The World and Adventures of Master Detective Nicely Strongoak and Writer Terry Newman. The #1 USA Kindle Epic Fantasy ***** Bestseller "Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf" now joined by his new adventures: "The King of Elfland's Little Sister" and "Dwarf Girls Don't Dance."
It is always difficult when you see something broadcast or read something published that is remarkably close to a project that you have been working on for ages yourself. Detective Nicely Strongoak himself was delayed for many, many years (and had to change markedly) because of the success of another Terry that blew a lot of my ideas out of water.
I’m sure most writers have digital piles of manuscripts that were completed just at the wrong time. It can’t be helped – as much as you want to blame the mind-reading aliens or Network spies, that’s the nature of ideas. They come to fruition at similar times because waves of writers tend to get inspired by the same thing and sit and cogitate on them for similar times. Either that or the muse is a bit of a trollop and not at all faithful to you!
My ‘been done’ script pile is bigger than my ‘to pitch’ pile. This even includes a radio comedy serial on a subject so unlikely that I thought nobody else could ever think of it. I got a producer and production company interested in my idea and the next week the producer heard the Radio 4 show on the same subject. And it was pants – he told me, I couldn’t listen.
What do you do?
The only conciliation is if the series that comes out is marvellous, even better than your idea. Which brings me to Stewie Griffin. I usually only collect animation production cels, but I made an exception for this little beauty.
I have always been interested in the minutiae of life – as ex-Talking Head David Byrne once memorably said: in the magical in the mundane and the magical in the mundane. That is why I once wrote a play that featured superheroes having a night off and eating pizza.
I mean, ‘What do you do on the Night After You’ve Saved the Universe’ after all. On stage we had a fab invisible C-Thru Girl, and a fab Fabman who could cool the beer with his freeze-breath. Speedo brought the pizza all the way from Italy and Minuscule Man who was so small you’d think he wasn’t there, ate a whole 24th of a slice and Lady Luck paid for it all with a lottery ticket.
They sat round and chewed the fat like you do after a hard day’s work.
And with fantasy, I love the tales of heroism naturally, but I always did wonder what happened after the Big Bad Guy went down the drain. I mean you can’t commit genocide – so all those goblins need to be integrated into society, and what would happen when somebody started the first ‘Save The Dragon’ campaign and what if somebody introduced democracy?
Shake well and leave a couple of thousand years and you might just end up with a place like Widergard, which is where Master Detective Nicely Strongoak hangs out.
I never knew you could ‘fun’ – but you can, in North America at least. I think that is pretty cool. It is a verb, ‘informal, to tease or joke’, as in ‘Hey, I was only funning’. We don’t fun in that way in the UK. Not to my knowledge at least.
I think this is excellent, because let’s face it: there just isn’t enough fun around anymore. I happen to be a great fan of ‘fun’, but it seems to me that somewhere along the way ‘fun’ got a bit of a bad name. Which is a great shame.
Was it because ‘fun’ feels a little old-fashioned? Perhaps a little bit 1930s, when the ‘Radio Fun’ and ‘Film Fun’ comics first came out with their rather quaint strips? In America ‘More Fun Comics’ was rather different and saw the arrival of one of my all-time favourite characters: a deceased cop who acts as a host to the cosmic entity known as the ‘The Spectre’. A very special type of fun that last one!
Personally I think the demise of ‘fun’ has a lot to do with comedy becoming cool. Not just cool, but also dark and often based on the comedy of embarrassment or even of taking the mickey out of people via hidden cameras. Now, I’m not saying that these approaches can’t have their merits (especially when the targets of prankster comedy actually deserve it) but I wouldn’t say they were ‘fun’. And this, I feel, is a shame. Fun has a lot going for it (a friend of mine is very big on men and women wearing large papier-mâché heads), it’s light-hearted, pleasurable and enjoyable and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Is it controversial to say that too much comedy takes itself too seriously these days? Again ‘serious comedy’ has its place, especially when dealing with serious issues like politics, but it does not have to be a forum for exposing your own neurosis. Which is not to say you can’t be serious about ‘doing’ it.
