Tickled Fiction – WORD Christchurch

Can Kiwi writers do comedy? New Zealand writers are repeatedly told that their work is too dark, too serious. Is this true? Three local writers got together at this event to tickle this topic. Here’s what emerged:

Damien Wilkins

Damien Wilkins. Image supplied
Damien Wilkins. Image supplied

Damien read from his novel Dad Art – in his words ‘a mid-life crisis book about a basically contented life with a pulsing vein of anxiety’  – and it was funny. Not in a here’s-a-funny-joke way, but in subtle observations that make you think ‘I know someone exactly like that’  (and it may even be me). His excerpt was an account of a motley crew in a Te Reo class. Think I recognised myself there! Damien feels that one of the ways that comedy works in fiction is through structure, that is repeated references within the story. A sort of insider knowledge type of humour, one in which he has ‘created echoes’.

Danyl Mclaughlan

Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied
Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied

Danyl read from his novel Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley. Set in the Aro valley near Wellington, Danyl researches his novels very carefully – after all he knows people who live there. When asked if readers take offence at some of his observations, he replied that what seemed to offend them most was if he altered the geography in any way! He’s a big believer in writing funny stuff in, thinking it is fantastic and then removing most of it on the next reading. Definitely a ‘less is more’ approach to comedy in writing. He also likes to make fun of conventional wisdom but feels that makes his humour unpalatable to the ‘cultural gatekeepers’.

Robert Glancy

Robert Glancy. Image supplied
Robert Glancy. Image supplied

Robert (call me Bob) was all set to read from his latest work Please Do Not Disturb, but had brought the wrong book. By this stage we were nicely warmed up so we all thought that was hilarious. Instead he read from Terms and Conditions – his novel on being a Corporate Lawyer. In this book the devil is in the detail. He calls himself ‘the devil’s ghost writer’. His advice to readers is – always read the small print! He loves the act of writing but says that self-editing ‘is like performing an autopsy on yourself’. Bob finds tackling topics from weird angles can be funny. He also writes what he likes. You are always going to offend someone in his opinion. If that’s a worry to you, you’re in the wrong job.

They all hated the title given to this festival event – Tickled Fiction, finding it childish, shallow and borderline pervy. Put on the spot in question time Bob said he liked ‘You Write Funny’ as an alternative.

As indeed they do, write funny, that is.

WORD Christchurch

Wilkins, Perkins classic Kiwi authors

Wilkins and PerkinsEmily Perkins and Damien Wilkins are classic New Zealand writers in the sense that writing isn’t the only thing they do. Both have other strings to their bow, other jobs – Perkins as host of The Good Word, and Wilkins as a lecturer at Victoria University.

Their careers also follow a similar path: major early success – Not her real name for Perkins and The Miserables for Wilkins. Both made careers overseas and both now work in New Zealand and both are published in New Zeland by Victoria University Press.

Fergus Barrowman, their publisher and former teacher, hosted, and was rightly proud of their success. An absorbing, and detailed session followed, which concentrated on the writing process, the challenging and invigorating process of teaching creative writing.

We discovered that Wilkins dislikes satirical writing, and prefers dialogue, which took him a long time to learn; Perkins dislikes protected characters The readings from each author were well chosen and appreciated by the audience.

The session could easily have gone on for another hour, as one of the audience landed a great topic, with the great question of what is the New Zealand story? Colm Toibin had written it was about children.
Wilkins agreed – as New Zealand is a young literary culture it made quite a lot of sense. Our films are also full of child’s commentary on the adult world. Janet Frame had a hotline to child fears, he said;  a child’s lack of power, lack of control. Perkins said for an author the child as agent is a thrilling kind of figure. Barrowman added that Katherine Mansfield  never created an adult relationship in her writing which was as interesting as the relationships of the children in her work and that she satirised adults.

What do you think – is the great New Zealand story set on a farm? Is all the emotion in the silences? Is it about childhood? Tell us your great New Zealand story.