So, what am I writing?

by Ian Clements


I must apologise for my lengthy absence to my subscribers (if indeed I have any left!) The truth is my writing has taken me in an unexpected direction and one I’m still coming to terms with. In short, I’m having fun again. That’s not to say my previous stories weren’t enjoyable, in parts, but usually I’d sit at the computer with a sense of great gravity and seriousness. I was going to provoke emotion, encourage the reader to think and reflect! I thought the best writing wouldn’t be enjoyable to get down; it had to be excised like shrapnel from an old wound. I was the suffering artist and that felt about right.

Then something great happened. I was encouraged to resurrect an old comedy character of mine, a fellow I created in college after being force-fed a large portion of Charles Dickens. An entitled, semi-deranged and jovial member of the Victorian upper-class; one Norton Pumblesmythe. He’d surfaced now and again over the years, usually as a short one-off to try and amuse a friend, but as a serious endeavour? Surely not. These stories were too light, too immediate, that isn’t the kind of writer I am!

Anyway, it was just a bit of fun. So I wrote another. It wasn’t much easier than a serious story; I ended up doing a fair amount of research on events, manners, language etc of the mid-1800s. It was absurdity couched in genuine history, with much of the decorum of the time so endearingly stiff you couldn’t easily tell it from a modern stereotype. Might make one or two people chuckle, I hoped, but what was it really? It needed a glossary to explain phrases and insults. Was I trying to educate or amuse?

Both, as it turned out. I didn’t study history in school so this era was utterly fresh to me. Major events of the time were both fascinating and ripe for parody. An online slang dictionary I discovered was a constant sense of wonder; insults which were over a hundred and fifty years old but original to today’s ears. People always approached my older stories with a sense of dour obligation, even if they ended up speaking kindly of them. With Pumblesmythe, though, the response was immediate and enthusiastic, a real surprise to me.

So what now? I’m a comedy writer? Well, the genre doesn’t really matter to me anymore. It took me a long time to trust my own voice as a writer, and an equally long time to discover what that voice should be talking about. Do I still feel it should be delivering soaring orations rather than a punch line? I suspect I always will, but that’s just ego; the rejection of something simple and true because it feels smaller, closer than you ever expected.