Recently, I was asked a question that completely stumped me:
‘So, tell us, Rachel, why do you think people should vote for you?’
Hmmm . . .
I honestly didn’t know.
I’ve been nominated – to my delight! – in the ‘Artists’ category for the Emirates Woman of the Year Awards. And I was chatting away happily during the post-announcement interview, until this final question.
Why should people vote for me?
There were women nominated in other categories who were fighting against child abuse, women who were working to bring care packages to people in need. Why on earth would anyone vote for me? All I do is sit on my sofa, in my pyjamas, trying to think of daft ways to make kids laugh.
People often ask why I chose to write ‘funny’ books. I’m not sure it was a choice. It’s all I know! Since I was a young child I’ve had this vague sense of being the fall guy in a comedy show – the one who gets hit by the flying pineapple (true story … it was thrown by Mackenzie Crook and it HURT!). If something ridiculous is going to happen to someone, it’ll usually happen to me. Unfortunately, though, that’s hardly a reason for anyone to give me their vote.
But then I thought about the emails and notes and little whispered confidences I get from kids at writing courses and festivals, in schools and libraries, and I realised laughter IS important. I hear wonderful tales of how it helps kids get through the days when life’s harder than it should be, and I remember when it did the same for me.
The kids I write for are at the age where they’re starting to realise the world is a crazy old place, so they welcome books that reflect this. Books by writers and illustrators like Andy Stanton, Liz Pichon, Roald Dahl, Sarah MacIntyre, Ros Asquith, John Dougherty. Dave Tazzyman, Neil Gaiman, Mo O’Hara, David Walliams, and maybe, in slightly smaller font, me.
People are increasingly recognising books don’t have to be worthy to be worthwhile. ‘Reading for Pleasure’ was introduced to the UK curriculum in 2014, and if I were choosing a book to read for pleasure, nine times out of ten I’d choose a funny book. Maybe that tenth time I’d choose a serious literary tome, but probably only if someone was watching! In my pleasure time I don’t want to learn a moral lesson, I want to laugh, and maybe go on an amazing adventure. If there are explosions involved, all the better.
That doesn’t mean everyone is going to agree. Last month, in a particularly ridiculous article, a strange man named Jonathan Jones admitted to never having read any of Terry Pratchett’s bonkersly brilliant Discworld novels but still cheerfully dismissed them as ‘mediocrity’: ‘light’, ‘trash’, ‘ordinary potboilers’. He contrasted them with what he described as ‘great books’ – ones that ‘can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions.’
I actually like his definition of greatness. But why should it rule out ‘light’ books? Why should it rule out silliness? I remember the first time I read Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. It altered my perceptions of identity, and of courage, and it made me think hard about the structure of society and the worship of the elite. Yet at the same time it was completely mad and tea-snortingly funny. There is no doubt in my mind that someone who can deliver a sharp satire, which also makes a million readers chortle with joy, is a literary genius.
It’s easy to belittle laughter and silliness, but they are often the key to helping us make sense of a scary world. At the very least, they provide a distraction when there’s no way that scary world is ever going to make sense.
And, above all else, silliness is fun, and that’s what reading – and life – should really be about.
So that was the best answer I could come up with on the spur of the moment.
Why should anybody vote for me? I have no idea – I probably wouldn’t! But perhaps they should vote for silliness and laughter and all the wonderful nonsense that involves.
I’ve included the link to vote here - along with my slightly waffly answer to that question – mainly because it would be the silliest thing of all for me to win! But I don’t mind if you don’t press it. The best thing of all would be if you voted for silliness in your own lives. Because it’s increasingly hard to find the laughter in the world at the moment and that makes me sad..
From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.