Tag Archives: slang

Ribticklin’

Friday. The universal Day of Happiness. A day when everything seems a little bit zanier than normal, and most people are in the best shape they’re going to be in all week.

Image: mdjunction.com

Image: mdjunction.com#

What better day to talk about humour, then, and how fickle a beast it truly is! Right?

Being funny is a funny thing. There are people who can make you spew with laughter in general conversation, but who clam up completely or veer slightly too far towards the weird side of eccentric when in certain company, or under certain conditions. There are people who are wonderfully witty most of the time, but ask them to tell a joke and they manage to suck every tiny droplet of humour out of it like a huge grey sponge. What’s worse is they know they’re doing it; they can see the joy and fun evaporating from their words like steam from a boiling kettle, and the rising panic in the eyes of their audience is all too clear. Often, they’ll try to save the situation before it all tumbles down into Humourless Gorge, but it’s normally impossible to bring it back from the brink once the rot has set in. I’ve seen many a conversation turn into an awkward silence this way.

I’m not speaking from personal experience as the joke-teller, of course, before you get the wrong idea. I am a sparkling correspondent at all types of social occasion, naturally.

*awkward silence*

Anyway. Humour is a strange and personal thing. Even people who have very similar mindsets, who get on really well, who share the same viewpoint in most things, can often have such varying senses of humour that it’s amazing they can hold a conversation without it turning into a fistfight. There’s a particular TV show, for instance, which my husband and I find extremely funny (well, me more than him sometimes, now that I think about it), but which my husband’s friend can’t bear to watch because it’s, apparently, painful dross. My husband and his friend are pretty similar in their outlook on most things, so I find it fascinating that they can have such different senses of humour, at least in relation to TV shows.

This phenomenon has been on my mind quite a bit over the past while. It’s not because I’m planning to change career yet again and go into stand-up comedy, but there is one particularly important side-effect of the subjective nature of humour which has a direct bearing on my life, and that is: humour is an extraordinarily volatile ingredient to use when you’re preparing a story. It’s extremely difficult to use it correctly, and even when you get the balance right you’re not sure the type of humour you’re using will hit the mark. What makes a writer snort with laughter at the keyboard may make a reader set a book on fire in disgust. Is there really any way of knowing how to write what’s funny, and appealing, without sending around a world-wide survey on humour?

I'm guessing this is the look you're trying to avoid on the face of your audience... Image: lexicolatry.com

I’m guessing this is the look you’re trying to avoid on the face of your audience…
Image: lexicolatry.com

The book I’m currently querying, ‘Eldritch’, tells a story which is narrated by two boys, one of whom is twelve; the other has just turned thirteen. Now, it has been a very long time since I was thirteen, and an even longer time since I was twelve. Also, unfortunately, I have never been a boy. I do have a brother, and once upon a time I’m sure he was twelve, and then thirteen; also, he’s very funny and the two of us have always been able to make one another laugh more than is healthy or sensible – but, unfortunately, my memories of him at that age are pretty hazy. So, there have been times during the writing of ‘Eldritch’ when I’ve asked myself what I think I’m doing, as a middle-aged woman (practically, anyway), trying to write a book about two young boys facing a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation, all the while wisecracking and poking fun at one another the way only best friends can?

I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer to that one. I guess the Muse wants what she wants, and all that.

Aspiring writers are often told to avoid things like slang, or self-consciously ‘cool’ language; it smacks of trying too hard to be ‘down with the kids’, which is an instant turn-off for young readers. As well as that, of course, it dates quickly and leaves your book looking like an anachronism after a few short years. However, it can be hard to try to write humour, or realistic-sounding banter, without throwing in the occasional slang word; in fact, as hard as it is to write convincing dialogue, it’s even harder to write believable jokey banter between two people who are younger, far cooler, an entirely different gender and, of course, generations younger than you are yourself. So, you have the problem of trying to sound funny without trying to sound funny, and getting across the coolness and youthful enthusiasm of your characters without being tragically over the top, that thing that so many older people do without even realising it. Trying too hard is immediately obvious to a reader, but very hard to avoid as a writer. It’s also difficult to know what appeals to younger readers, and what they find funny.

Luckily, if you’re trying to write funny for young people, there are things that can be done. Reading books aimed at the same age group, for a start, and keeping your eyes peeled on the internet for the latest trends among the age group you’re writing for – not, of course, to slavishly follow them, but to get a flavour for what’s popular. There are some perennially funny things, too – bodily functions, for one, and the fact that supporting a different football/soccer/hockey/tiddlywinks team to your friend is a never-ending source of insult – and, at the end of the day, just following your own sense of humour. However, it’s important to remember to smooth down the more idiosyncratic sharp edges of what you find funny, in order to maximise its appeal to a general audience. Nobody needs to know about the ten thousand hilarious things you can do with cotton wool, for instance.

Does anyone have any thoughts on humour, and how to approach it in a writing project? I’d love to benefit from your wisdom.

Happy Friday! Hope you’re having a thigh-slapping day.

Rebelling and Rulebreaking (Part 1)

Well. What a weekend that was. How is everyone this morning? I hope you’re all as happy as, and slightly less exhausted than, my good self.

