Thursday 9 May 2013

Introducing Aliya Whiteley

I am delighted to welcome Aliya Whiteley, novelist and short story writer, whose new short story collection, Witchcraft in the Harem, is published next week. Aliya's quirky sense of humour is unique, and this collection is bound to be a delight. If you want another taste of Aliya's humour, I particularly recommend her novel Mean Mode Median (my favourite of her novels).

Meanwhile, here are Aliya's thoughts ....

...On The Twin Inspirations of Poetry and Jelly

When I first starting writing, I wrote poetry. I think that’s because one of my favourite books when I was young was a collection of comic verse, and I still have a great respect for anyone who can make me laugh in a line or two. So when Frances kindly gave me permission to take over her blog it seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about humorous poetry; after all, she writes it so well herself.

That sense of the absurd, the fantastical, that inhabits the best comic verse has certainly been a strong influence on me. I see it in my short stories in particular, and throughout my fantasy writings, that have just been published as Witchcraft in the Harem.

So what makes funny verse so funny? The fulfilment of comic poetry lies in the juxtaposition of the weird with the delight of the uniformity of the rhyme. Like in Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards, where the elephant tries to use the telephant… or is it the elephone who tries to use the telephone? I’ve always loved that poem.

Or sometimes it’s the observational nature of the poem combined with the tight rhyme structure. Ogden Nash tells us:

To keep your marriage brimming

With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;

Whenever you’re right, shut up.

But it’s the sheer absurdity of Spike Milligan that appeals to me the most. It’s so straightforwardly silly that it never fails to make me smile –

My sister Laura’s bigger than me.

And lifts me up quite easily.

I can’t lift her, I’ve tried and tried,

She must have something heavy inside.

This, and poems such as The Bald Twit Lion and The Ning Nang Nong, have been my friends for a long time, and I see their influence every time I write my stories, sometimes comic, sometimes serious. It’s in the rhythm and the imagery, and in the freedom of the imagination. I’ve even occasionally written verse into my stories.

Here’s the Jelly Song that can be found in my story Jelly Park (there’s an audio version available via The Drabblecast):

                   Keep your sponge cake,

Fling your flan,

Stick your doughnuts,

Cream and jam,

Leave your custard

In its can

And give us all some jelly!

Jelly is the bouncy treat,

Never runny, always sweet,

Squishy underneath your feet –

Give us all some jelly!

That story, of a woman who falls asleep on the bus and ends up being recruited into the world of musical bus drivers who obsess about jelly, is very Milliganesque, I would say. The poem came first, and inspired the plot. I’ve also written stories based on The Owl and The Pussycat, and on Now We Are Six.

Brains work in mysterious ways, and inspiration strikes at strange moments. I think part of the joy of writing is being able to embrace that mystery, and accept that it doesn’t have to make sense in an obvious way. Just like the best poetry, maybe the sense comes from the rhythm of being alive, and not from the actions we undertake?

Witchcraft in the Harem is available from Dog Horn Publishing.
Thanks, Aliya. And very good luck with the new book!


  1. Thank you so much Aliya and Frances. I love humorous verse and it's also one of my earliest reading memories. Hubby and I read a collection of verse called The Silly Sausage to all my children when they were young and we still find ourselves quoting it now, years and years later.
    When I was little, my favourite was:

    There once was a bear
    And a boy called Algy.
    The bear was bulgy,
    The bulge was Algy.

    I love the sound of your books, Aliya, and I'm off to have a good look at them now. Thank you both for such a good start to the day. x

  2. Great post, Aliya - can't believe that I'm almost finished reading Mean Mode Median right at the moment! Unusual and very enjoyable novel.