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Writing Your Perfect Man- Lessons from a Chick Lit Writer

I’ve written some dreamboats in my books, and the reason I started in the first place was because no man really seemed to be like the ones you read about in books. Which is fine, we live in reality, we don’t expect Prince Charming. But here’s a few things I’ve noticed about the dreamy male characters in books, and maybe they’ll give our real life counterparts some ideas.

 

 

  • They’re capable of explaining how they feel.

 

It’s usually way after something silly has happened, but these guys have enough self knowledge to explain why they’ve done something. That’s always nice, instead of sitting there in confusion, like a real person.

 

  • Some shit happened, but they’re over it.

 

There was a crazy ex, a business deal gone wrong, parental issues. We always meet our leading men at the right time, when they’re done with all that stuff and can move on. In real life, we meet people when we meet them, and we’re usually dealing with our own stuff too. Which is where the understanding that real people aren’t perfect comes in.

 

  • Organisation

 

I think people often mistake what power means. I personally didn’t find Christian Gray a decent male character, he didn’t make me swoon. Neither did that soppy vampire. People were attracted to their power over their women, and in Gray’s case, his money. It’s easy enough to say ‘Oh, he flew her about in a private jet’ or whatever, but the truth of power is the ability to arrange things. To book dinner, to make plans. Whether that’s a private jet, or a private booth at Burger King.

 

  • Surprises

 

Even control freaks like myself want a little surprise every now and then! My male leads are able to make sweet gestures that aren’t so over the top you want to vomit, but make a difference. Who doesn’t love a surprise?

 

  1. Understanding their girl.

 

Your dreamboat male knows what’s going on in his love’s head. Not always, that would be boring and unbelievable. But he knows enough about her history, her quirks, her story to figure out why she’s suddenly freaking out, or why she’s not happy. Understanding goes a long way.

 

  • They Give and Receive.

 

No, I’m not being dirty. A working relationship with a fictional dreamboat involves give and take. Your main man can’t come in and solve all her problems. Why, you ask? Because then she has no purpose. If she can’t offer something, if she’s not what he needs back, then there’s no point. Again, back to Fifty Shades of Shit, she’s poor, he’s rich, she’s innocent, he’s experienced. She likes nice things, and he likes beating the shit out of a willing sex partner. 

Also, I refuse to let my leading man sweep in to solve my leading lady’s problems- I write strong, kickass women who can save themselves. They sometimes need some help figuring out how to be vulnerable, but they don’t need a man on a white horse.

 

  • Faults

 

That leads me nicely to number seven- they have to have something wrong with them! You know how boring it is to be with someone perfect? Tends to give your self esteem a bit of a knock too. Whether he leaves biscuit crumbs in the bed, or has a tendency to flirt, he has to be human.

 

  • He sees her.

 

This is a really simple trope that real life men could learn from. Notice something about your partner and identify that you are paying attention. It could be as simple as Julia Stile’s ‘hey, your eyes have a little green in them’ in Ten Things I Hate About You. It could be Harry’s list of things he knows and loves about Sally in When Harry Met Sally (‘The little crinkle in your forehead when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts!’ Aw) but noticing goes a long way. It shows your male is smitten and your leading lady is worth watching.

 

 

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Writing London: Romance and Sarcasm in the City

I am a proper Londoner. I don’t make eye contact with people, march through crowds of tourists like it’s a Mario Kart race course, and whilst I will get up on the tube to let someone have my seat, I’ll do some with a terrible English awkwardness, in fear of the older/pregnant person being offended.

 

London is home, and it’s been home for all my novels. There’s nothing quite like the conversations you have on the nightbus, rambling along listening to drunk teenagers talk to tourists, everyone so drunkenly sincere. I love 2am kebab shops, and shabby chic coffee shops where everything is overpriced, but you pay because the environment is so lovely.

 

I love Hampstead Heath on sunny mornings, and the shops in Highgate village. I love the nostalgia of passed out punks in Camden market on Sunday mornings, and having lazy conversations on Primrose Hill as it starts to get dark.

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People set romcoms in London for a reason, but it’s usually peppered with shots of Big Ben and the London Eye, people all somehow affording to live in these flats in the centre of town. It’s the same with New York. People love a city, they love the possibility it affords: today you might meet someone who changes your life. That’s not really how it happens in the countryside, unless an alluring new stranger comes to town.

