Sometimes an idea comes that refuses to let go.
Many ideas for books appear and despite initial excitement, fail to make it past a few thousand words, as you realise there’s just not enough there to justify continuing. Boredom and/or apathy take over and things are quietly put down. And the remote control quietly picked up.
The result is you end up with documents and notebooks lying around that are occasionally opened or read in the hope of regaining some of that initial enthusiasm. This can last a short while until eventually they are dropped for the second, or third, or fourth time. Sometimes you see a project name and have no idea what on earth it was and even reading it gives no further clues.
One idea that wouldn’t let go was this one.
A visit to a large university town in the north of England promised new charity shops to browse. (We all make our own entertainment in our own ways). In one of these I found a Golden Nugget. It was a book by Dave Barry, an American humorist, who I hadn’t heard of before but plenty others had. He was on the cover, dressed in fancy dress as George Washington standing on the prow (or is it the bow?) of a small boat.
The book was called Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States. I opened it, started reading and started laughing. I turned a few more pages. And laughed some more. Barry was as irreverent as possible, leaving no target unhumored, from the US’s short but hilarious history. An example:
Things were also very bad for the American family farmer, whose fields, by the late 1980s, were parched and dusty because of the bright lights being shone on them by television news crews doing heart-rending reports about the plight of the family farmer.
I loved it*. It was cheeky, fast-paced, full of gags and never let up. I didn’t get all the references but it didn’t matter. Funny is funny.
It was after I’d finished I thought: someone should write about Scottish history like this. Someone who knew how to look up Scottish history on the internet and who could write jokes, about looking up history on the internet. I looked around but as I didn’t work as a commissioning editor or have any writer-elves in the attic, I decided I’d do it.
The book – now called A Haverin’ History of Scotland – took several years to write. I started in Twenty Oatcake and finished in Twenty Oatcake**. Despite its non-serious approach, I still had to look up the actual history with its pesky facts to find something that might somehow please god be turned into laughs. Hours were spent in the National Museum squinting at the labels (I’d forgotten my glasses) or reading history books (not all come with pictures). Eventually it was done. It was way over the word limit, so out came potentially libellous stories about **** ******* and * * *******.
Of course, comedy is subjective and not everyone will laugh at the same things. For example, what is funny about William Wallace? To some, not much. He is an iconic warrior and legendary freedom fighter who died horribly in the worst of the Medieval ways.
He is also a tourist who only got to visit London once and never got to take home his souvenir fridge magnets. There’s no way that’s too soon.
The book was taken up The History Press, who have a well-deserved reputation for deeply researched tomes on all subjects under the historical sun. I hope A Haverin’ History of Scotland doesn’t ruin it.
*Not just that bit, the whole bit. Barry uses footnotes as a comedy tool so I copied it. That was the only thing I copied. Honesty. Nothing else, m’lud.
** Not putting proper dates is another thing I paid homage by doing.