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Are You Trying to be Funny?…

Errr… well, yes actually.

It’s now several months since my first venture into travel/autobiography/comedy writing was published. Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is a humorous memoir of the seven years my family and I spent in a sleepy French village. The inhabitants were (and still are) a gloriously eccentric bunch and, along with their traditions and culture, I soon recognised that our experiences made for a rich vein of comic anecdote. This, combined with advice on how to successfully integrate into such a society, is the essence of Extracting Goats…

I am delighted, touched and flattered to say that I am the proud, and a little relieved, recipient of many reviews and messages (quotes from which are scattered around this article) indicating that a least a certain percentage of the population share my sense of humour. I confess that once Extracting Goats was published, I experienced many moments of anxiety; what if no-one else in the known world shared my humour? Was I ripping of the writers I idolise? Was I being offensive, or worse? I hope that some of the thoughts and tips outlined below will give you an insight into my method and thinking.

WRITE LIKE A JAZZER. It is important to clarify that I am a completely untrained writer. I am a professional guitarist and spent six years studying in a national conservatoire preparing for such a career. It struck me that there are thousands upon thousands of writers who have studied their craft to the same degree as I have studied nuances of ornamentation in the lute suites of J S Bach. That is scary. I recognise that my technique can never match that of a trained writer so I feel my approach is more like that of a jazz/rock musician. The analogy is a fair one. As I can also improvise at the guitar, I understand the different mind-sets that one adopts when creates in these two styles.

REMINICE. Make yourself laugh at the memories without analysis. I love recounting certain stories which still make me chuckle now, as I type. A favourite is one where I found myself trapped into pretending to be French at a wedding (it’s complex, read the book). I recall sitting at my laptop, tapping away fervently, emitting the occasional snort, like a baddie in a Bond movie entering the codes for a world-ending nuclear device. The experience was all about feeling. Any technical analysis came afterwards. I found it much easier – and far more pleasurable – to get the story on paper quickly and to refine later.

BE SINCERE. There are few things less funny than a writer or a speaker trying to be amusing. You have to believe in your material. Also cringe worthy are writers trying to catch the wave of a current style of humour, rather like a middle-aged politician saying ‘sick’ or ‘keep it real’. If your humour is dated, that’s OK. There will be readers within your own demographic who find dated humour funny too. If you doubt the validity of this point, ask your teenage daughter (or borrow someone else’s) to watch a 1980’s sitcom which you found side-splittingly hilarious. You may find that as you wipe away tears of mirth, your companion will be looking at the screen, ashen-faced and bemused.

HUMOUR HAS A VICTIM. WOULD YOU SAY IT TO THEIR FACE? I really believe in this statement. I dedicate a lot of page space to mocking the French fonctionnaire – which can be anyone in a position of power, such as a civil servant. Although I am pretty merciless in my observations, I took immense care to avoid stepping into the realms of bitterness and nastiness. An example is a story when I poke fun at a fonctionnaire who was a complete technophobe. I can honestly say that if he were sitting next to me now, I would say it all as written. I have tested this formula in real life. A number of my stories tease my ex-pat friends who have endured glorious failures in their attempts to learn the language or integrate. In the summer of 2019, I performed a number of concerts in the Dordogne where the pieces of music were punctuated by readings. It was such a joy to see my ‘victims’ in the audience with tears of laughter streaming down their faces. Many of them bought copies for their families and asked me to dedicate them to their pseudonyms.

AVOID BEING NASTY BY USING SELF-DEPRICATION. This one is, for me, the key to Extracting Goats. I soon realised that if I was going to poke fun at others, I had to be able to poke fun at myself. That is much funnier than just directing observations towards others. Let me give you an example. When Kirsty and I decided to open a cattery, I was obliged to take a three-day course in cat breeding. Now, you must understand that I had no interest in breeding cats – in fact, given that we were hosting other people’s cats for a fixed period of time, breeding was a definite no-no. The course was an exercise in box-ticking officialdom and it was both expensive and unnecessary. The easy course of action would have been to have mocked the lecturers and organisation forcing me to undertake the training but I soon realised that making myself the victim through recounting my attempts to memorise pages upon pages of biological information (in French) regarding illnesses and hereditary illnesses in pedigree cats was both funnier and supremely surreal.

Toilet humour… always a winner.

CHECK, BUT USE FRESH EYES. Once a story was written, I read it over and over again to undergo a process of refinement. I am only too aware that my results are imperfect but I gave it my all. After a while, I noticed that I was deleting or replacing a lot of material. Whereas it is good to be ruthless, one has to take care as a joke stops being funny after one has read it for the forty-seventh time. Consequently, I found myself reinstating gags which I had previously rejected. A good tool is to read your passages out loud to willing friends. I found this surprisingly nerve-racking. This is bizarre as I have, in my career, played a concerto to two thousand listeners with a symphony orchestra, but as this was a new venture, out of my comfort zone, it was challenging. Another really useful tool is the ‘speak’ facility on Word. Highlight a passage and find the ‘speak’ facility (Google it…) Your text will be read to you in an expressionless robotic style (which I actually found hilarious). It is great for analysing issues such as paragraph length, comic timing and basic errors such as word repetition. The final point is important here. I found myself reading what I wanted to see rather than what was on the page. Robo-voice lady just reads what’s there.