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But that’s not why I write about London. Sure, I love the prettiness of it, chic fashion and historic architecture, but my characters love London like I do- because it’s home. They don’t talk about wandering down to the Millenium wheel, because that’s not what Londoners do. My characters visit the places that I have been, the little secrets of the city that I’ve made my favourites. In The Last Word, Tabby and Rhi live in Tufnell Park, because that’s what I’d love to do. They alternate between snazzy cocktail bars in Covent Garden, and backstreet old man pubs that just appear out of nowhere, hidden away and perfect in their dim light and beer-drizzled carpets. The Type offices are set just off Regent Street, in the offices where I interned for Vogue. 

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London is this massive sprawling living thing, beating and breathing, and I hope that my books will always give a little of the ‘real’ London, the London of Londoners. At least until I can find an excuse to set a book in Italy, and then I’ll see you later, London!

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On Developing a Thick Skin: The Writer’s Task

 

You’ve slogged away at a book, you’ve received a publishing deal, or have put the effort into self publishing. You’ve written blog posts, updates, tweeted, talked everyone’s ears off about it, and you want people to buy it.

 

But what about when people do actually read it? What about when they review it? I hadn’t really thought about this part up until now, so focused on trying to drum up interest, secure reviewers and bloggers, that I didn’t think about what would happen when I get my first (inevitable) bad review.

 

How can you respond to the idea that someone doesn’t like what you’ve made? Well, in an ideal, rational world you understand that not everyone likes the same things, and you try to ignore it and remain proud of your work. But much as the internet has given us so much, reviews are fast and thick and from everyone. You don’t have to wait for the papers to give you a write up, instead you’re almost overhearing the conversations people are having about your work. 

 

Having looked at other author’s responses to bad reviews, seeing how they’ve almost felt personally attacked, and then had to shake it off, and try and continue, is powerful and admirable. I’m really nervous that a bad review will knock me down from what I’m writing now.

 

Writers (like all artists) are a strange mix of ego and self-doubt. We want to forge forward, secure in the knowledge that we’re making something we like, that has had some good response. That we are justified in doing what we’re doing. But half of us knows that we’re terrible, we’re no good, nothing we create will stand up to judgement, and what’s the bloody point anyway?

 

In these times, it’s good to remember two things: 

 

You’re doing this for you. You wrote your book for you. The process, the outcome, all of that was to make you feel something. Or simply because it was something you needed to do.

 

Also, Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight are bestsellers. So bollocks to all of it, really.

 

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Regardless of my own personal fear, reviews are welcome (and necessary!) if you want to get a review copy from netgalley- click HERE and if you want to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk, then go ahead. It’s released in ONE WEEK!

 

 

 

 

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My Mum Might Read This…and Other Issues With Writing a Sex Scene

In theory, I have no problem writing sex scenes. The first story I wrote that got any recognition was about a girl having sex with a guy she just met, in a disabled toilet, at her aunt’s funeral. I am not squeamish. But that’s literary fiction. That’s when sex serves a purpose, to show the breaking down of walls, or the attempted escape from reality. Sometimes it’s symbolic of trying to feel alive. I can write sex scenes when they’re symbolic.

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But when I first started writing The Last Word, I had to consider what level I wanted to write at, in terms of sexuality. I’ve read a lot of really explicit stuff, and I’ve read things that fade to black. I tried for somewhere in between. The truth is, sex is weird. It’s a lot of strange mechanics and actions that are difficult to write about, because you have to imbue some sort of passion and emotion. If you’re just writing ‘then her hand goes here’, that gets to the point, but doesn’t make the reader care. Some of the best sex scenes I’ve read come from really old novels, where the build up is the most important thing. And I think that’s true of chick lit too- sex is the pay-off for many chapters’ worth of sexual tension. If you write a book where your love interests are at it before they’ve even interacted at all, well, I’m not really interested. 

 

I suppose that’s a female thing, that we want sex to mean something. That’s a generalisation, but in terms of readers of chick lit, I’d say it’s a safe assumption. Sex should be passionate and engaging and emotional. I couldn’t resist it in this book, that it should become symbolic again. All of my female characters seem to have trust issues, and sex is a form of trust. Letting someone in, being vulnerable, all that character development comes from sex scenes. Plus, I think we have a duty as writers to show what sex is really like. I remember as a teenager watching that Britney Spears movie, Crossroads, when they fade to a sunset after she kisses this topless guy, and thinking: this is clearly not what a first time is like. Doesn’t mean there can’t be love or passion, but awkward and uncomfortable are two big contenders there. And it can be funny, and strange and you can sound different to how you do normally.

