The Truth About Writing and Comedy

Guest posts
19/11/2018 | POSTED BY Abbie

Farrago author Jonathan Pinnock takes a short break from writing his next Mathematical Mystery to share his thoughts on the serious business of humour.

So how are things going, Jonathan? Glad you asked. As it happens, I’m currently in the throes of completing the follow-up to my mathematical mystery THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE (which I really hope you’ve read, if not, why not, and no, honestly, trust me, you’re really going to enjoy it).

The first thing I’d like to say is that writing the second book commissioned in a two-book deal is very, very different from writing the first one. When you’re writing the first book in a series, you’re not really writing for anyone at all. You have no idea if anyone’s ever going to publish the thing, even less idea if anyone’s going to actually read the thing and in fact you spend a lot of your time wondering ‘Oh God, what is the point of it all?’

However, somehow you finish it and after a search that goes on slightly longer than the hunt for Lord Lucan, you eventually locate a lovely editor at Farrago who thinks you might have something worthy of a wider audience. Even better than that, she wants another book. Sure, you haven’t actually written that one yet, but that’s next week’s problem.

Anyway, the first book enters the editing and production process and at some point much, much later than you intended, you begin work on Book Two. Fortunately, you have what you think is a half-decent idea and the writing goes reasonably well, but hanging over you all the time is the knowledge that you have made a commitment to deliver the entire thing by a point in the future that is rapidly advancing towards you over the horizon. Moreover, when this point is about a month or so away, you realise that most of your waking life (and a fair bit of your unconscious life too) is now taken up with thinking about the damn thing. The rest of your time is spent wondering ‘Oh God, what is the point of it all?’

So perhaps there’s not that much difference between writing book one and book two after all.

What, then, is the point of writing? More importantly, what is the point of writing a book like the one I’m currently working on – a daft, implausible mystery full of preposterous characters and absurd situations? Surely the very act of sitting down and devoting time to something like that is as close as I can get to pure self-indulgence? Given the state of the world, is that really the best way to spend my time? Even accepting that I’m going to be spending my time writing, is that really the most appropriate thing to be working on?

The thing is, a lot of genres have got a bit tricky to work in recently. Satire pretty much died a couple of years or so ago, and today’s dystopian fiction is looking increasingly like tomorrow’s reportage. This is why I think Farrago are really on to something by highlighting humour. Perhaps it’s escapism, but is that really so bad? We need humour for our mental health and to sustain us in these weird, unsettling times. And if that humour takes care to punch in the right, upwards, direction, so much the better.

This is basically why I write books like THE TRUTH ABOUT ARCHIE AND PYE. To me, there is no nobler calling than trying to make people laugh. And if they’re spending five hours or so reading a funny book that shows a bunch of little people taking on the bad guys and winning, I don’t think I’ll have entirely wasted my time.

So maybe there is some point to it, after all.

Jonathan’s next book, A QUESTION OF TRUST, will be published in April 2019 – keep an eye on our website or follow us on Twitter for all the latest Mathematical Mystery news!

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