Tim Key won the Edinburgh Comedy Award at last year’s Fringe Festival and since then has made appearances on Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe reciting ‘good-bad’ poems about the news. Key’s poetry is deliberately ‘bad’ but also very good because it’s keenly observational.
An Attempted Book, like The Monty Python book with its ‘page’ pages or ‘colour’ pages, also similarly has ‘Chapter’ pages interspersed throughout which add to the playful, scatterbrained feel of the book and of course reflects its title. If Key was asked to write ten things about a tree he wouldn’t stick to the usual stuff like leaves, and bark or thought by association, instead he would probably go off on a tangent like he does in one list headed ‘What’s been inside Anne’s mouth just recently – an inventory’ which consists of twenty-three bullet points including, (13) Ventolin, (17) cycle oil and (22) Chum.
Some readers may find Key’s style disorientating, partly because it differs to popular comedy books that usually originate from a TV show which the reader is already familiar with, ie Monty Python, The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh. An Attempted Book has the wit and observation of publications like Private Eye, Viz and the Chap magazine and Key’s writing style is very self-aware, with lots of bracketed thoughts used for emphasis or reflection and there’s a variety of typefaces used.
Typefaces aside, Key’s literary persona is ambitious, he has created a sort of David Brent or Alan Partridge persona of the literary world, and I’m not aware of many writers that have attempted to pretend to be bad and pulled it off. But that’s the thing with Key, it’s difficult to know whether he’s being serious or not about being ‘bad’. Reading his book I get the impression he isn’t, he’s probably actually capable of writing standardised poetry, but then it wouldn’t be as funny, there wouldn’t be lines such as the following about musing on a cloud’s appearance: ‘Nothing – it was dissipating. It looked like a snowflake dashed against a child’s sigh.’
Sometimes the tone of the writing wildly fluctuates, particularly in some of the longer skits such as an imagined auction where pathos, ‘what looks like an elderly brother and sister (always sad to see) are eating’ turns abruptly into outrage, ‘this whole shithole is reeking of tea.’
Tim Key has a distinctive voice and is hilarious. The collected thoughts, ideas and concepts in An Attempted Book would enlighten any creative writing course, which in my experience (on more than one occasion) tended to attract people who like writing fairy stories and are quite boring – if Tim Key had been on the course I was on, I might have had more of an incentive to turn up.
Quotes and citations taken from ‘An Attempted Book By Tim Key (And Descriptions/Conversations/A Piece About A Moth)’ The Invisible Dot Ltd, London, 2009 and http://www.timkey.co.uk/Tim_Key_%2833%29/Poems.html