Tagged: humour

Adult review: In Bloom by C J Skuse

Genre: is serial killer black comedy a genre? If so: this is it!

Age range: definitely 18+ – graphic language, violence and sexual content are key features of this series.

I loved Sweet Pea and was very excited to read this sequel, which picks up the minute Sweet Pea leaves off. Consequently, it is very difficult to talk about without making spoilers for the first book. I will therefore assume you know the basics: Rhiannon is a serial killer, the novel is narrated in her highly engaging voice, including notes from her diary (I particularly love her lists of people she wants to get rid of). The tone is darkly comic and like the best comedians, Rhiannon often pulls you along noting things that you can easily agree with but, as she is a psychopath, she will then take a turn into grotesquesly violent territory where you or I would not have gone – which is a nice reassurance of our normality, perhaps.

If you haven’t read Sweet Pea, you should toddle off and do that now, and I’ll move on to In Bloom-specific points…

For much of this instalment, Rhiannon has the complication of being pregnant, living with her in-laws and being the girlfriend of a convicted killer to deal with, all of which make killing difficult in different ways. But don’t worry, her irreverent voice and her drives are still very much in evidence. If, like me, you found Sweet Pea hilarious and were weirdly rooting for Rhiannon, you will definitely enjoy In Bloom. (and PS, I saw C J Skuse say on Twitter that there is a third book to comes, as well as a TV series!!) So much Sweet Pea goodness to look forward to!

I very much enjoyed seeing Rhiannon negotiate and wriggle around the further limitations imposed by her chatty fetus, her nosey and well-meaning in-laws and the pressures of being recognised as the girlfriend of killer Craig. The idea of her trying to fit into a pre-natal group is, by turns, hilarious and heartbreaking (serial killers have feelings too – and the ‘cliquiness’ of those groups was perfectly captured).

Overall, I obviously very much recommend this. The combination of genres is highly original and I think the use of humour will appeal to a lot of readers.  The pacing of the plot and control of tension in this second novel is well-judged and had me turning pages, but the novel’s real strength is in its characterisation and voice.

Thank you to HQ and to C J Skuse for providing a copy of In Bloom via NetGalley for review. Note that accepting a review copy never influences my expressed views and I only opt to review books I enjoy.

Reading Recommendations Slide 23: For Fans of The Big Bang Theory

I haven’t done a media-linked theme for a while, so I thought I’d offer these books for this week, which I think will all appeal to fans of The Big Bang Theory. Each has that geek chic vibe and humour (the top two are more laugh-out-loud than the lower two, but all have some), and has something to say about different types of people getting along.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 4 – For Fans of The Big Bang Theory

The last theme posted was International Women’s Day. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Writing Funny Books for Children by M L Peel

Today at the Hearthfire, we are privileged to be visited by the fabulous M L Peel, author of The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair, out now from Walker Books and a great fun summer read. Here is a brilliant authorly meditation on laughter and humour in children’s books.

The first time my daughter really laughed, she was around five months old. We were in the bathroom blowing bubbles. Pop. Pop. Pop. I burst them with my finger, and each time I burst one, she gave a little giggle. But then, I failed to blow one. Bubble-less, I was left fat cheeked, puffing into the air. My daughter stared in confusion, and then, from deep within her belly, there erupted a gurgling torrent of laughter.

When we had stopped laughing along with her, my husband and I stared at each other in amazement. Our baby could not yet feed herself or even sit up unaided, and yet she had just displayed a fully-fledged sense of humour: she had laughed at the incompetence of her bubble blowing mother.

I finished writing my first comic novel for children ‘The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair’ a year before my daughter was born, but it is only since observing her instinctive sense of humour, that I have really stopped to consider just how important laughter is to children’s emotional development, as important in its own way as food and water, touch and movement.

Laughter is bonding. It unites a family. Funny books make reading together a shared joyful experience. When reading together is a pleasure, parents will be inspired to do it more often, and children will concentrate for longer. Funny books foster a love of reading in general, a love that will last well into adulthood and be passed down into the next generation.

Even base bodily humour can be educational when it helps to keep children turning the pages. When I wrote my book The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair, I was aware that the concept of ‘phartling’ would be off putting for some adults. Many agents rejected the manuscript with a cursory glance at the synopsis. One agent wrote to tell me that “whilst the odd whizz popper may be amusing, a whole book about them will not be.” One posh London primary school cancelled my school visit over fears that parents would feel they had put “unsuitable material into the hands of children.” (My favourite rejection letter ever…)

In one sense, the agent who wrote to tell me that a “whole book about whizzpoppers” would not be amusing was right. But had she read the book, I hope she would have discovered that whilst it’s full of whizzpoppers it’s not really about them. Whizz-poppers are the pretext that let me talk about our society’s obsession with instant fame, without, I hope, ever sounding worthy or pompous. The farcical nature of ‘phartling’ allows me to discuss (amongst many other things…) both Mozart’s work for opera and stranger-danger, two topics which, in their different ways, would indeed be ‘unsuitable material for children’ if presented in a more serious context. When I talk to children on school visits, after the initial sniggers, it is rarely the ‘phartling’ they dwell on: instead they enthuse to me about the parrot disguised as an owl; or the Duke of Phartesia’s moustache done up in curlers; or Agent Frogmarch shouting at the spoilt celebrity parents….

As well as being bonding, laughter is sometimes punitive. Anyone who has been a child knows, laughter can be cruel as well as joyful. One thing I have been mindful of when writing is to avoid poking fun at ‘easy targets’. I have tried to make the rich and the powerful the butt of my jokes (excuse the pun, I just can’t help it…), rather than the weak or vulnerable.

Since my daughter has been born, I have become even more conscious of the way in which girls and female characters are portrayed in children’s fiction. My characters are deliberately larger than life and so can sometimes sail close to stereotypes, but I have tried to make sure that I tease men, women and children equally. A few friends have asked if I could put their children into a book, or name a character after them, but since my characters are rarely one hundred percent pleasant, this is a request I have had to decline!

Above all, I try to remember the weird and wonderful things that made me laugh as a child, and to use those memories as my inspiration, (so for instance, the origami loo paper is a standing joke in my family). I also try to make myself laugh as an adult and to include a few jokes especially for the parents reading aloud to their children. Sometimes, I have to sit down to write when I am not feeling particularly funny, but if I haven’t cheered up by the end of my writing session, I know I’ll probably end up going back and deleting most of what I’ve written later. If I’m not laughing, why should anybody else be…

What a fascinating post! Thank you so much. 
 
If this has whetted your appetite for a funny summer read, The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair is available now.
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