I was lucky enough to meet Emily a couple of years ago now, as part of the Finchley Literary Festival, and she’s doing amazing things with her books.
I caught up with her to hear more about her new novel, The Hen Party:
I’m a huge fan of the book Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. It’s sharp, clever, funny and fast-paced. I’ve read it about five times. I’ve dissected it with coloured pencils, trying to understand how she so successfully knits together those three main characters and all those other entertaining voices captured purely in dialogue.
I love books written from the perspective of more than one character. Deborah Moggach does it really well too and my copy of Heartbreak Hotel is full of underlining and scribbles in the margin. After writing three books, Shop Girl Diaries, The Temp and #PleaseRetweet in the first person, I was determined to write a novel told from the point of view of more than one character.
I wanted the book to begin with a mystery and for each character to know a different part of the story. I also wanted a story set in Mallorca, because I had just moved there and I was besotted. Multiple characters in a popular holiday destination… aha, I thought, what about a hen party?
What about a hen party reality show?
…which goes missing!
The Hen Party starts with a director who has lost all the hens and goes back and forward in time revealing what happened. It was a challenge to write and I started it three times. I was determined for it not to be too soppy or cliché. I really wanted the story to be intriguing. Once I had the plot sorted, I ended up rewriting the characters to make them stronger, so they would stand out from each other.
The novel follows five hens and a director, so it’s important they all have different personalities and agendas. I used a colour-coded spreadsheet to help me coordinate the chapters. I used to stick strips of paper on a wall, but now I find spreadsheets more reliable.
Although I have finished The Hen Party I definitely haven’t finished with the multi-character driven novel. For my next book I’m already exploring an idea which focuses on a number of characters, all neighbours, responding to a crisis in their different ways. It’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine by me if it means I get better at my craft.
The Hen Party is a little different from my other books but my stamp is still clearly on it. It has moments of comedy and romance and hopefully enough drama to keep you turning those pages!
Film Director, Kate Miller, is in serious trouble. The entire cast and crew of the reality TV show The Hen Party has gone missing while filming in Mallorca.
To make matters worse, the network boss is flying in to check up on her production.
Kate thinks it’s all her fault. She hasn’t exactly been following the guidelines.
But if she is to blame, why were the hens arguing between themselves? And why is the groom-to-be calling her up in tears?
Kate doesn’t know the half of it. The hens have their own secrets and it’s only matter of time before they all come tumbling out.
A party of eight arrive on the island, but not everyone’s going home.
The Hen Party is Emily Benet’s 4th book. Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a blog. Her second, Spray Painted Bananas, racked up a million hits on the online platform Wattpad and led to a 2 book deal with Harper Collins. They published her Wattpad book under the new title The Temp as well as her comedy about social media addiction, #PleaseRetweet. She lives in Mallorca with her husband and writes for abcMallorca magazine.
I don’t mean that as a writer, you need to read. That’s one of the basic tenets of writing. I read an article this morning that had a list of things NOT to say to an agent or publisher, and ‘I don’t read because I don’t want to steal anyone’s ideas’ is one of them. Not to say it’s not a fair point, I think we all have that worry, but it’s imperative you’re reading. You don’t ask a painter to create for an exhibition when they’ve never even stepped inside a gallery.
But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the way you read. I’m currently in another of those ‘this is crap, this is so crap’ points in my work in progress (40000 words in, I should have expected it) and every line looks boring, or overdone, or slow. So I thought I’d go back to looking at some of my favourite books, and looking at how they do it. So I started reading as a writer. I looked at where she put the commas, how many times she used ‘said’. What the sentences in between the speech told us. I thought perhaps there was some sort of style or code to this author’s perfection. And what did I find?
Zilch. She uses said a lot. The sentences in between do the same that mine do. It’s not that fast paced, it’s just enjoyable to the reader to go on the journey, because the dialogue is funny. And that’s what I realised- when we write, we are judging our own work as critics of the language. We’re strangling the adverbs and looking at individual lines and worrying, worrying, worrying.
But when I read a good book, all those things become invisible. The ‘said’s cease to exist, because they’re just markers. The description translates directly into a vision of a character, I’m not sitting there wondering why she used a certain word, or commenting on the vocabulary- I’m too busy disappearing into the story!
Which tells me two things:
I’m probably not as crap as I think I am right now, and I just need to buck the hell up.
Some of the best writing is ‘invisible’ to the reader.
So happy morning all, I’m off to write some invisible words on the page now.
