Finally, I am able, with considerable pleasure, to share with you my interview with Rosy Barnes who, when I asked her for a bio said ‘wrote plays, did journalism, wrote book’. More here.
So Rosy, tell us about your book. Who’s it for and what’s it about? Is it a How-To?
Well I have had reports of some friends being directed to the reference section of their local bookshops…(It’s fiction! Fiction! Made up, not real!)
It’s interesting that you ask who it’s for. I have no idea who it’s for. It was a mad idea that just came to me suddenly in a flash. About an overlooked rather unspectacular woman, who is dumped by her pompous accountant boyfriend and ends up going to a fetish club to prove she’s exciting and win him back and all the mad characters she meets there. It’s a sort of clash of worlds/clash of values kind of comedy. A bit like The Bird Cage, I always say.
There are four main pov characters: two women and two men (not all nice!) and I would say the story is slightly more Paula’s – but only by a whisker. I’m hoping that people will recognise themselves or someone they know if they are geeks, accountants, fetishists or accountants: men and women both.
What, in your opinion as a writer of comedy, is funny?
Ooo. Crumbs. Do you mean in general? Or in terms of specific examples of comedy writing?
In general what I find funny is the way people think and the gap between who they are and how they want others to see them: the way they justify what they do versus the real “why” they do what they do.
Is sex/fetishism naturally a funny thing?
Well I do think sex can be quite funny. And as a society it is something we laugh about because it embarrasses us yet we have a prurient interest in the sex lives of other people at the same time.
It’s one of my bugbears how few believable sex scene you get in Hollywood films – or arty films for that matter. It’s either all heaving and gasping or its seedy, soulless and depressing. Where are the gigglers or the people throwing each other off because they’re too ticklish?
As for fetish, when I was researching the book I found all sorts: from balloon fetishists to people who like to dress up as inflatable martians…so the scope for comedy is quite – umm – broad.
Oh yes. Unless you meet one. No no no, some of my best friends…
(I’ll shut up now, shall I?)
Is writing things that are funny something that someone can learn? Or are comedy/comic writers special?
Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. I don’t think comedy writers are special as such but I do think some people naturally write comedically and other people don’t. I think that comedy is often about looking at the same things but through a different lens. I’m not sure you can learn a way of looking at things as such.
But, contrary to the idea of the comedy writer giggling away over the typewriter – for me, comedy is very technical and that is about learning. I am amused the first time I write something. But after that it becomes about how to release the humour in terms of exact wording and timing. For example the famous line in Hitchhikers about the Vogon ships: “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”. This line continues to fascinate me. It is simple. It is accessible. There is nothing arty-farty about it. But there is the funny idea of hanging in the air like a brick. And then that brilliant fullstop of the “don’t” – which swings your mind right back to the beginning of the sentence again to go “eh?”. And there is just something about the sound of that line, something about the way the “don’t” unbalances it that so beautifully reflects the idea of a heavy object balancing in space exactly as it is impossible to do. So it’s a perfect mix of joke, idea, image and rhythm. Image and rhythm are very very important to me.
This is what I find so fascinating about comedy. That when you get a line like that it has a cleverness and brilliance about it. But, at the same time, it is humble. It isn’t being profound. But it almost could be. Sort of.
What’s your writing process?
Hmm. As I’m struggling to write a second novel at the moment I can’t for the life of me remember what my process was. It seems so long ago I started writing Sadomasochism for Accountants.
Basically, I decided on a key moment, a set-piece scene (I love set-piece scenes and believe all comedies should have them and go for it to the max). Then I aim towards it. Then, invariably I get stuck. Then I cry. Then I eat pizza. Then I moan on (and on and on) to my boyfriend. Then we walk round the block a few times together with me talking the whole thing out whilst he wonders why I never show any interest in his hard day at the computer-face. During which conversation something clicks into place and I get going again.
Then I have it all I wrestle and wrestle and wrestle and wrestle the structure (which is usually thrashing around like a 8 headed hydra at this point) until it works. This is arduous and exhausting and involves a lot of weeping and pizza etc (see above).
After this it is editing and editing and editing until I want to stab myself through the right ventrical with my retractable pencil.
How long did Sadomaochism For Accountants take you to write?
A frighteningly long time. It is hard to tell in exact terms as there are so many gaps and long periods of waiting in the publishing process. Too long. Far far too long. (Just thinking about it makes me feel depressed.)
Was there any particular aspect that proved particularly difficult?
The club stuff was difficult. It was hard to get a balance between the fact these were “the goodies” and making the characters interesting. Who wants to read about nice people, after all? (Apparently, according to all the “rules” I’m in the minority on this. I don’t want to feel with and yearn with the heroine. I want entertaining characters and a certain boldness that makes me think “you devil, you” about the author.)
I felt self-conscious about the club characters – I didn’t want to be seen to be taking the piss out of their eccentricities. Hell, I LIKE eccentricity. In the end I realised that the characters’ comedy and humanity came from the same place: the gap between how they wanted to be seen and how they really were (a universal tragedy for us all I think!) When I started to concentrate on this, it all started to come together.
Was there any research involved?
Ah the million dollar question! (Wiggly eyebrow, wiggly eyebrow.) Ahem.
I know a number of writers read this blog, any tips for them?
Tips? From me? Goodness, I don’t know. I suppose the advice I give other people whose work I rate but who are struggling to get agents or whatever is there is so much advice sloshing around all over the place – listen to it, but filter it carefully. Writing forums can be a great source of knowledge and advice, but no one will write in the same style as you so you have to find your own way through in the end, whatever happens.
And the other thing I’d say is that writers do tend to talk of the publishing industry as some faceless lump with one way of doing things, whereas it’s made up of lots of different people with different tastes, things they are looking for and ways of doing things. This can be a particularly liberating thought when you are standing by the postbox frozen with fear about sending off your latest submission.
I realise that was all advice to unpublished writers. To published…I can’t imagine they need my advice.
What’s next for you?
Another book. I have a strong concept but I’m struggling at the moment to unlock the thing that’ll make it really work. But I have faith.
Anything you’d like to add?
Please all readers of Nik’s blog – buy my book and I’ll buy a large virtual round of pints for you all.