After reading Celia J. Anderson's article for Word & Pictures this week on Writing Humour for Children, I commented that I was glad she'd covered the subject, because some writers can get a bit snooty about funny books. But in the hours following, I realised that I was just as guilty of being snooty. Reading Celia's impassioned defence of toilet humour for nine-year-olds, I'd thought "That's all very well for her, but not for my book."
So what caused that reaction? It's fair to say that I'm writing for a slightly older middle-grade audience (I'm guessing that Celia writes for 7-9), which gives me more latitude in terms of character, plot complexity and subtlety of humour. But I think it also reflected my own fears that my work-in-progress – which I'm describing as a comedy adventure – might not be funny enough for my intended readers. I do love slapstick (and there's plenty of it), but so far no farts or burps, and only one pair of amusing underpants. Will my otherwise dry comedy of family manners translate to a preteen audience?
It's ironic that I'm apparently seeking some higher moral ground for my writing, because when I'm with my own children I'll do anything for a laugh. Bad puns, stupid names, deliberate mishearings or humour on all manner of bodily functions – nothing is too cheap if it gets a reaction. Even in my professional life, I have a habit of joking in haste and repenting at leisure. Just last week I got a huge laugh at a staff meeting for a joke at the expense of a colleague, then felt bad afterwards for my meanness. It wasn't a career limiting joke (I hope), but it did make me acknowledge the dangerous adrenaline hit that pleasing an audience can bring.
Should I sacrifice my artistic vanity and be prepared to stoop to any level to please my readers? After all, one of the virtues of good children's writing is its transparency and lack of distance between writer and reader. But I would also point out that humour is a subjective thing that's very much in the eye of the beholder. I couldn't possibly write a "funny" book that I didn't myself find funny – that would be a horrible experience for everyone. Looking back over some of the other comments left on Celia's post, it seems like I wasn't the only one wanting to approach humour in a different way – which makes me feel better.
Perhaps this whole internal debate is another stick to beat myself with, something I shouldn't be worrying about at the first draft stage. I had another small wobble regarding voice last week (and thank you to everyone who assured me I did have one), so maybe it's reflective of general self-confidence issues as I try to power through to the end of the story. One of the things I love most about this blog (apart from you, dear readers) is the way it allows me to channel my fears constructively, rather than just letting them bounce endlessly around my skull. Which, in turn, gives me more spare time to pour custard down my pants or shout "Bum!" at passing policemen.