Today’s blog post is going to be all about this:

Image: jabberworks.co.uk (also, a site worth visiting in its own right!)

Image: jabberworks.co.uk (also, a site worth visiting in its own right!)

My brain, this cloudy morning, is swimming with everything I learned and saw and felt this past weekend at ‘Rebels and Rulebreakers’, the Children’s Books Ireland conference – and I was only able to attend the first day. I’d probably be bamboozled altogether if I’d been lucky enough to attend both days! But that’s a treat for next year, hopefully.

I’d been looking forward to Rebels and Rulebreakers for weeks, impatiently waiting for the days to roll around, and – quite possibly – talking about it incessantly. So, on Saturday morning, bright and early, my wonderful husband drove me all the way to Dublin, just to be sure I made it to the conference on time. Where we live, there are loads of trains and buses to the capital, but at the weekends they run on ‘country time’ – i.e. they don’t start until quite late in the morning (trains), and/or they turn up when they feel like it (buses). So, because I was lucky enough to have a lift, I was a little early. I wandered around Smithfield (a very pretty part of Dublin city, where the Jameson Whiskey Distillery is – you may have heard of that!) looking at things like the gorgeous wall art looking down over the central square, and the faux meadow, complete with grass and niftily carved wooden sheep, around which children – and several parents – were having great fun. The place was filled with tourists and sightseers, and there was such a bright and happy buzz over everything.

I was a little nervous, though. I felt like an interloper on the red carpet at the Oscars. But more of that anon.

After I’d registered, and received my snazzy name-tag, lanyard and conference tote bag, I was ready to hit the bookshop. I think I may have been the first person to wander down towards it, which is just the way I like it. I picked up some gems, including this wonderful book (which I actually managed to read, in its entirety, on Saturday, between talks and over lunch and on the way home. It’s that good):

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

Image: yellowbrickreads.com

There was just time for some chatting, and some exploration of the Lighthouse Cinema (the building in which the conference was taking place – an absolutely beautiful space) before the first talk of the morning.

The opening talk was given by Sarah Ardizzone, a translator of children’s and YA books from French to English, and it was eye-opening. I learned that translating a book from one language to another is so much more than dustily looking up words in a dictionary and placing them in an approximation of the right order on the page. Instead, it’s like delivering a baby, perhaps; you have to handle this living, squirming, new and unknown creature, a text that breathes and pulses in its own language, and capture not only the story it’s telling but also the nuances of the words – the slang (which is forever changing), the cultural moment, the complex, organic, fresh wonder of it – accurately and realistically and idiomatically in an entirely different language. Ms. Ardizzone told us how she interacts with young people from England, and also France and the Francophone world, in order to develop an ear for the music of their ‘slanguage’, their sparkling uses for words, their unique way of constructing sentences, to make sure the translation she produces will speak to the young people who read it, and sound authentic and real. She gave an insight into how translation, and the act of translation, can help to bring schoolchildren together, and she told us about a project called Translation Nation, with which she is heavily involved, which aims to bring children together in collaborative translation, working with stories and tales from all over the world.

The saddest statistic of the day, however, came from Ms. Ardizzone’s talk. She said that, in the Anglophone world, only between 1 and 3 per cent of children’s books are translated from other languages. What a world of stories children who can only read English are missing out on.

Next came a talk from the French illustrator extraordinaire, Hervé Tullet.

Image: oldcatblackboo.blogspot.com

Image: oldcatblackboo.blogspot.com

I don’t think I’ve ever been so entertained by a man making noises and pointing at shapes in a picture book ever before in my life. We’d already been introduced to M. Tullet during Ms. Ardizzone’s talk, when she’d asked him to step in and play the role of the ‘Loup’ (Wolf) in a French-language edition of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ – so, I expected him to be funny.

But I didn’t expect him to make me laugh so hard that tears rolled down my face.

He read from a selection of his work, including his masterful ‘I Am Blop’, a book that takes one simple shape (the ‘blop’ of the title) and manages to use it to teach children about size, colour, number, perspective, reflection, as well as themselves and their place in the world. I was astounded as I watched M. Tullet bring his own book to life using sounds and voice effects.

Image: timeout.com

Image: timeout.com

Unless I’d seen it performed in front of me, I’d never have believed such a simple shape could literally bring me to a new level of understanding. Funnily enough, I felt my own perception change and grow as I watched the performance, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Blop itself does not change shape at all throughout the book. As I watched, my mind was opened and brought to a place in which I could completely understand how a child would see Blop – see it negotiating its world, fitting in (or not) with its peers, growing bigger, changing colour, changing from being the only blop on the page to being one of many – and how they would understand, instinctively, that they, the child reading or being read to, were just like Blop.  And, more importantly, if Blop can hold its own through all this change and newness and growth, so can they. What an encouraging and confidence-building little book – and all done with a shape, and minimal text!

Oh, but look. I’ve reached my upper word limit for blog posts already. I have so much more to share, but it will have to wait for another day. In the spirit of rebelling and rulebreaking, then, I’ll break my recollections into several blog posts, and I hope you’ll enjoy reliving my memories of a wonderful day along with me.

Happy new week, everyone! And remember – you are Blop.