I was both relieved and thrilled to be invited to contribute a story to Laugh Your Head Off, an anthology of funny stories.
Relieved because for some time I’d had an image in my head of a rock singing Let It Go from Frozen in a falsetto voice, and it’s hard to know what to do with such an image other than to hope someone invites you to contribute a funny story to their anthology. I’m glad to no longer have rocks in my head.
Thrilled to be recognised as a funny writer. It’s not often that women writers of kids’ books are known for their humour first and foremost; the authors that spring to mind are almost always male. But here we are in Laugh Your Head Off, joining comic luminaries such as Andy Griffiths, Andrew Daddo, James O’Loghlin, Tristan Bancks and Sam Bowring. There’s Judith Rossell, who is one of the funniest writers I know; Randa Abdel-Fattah, best known for her thought-provoking YA novels, showing her delightfully silly side; acclaimed author and journalist Lollie Barr; and me.
When you think about it, humour is a great leveller. In humorous books, we cheer on nerds as they triumph over bullies. We delight in the clumsy, the inept—and we are laughing with not at; we are laughing in recognition of our own stuff-ups and failures and comeuppances and humiliations.
Humour can also be used to celebrate and demystify experiences and points of view that are outside the ‘norm’. I’m thinking of books like Oliver Phommavanh’s terrific Thai-riffic, for example, in which the Thai-Australian narrator learns to appreciate his heritage. Or the witty take on birth and conception by cartoonist Fiona Katauskas, The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made, a picture book which covers assisted reproduction and shows same-sex families.
I definitely delight in slipping my own ideals and principles into funny books. My Sword Girl series (illustrated by the supremely talented and much-missed Gregory Rogers) features a bold, brave, kind-hearted girl called Tommy who lives in a medieval castle and wants to be a knight. There’s a fair dose of medieval feminism mixed in with the comedy provided by the crocodiddle who lives in the moat and the castle’s physician, who is constantly begging a (reluctant) pigeon to give him the droppings he requires to make cures. (Pigeon poo really was an ingredient in medieval medicinal cures, by the way—there’s nothing gratuitously scatological about its presence here.) The series was once described by a reviewer from an ultra-conservative organisation as ‘a terrible mix of animals and feminism’—which made me rather proud!
So comedy can have its serious side. But, at the end of the day, worthiness is not the point of funny books, and nor should it be. As I write, three of the bestselling books in Australia are kids’ books, all of them funny, while The 65-Storey Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, has become the fastest-selling Australian book in a decade. The best thing about funny books is…they’re FUN—and they make kids wild with excitement about books and reading.
Frances Watts is an award-winning Australian author. Her writing includes picture books and fiction for children and teens, including the recently released YA historical fiction The Peony Lantern (ABC Books). Frances is one of nine authors included in the Laugh Your Head Off anthology of funny stories published by Pan Macmillan and available now. Visit Frances' website and Facebook page for more information about her books and author events.