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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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A Romance Writer’s Guide to Romance

Sometimes, when you write stories, life starts to seem like this weird symbolic thing, where everything has relevance. That guy you exchanged glances with at the cornershop when he was buying jaffa cakes, and you had a pint of milk, well, clearly, you were destined to see him again. The necklace you found after months of looking for it, signified an emotional change, and the feeling that you were going to get what you wanted. Raining on your birthday? Accidentally hit a guy in the face whilst twerking? Meaningful.

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The fictional world is one full of signs, so that when you look at the real world, you can tend to see where things are going.
And often, things that appear to be problems are really only different archetypes in storytelling. So here are the main things I’ve learnt about relationships from writing romances.

  • Passion matters. Attraction, desire, whatever- it’s important. In a lot of stories, we often find characters who don’t notice this attraction until halfway through the story. I personally think this is bullshit. If you’re attracted to someone, then you’re attracted to them. You can stamp down on it, but you can’t create it out of thin air. Chemistry only happens when you have the right ingredients.
  • Good partners listen. They explore what the other person is about. They have a basic curiosity about who and what this person is. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Always freaking ASK- if you think they’re being unfaithful, if you heard a rumour, if you don’t know how they feel. So many terrible story lines could have been avoided if the main character had grown a pair and just asked their partner what the hell was up.
  • The MOST BASIC of memes to avoid- You have an argument with your partner. You think it’s over. You’re heartbroken. You get drunk, fall into the waiting arms of whichever jezebel/boywhore you were originally arguing over. The next day they come around to make up, and you’ve fucked it all up. STOP DOING THIS, IT’S STUPID.
  • If you think you’re attracted to someone else, and you’re going to cheat, choose one of the following options: 1- stay away from said person until the attraction dies (chemistry fizzles when you run out of heat) or 2- break up with your partner. If you step back, you know where this is going way before you do anything.
  • If you overhear a conversation STAY TO THE END. Maybe they were being propositioned, maybe they were kissed but pushed the other person away, maybe they end up saying nice things about how much they love you. People and situations are complicated.
  • If you’ve had to stalk them or change for them, it’s not going to work.

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      Happily ever afters are built, not given. Work at it. Just because the book ends doesn’t mean the drama does!

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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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Guest Post from author Rebecca Raisin!

Really excited to be featuring news from Rebecca Raisin’s next novella Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Cafe today, and I’m certainly eagerly awaiting its publication on 20th March!

Welcome back to the warmth, cupcakes and hot chocolate of The Gingerbread Café – your home away from home.

Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Cafe

Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café  – the second novella in The Gingerbread Café series –. Released March 20th by Carina UK. 

Chocolate…the most irresistible temptation?

The Gingerbread Café is all a buzz! This Easter, Lily and the rest of the town of Ashford, Connecticut are planning a truly decadent Chocolate Festival. Cooking up a storm, CeeCee and Lily are not just baking a batch of their sinfully delicious chocolate-dipped gingerbread men, but an excess of chocolate truffles, squidgy, cinnamony hot cross buns and melt in your mouth chocolate eggs. The Gingerbread Café staff have definitely enjoyed the tasting process!

Add in Damon’s cute-as-a-button seven year old daughter, Charlie, up for a visit and Lily’s perfect Easter may just be around the corner. Until her ex-husband Joel turns up demanding twenty thousand dollars… Suddenly the future of the Gingerbread Café is not so clear…and Lily finds herself eating far more of The Gingerbread Café’s treats than her skinny jeans allow…

Can Lily concoct a brilliant plan to save her beloved café, convince Damon she has no feelings for Joel and still throw a Chocolate Festival the town will be talking about for years? There’s only one way to find out…

Welcome back to the warmth, cupcakes and hot chocolate of The Gingerbread Café – your home away from home

This is the second novella in The Gingerbread Café series

Christmas at the Gingerbread Café

Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café

Coming Christmas 2014 look out for the next romantic instalment!

Goodreads:

http://bit.ly/1i69MYZ

Find the novella here:

Amazon US http://amzn.to/OFCjw3

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1fKsW7z

iTunes https://itun.es/au/RXigX.l

KOBO http://bit.ly/1dZoayZ

Google play http://bit.ly/1gPMtlb

Find Rebecca here: 

https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaRaisinAuthor

http://rebeccaraisin.wordpress.com

www.twitter.com/jaxandwillsmum

http://www.pinterest.com/rebeccaraisin/chocolate-dreams-at-the-gingerbread-cafe/

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An Interview with a Character for #weloveromance

As part of the #WeLoveRomance Blog Tour, a group of us Carina authors are celebrating Valentines Day but presenting articles, short extracts, and yesterday, an interview with a character from our book. Unfortunately I was away from my computer yesterday, so here it is! Keep searching #weloveromance on twitter for more interviews!

 

Also, don’t forget to enter the competition to win a whole bunch of books from us! You can enter HERE.

 

An Interview With Harry Shulman, from The Last Word.

 

What do you think of Tabby Riley, your newest writer at The Type newspaper?