 

One of my biggest peeves with Fifty Shades of Gray (of which I have bazillions) was that Christian Gray went from being all stiff upper lip, very ‘proper’ dialogue, to all ‘yeah baby’ in the bedroom. Your characters are still your characters in the sack. Don’t revert to stereotypes just because they’re boinking. Which is clearly not the biggest problem with that book, but was something that jumped out at me.

 

So, I did have trouble, writing the first few sex scenes, and as I got more confident in them,  I explored different situations. Some of them worked, and some of them had to go. One in particular involved such an awful play on words and a reference to oral sex that I actually shouted ‘oh gross’ when I read it through in edits, and scratched it through in red pen five times.

 

Who are your favourite writers who deal with sex scenes, what do you expect from them, and how do you find writing them?

 

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The Last Word- Review Copies Available!

Incase it wasn’t clear how excited I am that my first Carina UK novel is coming out this month, let me express that clearly. EEEEEEP!

The Last Word is available for review on Netgalley, if you follow THIS link. Let me know what you think, and be sure to tweet at @almichael_ and @carinauk

 

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Tabby Riley’s online life was a roaring success. Her blog had hundreds of followers, and legions of young fans ardently awaited her every Tweet. Her real life was a bit more of a disappointment. Living in a shared flat in North London, scratching a living writing magazine articles on ‘How To Please Your Man in Bed’ wasn’t where she thought she’d be at twenty-six – especially when there was a serious lack of action in her own bedroom.

Until she was offered the job of her dreams on online paper The Type – and gained a sexy new editor, Harry Shulman, to bounce her ideas off. Tabby had previous bad form when it came to falling for well-dressed, smooth-talking editors, so no way was she going there again…ever! But had she got a little too used to hiding behind her laptop screen? Perhaps it was time for the real Tabby Riley to come out and have some fun!

 

You can also pre-order on Amazon HERE

 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!

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On Dealing with Not Being a Special Snowflake: How the desire for originality can get us down.

I’m on my third novel at the moment, and it’s the first one I’ve ever written under a contract, with a deadline, and expectations and all that jazz. Usually, I write because I fall in love with these crazy people I’ve been having conversations with in my head, but this time round, it’s a bit like walking into a room of people and thinking ‘I have to fall in love with one of you tonight, or I’m screwed.’ A bit like starting a relationship before getting to know the other person. Suddenly we’re curled up watching TV on Sunday nights, and I don’t even know what their favourite colour is.

I’m into character driven stories, incase you couldn’t tell. I want to know about people, how they tick, why they act crazy in certain situations. And usually, the situations arise out of the crazy character. Now, I find myself desperately searching for places to put these characters, searching for drama, making issues where there are none.

 Issues always come from your character. The way they act, or how they think, inevitably causes problems for them. That’s what’s satisfying. Taking your average joe and sticking them on a runaway train, well, that’s not appealing to me. Not unless Joe used to be a train driver, and hasn’t ventured onto public transport in thirty years, because his wife died after being hit by a bus. I don’t care if Joe’s a big damn hero, I want his actions to have effects.

 

And here’s where we get stuck: There are an unlimited combination of people, problems and situations. However, after a while, they all seem to become the same. And I find myself accidentally using names other people have used, or having parts of a similar backstory. Is it that I’m reading more of the genre, and accidentally picking stuff up? Or is it that we’ve adapted to finding formulaic texts comforting, because we secretly know how it’s all going to turn out?

A writer friend of mine always used to have this issue. He’d get halfway through a truly brilliant project, and then find out someone had already done something really similar. My response was always ‘but YOU haven’t done it, your voice has value, it might bring something different to the table’, but now I get how he was feeling. When you’re passionate about what you do, and it starts to look fake, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. So what do I do? Throw away this book and start again? Remove any traces of anything that’s been mentioned in previous books? No. Impossible. Our influences define us, even if they’re unconscious.

 

All I can do is continue to explore my characters, hope that within them, in their histories and quirks, lies the answer to the originality of my story. Yes, boy meets girl, some stuff happens, everything’s fine, there’s drama, they’re together. There’s a reason it’s a cliche. But hopefully, at times like these, we trust that our voice really does have something new to say, even if we’re not sure how to do it.

 
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Extract from New Novel!

 

As part of #weloveromance with other Carina UK writers, I’m presenting an extract of my soon-to-be published novel The Last Word.