In my latest novel, my main character, Tabitha Riley, is a terrible example of what it takes to survive as a writer. She lost her job at a main newspaper following an injunction issue, and tries to make ends meet as a freelancer.
Is it possible to survive as a freelancer? Sure, with lots of hard work. You have to be out there promoting yourself, making contacts, writing non-stop, taking contracts. And even then you usually have to have another job. Perhaps, if you’ve been working at a major newspaper, you’ll get some regular magazine work, but those cheques aren’t particularly inspiring.
So Tabby relies on her mother, as a twenty-six year old writer. I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept help, a lot of us do, but when you depend on a parental figure for your ‘allowance’, you never quite get the independence that freelancing embodies.
But what does Tabby do right?
-She knows what she’s worth, and when given an opportunity, refuses to work for nothing. Interning can be powerful if you want to learn a new skill, or get the inside scoop on a market you’re interested in cornering. Working for free doing what you’ve been doing for years? No way.
-She knows where her value lies- her audience. Tabby writes a ridiculously popular blog called ‘Miss Twisted Thinks’ where she rants about things. For some reason, this becomes a hit, and a newspaper wants to give her a column. She knows, and the paper knows, that it’s her reach that they’re interested in gaining. Don’t be precious about why people want you, the point is that they do.
She uses social media to create relationships. It’s easy to follow people and never interact with them. It’s easy to feel out of the loop- but twitter allows for those one off ‘favourites’ and comments that you’d feel awkward giving in real life. Bugging your friends on facebook to like your page is a standard way to interact. Remember what Forster said: ‘only connect’.
If you want to hear more from Tabby, here’s my novel The Last Word
Or if you’re still not sure, you can read some reviews here
I had a book published by a small indie press before I got my ebook deal with Carina. I had no idea about marketing, beyond making posters and quietly asking if people would maybe-sorta-like to buy my book.
Ebooks have opened up a whole new dimension to the writing community and the engagement with readers, and it’s an amazing world!
Net galley– Your book is listed so that reviewers/librarians/bloggers can get an advanced free copy in order to spread the word!
Book reviewers- There are readers out there who are passionate about reviewing, and if you find the right people, they’re happy to give you a chance! A lot of them find you through netgalley, or some have submission pages on their websites. Twitter is a great resource for finding reviewers.
The amount of different book buying sites– we know about Amazon and kindle, but Kobo, nook, Itunes book library, Barnes and Noble, international sites, there are so many places to sell!
Support of other authors- either through twitter, or knowing some of the other authors on your imprint, or just other people you enjoy working with. Knowing others are going through the same thing, same writing issues, or knowing they’re writing away at the same time as you, all of that makes for an inspiring and supportive network!
Book Tours- Perhaps once saved for famous writers touring Waterstones locations, the internet means you can tour/blog hop your way across the world! You can organise these yourself, or sometimes lovely people will do it for you!
I’m sure I still have much more to learn about all this, as the book is out NOW (and you can buy it HERE!) so I’ll keep reporting back with my experiences!
If you’d like to know more about how to use these facilities as an author, plus all about Marketing yourself, understanding how to achieve success and really get your work out there, I’ll be facilitating a Marketing Bootcamp for Writers in Barnet in July, along with creative business expert Steven Sparling. Send me a message on the Contact Me page if you’re interested!
Tabby is a new writer for our little online paper, and she’ll be continuing her very popular column, Miss Twisted Thinks. Tabby, thanks for joining us today.
How did you get into writing?
Well, I’d always wanted to be a writer. I studied in Brighton, writing for the student newspaper. Then I got an internship, then another, and I ended up at the Guardian…well, since then I’ve been working freelance, working on my blog, and now I’m here.
Tell us more about your blog, Miss Twisted Thinks.
Well, it’s a mixture of confusion and rage, really. A mixture of reviews, thoughts on feminism, and, well…cake.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?
Well, I spend a lot of time hanging out with my housemate, Rhi, and my best friend Chandra. Chandra’s into trying out cocktail bars in London, and Rhi’s more about old man pubs. Once a month, we make sure we have a Nothing Day, where we completely disconnect, and just veg out on the sofa, watching boxsets and drinking wine. It’s fabulous.
How are you finding the transition from freelance to The Type?
Well, everyone’s been very supportive. My editor is really good at identifying all the problems in my work and seems to enjoy throwing them in my face. (I’m also very good at identifying your excellent work- Ed.) But I’m having a great time.
