Canadian writers discuss humour in their lives and work

Nimbus Publishing, Vagrant Press hold Funny Authors Panel at Halifax Central Library

Morgan Murray showed up wearing a Christmas sweater to make a point.

Murray, a finalist for the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for his novel Dirty Birds, was one of the panellists at The Funny Authors Panel on Monday evening who made the audience roar with laughter.

“Have you ever gotten an invitation to a party, let’s say a Christmas party, and you’re sure that in the Facebook invitation or the text message or phone call somebody said that it’s an ugly Christmas sweater party?” Murray started.

“And it’s not, everybody’s dressed very nicely. You can’t go hide in the corner because it’s not a Christmas party, it’s a public event, and you’re on a stage.”

This bit of humour got the Halifax Central Library audience comfortable and foreshadowed a discussion about finding humour in daily life and uncomfortable situations.

The writers share a laugh at the Funny Authors Panel on Monday.   Avery Stewart

Vicki Grant, the author of more than a dozen books, including Quid Pro Quo, moderated the panel. Jane Doucet, author of The Pregnant Pause, which was shortlisted for a 2018 Whistler Independent Book Award, was one of the panellists.

Dave Atkinson, who had his first two books of the Wereduck series nominated for the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award, was also on the panel.

They read from their novels, discussed using humour in writing and answered questions from the audience.

Kate Watson is the Atlantic Publicist from Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press. In an interview, she said two of the panellists, Doucet and Murray, came up with the idea for the event in August.

“They said ‘wouldn’t it be fun?’ And we had, you know, all sorts of funny writers picked out,” Watson said. “Both Morgan and Jane are funny, and they wanted to be able to talk about that in kind of a serious way.”

Murray said humour is a way to start deeper conversations.

“Humour is a great way to connect with an audience,” he said in an interview. “If you get the joke, you’re kind of intellectually open to other ideas.”

The event was true to its name, and there was no shortage of laughter among the audience or the panellists.

During the panel, Grant asked how their writing reflects their use of humour in real life. A common theme throughout the responses was how humour is a way to overcome difficult circumstances.

“I grew up around funny people who rarely had easy lives, but always sort of were easy to laugh,” Murray said.

“I think so many people in real life end up overcoming or dealing with life’s vicissitudes through humour,” Grant added. “The people I know who’ve had the roughest lives are also often the funniest.”

Dave Atkinson reads from his book Cure for Wereduck at the Funny Authors Panel on Monday.   Avery Stewart

An overlap with journalism

The authors agreed that part of what makes a book funny is authenticity and creating characters that illustrate how people are in real life.

“Books that I like to read are books about characters who in themselves are funny, they would be funny people if you met them,” Grant said during the panel.

Doucet and Atkinson are both fiction writers and journalists, so they have experience covering stories about real people.

In an interview, Atkinson spoke about how journalism, particularly broadcasting, helped him as a fiction writer.

“With radio, you need to write like people talk. People talk in really short, declarative sentences, really sharp, really active,” Atkinson said. “There are a lot of books that are really hard to read, and mostly because they’re not written like that.”

There is a recording of the event on the Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press Facebook page.

Avery Stewart

Avery Stewart is a journalist in Halifax. She has a background in English literature and philosophy.

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