This is my first romantic novel, but if you’re interested in my previous book, (which was called ‘anti chick lit’ by Man Brooker Prize Judge Sarah Churchwell) Wine Dark, Sea Blue, you can buy it as an ebook on Amazon, or hardcopy from the publisher.

Anyway, here’s the extract! Don’t forget to keep tweeting #weloveromance and checking out some of the excellent other writers who are showing off extracts today!

 

So boring. So very, very boring. Tabby tapped the side of her vodka tonic with her nail and wondered why she’d even come out. Sure, when Chandra got chatted up, it was usually fun, something to joke about. But Tabby found a strange lump in her throat, and she didn’t know if it was loneliness or jealousy, or just how maidenly she felt sitting on a stool, swinging her legs back and forth. This was not her place.

‘What do you think I do?’ Chandra asked. This was always the kicker, and Tabby found herself focusing on The Suit, more out of habit than anything else.

‘I…are you a model? Or a dancer? You’re beautiful.’

Chandra turned back to Tabby and rolled her eyes. ‘Original’ she mouthed.

It took a few minutes more for The Suit to realise he wasn’t going to get anywhere, suddenly confused as to why the pretty girl who’d let him do his spiel wasn’t really interested.

‘You know, if a guy once guessed what I do for a living correctly, I might have to marry him.’ Chandra grinned.

‘And what do you do?’ A very familiar voice asked from behind them.

Tabby screwed up her eyes and didn’t turn around. ‘Hi Harry.’

When she did turn around, of course, she wasn’t lucky enough to be hallucinating, he was actually there. His white shirt glowing in the bar lighting, a little bit more stubble than during the week, there was no doubt he was painfully good-looking. Even Chandra looked a little shocked. 

‘Of course, this is your scene.’ Tabby sighed, looking down. She noticed his expensive-shirt-and-jeans ensemble had changed slightly, the addition of what looked like pink Converse. For some reason, she felt a sudden rush of affection towards those trainers.

‘So…?’ Harry raised an eyebrow.

‘She’s an actuary,’ Tabby replied, unsure if that was where he was going. Harry surveyed Chandra for a moment before nodding.

‘I can see why no-one’s guessed correctly.’

He said it in such an easy, straightforward manner that it didn’t appear inappropriate. Chandra surveyed him, settling on a response that was half-hatred, half-approval. Please don’t  flirt, please don’t flirt.

‘And you are?’ Chandra asked, though she knew perfectly well.

‘Harry Shulman, Tabby’s editor.’ He put an arm around Tabby and squeezed briefly. The natural ‘old maid’ feeling that came from sitting on a minimalist perspex bar stool in a hip bar was not improved by this contact. Tabby held back a glare.

‘Oh, you mean the editor who’s been making Tabby’s life a misery and has managed to convince her she’s a talentless airhead who should stick to beauty columns and pointless rants, you mean?’ Chandra asked innocently, sipping her drink.

Harry’s eyes widened and he ran a hand through his hair in what looked like embarrassment.

‘I suppose you calculated the risk of a comment like that.’

‘What do you think?’ She arched an eyebrow.

Harry gave Tabby an exasperated look, as if to ask, ‘Is your friend for real?’, to which Tabby only replied with a raised eyebrow of her own. Harry huffed, and grabbed the edge of her seat to spin her around so she was facing him. He had that determined look. Whilst only really having four face-to-face experiences with Harry, she felt that she could suddenly categorise at least ten different looks. And any one of them could be deadly when focused directly on you. Harry’s attention was a spotlight, and whilst most people seemed to bloom and come alive under his gaze, all Tabby seemed able to do was freeze like a rabbit in headlights.

‘You didn’t reply to my email.’ He said simply.

‘I haven’t checked my computer since-’

‘Since you sent me that article at stupid o’clock on Friday?’ His mouth twitched. ‘You know it was brilliant, that’s why you’re putting me through this. You knew I’d love it, and so you’re getting back at me for criticising you. But you took exactly what I said! I knew we’d be an excellent team!’ 

Enthusiasm seemed to shine from him, and he suddenly looked so boyish and excited that Tabby wanted to hug him.

‘David loved it, the whole department loved it. It was being forwarded throughout the office! I’m so glad you listened to what I was saying. I know I was hard on you-’

Here Chandra snorted, and Tabby widened her eyes at her.