Any big plans over the summer?
Well, I’m heading up to my mother’s wedding in an Essex Manor House over the summer. It should be…quite the affair. Especially seeing as she’s marrying a guy who was two years above me at school.
Sounds interesting! Thanks for answering our questions, Tabby, and welcome to The Type team!
If you like the sound of Tabby, why not find out more about her in The Last Word?
So, the day of The Book Launch is almost upon me. The books are at the printers, the merchandise has arrived, the venue is confirmed. And yet, I’m still panicking. Why? Well, firstly, whilst it’s a moment of accomplishment and joy, it’s also bloody stressful. And really, so far, things have gone smoothly. So why the stress? Is it the idea of talking in front of a crowd? No, there’ll be wine to deal with that problem. Is it the judgement, the idea that people will be reading your work and forming opinions and not all of them will be good? Maybe, but as writers we become accustomed to that. Is it, perhaps, that all of this is going swimmingly, and yet I still feel like a bit of a fraud? Bazinga.
Writing is about bullshit. Writing itself is a world of lies. Talking about writing is giving opinions on something that may mean something different to someone else. Talking about your own writing is pointless, because it should speak for itself. When we teach writing, it’s a different kind of bullshit again. We are determined to make ourselves sound good, because no-one else will do it for us.
I am destined to say ‘I’m a professional writer and teach workshops’ for a very long time, and will almost always be confronted with questions of what my ‘real’ job is, and sniggers of derision. That’s fine, they don’t really get what I do. My job will always be a patchwork of various opportunities coming together at various points in time. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a colossal mistake. But that’s what my job is. Bullshit about how much I’ve achieved, bullshit other people’s CVs, bullshit my way through interviews, editing, talking about my students’ progress. This is not to say I’m lying, that I don’t do the editing, that I don’t have experience, or my students aren’t improving. But with everything we do, as creative entrepreneurs, it feels like we’re just winging it.
So, the book launch will no doubt be a lovely event where I’m surrounded by people who love and support me, even if they’re not sure about my writing. But here’s some things to think about when considering launching your book:
Appropriate excerpts. I don’t know about you, but I write a lot about sex and drugs, with a lot of swearing. Finding a family friendly excerpt is proving pretty difficult. Similarly, finding something where family won’t assume I AM my narrator, or people present won’t be looking for themselves in my fiction is pretty damn hard.
Swag! Man, who doesn’t love merchandise? I do! Big time. So I’ve had some tote bags and bookmarks made up that the first hundred people can claim with their buy. Added value, and extra publicity for me.
Press release. Despite having written these on my MA, it’s pretty hard going. Again, it’s a form of bullshittery. What sounds good, what fits the theme? What do people want to hear? Some may fight back against pigeonholing but it’s the easiest way to draw in your target market.
What do you want from your evening? I went for laid back, dingy pub, making use of my excellentcreativefriends by having them perform or get involved. Themes are also useful. I’m all about collaboration and creative community, so anyone who wanted to be involved was.
Okay, so there’s my guide to bullshitting your launch party. Act confident, be proud, and enjoy it. I’m sure I’ll be talking about my event once it’s happened. Which, if you’re about in London on 10th May 2013, can be found here.
This is the first chapter of my novel ‘Wine Dark, Sea Blue’. It’s similar in themes to my piece ‘Atomiki’, but obviously, a lot more in depth. I’m currently working on a new book at the moment, before returning to this and putting the final shine onto it. Feedback is appreciated!
My mother’s voice was on repeat as my brain lining trembled and began to disintegrate.
‘Accidental overdose, the paramedics said.’
‘How the fuck is that possible?’
‘She was getting older, so many different medications…’ Mum’s voice was tinny, lost down the phone line in the white noise. She forgot to tell me off for swearing, and her voice trailed into sighs and silence.
‘What do you need me to do?’
‘Get home now,’ she said and hung up. It was ten am, and Mum never called before twelve. I should have known when the phone rang. There’s never good news before twelve. Especially not after half a gram of MDMA and almost an entire bottle of vodka, shared in a South London flat with a boy whose name I’d already forgotten. He was pretending to be asleep when I took the call, and I was grateful. I paced the small space of his flat, bare feet scratching on his carpet, waiting to see how I felt, if I would feel anything at all. If I would panic when I didn’t.
He made a big show of waking up, yawning and stretching. He looked much like all the others, dark hair, nice arms. His smile failed to hide a concerned expression.
