Sunday, August 31, 2008

Comedy and Crime

The only session I attended at the Writers' Festival this year (apart from schools sessions with children's and YA writers) was listed as a spotlight on Mark Billingham. I've enjoyed his crime novels, featuring Tom Thorne as the main character, although I was a bit disappointed in the latest, In the Dark. It's a stand-alone, and uses several viewpoint characters. About halfway through, it starts to zero in on two main characters, but for a while it seemed a bit aimless and all over the place. Still, I imagine any series character needs a rest now and then.

The session actually turned out to be on comedy and crime (was this the MC's idea, perhaps?) and also featured Michael Robotham, and Billingham's UK editor who looked a bit nonplussed at being on the stage. Billingham has been a standup comedian for a few years, and was obviously used to performing. Part of his talk consisted of reading out emails he has received from various odd people over the years (odd being an understatement), and was very funny. However, MR didn't let the topic faze him at all, and proceeded to tell stories about his days as a journalist.

Both of them did a great job of talking about comedy vs crime, horror vs humour, and why a funny line in the midst of tragedy works so well. And there was nothing academic about it at all. It was an entertaining hour of storytelling. There certainly is a knack to pleasing the crowd, I think - mostly they are readers, and if they've read your books, they're not going to be interested in a re-hash of the plots, or a publicity plug (which I have seen many writers do over the years, to audience disappointment). If you have given many such talks, like Emily Rodda has, it must be hard to find new topics. You end up hoping the audience is new and won't have heard your anecdotes before.

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