‘-but really, it was because I knew what you were capable of.’ Harry smiled, suddenly so affectionate that Tabby really couldn’t bear it. She also couldn’t bear to tell him she was terrible at taking criticism and her only creative motivation was pissing him off.

‘So I’m not fired then?’

‘Fired? Fired!’ He settled into a gentle grin and leaned in, ‘You are far too excellent to be fired. Plus, we have a twelve-week contract. I can’t fire you. Whether you write shit or gold, you’re here. With me.’ 

Tabby sat for a moment, considering Harry, his wide grin, his eagerness. He’d said she was excellent. She sat up a little straighter in her chair and tried not to smile like an idiot.

‘So, no problem with the ‘praise’ part of the job then, just the criticism.’ Of course, he noticed her slightest movements, the twitch of her lips as she considered that, yes, maybe she was a bit excellent. Just a bit. And he liked it, really liked it. And when she stopped thinking about these things and focused on just how close Harry was, invading her personal space once again, his hands resting either side of her, she realised she needed to be at her wittiest. But nothing happened.

‘Okay, so I’m not so great at the criticism. But it’s not like you stuck to being constructive, is it? Some of it was pretty mean!’

‘Oh shut up, you love it,’ Harry said, back to his jokey, cocky self, but he at least let go of her barstool, so she felt a little more in control. Tabby just folded her arms and tipped her head to the side, questioning him.

‘I thought that’s what we were doing, the whole banter-insulting thing?’ He said, slightly unsure, ‘I thought that’s what you got off on.’

‘Excuse me?’

He smirked briefly, ‘Work-wise, mind-in-the-gutter. I thought you needed someone to argue with to get your best work. You’ve been writing great articles so far, but no-one’s pushed you to be better. That’s my job.’

Tabby considered this, and of course, he had his bloody earnest look on again, so if she cut him down he’d look like a beaten puppy. Bastard.

‘Well, I do like arguing with you.’ She conceded.

‘I like arguing with you too,’ he said, ‘I am honestly sorry if I upset you. But I’m probably going to do it a few more times.’

‘Oh, I have no doubt.’

‘And you’re probably going to call me a stuck-up prick or a self-invested arsehole, or whatever it was that you called your editor in that article.’

Tabby smiled innocently, ‘I have no idea what you mean, Harry. I’m a professional. It was just an article.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ He rolled his eyes, and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. Her chest tightened briefly, and then he was back in his space, far away from her, ‘Speaking of people who want to argue, I seem to have angered another violent woman.’

‘Your calling in life, it seems.’ Chandra smirked as Harry shrugged.

‘Wish me luck,’ he said, before walking over to a delicate doll of a girl- tall, thin, with long blond hair pulled messily into a plait. She was wearing a strapless silver bodycon dress that clung to her non-existent curves, and just looking at her skyscraper heels made Tabby feel dizzy. She looked down at her own shoes, purple felt, stack heels, with bunny rabbit buttons. Okay, well she wasn’t his type, clearly. Like that mattered anyway, she wasn’t going to do anything. Just because someone gives you a much deserved compliment, doesn’t mean you suddenly forget their an arrogant twat.

As much as Tabby wanted to hate the girl on the dance floor, for being able to wear those shoes and that dress, and pull of the chic-party-girl-look, she almost had to pity her. She was staring uncertainly into Harry’s eyes as he convinced her she was the most important person in the world. And he was damn good at it, Tabby had to admit, watching the girl go from sullen, to unsure, to begrudgingly amused. By the end of whatever speech he’d given her, she was looking at him like he was the answer to her prayers. Which, Tabby was pretty sure, he certainly was not.

‘So-’ Tabby turned to Chandra, who simply held up a finger.

‘You know the rule, Tabs.’ 

Chandra’s Thirty Second Rule: After an important encounter with a member of the opposite sex (or in Rhi’s case, a member of either sex she was actually interested in) you had to wait thirty seconds before discussing it. Chandra said this was to allow information to properly sink in, and discuss things with a clear head. Tabby only adhered because it meant the person they were discussing was usually across the room by that point, and wouldn’t accidentally overhear.

‘It wasn’t an encounter!’ Tabby whined, ‘He’s my boss!’

‘Mmf!’ Chandra held her hand up yet again, ‘twenty-seven, twenty-eight…’

Tabby huffed and crossed her arms, purposefully not looking at the dance floor, where she was sure Harry was using his other skills to convince the girl of how important she was.

