© Peter Bailey
from The Boy in the Biscuit Tin by Heather Dyer
I think I know the precise moment that I moved from being a reader to a writer. It was a joke that did it. My snort of laughter jolted me clean out of the story and back onto the velour footstool in my parents’ front room. I sat there for a moment, staring at the book lying open in my lap. I could hardly believe that the rows of printed letters on the page had physically moved me. A book could be that powerful.
I thumbed through the whole book looking at all those individual words – page after page of them – each one different from the one beside it. Someone had actually chosen each one! That was when I first began to appreciate the author behind the story, and realized that if wanted the stories to continue, I could choose more words, myself. I could bring the marionettes back on stage, and continue their adventures .
Humour is powerful in many ways: it jolts us out of one closed perspective; it helps brings villains down to size; it releases tension; it puts things in perspective. Humour is good for us. It just a shame that humour is not rated more highly by critics and readers. ‘Funny’ books tend to seen as light and not literary. In Ricky Gervaise’s comedy series Extras, Kate Winslet jokes that she’s doing a holocaust film because it’s the only way she’ll win an Oscar. And the irony was that – in real life – this is exactly what happened with her film The Reader. Humour always loses out to gravity. But can’t we have both?
Sometimes, children tell me that my books are funny. I don’t try to be funny, but somehow humour always surfaces. And when it does it feels like the whole point.
Why is humour so powerful and so gratifying? Perhaps it's because it jolts us out of our narrow mindsets into a wide, free space that liberates us. Humour, like metaphor and haiku and Zen koan, momentarily disorients us by putting us between two opposing images or ideas at the same time. And in that moment – just for a second – we are free.
Heather Dyer - children's author and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow
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