‘Everything okay?’ As he stood, his jeans slid down to his hips. A thin line of hair ran down from his belly button to the start of his boxers, and I focused on that. A dark trail of ants, a line not to cross, a line of coke, a line in the sand. Give me a line, a lifeline, anything.
‘What’s your name again?’
He smirked and ran a hand through his hair, ‘Daniel.’
I tried to place that somewhere amongst the memories of the night before, of the breathless laughter and the way I stroked his fingertips. The guitar sat untouched in the corner of the room. He hadn’t played for me. His fingertips were flat and rough, and I had traced his filed-down nails in soft delight. He was amazing last night. They always are.
But in the little white-flaked flat, with the green curtains that tinted the daylight, I felt like I was looking at this Daniel person from far away, through a haze of heat distortion. Like I understood that humans were just walking, talking lumps of meat, much like every other animal that lived and died. Except humans had things like Topshop and SkyPlus and Hello Magazine. This Daniel person was just another part of that world.
‘My grandmother’s dead,’ I said, staring past him to the posters on the wall. They were in French, pretentious twat. I scanned his bookshelf for Sartre and Nietzsche, and found them, broken spines and folded pages. Last night he was my best friend, this Daniel.
‘Are you okay?’ He started towards me, and I stepped back, ‘sorry, stupid question.’ He detoured to the sink, ran the tap, and handed me a glass of water. I drank desperately, so that I felt it hit my insides, rebounding off my organs and making waves. My stomach was an ocean. But it was always that way on the comedown. Nothing was different, not the boy, or the drugs, or the Saturday morning feeling. Except that she was dead.
Moving took forever, each muscle moaning, telling me I was stupid to do anything but lie down and get warm. Slow motion. Cotton wool head. Fuzzy.
Daniel was kind and earnest, like a lot of them are, willing to chat, eager to carry on the party. Some are like me, and happily say goodbye in the morning, not expecting anything more that a one-night friendship. Some are ashamed. Most of the time they’re asleep, and I just pick up my bag from by the door and get out. There are rules.
‘I’ve got to go.’
‘Maybe have a cup of tea first, eh?’ His voice had a northern drawl, soft around the vowels. I hadn’t noticed it last night, hidden behind the clipped London sound.
‘I don’t…’ I shook my head, surprised by how lost I felt, ‘I’m numb. Completely numb.’
‘That’s the comedown. You do know that? Last night, you said you knew. Chemical imbalance, body fuck-up. Right?’ He reached out a hand, and I backed away.
‘I know, I do know. I just…’
‘Shock.’ He nodded intently, and moved closer, almost whispering. ‘Look, I’m going to make us a nice cup of tea, and we’ll sit for a bit, and you can go when you’re ready, okay?’
He’d reached me by that point, and I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering, my hands from shaking. So cold, ridiculously cold. How was he shirtless, the bloody idiot.
He wrapped his arms around me, his cold palms flat against the base of my spine. You don’t do that on the comedown. The night before is for touching. Loving the sensation of hands on shoulders, fingertips encircling wrists. Skin on skin isn’t right the morning after. You’re back in your cocoon, and every other human is a hundred lightyears from where you are. He could have been anyone, but he was warm, and that was enough. And I put my arms around him, encouraging him to hold me tighter, harder, because if I was going to fall apart, it may as well be when someone was holding me up. It was only when I had to gasp for air that I finally pushed him away.
‘Don’t confuse what this is.’
‘And what is this, exactly?’ His smile was a half-twitch at the corner of his mouth, like I was a child he was humouring because he wanted to see what funny thing I did next
‘This is two people who got fucked together, and in the morning said goodbye.’ I strode past him, and grabbed my bag from the floor. Purple party bag, always ready for the escape. Toothbrush, fresh from a pack of ten, four of which are remaining. Ancient Nirvana hoody with the smiley face symbol peeling off. Scarf, always useful. Large bottle of water, because it helps. Chewing gum for the gurn, painkillers more for the placebo than the effect. The comedown kit.
‘Ellie.’ Daniel smiled and shook his head.
‘Don’t say my name like that!’
‘Like you know one fucking thing about me!’ I pulled on my hoody, tugging on the hood and pulling my hair free. My hand rested on the door handle.
‘I was listening last night when you spoke.’ His smile was smug, his hands open, palms up.