‘Thirty!’ Chandra paused, ‘EEEEEEP! So cute! Why haven’t you boinked his brains out yet?’

‘Ew, Chands, don’t say boinked,’ Tabby felt her stomach twitch, and gestured towards the dance floor, ‘and because, clearly, she is.’

‘Yeah, for tonight. What about tomorrow?’

‘I cannot casually sleep with my editor!’

‘Because…?’

Because been there, done that and it almost ruined my life? Tabby grasped around for an answer that wasn’t pathetic and grounded in self-doubt.

‘Because it’s unprofessional, I’m there to write.’ 

‘So write after a night of head-banging sex with a guy who looks like he knows what to do. Jeez. I’ve never met anyone so resistant to an orgasm.’

‘Mean!’ Tabby looked around at the surrounding tables, incase anyone had heard. Conversations with Chandra concerning sex always seemed to be louder than any other conversation she took part in.

‘Well, when was the last time you had sex?’ Chandra asked simply, eating the cherry from her cocktail.

‘You know when. You made me discuss it in painful detail the morning after.’

Chandra’s eyebrows disappeared under her fringe. ‘The clammy hands guy? That was ages ago!’

‘Well, it put me off for life, okay?’ Tabby knew she was getting defensive, but all this talk was making her crabby. Even if she liked him, which she didn’t, she wouldn’t do anything about it. ‘Look, I’m not sleeping with him, okay? I’m not doing anything with him except writing a bunch of articles. And even that is under duress. I’m just not interested in him.’

Chandra’s eyes moved past her to the dance floor, and of course, she couldn’t help but look. Harry had his arms around the doll-like girl, but looked across at Tabby, stuck his tongue out and winked.

‘Fifty quid says you don’t last a month,’ Chandra grinned.

‘Bad odds,’ Tabby sighed, breaking eye contact, and finishing the rest of her drink in one gulp.

 

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The Three Cs: Continuity, Collaboration and Chick Books

These three are featuring rather heavily in my writing life at the moment. So I thought I’d spend a post postulating and considering their merits and downsides, as somewhat useful procrastination.

 

Continuity

Not in the typical way. As in, I haven’t suddenly messed up my whole novel with an inconsistency that laughs in the face of space and time. What I mean is that I am apparently a fickle writer. I am the writing equivalent of Joey Potter in Dawson’s Creek: does she love Dawson, does she love Pacey, does she want to date some random guy whilst thinking of Dawson, running from Pacey and trying to find herself? Tune in next week for another five years of back and forth.

(Apologies for those of you who were not pre-teens in the nineties, or had better things to do than watch teenagers spouting polysyllabic words to emphasise their angst. This comparison will probably not mean much.) 

I had it all planned. Finished the ‘literary coming-of-age-novel’, moved onto (and thoroughly planned during my travels) the ‘kid book’ (Friday Jones and the Thirteen Club) then move on to either the ‘teen summer book’ or return to the ‘unfinished nostalgic dissertation’ to turn into a novel.

 

There was a PLAN. Except Friday Jones has been eluding me. It’s been a bit of a struggle. And as much as I respected my A-Level English teacher telling me my brain should be hurting if I’m working hard enough, there was no flow here. So it drizzled away until I stopped. For days and days and days. And could not get excited about it again.

 

Chick Book

Then BAM. Tabby Riley happened. Just in case you don’t know, Tabby Riley is my new heroine. And my new favourite person. Because…drum roll…I’m writing a chick book. I hope that you know when I say ‘chick book’ I clearly mean ‘intelligent writing aimed at women who are sceptical about the all-encompassing love ideals fostered by Disney, but are tired of reading Sartre and would quite frankly like something cheerful and full of snarkiness.’ Snarky and sarcastic are the name of the game here. Plus I have the slight problem that I created such a hot leading man I’m a little in love with a fictional character. My own fictional character. He’s a boywhore with a heart of gold, just the way I like ‘em.

 

I suppose I’m going to get some derisive looks and judgemental comments about female fiction, but my honest response is ‘so what?’ Good chick lit is hard to write, there’s a lot of terrible stuff out there. But I’m pretty sure I can do this. So let’s see if I stick with it. It’s already very different in process to the kids book, a lot more like my first novel, where I had to scribble down conversations between characters in the middle of the night. It’s a necessity, rather than work at the moment. So here’s hoping, it gets somewhere.

