Writing romantic comedy – Julie Houston

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By Julie Houston

Laughter is essential in my life: I need to giggle and hoot and snort. This is probably why I write romantic comedy.♥

I’ve been known to laugh so much I’ve wet my pants, but it’s not my fault – it’s a family trait. My eighty-year-old granny was just the same: I can see her now, determined to pull on the tiniest of my thongs from the washing line over her corsets and collapsing with hysterical mirth onto the deckchair in our garden, the thong wrapped somehow around both her knees.

I am often asked, as no doubt are all writers, where I find ideas for writing my books and, I have to confess, when someone recounts a real-life funny happening, I will make a note and it’s a big possibility it will pop up somewhere in a story at a later date.

In Goodness, Grace and Me, my first novel, I have woven a number of true anecdotes into the story, including the one where a ten-year-old looked me up and down in wonder before uttering the immortal words: ‘Miss, you’ve got the biggest tits I’ve ever seen.’ Wrath was gathering and about to descend on his trendily-shaven head when the little innocent added, ‘And they’re always in green, Miss, not like other teachers who always do ’em in red…’

I know my dad, looking down from that great comedy club in the sky, would have appreciated hugely my sister’s and my farcical, covert attempts at spreading his ashes on the golf course where he’d spent much of his retirement, after being told we weren’t allowed to do so. This led me to write how Charlie and Daisy and their Mum attempted the same with the girls’ grandfather in Coming Home to Holly Close Farm (Aria, Feb 2019)

‘Perfect,’ Daisy smiled. ‘Come on.’

‘You don’t think he’ll be a bit lonely out here all by himself?’ I said doubtfully as we stood amongst the giant oaks and sycamores and opened the box to reveal a plastic bag of grey lumpy ash. ‘I’d be really scared out here by myself at night.’

‘He’ll miss the cats,’ Mum added.

‘There’ll be foxes,’ Daisy said somewhat impatiently. ‘And squirrels and birds… Oh and golfers.’ She attempted nonchalance as three hearty-looking women in waterproofs suddenly appeared in front of us.

‘Morning,’ one trilled in our direction. ‘Lovely morning for it.’

‘Does she mean for scattering grandads?’ Daisy asked giggling.

‘I think she’s being ironic,’ I said sarcastically. ‘OK, they’ve gone. Is the coast clear?’

I took a handful of the ashes, my black leather gloves turning white in the process, and looked around for a good place to scatter.

‘Hang on,’ Mum said suddenly, staying my hand. ‘Shouldn’t we sing something?’

‘What?’ Daisy asked. ‘So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye?’

Mum stared at her. ‘He wasn’t German.’

Daisy tutted. ‘OK, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust?’

‘Going Underground?’ by The Jam,’ I sang, giggling.

‘Now I think you’re both being disrespectful,’ Mum tutted in turn.

‘And you weren’t, putting him on a shelf with feral cats for two years?’ Daisy said indignantly.

In the end, we sang four verses of Fight the Good Fight, scattering a handful of ashes on the downbeat at the end of each line.

A Village Affair (Aria, Nov 6th) has Cassie delivering leaflets around her village in order to raise awareness of the potential development of Norman’s Meadow, a local beauty spot. I based her encounter with the Jack Russell behind a letter box on the very same thing that happened to me and I include it here as an indication of what I find hugely funny.

I was out delivering leaflets for the NSPCC. I saw the Jack Russell at the window and should have known better than to deliver through that particular (hairy-toilet-brush type) letter box. Next thing I knew the bloody thing had my finger through the letter box and wouldn’t let go. Very embarrassing to be stuck to a letter box knowing your finger is about to lose all contact with your hand. Thank God I was wearing gloves, and leather ones at that, or my finger would have been at the other side of the door.

How does one go about getting one’s finger back? Knock and say, “Excuse me, Mister, my finger’s gone in your hall. Please can I have it back?’ With one final yank I managed to retrieve my finger from the slavering beast’s jaws, leaving only – but still my best – leather glove behind. A bit shell-shocked, I walked, gloveless, and tittering/crying (believe me, there is such a state) down the rest of the estate.

Suddenly a voice shouted my name. I turned, assuming it to be the beast’s owner returning my glove. It wasn’t. It was a Knight In Shining Armour writing colleague (KISA) to whom I gabbled hysterically about mad dogs, rabies and chewed fingers.  That night in bed I developed Rabies, Tetanus and Gangrene interspersed with an uncontrollable urge to titter.

Texts followed the next day:

KISA: Your glove is now in my possession. I hope you still have the other one!

ME: What did you say? What did man say? Just about to throw other glove away. Glad I didn’t!

KISA: Man on walk with JR and put it to him. Denied it at first (fearing legal action?) then admitted to dog glove theft. Rang our door last night, sheepish, proffered glove as peace offering. Our dog barked at his!

And the moral of the story? Confrontations with a Jack Russell can provide good material for the romantic comedy writer; avoid hairy-toilet-brush letterboxes and Jack Russells that have Napoleonic complex. And if you can’t, make sure there is a KISA living opposite.

Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking For Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle Number1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.


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