SET A LIMIT. I once sat at my computer for an hour agonising over whether the expression ‘I would rather place my own testicles in a blender’ was funnier than ‘I would rather place my own testicles in a coffee grinder’. That’s ridiculous. There is a moment when one has to walk away. Incidentally, I chose the coffee grinder.

FINALLY… in my experience, reality is much funnier than fiction, if we open our eyes to it. Be sincere, warm and open. You’ll struggle to please everyone but if you follow these principles, you’ll know that you’ve been true to yourself and what you are as a writer.

Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is available in paperback or Kindle editions here. Visit www.danjonesauthor.com or www.danjonesguitarist.com.

Dan will be performing as a guitarist and promoting Extracting Goats… at two forthcoming events in Scotland in September: SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 8th at Innerpeffray Library, Chapel and Heritage Trail from Midday. Please see: http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/#&panel1-1

Dan and friends will be celebrating the launch of Extracting Goats… at Dunbarney and Forgandenny Parish Church Hall, Bridge of Earn, on Sunday September 15th from 2.30pm – 4.30pm. This will be a family day with music, readings, games for children and maybe even a crepe or two! All are welcome – entry free with a voluntary donation to Perth’s homelessness charities.

Book Launch Family Event! Bridge of Earn

Dear Friends,

Oh là là!!!

On SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 15th I will be celebrating the release of my book EXTRACTING GOATS FROM JEAN-CLAUDE’S KITCHEN with a launch party at THE CHURCH HALL from 2.30pm – 4.30pm.

This will be a family event so there will be outdoor games for children (because the weather will be glorious, right?), live music (with special contributions from Brig’s abundance of talent!), readings, drinks and crepes!

If you would like to check out EXTRACTING GOATS… it is stocked and supported by many of our splendid local businesses including The River Edge Lodges and The Co-op. I’d like to thank our village’s book club who have also read and discussed it. For you techy types, it is available in Paperback or Kindle edition at Amazon.

We will be asking for a voluntary donation at the event which will go to local homelessness charities chosen by the magnificent team at Dunbarney and Forgandenny Parish Church. Food, drinks, games and music are on me.

There is no need for a ticket or advanced booking – just come along and have a relaxed afternoon of fun, music, games and chat.

Thanks for reading – enjoy my little film of silliness and see you there! A bientôt!

Dan

Vegan 269 Perth, UK – Review

I’ve never written a restaurant review before so I thought I’d start on a smaller scale with a café. Since arriving in Scotland, la Famille Jones has found eating out a challenge. I recognise that different cultures have varied tastes but I find much of what is offered in the UK’s popular restaurants is heavy, stodgy and unhealthy. I also despair at the manner in which children are treated in restaurants and in particular, pubs. There is either a stark hostility to anyone under the age of 18 or places are set up to resemble a play factory ensuring that none of the skills children learn when taken to restaurants are acquired (conversation, appropriate behaviour, courtesy etc). We went to one ‘child-friendly’ pub recently and to my eternal horror and disbelief, TV screens had been set up at the end of each table – presumably to keep kids mute for the duration of the meal. If the ‘thinking’ is that children will be protected from the evils of alcohol, well, the strategy is clearly ineffective. Since arriving in Scotland, under-age youths have been responsible for countless acts of vandalism outside our flat, usually inspired by an illegal evening of drinking sweetened fortified wine (specially designed for those youthful tastes). ‘Menus’ for children remain pre-packaged mush, bland on the mouth and brain.

My curried courgette soup

But let us switch to a brighter note. Yesterday was Father’s Day and I really wanted to celebrate it with our children in a manner which would be good for our health, interesting on a culinary level, fairly-priced and respectful to the local economy. Vegan 269 in Perth ticks all of these boxes and much more. Let me clarify now, I am neither vegan nor vegetarian, although about 95% of my diet is non-meat as the ladyfolk Chez Jones are veggie. I love veggie food and Vegan 269’s menu shows that with a little love, creativity and passion, such food is exciting, tasty, generous and imaginative.

Kirsty had crushed avocado on sourdough toast. The avocado was seasoned beautifully and had a glorious, rich texture and a touch of heat with the flakes of chilli which ran through it. I had a bowl of curried courgette soup. The taste was deep, layered and full of warming curry notes. The texture was rich and creamy – this being achieved through skilful combinations of ingredients and cooking techniques rather than chucking in half a litre of heart-attack inducing coagulated cow juice. It was not hot – the cook recognised that ‘curry’ refers to layers of flavour rather than to what degree one’s head will be blown off. Extra bread (delicious home-baked) was offered with a smile – and gratefully accepted. Our children had traditional food – baked beans on toast and fruit breads – all locally sourced and organic.

