I like a good laugh. I always have, and with my writing it’s always a less than serious approach to the subject, regardless of the setting. What and who makes me laugh changes over time, but I feel that the humour that I impose on my characters and scenes is largely inspired by particular groups of writers and performers that are worth a mention.
It all started with television. The famous and now sometimes infamous sitcoms and sketch shows that dominated the schedules of British TV in the 1970s and early 80s.
First up, was undoubtedly Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I must have still been quite young when the shows were first transmitted, but I seemed to be allowed to stay up late to watch them. Admittedly, some of it must have gone over my head, but I still felt as if I was watching something edgy, rebellious, and non-conformist. These were sentiments that appealed to me even then.
Fawlty Towers, and Ripping Yarns, then followed on, and I still watch them today. Plus the two films I will never tire of; Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Life of Brian, both of which have undoubtedly had an influence on The Blood of the Bear.
A few years later, it was the group of comedians that established themselves as the first providers of alternative comedy. Too many hits between them to name them all, but The Young Ones, The New Statesman, and of course The Comic Strip were favourites.
Last of the television mentions, but definitely not least, was the classic four series of Blackadder. Moving through time from the Wars of the Roses to World War One. Humour in a historical setting has always had great appeal to me.
The crossover from television into books had to be Spike Milligan. I watched the Q series along with the others mentioned above, but it was his published work that I really became a fan of. His war trilogy that stretched to seven books in the end? His many collections of short stories, poems, and drawings and the one novel I liked most of all, Puckoon. The story set in Ireland is a cautionary tale of the side effects of imposing borders, that is still valid to this day! I’ve read it more times than any other book, including Lord of the Rings (three times - but that’s for another post).
It would be wrong of me not to include Billy Connolly, I’m Scottish after all, so it’s a default setting in my sense of nationhood. In fact, I think he inspired the character of “Talorc” in The Blood of the Bear, even though the Pictish warrior hails from Fife, and not Glasgow.
The last tribute is assigned to the novelist Tom Sharpe. After I read Wilt, that’s when the bug really bit me about wanting to write a book of my own. There was just something about the way he told the story. It’s not just the laughs, but the whole progression from a small inciting incident to the full-blown chaos of the finale.
Anarchy, class division, politics, humour entwined with history, just plain ridiculousness, and a health disrespect for authority are common elements in a lot of my influences. I just hope that I’ve encapsulated some of that inspiration in The Blood of the Bear.