Wednesday, 16 October 2019

How not to die alone

Richard Roper and Emma Kennedy, Henley town hall

FOR an event with such a sombre-sounding title, Lives and Deaths, it was anything but.

Saturday afternoon’s discussion was funny and uplifting, chaired by the always popular Andy Miller, the audience spent most of it laughing.

But it did cover some serious ground and as Emma Kennedy, author of The Things We Left Unsaid, said, “It is best to explore dark territory through comedy.” And we certainly did just that.

The discussion veered from life and death to TV rights, alternative titles, and along the way involved talk of Dickens, Roald Dahl, Nick Hornby and David Nicholls.

Who knew so much could be packed into one hour? So why the title of life and death?

Richard Roper, author of Something to Live For, has written a book about death. In fact, in the US the title of the book is How Not to Die Alone.

But it is a funny book and Roper himself was cheery, admitting he loves comedy sitcoms. He said “wit is part of the human experience” and so it was important for him to be funny.

Similarly, Kennedy’s book, about family life, focusing on life and death events, has “funny moments splattered through”.

Kennedy said “nothing is ever monotone” and told a very funny anecdote about her own mother’s funeral to the audience. “There is always light in the dark,” she added.

Truth then is perhaps the key to being funny. Comedy allows us to explore darkness. But how best to do this?

Miller suggested that both their books have fantastic dialogue. Kennedy, also a TV scriptwriter, agreed that real-life dialogue is key.

Comedy relies not only on the correct timing of a word but of each syllable. It allows the prose to be more easygoing.

Roper said he reads his work out loud when he is editing to hear what the words sound like, and Kennedy agreed this is essential to the process of re-drafting.

Perhaps it was this ease of conversation, their comfortable way with words, which made the event such a delight.

They talked like old friends, joking, telling stories — both funny and sad — to each other, as much as to the audience.

Kennedy even elaborated on her recent world record, when she created the biggest ever kazoo ensemble by packing out the Royal Albert Hall with kazoo players.

Roper joked about his day job as an editor and talked about the importance of Harry Potter to him, an inspiration for writing.

Asked about future projects, Kennedy couldn’t say anything other than that she is working on something for TV but is “NDAed up to her ears” but she also told us she has finished the first draft of her next novel.

Roper, who got a two-book deal from Something to Live For, is trying to write the second book, but he joked, when asked what he will be doing next week, that he will probably be eating ice cream and watching television until panic sets in at 7pm.

Let’s hope they both keep writing and making every day life that little bit brighter.

Laura Healy

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