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11 August 2020

Adam Kay: ‘My writing is best when it’s at its most naturalistic’

Adam Kay, Author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, Writing Tips

Adam Kay is an award-winning writer and performer. His debut memoir This is Going to Hurt was a Sunday Times number one bestseller for a record-breaking nine months it has sold over a million copies in the UK and been translated into 33 languages (and counting).

We’re thrilled that Adam is generously providing funding for one talented Black writer to join our Three-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Suzannah Dunn. Find more about The Adam Kay Scholarship for Black Writers here.

Keep reading for Adam’s wisdom on writing comedy, supporting the NHS and life in lockdown…

Your memoir This is Going to Hurt is a multi-million bestseller. Readers fell in love with your honesty and the frank and funny tales from your days as a junior doctor. How did you find and develop your writing voice? Do you have any advice for writers trying to develop their own style?

I don’t think my writing voice is particularly different to my voice voice, so I’m not sure if it’s something that I’ve necessarily cultivated. I’ve found though that my writing is best when it’s at its most naturalistic and often suffers if I try and edit it too many times. Or maybe I’m just extremely lazy. I’m certain there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to finding a style, but I suspect it should be something that flows rather than has to be forced or overthought. That said, I might be totally wrong… as Somerset Maugham said, ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’

You are incredibly skilled at finding humour in the darkest of subject matters. Do you have any tips for people writing comedy or using comic relief in their writing?

The problem with writing comedy is that it’s very subjective. People are very quick to say ‘that’s not funny’, in a way that they don’t really say ‘that’s not drama’. When I’m writing something that’s meant to be funny, I generally send it to a few people first for their opinion before it goes out into the world. A bit like how a stand-up might preview their material above a pub before their theatre tour.

You recently edited the collection Dear NHS: 100 Stories to Say Thank You, which features stories from a host of celebrities including Paul McCartney and Malala Yousafzai. What inspired you to work on this project?

Dear NHS essentially came about from a feeling of helplessness during lockdown – wanting to do something positive for the people working on the frontline. It says thank you to them in 100 different ways through its chapters, and also says thank you in a much more practical way because all profits from the book are donated to NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.

How have you been finding lockdown? Have you been able to find time to work on any new writing projects?

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. No one close to me has been hospitalised from the virus, and I have a garden so I’ve not been trapped inside for weeks on end. Obviously, my year is very different to what I’d expected – I should have been on a major tour of my theatre show across the UK and Australia, with a TV show filming in the background. But again, I’m lucky to have been able to lean into writing over this time. As well as Dear NHS, I’ve got a kids’ book called Kay’s Anatomy out in October and a whole load of SECRET THINGS.

What have you been reading recently, and what do you love to read?

I’m currently reading More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran, which is obviously brilliant. Next on the pile is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which I’m extremely excited to read. Perhaps the best thing about being a writer is getting to read books before they get published.

Thank you for providing The Adam Kay Scholarship for Black Writers. What made you decide to do this, and why do you feel it’s important to support emerging talent?

Publishing has a significant problem with diversity – from the people who publish the books to the people who get published. A lot of barriers clearly need to be broken down, and this feels like a small thing I can do to move things in the right direction.

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