The Truth About Writing and Comedy

If you find reading comedy difficult, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t easy. You just haven’t found the right funny book for you. But what about writing comedy? We asked the author of the witty Mathematical Mystery series, Jonathan Pinnock.

So how are things going, Jonathan? Glad you asked. As it happens, I’m currently in the early stages of writing Book Five in the Mathematical Mystery series of novels that started back in 2019 with The Truth About Archie and Pye.

Writing the fifth book in an open-ended series 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?’

“When you’re writing the first book in a series, you’re not really writing for anyone at 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 and then the ball keeps rolling on and eventually you get to the point where you suddenly seem to have four books out there with gorgeous matching covers and a signed contract for two more.

By this point, you have established a cast of characters and a rough idea of how they will behave and interact with each other. Some of them are, sadly, dead by now and are therefore of little use to you, but the live ones still have needs to fulfil, slights to avenge and wrongs to right. Somewhere in a trading estate off the M25 there is also an entire warehouse of McGuffins, parcelled up, labelled and waiting to be picked out and forklifted onto the back of a lorry only to be lost in transit a few miles short of Rickmansworth.

So you have plenty of material to play with going into Book Five. You may have a half-decent idea for the overall concept of the book and even a title – which will be revealed in due course, but not quite yet. A couple of new characters have also been knocking on your door, although they’re a bit shy and they haven’t quite got round to introducing themselves properly yet.

“What, then, is the point of writing?”

But you still don’t actually get down to writing it, because deep down there is that existential fear known to all writers that as soon as the words make the leap from brain to screen, the wave form will collapse and you’ll find yourself the proud owner of the literary equivalent of Erwin Schrödinger’s dead cat. So by the time you finally do pluck up the courage to dive in, your delight in discovering that the cat is in fact still alive – albeit on life support – is tempered by 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, past experience tells you that it won’t be long until most of your waking life (and a fair bit of your unconscious life too) is taken up with thinking about the damn thing, while the rest of your time will be 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 five after all.

“To me, there is no nobler calling than trying to make people laugh”

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 few years ago, and today’s dystopian fiction is looking increasingly like tomorrow’s reportage. This is why I think Farrago are really onto 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.

“We need humour for our mental health and to sustain us in these weird, unsettling times”

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 end up spending five or six hours 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 Pinnock is the author of the four books in the Mathematical Mystery series: The Truth About Archie and Pye, A Question of Trust, The Riddle of the Fractal Monks and Bad Day in Minsk. He also hosts the podcast It’s Lit But Is It Funny? which you can find in all the usual places. His website is at and he tweets as @jonpinnock.

A Mathematical Mystery series

Including for Kindle

The Truth About Archie and Pye

What connects the mysterious deaths of twin mathematical geniuses with the Belarusian mafia and a cat called µ?

Including for Kindle

A Question of Trust

Tom Winscombe begins another hair-raising adventure as Dorothy vanishes along with all the company’s equipment (and its money).

Including for Kindle

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks

Tom and Dorothy’s date night is ruined by a mysterious falling figure: another mathematical mystery begins…

Including for Kindle

Bad Day in Minsk

A witty, fast-paced thriller set in Belarus, with a dash of mathematics and a large dose of danger.

Including for Kindle