I’m serious about my comedy writing, especially Master Detective Nicely Strongoak, which is why I was so delighted to have reviews recently that described A DEAD ELF thus: ‘Witty and fun!’ ‘Super fun read’ and ‘Fun read’. Brilliant, as this book was meant to be fun!
There you go – you won’t get many shorter bogs than that.
OK, try this one then if you insist: it’s not for their strengths, it’s for their flaws, their weaknesses, and their quirks. We love ‘em for the things that make them human, even if they’re not.
Here’s one of my favourites, who now graces my study’s wall: Fred Flintstone.
Fred is loud and loses his temper far too often. He plots to improve his lot, usually ineffectually, but he cares. He cares about his family, his friends. I like to think he’d care about prehistoric climate change too (dino farts!) He’s very much alive, and of course expresses this with his trademark, joyful: ‘Yabba Dabba Doo!’
Here’s another similar character: Homer Simpson. Despite all his many, many faults, Homer loves his family too – well his wide and children. He’s on a different wall: ‘Yabba Dabba D’oh!’
And then there’s Daffy duck (hanging next to Fred now). Daffy doesn’t seem to have much about him, apart from faults. But there is something supremely human about him and his ambitions – and shortcomings. ‘Yabba Dabba Fail.’
The man at the fireworks party turns to me and says, ‘so, are you a writer too?’
I was rather taken aback to be honest. I mean, I was here to watch people walking up and down the street dressed up as monks and Romans and such like, while carrying burning torches and banging drums, before going to see a fab firework display (with the burning of a political effigy), not to talk work.
Of course, you can’t stop a writer comparing notes with another writer. So, full of enthusiasm, and beer, I reply:
‘Yes, I am a writer! I write fantasy and comedy now, just got a book out with Harper Voyager. I use to write for radio and TV, for people like Rory Bremner – a lot of political stuff. Plus, stage and now film. How great to meet another writer here, you didn’t do the secret handshake you see, threw me completely!
My mother always used to say it and I, full of my vast knowledge of science – at that stage mostly gained from SF books and comics – would laugh and go out anyway, hair soaking wet.
Advice you see, it’s always difficult to take when the reasons for it aren’t obvious. Advice, tricky to take and sometimes tricky to give too.
When I actually gained enough scientific knowledge to put ‘scientist’ on my passport (except you couldn’t by then) I still found myself in a position where advice had to taken. From people with more experience, it made sense to listen, but it was harder when they didn’t necessarily know any more about the subject than you, but were just ‘senior’. Of course, when the advice came from somebody reviewing your research paper, you had to take notice or it may not have been published. Difficult then if you didn’t agree with the referee, so you tried to appear to be bending over backwards to accommodate their advice, while sticking as closely to your own guns as possible. An interesting mixture of metaphors there, I’m sure you will agree.
After becoming a radio and TV comedy writer, the next obvious step after being a research scientist, I still had to take advice. Usually this came from a producer and of course you had to listen to this otherwise your sketch didn’t get broadcast. One, now very famous, multi award-winning, comedy producer once told me to take my sketch away and put more ‘melons’ in it. You can probably guess what type of melons he was referring to. I didn’t want to put more ‘melons’ in it; I don’t particularly like ‘melon-heavy’ sketches. I put the ‘melons’ in it though. It was broadcast and got laughs. (I still think it would have got laughs without the increased ‘melon’ count, but I’m not the one with the BAFTAS).
Now as fantasy writer I still get advice and this time it’s from an editor. So what’s the best approach to take?
I had a mate in Cambridge; well he is actually still a mate – just not in Cambridge. He told me about some people who were putting on a live topical comedy show in small Cambridge venues. They needed some material, so to make a change from what I was doing (worrying and drinking mostly,) I wrote some sketches and they used them.
I was delighted – absolutely over the moon – well stoked!