Caimh McDonnell: too funny and too Irish

Combining comedy with crime in a novel is like turning up at a disco in jeans and trainers

Publishing used be a lot like a bad country disco. The publishers in this metaphor are the lovely ladies and the authors are the likely lads. I don’t mean that the ladies stand bored on one side of the hall while the lads are on the other skulling pints. No, this is another kind of bad. Imagine a GAA tournament clashed with a young farmer’s convention and the AGM of the Association of People Called Sean. The ladies are so out-numbered, it’s like the film 300 remade as a romcom.

Good news, though, the publishers found a solution. The ladies hired some bouncers to do their rejecting for them – literary agents. As a lonely author looking for love, you’ve now got to convince one of them to dance with you long before any of the girls will consider it.

And so just over a year ago, I got my dancing shoes on. I wrote to nearly every literary agent in Britain and the response was unanimous, I’m an idiot. Usually it takes someone longer to figure that out but I’d unknowingly broken a golden rule. Combining comedy with crime in a novel is like turning up in jeans and trainers. I was getting the sling-yer-hook point a long time before I made it to the door. In other words, nobody actually read my book before rejecting it.

Even when I tried to hide the comedy, agents could smell it off me. To be fair, my CV fairly reeks of the stuff. I’ve been a stand-up for a decade, I’ve written for most of the big comedy shows on British TV and I’ve even been nominated for a Bafta for a kid’s cartoon series I created. Disastrous!


The experience reminded me of a BBC talk I attended when I moved to London. An exec told us some golden rules, including “never set a sitcom in an office, offices are boring”. I was at another BBC talk last year. An exec stood up and said “never ever set a sitcom in an office, because it’ll get compared to The Office and that’s the greatest sitcom ever”. Golden rules.

The breaking point was when I got a call from an agent who told me my book was “too funny and too Irish”. He interpreted my silence as me being unable to take criticism, whereas I didn’t think he’d made any yet. Too funny? That’s like being too delicious. As for the other thing, if we can’t be honest about this here, where can we be? Being Irish rocks! People who haven’t even met you, like you. We get a yearly parade just for existing. OK, sure – the 800 years of oppression and the thing with the spuds sucked, but being Irish in the modern world? It’s nothing but gravy baby!

So, I independently published. Is that like self-publishing? Well yes – except overseeing the process is a marketing manager with a background in publishing and a Master’s degree in PR. I married her to keep costs down. I work with an award-winning cover designer from Sarajevo, a formatter from Sydney, one of the most prestigious editors in Britain as well as professional copy-editors and proof-readers. Our little book has briefly hit the top of a couple of charts and I’m now being approached by agents keen for a dance. Funny old world – too funny in fact!