 

Collaboration

I think collaboration is the key to any good writing life. Sure, you can be the cliche hermit all you want, and you need to be in your own head to get work done. But you’ve got to leave the room and join the party sometimes. Connecting with other artists, whether they’re writers or not is a comforting and invigorating experience. They may not be focusing on what you’re writing about, what they’re passionate about may be really far from your interests, but one conversation can spark inspiration. Hell, a word they said five years ago may be the start of your next book. Never underestimate the importance of companionship. Or even just having someone understanding the problems you face.

This was a really big part of my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, being surrounded by artists who got what it was like to be an artist.

So, just as I’ve batted ideas back and forth with him for years, I’m hopefully going to start working with my good friend Jay on some projects. If you don’t know the work of Jay Crisp, you should, because he’s awesome. Check out his art and manic humour over at The Wild Side web comic, and Touc Reviews on Youtube. He’s been one of the main people I moan about writing to, and like I say, it’s important to have people around you who know what it’s like. If the websites are anything to go by, I suspect the Touc and Twisted Barista have a sense of humour (and rage) in common. Here’s to creative collaborations!

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When Did Chick-Lit become Thick-Lit?

For the moment, I’ll ignore the fact that ’Chick-Lit’ is an unfair, possibly derogatory term for literature aimed at women, as it clearly doesn’t reflect the true desires of women or portray heroines as real people. And considering WhSmiths have now taken down their ‘Women’s Fiction’ signs, we should now assume that men also like reading books about shoes, shopping and being ravished by a man with or without a handlebar moustache.

Yes, the terminology is incorrect, but the fact that men and women may want to read different (but sometimes equally awful) fiction is fair enough. I don’t tend to call Chris Ryan books ‘shooty shooty bang bang’ books, but that’s only because they couldn’t fit that on a sign in WhSmiths.

The point is that there is equal pandering to the macho males and girly females in the literary world. Publishers like niches, almost as much as they like books that are exactly the same as other books that have made lots of money, but with a few key details, like names, exotic locations and hobbies, changed. Because humans like patterns. And when you identify a pattern, you can automatically tell whether you’re going to like it or not.

Self-loathing writer finds love with snarky publisher on the Italian Riviera? Sure, okay, sign me up! Glamour model goes from rags to riches in Croydon, then marries a footballer? You know what, give me mediocre fiction any day. That right there is an excerpt from a Big Brother casting session.

The problem is that these poor Chick-Lit writers get a really bad rap. It’s not their fault that they happen to be good at creating stuff that is basically the literary equivalent of Marmite- if you do love it, you don’t get how everyone else can’t. You actually can’t comprehend their point of view, because it doesn’t make sense.

It’s easy to be snobbish about Chick-lit. There’s so much of it, and most of it is truly appalling. I say this not only as a (fairly snobby) writer, or as an English literature graduate, but as a female. If you’ve spent three pages describing the Versace dress that the heroine is wearing to some ridiculously posh gala in central London, well I’m sorry, you’ve already lost me. Maybe some people can relate to that world, but I would like my heroines mouthy and funny, and preferably carrying some extra weight and an anxiety or two.

This is why Bridget Jones was a success, surely, and was not relegated to the lowly shelves of Chick-Lit by the powers that be, but held up into the light as something funny and realistic, showing genuine wit and creativity. Which is why I’m so confused that Germaine Greer went all feminist on it’s (sizeable) ass and said that if Bridget Jones was the average woman, then humanity was screwed. Well, that’s pretty much what she said.

'I'm not happy about this'

Bridget Jones is the average woman, worrying about her weight, and whether she’s smoking too much, if she’s made a tit of herself yet again, and whether she’ll ever get anywhere with her job. She is a real person. A great character. Just because these are the things that some people worry about, doesn’t mean she’s a bad woman. Worrying about whether your knickers are a bit ugly when you’re about to do the deed, that’s a natural female response, isn’t it? I’m certainly not going to feel like a shitty feminist if I worry about that, sorry Professor Greer. I know, I’m a product of my society, and I shouldn’t shave my legs. Whatever.

To return to my rant on Chick-Lit. I do read it, although it’s more that I enjoy YA novels that have a romance element whilst you actually come to terms with some issues, and not every young woman in the city works in publishing or PR. Teenagers and their love affairs are a lot easier to relate to. Maybe that’s just because I’m young, or maybe it’s because the idea of getting on a tube to go work in an office every morning would make me want to shoot myself. I don’t care if your main character gets a cushy london flat, that you’re going to take four pages to describe, out of it. Plus, the teenage characters are more likeable, more unpredictable, less likely to be in a rut. Sexual experience is still a big deal.