‘I hate to burst your bubble, but this is a weekly occurrence for me. You’re just one of many guys I do this with. It doesn’t mean anything. Ships in the night, strangers on a pill. Get it?’
The door handle was warm and slippery.
‘You really think you won’t remember this moment?’
I rolled my eyes in response, ‘Sorry, guess you’re just not that special.’
‘Your grandmother’s dead. You always remember where you are when there’s bad news.’
‘Well, maybe I don’t care. Or I don’t like my family. Maybe I have no family.’
Daniel took two lazy steps and was invading my space. I tried not to breathe in, because it was his air. Hold your breath, Elena. Get out, go home, deal with everything. Everything. Her. Deal with whatever that means.
‘You,’ he smiled, ‘are a terrible liar.’ He stepped back a little, and I got the full effect of that smile. A smile that dared me to argue, that wanted me angry instead of scared. Anything but numb.
‘I like you,’ he said, stepping back, that half-twitch grin in place again, ‘So, tea.’
He strode across the room, and tapped an ancient green kettle with his foot, so it lit up and hissed. His little kitchen area was so tidy, an ageing mug on the side with a knife and a spoon sitting in it, his one plate in the sink pathetic and lonely. I knew then that I’d stay.
I had the chance to walk out, slam the door, but what would I be heading towards, really? Parents who didn’t know what I’d been doing when my grandmother died. What was so important that I hadn’t come home, they would ask. Family who thought my nights out included a couple of glasses of wine, maybe a kiss. The night spent on Dexter’s floor, or in Lee’s spare room. Never class As and a one-night friendship, in bed with a boy in Clapham Junction. Never that I did it every week, every chance I could, because it made me feel so perfectly alive until the morning came.
So I dropped the bag. I sat on the bed and drank strong tea from a chipped blue mug. I watched rubbish re-runs on TV and smiled, even laughed. I forgot. And when he relit a joint from the night before, I let him rest his head next to mine, closing my eyes as he softly blew the smoke into my mouth. Sweet, herby, tinted by toothpaste. Sleepy green, taking the edge off of the morning.
When I finally did leave, that morning sun had faded into grey dullness. I felt flushed with and irritable as I walked to the tube, pushing the last moments with Daniel from my mind. He’d asked for my phone number, and I’d given it to him. I never gave them my phone number, I only wanted them when they were strangers. I only ever wanted one night with someone who had no idea who I was. But when he kissed my cheek, he smelled of sweat and aftershave, and everything I’d found fascinating the night before. I had let him hold me in his bed as I pretended to cry, pretended to feel anything. But all I felt was cold. And he was so warm. The warm boy with the cold hands.
I walked through Clapham Common to the tube station, and got on the Northern Line. It had been hours since Mum called. When I finally appeared Dad would rant about my irresponsible nature, my selfishness. Mum would be disappointed, and that’s always worse.
The train carriage was empty, and I sat in a corner seat with my headphones in. I was glad there were no people, I can’t bear to make eye contact on the tube. On those kinds of Saturday mornings, I start to get paranoid about the Underground. I take it personally when people choose the seat two down from me, or move when another space becomes available. Like they think I’ll infect them. I never move seats in case I hurt someone’s feelings.
I tugged on my hood again, and put my headphones in. Sometimes, I pretend to react to the music I’m not hearing, smile when I play a certain song on my internal jukebox, tap my feet in time to a rhythm that isn’t there. This time, I just closed my eyes, and tried not to think about how many people’s arses had sat on the seat I was sitting on.
The train droned on, rattled and jolted and it was easy to lose myself. I watched at every stop how the tourists boarded the opposite trains, heading into town for a weekend with the family, a day out with friends. That was the best thing about returning from central on a Saturday, everyone was going in the other direction.
I wobbled out of the tube station at High Barnet and walked to the bus stop. The sky promised rain. I told myself I would let five buses go passed, then I’d get on the sixth and go home. Give me five buses, thirty minutes. Breathing space.
Dead. She was dead, and I had been smiling with a stranger. Had she died whilst I was dancing? I shivered, it felt like I was drowning in mundanity, greyness. Traffic, and jobs and so many people just living their little lives. Overdose. She never seemed that old to me. I thought of her dark eyes, her white hair, her steady trundle across a room with her swollen ankles. Overdoses were ugly. Painful.
I suddenly wanted to be back in Daniel’s little white room with the green curtains, where time froze and I had no dead relatives. I didn’t have to be strong in that room. But I did now. I waited till the seventh bus came and went. Then I walked home.