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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.

 

Don’t forget to enter the competition to win ALL of the participating Carina Authors! Click Here

 

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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?