I’ve been feeling a bit like Judas.
First betrayal: in a recent a post on Facebook about the imminent launch of Odd Bird I kind of apologised for the fact that it is a rom com.
Second betrayal: pre-COVID, I played football three times a week with three different groups of guys (actually, I prefer to say blokes). Very few of those blokes know I wrote a novel. None of them know it’s a rom com.
Third betrayal: if my friends refer to Odd Bird as a rom com I sort of cringe. I might even get a little bit defensive. I might say, ‘Well, it’s not a typical rom com,’ or, ‘It is and it isn’t.’
I didn’t set out to write a rom com. Does anybody? Don’t we all just want to tell a story? I just knew I wanted to write a book and I wanted it to be funny.
They say a ‘what if?’ is a great way to get started. This was mine: what if Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker sat down together to write a comic novel?
Nice. But who was it about?
At first I thought my protagonist would use his expert knowledge of evolutionary psychology to his advantage, only to regret it eventually. That, I suppose, is when I unknowingly committed myself to writing a rom com. Anyhow, I soon realised I didn’t want to hang out with that character for two years.
Instead, what if my protagonist knew all the theory about mating and courtship and yet he was hopeless about relationships? What if his knowledge actually handicapped him? What if he felt like he had missed the field visit where the boys go off to learn about girls?
I liked that. It felt like it had comic potential. I felt like I wanted to write it.
Also, frankly, I felt like I had lots of personal experience to draw on. The greatest joys and the greatest sorrows in my own life had been about love. I had always felt like love was sort of happening to me. It would start or it would stop and I never felt like I had much agency.
I knew that other blokes didn’t necessarily feel that way. For example, at the age of twenty seven, I got divorced.
In the aftermath I said to a friend, ‘I’ve forgotten how to tell if a woman likes me.’
He said, ‘I’d never thought about that.’
‘Yes,’ I said, encouraged by his empathy, ‘Seven years is a long time.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I mean I’ve just always assumed that they like me.’
The name of that friend was Dr Simon Selwood. I remembered that conversation and fifteen years later I named my Odd Bird protagonist after him. I smiled as I typed his name for the first time because I knew that my Simon and the real Simon would be very different.
I suspect that lots of men feel like me. I say suspect, because it’s not the kind of thing we talk about. We pretend we are more confident than we are. We are competitive you see.
Via my Simon I reveal male doubts and I expose the competing voices that drive us. If I’m wrong about all of that I could take some flack at footie.
So, yes, Odd Bird is a big, fat, juicy, male-led rom com. And I’m proud of it.
And yet… I prefer to think about Odd Bird as a funny novel. Odd Bird is a rom com. It’s also a comedy about maleness and especially about competitiveness within male friendships. It’s also a comedy about nerdiness and particularly birdy nerdiness. It’s also a comedy about the way we laud celebrity over substance.
So perhaps Odd Bird is actually a comedy.
And yet…I prefer to think of Odd Bird as a novel. Odd Bird is funny. It’s also tender. It’s also reverent about friendship and science and nature and birds.
Whatever kind of creature Odd Bird is, I just hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.