A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Bookcases crammed with books fill a room of this house, and they overflow into other rooms as well. The books range across non-fiction, general fiction, science fiction and fantasy, as well as detective fiction and books for children and young adults. There’s a lot of humour in the pages of those books, even some of the non-fiction ones.
There are autobiographies from people who talk of the triumphs, disasters, and ridiculous moments of their lives. There are classics including Jane Austen’s books, with the deliciously depicted characters that live on two centuries after their author’s death. The science fiction includes Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In fantasy, there are the many and wonderful books of Terry Pratchett.
In detective fiction, I’m always entertained by the less well-known books of Donna Andrews. (If you want to try those, the first one is called Murder with Peacocks. You can get that as an e-book, but in paperback you need to buy her bundled first two books under the title A Murder Hatched.)
Under the category of books for children and young adults, I have to mention Terry Pratchett again because he deserves multiple mentions, but there is a lot of humour in many other books, including the Harry Potter series of course.
When I started writing myself, I began with some short stories. I was aiming to write general fiction so I could enter the stories in competitions, but the amount of humour, science fiction and fantasy that I’d read had seeped into my bones. There was a fantastical element in most of my stories and some of them were basically comedies. I had a lot of honourable mentions and second or third places in competitions, but noticed at one point that many of those competitions had been won by depressing stories involving someone dying a lingering death.
I wasn’t sure if this was just coincidence, or competition judges had a natural bias in favour of dismal stories involving death. In an effort to test this out, I tried writing a similar short story myself. Unfortunately, my sense of humour got out of control. Instead of my main character dying a lingering death, he was already dead at the start of the story. In fact, I found myself writing a comedy zombie murder mystery. I entered the story in a competition anyway, and oddly enough it won.
I’m not sure if that proves my theory about competition judges favouring short stories involving death or not, but I am sure that humour in fiction doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Writing something humorous rather than bleak or gory doesn’t mean the author is taking an easy option or writing something less meaningful.
Humour can brighten a day for the reader, which is a huge achievement in itself, but it can also be an incredibly powerful weapon for good or ill. Humour can throw a harsh highlight on current problems, triggering people into having new thoughts about them, or seducing people into accepting the situation. That’s most obviously seen when stand up comedians make jokes, working to either turn people against bigotry by making them laugh at it, or promote bigotry by making people laugh in acceptance. Sometimes two people can use essentially the same joke to send opposing messages.
When I moved on from writing short stories to full-length books, I found myself taking the issues that surround disability today and putting them into a distant future science fiction setting. This is a serious subject. I’ve experienced some difficulties myself, and have friends who’ve struggled with far worse problems, so it’s something I feel strongly about. I wanted the books to carry a message, but I didn’t want them to be earnestly dismal stories that would darken the mood of people who already had too much darkness in their lives.
So I aimed to make the Earth Girl trilogy fun and interesting books about characters going through tense times, but also including touches of humour, and with endings that left the reader with a positive feeling. My two newest books, Telepath and Reaper, are science fiction too. They’re set in very different worlds from Earth Girl but I’ve stuck with the same style. Reaper may have death pictured on the cover, but the book includes humorous moments such as an intelligent bed arguing with one of my characters, and the ending is positive.
The end of year holidays are starting now. A lot of people, whether they specifically celebrate Christmas or not, suffer from the weight of other people’s expectations at this time of year. Society expects you to be joyously spending the holidays with family and friends. Some people won’t be doing that. They may be alone, sharing the time with difficult family members, or missing someone important who is no longer with them.
I’ve found books can be very good friends in difficult times. Short, overcast winter days can be especially hard, leaving some people facing very long, dark nights. It’s a time to gather books around you that you’ve loved reading before and know will brighten your mood. It’s an interesting fact that many comedians have fought their own battles with depression. I suspect that the same is true of many authors of humorous books. They’ve known bad times themselves, so they’ve written their books to be lights in the darkness for you.
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Janet Edwards is the author of the Earth Girl science fiction trilogy (Earth Girl, Earth Star, and Earth Flight). Earth Girl was an American Library Association Teens’ Top Ten Title. Janet’s latest books, Telepath and Reaper, are both set in different future universes. Find out more about Janet and her books at www.janetedwards.com