Welcome back to part 2 of my funny Q and A blog. With funny authors. About funny children’s and YA books.
Please welcome these four talented and very funny children’s and YA writers who have generously agreed to chat with me: Maureen Fergus, Richard Scrimger, Stacey Matson, and Susin Nielsen!
And now, onward with more questions. First, can you each tell me whether you like to read humorous books or watch funny movies? Well, even if you don’t, please recommend some!
Books that make me laugh include the Flashman Papers, a series for adults by George MacDonald Fraser, the Dear Dumb Diary books and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.
I’ve watched the Christmas movie “Elf” about a million times and busted a gut every single time.
Books. How Tom Beat Captain Njork And His Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban. Frog And Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel. Right Ho, Jeeves, by PG Wodehouse.
Movies. Any of: “The Palm Beach Story,” “The Lady Eve,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” all written and directed by Preston Sturges.
I love humorous books and movies. Susan Juby’s The Woefield Poultry Collective and Republic of Dirt were both hilarious (and both made me cry too, which is quite an amazing feat, to pull off both ends of the spectrum in one book!). In kids’ books, I really loved The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, and The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
As for movies, “Waiting for Guffman,” “Back to the Future,” and “Mean Girls” top my list. But there are a million others.
My favourite author is David Sedaris – so anything by him I would highly recommend. He is so, so funny, but so real and devastating, too. I am a big fan of “funny-sad, sad-funny.” I loved Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.
I watch the really dumb movies on planes – I loved “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy, I laughed a lot on a plane watching that. I’ve also laughed a lot watching episodes of “Catastrophe” on a plane. And then, of course, there’s VEEP and Silicon Valley, and the new “Divorce” (created by the woman who co-created “Catastrophe”) is excellent. (Can you tell I watch a lot of TV?)
Please name three books for children or adults you wished you’d written, and briefly explain why.
I would have liked to have written the Harry Potter series because it was so incredibly imaginative, the characters were so engaging and the overall series arc was just so well constructed.
I would have liked to have written The Hunger Game series because it was based on such a riveting concept.
And I would have liked to have written pretty much any one of the 60 or so Tudor England era fiction titles I have in my personal library because anyone who can write historical fiction well amazes me.
Winnie the Pooh comes to mind. Reading aloud to my kids I stopped in mid-sentence, put the book down, and said: This is so ----ing good!
I’ve probably re-read Pride and Prejudice more than any other book.
Oooh, and what about Farewell, My Lovely – how can you not like lines like, ‘She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket…’
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: the twists and turns of the plot, the dual narrative structure, the shift in protagonist and the world building he does all the way through the book? It’s incredible!
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Every line in that book is poetic, and stands out; I want to quote everything in that book. It’s so deeply resonant on an emotional level, and the story itself is simple and beautiful. I just love it very, very much.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I loved how the different plot points came together in this book in such a surprising way. The characters feel so real, beautiful and flawed, and the pacing is perfect.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, because I didn’t really understand till I re-read it recently what a powerful influence she had on my own writing, and because Harriet rocks as a female protagonist.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt because then I would be hailed as a literary genius.
The Harry Potter books because then I would be rich, I tell you, rich! And I would own a castle in Scotland.
Which of your books do you think is the funniest, and why?
The funniest book I have ever written is definitely my first YA novel Exploits of a Reluctant (But Extremely Goodlooking) Hero. Set in the 1980’s, it is the diary of an opinionated, inappropriate thirteen-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to be left alone with a bucket of fried chicken and a girlie magazine but instead gets roped into trying to save a local soup kitchen from being shut down.
My humour works best in contrast – funny and sad, funny and creepy, funny and angry. My purest humour might be my memoir, Still Life with Children. That was my life, taking care of 4 kids under the age of 6. I wrote it as it happened and it came out funny.
I think the most recent one is the funniest: Notes from the ---- Life of a Total Genius. There are a few scenes that can still elicit a chuckle from me when I think about writing them. The characters have grown since the first book, and I really enjoyed getting to write teenage boy text banter between Arthur and his friend Robbie.
Wow, that is really hard to answer. I would say it’s a toss-up between Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Maybe Dear George, because all the parents are at least alive and well in that one.
What are your favourite two consecutive sentences in any of your books?
From Exploits of a Reluctant (But Extremely Goodlooking) Hero:
'"Today at school I told my best friend, Roger, that our grade 7 teacher, Mr. Unger, must have some sort of bizarre sensory input disorder because although I’ve consistently demonstrated a complete lack of interest in his teaching style, he persists in trying to entice me with his crazy antics.
“What’s more,” I said, “when he wears that green cowboy hat of his, he looks exactly like Mr. Potato Head on a stick!”’
How about these two from Zomboy?
"So far as I could count, my heart was beating 280 times a minute. Which was 280 times more than Imre’s."
I’m going to cheat and give you three. It’s from A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius, and one of Arthur’s English assignments. He has to write a dialogue. Here’s part of it:
Darian: … I learned about crocodiles that live in the sewers that can grow to be up to 25 feet long.
Nancy: How long is that in metres?
Darian: I don’t know; I’m from Ohio.
Okay, I can think of one that I always thought was pretty funny – and yet when I read it aloud in schools, no one ever laughs. From Word Nerd:
Ambrose is being beaten up, and he says, “It hurt like hell and I started to cry because nothing like this had ever happened to me before … well … only twice before, once in Regina and once in Kelowna, but never this bad. So I tried to curl up in a ball and protect my head, and there was this weird, screeching sound, which I realized only later was probably me.”
Finally, I just gotta ask: Please share one of your favourite jokes or riddles.
I wouldn’t say this is one of my favourites but when I asked my family for suggestions, my husband threw this one out and it made me laugh:
Person #1: My wet dog has no nose.
Person #2: How does he smell?
Person #3: Terrible!
A man wished to cross a river but there was no bridge or ferry. He saw someone on the far bank and called out, "How do I get to the other side of this river?" The answer came back, "What do you mean? You are on the other side.
My favourite joke I heard on The Muppet Show years and years ago, and this is it:
Q: What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhinoceros?
My favourites are vastly inappropriate. But I do like one I used in We Are All Made of Molecules:
What did the zero say to the eight? “Nice belt.”
Maureen Fergus is an award-winning author of books for kids of all ages. Her novels include The Gypsy King trilogy and Ortega; her picture books include InvisiBill, The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten and the Buddy and Earl series. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba and www.maureenfergus.com is her awesome website.
Richard Scrimger’s recent novels feature an upside-down world and the back of Laura Secord’s cow. Confusion is his natural state. Just ask his children. He has four - no, wait, they have him. Check out www.scrimger.ca or @richardscrimger for an occasional giggle.
Originally from Calgary, Alberta, Stacey Matson now works as an author and an educator in Vancouver, BC. Learn more about her at www.staceymatson.com.
Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats. Her website www.susinnielsen.com.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website, www.susanhughes.ca.