She’s, uh, well she’s certainly not like anyone else. Tabby is this really fine balance of genius and maniac. And I mean that in the best way. I headhunted Tabby, saw how well her blog was doing, how much her readers loved her, and I wanted that for our paper. I hadn’t quite imagined just how difficult she was going to be.

 

What do you mean by difficult?

Well, the majority of writers who work here just accept that I’m their editor. Tabby argues. A lot. But I actually really respect her for it. Sometimes she makes me want to punch myself in the face because I’m so frustrated, but she’s a great writer, she deserves a break. We just place value on different things.

 

What do you place value on then, Harry?

I like nice things, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I worked hard to get my car, and wear nice suits and drink good wine. Tabby seems to think that anything above primark is the sign a shallow and money-driven personality. She still has a VCR player, for God’s sake! She refuses to let me choose places for our business lunches because she says I’m pretentious…I don’t see how wanting to take a woman for a nice lunch is a bad thing.

 

But these are business lunches?

Of course! We’ve managed to compromise and go to The Black Cat pub in town. Apparently I’m easily distracted when other females in the room. Which I think is completely unfair, just because women are nice to me, she takes that as not focussing. The woman drives me nuts, honestly. 

 

So you don’t see Tabby extending her contract beyond these few months at The Type?

It’s really up to my boss. And the stats of course. If Tabby’s column Miss Twisted Thinks keeps receiving great reviews and viewings, then it’s definitely a possibility. I’d really love her to stay. I think she’s a great addition to our team, and brings new life to the paper, even if it’s her tendency to write tangential pieces about different types of cake. 

 

And what about the rumours around The Type that you and Miss Riley have more than a working relationship, and spend a suspicious amount of time in the stationary cupboard?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re colleagues, we’re friends, and if we’re in the stationary room we’re probably arguing over whether biro or rollerball pens are best. Okay, so maybe we’re a bit more affectionate with each other than I am with other staff members, but I have to be. If I’m going to go seventeen rounds of arguing over one article, at some point, I have to be comforting. That’s my job. 

 

So, driving her down to Brighton for the day, taking bottles of wine to her house, these are professional things to be doing?

Brighton was for a story! She doesn’t drive. I thought it would be easier. The wine was to apologise for being an arse. I don’t know why I’m justifying myself to you, even if me and Tabby were together, it would be completely legitimate. There’s nothing in the rules at the paper saying co-workers can’t date.

 

But, considering Miss Riley’s romantic involvement with her previous editor at The Guardian, don’t you think it’s a bit strange 

Ah, so that’s your angle is it? Sniffing about for dirt on good old Richard. I am not in a position to comment on Miss Riley’s previous relationships, and I am letting you know I’m answering no further questions. Tabby is a hard working and talented writer, and she’s got to where she is because of that, not because of any romantic entanglements. I’m done.

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Let’s talk about (safe) sex, baby.

This isn’t REALLY for #weloveromance but as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have one without the other!

Do romance writers have a responsibility to present safe sex?

 

This was the question I wondered as I read a really great romance recently. It had all the things I love, a snarky love interest, a crazy family, excellent characterisation and backstory. The sex scene had been delayed long enough, and was really hot and then… when asked by the male she was just about to sleep with for the first time if he should get a condom, the female replied ‘Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.’

 

Now, here’s the balance: do we present safe sex, knowing that young women learn about the ‘normality’ of relationships through books like these, OR do we stay true to what sex is actually like, and that sometimes that stuff happens?

 

Here’s what bothered me- I wouldn’t judge a woman I know, or just met, if she told me that story. I might have rolled my eyes and said that the pill doesn’t protect against STDs and it’s not really the same thing, especially when you’re sleeping with someone for the first time, but I wouldn’t have judged. But I judged the writer for presenting me with such a character. A cautious and thoughtful character, who never takes risks and is always in control…and yet, this. Especially after they’d just had a whole discussion about the fact that the male character has had multiple fuck buddies at the same time.

 

Fair enough, a lot of people don’t like writing condoms into sex scenes- they think it loses momentum, breaks down the romantic bit, or the ‘ravaging in process’ bit. Personally, I don’t think that’s true, and I make a point to include it, especially in the first few sex scenes. It doesn’t need to metaphorically flick you in the face every time you start a steamy scene, but it’s a part of sexual experience. We don’t tend to write about all the gross stuff that happens in sex either, because we’re writing the ideal most of the time. But the ideal includes being safe, doesn’t it?

 

If we were writing to be true to life, we’d include all the nitty gritty gross stuff, so I can understand ignoring it altogether, I have no problem with that. But bringing it up, only to dismiss it for something that doesn’t actually address the situation? That’s the kind of excuse brought up in erotic fiction on the internet, where rape fantasies and incest stories hide away. They bring it up to get it out of the way, so that women are expected to give that answer, and ta-da! There sits your male condom-free fantasy. Except….the majority of readers of ‘chick lit’ are female…so what is achieved here?

 

I haven’t got an answer for you, but I’m interested in what you think! Do writers have an obligation to present safe sex, or do we ignore it and accept that it’s just fantasy? Comment, I’m intrigued!

 

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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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