Friday, 25 September 2015

A Late Prize by Tamsyn Murray

I like to think I'm funny. I enjoy trying to make people laugh, finding a smart remark or delivering a joke with perfect timing. Sometimes my books are called funny, by people other than me. And I've always dreamed that one day, I might win a prize for being funny. That hope faded a little bit this week when it was announced that the Roald Dahl Funny Prize had chortled its last and was shuffling off to that great gigglefest in the sky. It is, as Michael Rosen said on Twitter, 'a late prize.'

Comedy is an integral part of who we are as humans. Ever since the first caveman held out his finger to the second and grunted 'UGH', we've sought out humour as entertainment, as a distraction and as a way of making sense of life. Sometimes the only way to deal with unbearable things is to find a way to poke fun at them. In children's books, funny matters even more. At a time when we're encouraging kids to read for pleasure, reminding them how amazing books are, what could be better than a story that makes you feel good? Children like to laugh so why not give them books to help make that happen? Not solely funny books, you understand, but a wide selection that includes plenty of humour. And why not recognise that these books have their place?

I occasionally struggle with the elevator pitch for My So-Called Afterlife. "Well, it starts off with a murdered teenager, who befriends a girl who killed herself because she was horrifically bullied. The murdered girl falls for a boy who died in a tragic car accident - his father is still in a coma..." I begin and watch whoever I'm talking to take a step backwards. "But don't worry," I go on. "It's really quite funny..."

And it is. I made my main character snarky and sharp precisely because she was in such a horrible, sad situation. I get away with a lot of really dark stuff because it is all lightly handled. And that book, which is really about grief and bereavement and losing everything you know, makes people laugh.

Part of the trouble is that hardly anyone takes funny stories seriously (unless they are written by a certain D Walliams). "They're just a bit of fun," people say. "Let's give the prize to that serious book, the one that deals with hard subjects."

That's why the loss of the Funny Prize is such a custard pie in the face. It was a prize that championed comedy, gave those of us who spend the day chiselling out jokes and jamming them into our text something to aspire to. I sincerely hope that something will fill the gap. Because it seems to me that now more than ever, our children need to be able to find laughter in the pages of their books. Won't someone defibrillate the Funny Prize?


Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for posting about this depressing demise.

As it happens, Rachel Hamilton is over on Girls Heart Books today on the same theme:

Nick Green said...

Humour is the BEST way to deal with tragedy. Anyone who ever watched M*A*S*H (to cite a random example) knows that.

It's also the hardest form. Straight tragedy is dead easy by comparison with humour, if you mean really good, really funny stuff like Wodehouse, Adams and Pratchett. Hell, one of Pratchett's best characters was DEATH. You don't get blacker comedy than that. He was also, arguably, the character you'd most like to have dinner with.

I think I'm quite funny too, but I've never been brave enough to write a 'funny' book. I'm nowhere near that good.

Emma Barnes said...

Hear, hear! And according to a reading survey, "Most children (63%) want books that will make them laugh"

When I think about my lastingly favourite children's books, most of them make me laugh. Few of them have won prizes.

Penny Dolan said...

This is a sad bit of news. I'm trying not to think harsh things about the Trust but I'm finding it difficult. I know funding an award can be costlier than one would imagine - the staff & time; the quantities of books involved; the events venues & fees;the communication (the posters and promotions and publicity and all)but even so this seems very unkind.

I agree with all that's been said above. Besides, humour is a great way of relieving stress - and aren't many of the UK's children stressed and depressed right now? Many KS2 readers would say that funny books are their "best books."