Vegan chocolate brownie – amazing!

The drinks menu had a real rarity – grown up alcohol-free beverages that taste of something other than sugar or aspartame. I had blood orange soda, Kirsty a Kombucha (fermented tea which gives a strong, intense flavour) and Flo a sparkling rose water. For those who like the traditional cola, organic, responsibly-produced versions were available.

Avocado on home-made bread.

For dessert, I had a stunning rose and pistachio cake. All the ‘wet’ ingredients were non-dairy and nothing was lost in terms of deliciousness. Kirsty had a cheesecake where the base was created from dates. Stunning. The kids had peanut butter and chocolate brownies, again, with vegan-friendly, healthier base ingredients.

The prices were very good value – what price do we put on health and environmental responsibility? The staff, lovely – genuinely enthusiastic about their work and full of smiles. The place had plenty of kids present and books, as well as an art area was laid on for them.

Rose and pistachio cake (you can see someone had a nibble before I got my camera out!)

We need places like this to support local foodie businesses who care about quality. We need to move away from industrially-produced edible food items which slowly but surely suffocate the planet and induce many health problems. Let’s show our kids the alternatives.

The Digital Goats Have Arrived!

I’m delighted to say that for all you modern-day techie people, Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen has arrived in digital form, ready for download on your device here.

As if this auspicious occasion weren’t enough, I hereby proudly present EXTRACTING GOATS – THE MOVIE TRAILER! I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing, performing, drawing, narrating and filming it! If it does raise a smile, perhaps you’d be kind enough to share it far-and-wide. Thanks!

Oh là là Language

I am of an age to have been obliged to study Latin at school. I was quite open-minded about this proposition – neither I nor my colleagues were of the view that we shouldn’t study a ‘dead’ language. We were of a time where pupils unquestioningly acted upon the wishes of a teacher.

I was dreadful at Latin. Although this could well have been due to the limitations of my overall intelligence, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that one of our teachers took joy in humiliating weaker pupils, inviting the class to mock students (that was me) and the other was downright violent. I felt no resentment or fear of these characters – I just switched off completely in the class, took the hit (literally) and learned nothing, although I have a vague recollection of a volcano wiping out the main characters, including a dog.

Conversely, I was quite good at French. I had two lovely teachers, one of whom I remain in contact with now, and the other who moved on and I have been unable to locate. In 2010, we relocated to a sleepy village in rural South-West France and I was obliged to delve back into the distant reserves of my memory and rekindle my school French. I found that being immersed in a language – and having to use it as no other option was available – was a very effective way of becoming a fluent French speaker. I use the word ‘speaker’ as my written French is still rather poor, but that is unimportant. If I’m in the bar with my French pals, no-one is likely to ask me to write the verb ‘vouloir’ in the third person conditional tense. It is much more valuable to learn the expression for ‘Wales won the match – you owe me a beer.’

As time progressed I fell deeply in love with the French language. I learnt how to say ‘I’m going to throw up’ when a child demonstrated exactly how to say this before offering a practical demonstration of the phrase in his guitar lesson. The same child also taught me the unlikely phrase for ‘there is a dead bat under the fridge’. I adore the odd old-fashioned words which are departing from English but are still commonplace in French (cache, umbrage, grave, terminate and the like) and the daft new words for modern items (aspirateur – vacuum cleaner, ordinateur – computer).

The strangest, but possibly the most-valuable tip I’d offer the French language learner is that when speaking a language, the job of communication must take over the whole body, possibly to the extent where the speaker’s personality changes. When speaking English, I can be rather quiet – I tend to mumble and meander. When in conversation in French, I become far more European. I hurl my bodyweight forwards with open palms when arguing a point, I shrug, I say ‘Mais non!’ and wave exasperated arms around; quite frankly, I become a Frenchman. This sounds silly and has, quite rightly, left me exposed to mockery and ridicule from my social group, but surely effective communication is more than just words from the mouth. How often do we look at people’s eyes to see what they are really thinking? Can the body language of cultures be a whole new discipline in itself? Should we teach pupils gestures such as ‘the upwards flap of the right hand, with flexible wrist to express disagreement’? Language is a complex, cultural and expressive tool. To speak it, we must say it, feel it, express it, shape it and communicate it with our whole being.

Dan is the author of Extracting Goats From Jean-Claude’s Kitchen, available from Amazon or through the contact page.

Extracting Goats – The Movie!

I am so thrilled that the paperback version of Extracting Goats From Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is now available at Amazon here! To celebrate this occasion, Florence and I have made a movie! Extracting Goats – the Trailer! I do hope you enjoy it.