This is where one of the two authors I trust in this area come into it. Sarra Manning is the author of a bunch of really excellent YA novels that I used to read parts of in J-17. (Younger readers, that used to be a magazine. For girls. Before you all started reading Cosmo at 14 years old). These were the Diary of a Crush books, where wicked-cool girl Edie fell for art boy Dylan and spent a lot of time wanting to snog him. They were funny, realistic, and made you feel less alone. Because, sure you want to get together with that longtime crush…but you also have to worry about fourth period French and what drama your best friend is going through.

These books were my first foray into teen fiction, and they glided me through it like a comforting, witty blanket. So when Manning (who very kindly gave me writing advice when I was 16, via Myspace- young readers, another lesson for another day, myspace happened before Facebook) released an adult fiction book, I ordered it straight away.

I was not disappointed. If more Chick-Lit (and I almost hesitate to use that term) was like this, I think the world would be a better place. The blandly titled ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ follows twenty-something Neve as she tries her hand at dating. After being clinically obese throughout her uni years, Neve’s never really had a sexual experience. So, some light flirtation is all she’s ready for. Plus, she’s waiting for the guy she was in love with since uni to come back to England, and she’ll be a size ten and everything will be perfect. So, all she really needs is some practice. Like, a pancake relationship. After meeting a whole bunch of freaks on the internet, her sister’s boss Max, a boy-whore with a heart of gold, seems like a better option than she first thought.

What makes this book is the dialogue, how the characters interact with each other, how real the relationships between siblings, parents and old friends are. Neve is a strong female character, but she doesn’t realise it, because she’s too busy think about how shit she is. So when she finally does understand that she’s a bit of a hottie, it’s a revelation. One we could probably all learn from. No-one wants to shag a whiner. A moaner, maybe, but not a whiner.

It’s funny, witty, pro-woman and you kind of want to jump into that world and snuggle there. Plus, there was a dog. And that’s always good.

My other go-to Chick-Lit read (who, before Manning jumped into adult fiction, was the only person I trusted to do this well) is Jenny Crusie. This obsession started when I needed a holiday read, and knew that the six books in my case wouldn’t last two weeks, and the one in my bag for the flight would be done within the hour. So, around the terminal I run. And I find Jenny. I bought both ‘Bet Me’ and ‘Faking It’ and got through them both in record time. Faking it is still one of my favourite books, focused around an excellent family called the Goodnights, and the trouble that happens when people start sniffing around their failing art gallery, questioning whether there are forgeries. Chaos, hilarity and snippy heroines ensue. Bet Me is about two people who are thrown together, absolutely do not get on, despite the obvious attraction, and seem to need to be together, or the universe will maim them. Crusie’s power is her dialogue, it’s always snippy, sarcastic and clever. You want to be these women, just to be able to think of that right line at the right moment. And sometimes they can’t think of the right thing to say, and you want to cry with joy ‘Oh, you are just like me!’ Her characters are always well-rounded, emotionally and literally- her ‘evil females’ appear to be perfectly slim, with perfect hair and an understanding that they’re perfect. Exactly my type of enemy. Woo.

And the heroes always shun this type of shallow harpy (usually after having been there once and realising it’s not an easy life) in order to spend time with the quick-witted cute heroine. So, yay! Order is restored in the land!

Other points- It’s very rare that it’s just a chick story. There’s usually some sort of mystery case to be solved. I won’t say thriller because there’s not a lot of terror and suspense (although if there is it usually ends in the bedroom) but there’s more to it than ‘boy meets girl. Stuff happens’. Also, she can write a damn good sex scene. Representing female experience in these kinds of books is important, and whilst there is the danger of there being one too many orgasms in a scene, Crusie is very good at displaying the real and using it. Whether that’s sex that is amazing or disappointing, it’s always a crucial point in the story. She’s writing about interactions, and how they affect people, and that’s important.

Her characters are women we can respect and look up to, use as guides. Women who maybe feel that their lives aren’t going where they want, or their jobs aren’t perfect, or they’re hung up on the wrong person. Maybe these are worries that Greer would categorise as anti-feminist, but I would call them human.

Also, there’s always a dog. So, that’s cool.

Anyone out there got any decent Chick-Lit reads to recommend? Or are you all those snobby types who only read Russian Literature and poetry?