Phil: The standard advice to writers is to write what you know. That’s fine if you want an autobiography, but we had decided to write a funny book.
Of course there is a genre out there called “Misery fiction” but anything that ends with the line “and I worked in an office of a quango and we got closed down” doesn’t sound like a best seller to me. OK, so my childhood years building things out of Lego might appeal to a certain sort of person but they probably work in one of those special IT jobs where you aren’t encouraged to emerge during daylight hours or mix with normal humans.
More important, we didn’t want to set the story where we were working at the time. There were plenty of reasons for this but the most obvious were:
- It was an office.
- Offices aren’t funny.
Before someone says “What about The Office on TV ?”, well that was fine but that was telly. I can’t think how you translate those awkward pauses that made it work, into print. Worse, it’s been done. No, most of the humour in an office comes from in-jokes completely incomprehensible to anyone outside the click. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who has been a “plus 1” at a works Christmas dinner…
What we needed was a place of work with the potential for humour and as it happens, I had worked at just such a place years ago. A vegetable research station.
In real life the place wasn’t that funny at all. There were lots of science types who spent their life growing things or prodding the results in bits of science equipment. It’s just that vegetables are inherently funny.
Maybe it’s to do with growing up seeing That’s Life and their regular “Oh look at the parsnip that looks like a willy !” spot (in fact isn’t the very word “Parsnip” just a bit amusing ?) but we could both see immediately how this could work. Cabbage research isn’t the sort of subject that media-friendly Governments find sexy, as my old employers have found to their cost, so it fitted the bill a treat. Best of all, the boffins are likely to be a decent match for people whose stock-in-trade is management speak.