the novelist, it is an act of great support and generosity that they will never forget. In that way, novelists are the elephants of the literary world. And like elephants, you should never startle them. For example, by revealing that you haven’t bought their book. If you get cornered by the novelist at a party and they ask ‘Have you bought my book?’ when you haven’t, the correct response is to say ‘I haven’t had a chance to buy it, but I will’ or ‘I’ll pick it up on my next Amazon shop’. This should calm the literary beast within them. If they still haven’t calmed down after five minutes, stroke their head gently and keep repeating ‘But I’ve heard so many good things about it. I’m sure you’ll be bigger than J K Rowling this time next year.’

So, that’s it for the tips.  If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll also enjoy my debut novel We Have Lost The President – click here to find out more.