Quote George Orwell

The problem with words is that they do not always say, on paper, what you thought they said when you put them there.  A misplaced comma can turn a plea for peace into a declaration of war; a tribute can become a slight with nothing more than an inopportune underlining.  We are all guilty of ‘scanning’ documents, maybe actually reading just one word in three and assuming we understand the rest.  Perhaps no two readers assume the same.  Words can mean different things depending on the mood of the reader: it is possible to take offence at even the greatest of compliments if you really, really choose to try.  I spend huge chunks of my time excising paragraphs from whatever it may be I am working on because, on reading it back through, I discover that it does not appear to mean anything even remotely like I originally intended it to mean.  If only I could navigate my way around the bits that did not turn out to be funny so easily…

Try as you might, it is so difficult to take credit for a joke: they are never funny until someone has laughed at them and I know plenty of people who would attest that I have never written anything funny in my entire life.  I wrote a book once.  I thought it was very funny until someone who did not know me read it for the first time.  It was intended as a farce (an absurd comic creation) but she read it as a completely different kind of farce (an incredibly badly written attempt at a psychological thriller).  She had much advice on how to make it more ‘thrilling’, but as far as I can remember, had not bumped her head against even the most blunt of jokes on her way through.  Now, I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time and I am incredibly inured to both criticism and rejection.  I take them both on a chin that now closely resembles Desperate Dan’s; I try to learn from the critiques, I try not to get too depressed by the rejections.  I eat lots of chocolate.

As well as a number of strangers, I did, of course, give the book to many people I knew, expecting them to be much kinder than they should be, and indeed they were.  They knew me, so they knew that it was intended to be funny and consequently, I suppose, they must have been on the look-out for jokes.  I’m pretty sure that most of them read it (at least one word in three) as they said they had, and I don’t recall any of them telling me how much of a thriller it was.  But one reader, out of many who did not know me, did not find it so; did not see that it was even intended to be so, and it left me facing just three possibilities: 1) they were expecting to read a thriller and so picked out the aspects of the plot (yes, there was one) that did have elements of Ian Rankin about them – they were meant to be absurd, but they were there, or 2) she had absolutely no sense of humour at all, or 3) it was just not funny.  I decided, not unreasonably, that it was the latter: that she was right, and I did no more with it than consign it to a file I keep on my computer that contains more misses than the average convent.  I am used to rewriting (and re-rewriting) but I could not find a way of rewriting a series of jokes that one reader at least deciphered as nothing more than sub-standard Dan Brown (if, indeed, such a thing is possible) so I shelved it and did other things instead (mope mostly).

At the start of this week, finding myself with a little time on my hands, I trawled my way through this ‘Heroic Failures’ file and I read the book again.  I am slightly ashamed to admit that it made me laugh.  It was not the stuff of Booker Prizes, but it never intended to be.  Once I’d started, I wanted to finish and I enjoyed the hours that it swallowed.  I didn’t at any point expect to be thrilled. 

I think, perhaps, I was reading the wrong words…


21 thoughts on “Words

  1. Maybe you could give your ardent, literary admirers, a little soupcon of this failed story/novel that this one single reader, previously unknown to you, failed to find funny. Yet, which you have openly admitted, made you laugh on re-reading it. We may, collectively, be able to throw in our two penuth and convince you of its literary merits…. Or not!

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    1. Hee hee! She worked at Waterstones to my memory. I still have her critique somewhere – I keep it with all the other ego crushing paraphernalia of my life – I’m sure I could give you a name 😂

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  2. Humour is so personal. And critics can be savage as wolves. I still die a little inside when I once had an editor unsmilingly reject my ‘doggerel verse.’ Cut to the quick. But we dust ourselves down, move on, maturely review our workings and, after drowning our sorrows at the Pen And Scribes, set off staggeringly for home, pausing only to throw a brick through the editors first floor window. Missed the window, hit the double brick wall and bounced back, nearly hit me in my dumb skull. Still felt worth it though.

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  3. How may I obtain a copy? You know, I have come to the conclusion that almost no-one has a sense of humour anymore. Maybe there’s not much to laugh about, but on the other hand we need to laugh, don’t we? I agree that people tend to misunderstand each other. I am more of a listener than a participater, or speaker, so I have often watched two sides of a subject going completely off the rails. Over here it’s because people cannot wait for the end of someone’s well thought out speech. They flare up and start hurling insults. It’s immature, it’s rude. Anyway…you always make me smile and I’m sure I could laugh if you’d allow me to read the book.

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      1. What a delightful cast of characters! Stella is a bit of a cow but I have to sympathise as I suffered the same anatomical problem. Even when I was near anorexic, I still had a huge bum. Can’t wait to see where it goes. You paint a wonderfully grimy picture!

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