Yuck! Jennifer Killick on the surprising power of toilet humour
Published on: 22 June 2020
Does toilet humour gross you out? For author Jennifer Killick, it has a special power - she explains why we need toilet humour, and how it helped her get through a tough time...
Fart. Poo. Bumhole. Three words that I use in my writing on a regular basis, and three words that some people still see as inappropriate, while others dismiss them as crass, cheap humour.
I have long argued the case for the inclusion of such words in children's books - not just because toilet humour is, for most of us, an enjoyable giggle, but because it has real worth.
Funny books are hugely undervalued in general, which is something that makes me angry. There is nothing better in life than laughing. It improves our mental health, relieves stress, bonds us with others and helps us to find courage when we need it. When I think back to the times in my life when I have been the most afraid or upset, it was laughter that saw me through. Laughter makes us HAPPY. What is worth more than that? Nothing, that's what.
Learning to break taboos
Toilet humour in particular has played a huge part in my life for the past 14 years. I have a chronic disease called ulcerative colitis, which became symptomatic when I was pregnant with my first son. I had no idea what was going on with my body, but was incredibly alarmed by the blood, goo, and diarrhoea coming out of my bottom.
At first, because I had grown up thinking it was unacceptable to talk about these things, I couldn't even bring myself to tell the doctor. Eventually, I became so seriously ill that I couldn't function, and I had to admit everything. I use the word 'admit' because that was what it was like - a shameful confession. I was mortified.
Of course, in the weeks that followed, there had to be lots of uncomfortable and embarrassing medical tests, and discussions with lots of healthcare professionals. It was hard. And it was made so much harder because of my embarrassment about using language I had been taught was rude, and describing things I had been told should be kept private.
As the years have passed, and the disease has become just another part of my life, my embarrassment about discussing it has lessened. I realised that in being open about it, I could help others who might be going through a similar experience. And I realised that by trying to normalise the language of bum stuff, I might make it easier for people to talk about the things that were so mortifying to me.
Our bodies are amazing, and their daily functions are a wonderful part of living. We shouldn't be ashamed to talk about them, especially when not talking about them can have such a grave impact on our physical and mental health.
Taking toilet humour into my stories
Illustration: Heath McKenzie
I have a series of books about a boy called Alex Sparrow, who has a farting ear. When I was writing the first one, I don't think I was really aware that what Alex goes through - being different, being stinky, and trying to find a way to make this life-changing thing that has happened to him an advantage rather than a horror - had so many parallels with my own experiences.
It was gloriously freeing to be able to use those forbidden poo words so liberally, and then to find that other people enjoyed reading them.
Being able to giggle at wet farts and disgusting smells has got me through many terrors over the years, including a load of colonoscopies, which takes me back to my point about laughter giving us courage.
Some of the most horrifying moments in life can be made tolerable by being able to see the funny side. Sometimes all you need is a moment of laughter to break the tension so that you can keep going.
That's why I felt it was important to put humour in my most recent story, Crater Lake. Crater Lake is a horror story, but also a comedy. I like to think of it as a 'horrordy'.
When I visit schools, many children tell me they want more scary stories. I know lots of children can nonchalantly watch movies and read books that would have had me hiding under my duvet when I was their age (I am a bit of a wimp with such things). However, I would hate to be responsible for even a smidge of childhood trauma, plus I would never get anything too harrowing past my publisher, so I wanted to write the right sort of scary for them.
Using humour to balance the tension, and showing the characters laughing together, even in the dire situations they find themselves in, was so important in Crater Lake, and it's one of the things I love most about it.
Laughing together - what a special thing. And knowing that my stories help people to do that is the best thing about being an author.
So the next time you hear the word 'fart', 'poo', or 'bumhole', I hope you will think twice before you recoil in disgust. I hope you'll allow yourself the freedom of a chuckle, and maybe even share that chuckle with someone else.
Jennifer Killick's latest book Crater Lake is a contemporary sci-fi horror for middle-grade readers with plenty of the author's trademark humour. It is out now in paperback from Firefly Press and has been selected for Bookbuzz 2020. A second Crater Lake story will publish in 2021.
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