Tag Archives: chick-lit

Bad Sisters by Rebecca Chance

Candice: My excuse for my post being late today is that I’m actually on Australian time to correspond with Phil’s travels…

Anyway, while he is off swanning (I’m allowed to say that this time as he is actually on proper holiday) then I’ve got a lovely piece of throwaway holiday writing to blog about.

I picked by ‘Bad Sisters’ from my trusty charity shop in Stratford.  The cover hit the right note, heels and sparkles, and I knew by the synopsis on the back this wasn’t going to be Chaucer. Well I dived in late in to my holiday after reading some crime fiction and then disappeared into the world of easy reading for a few days.

The book is about three sisters – Maxie, Devon and Deeley.  Each leading separate lives because many years ago they bumped off their step father because Maxie said he was touching her up.  Cut to 20 years later and Deeley is back from her comfortable life in LA with no man and no money, Devon is eating her way through her house not to face her marriage troubles and Maxie is social climbing with her politician husband.

Along the way they rub each other up the wrong way, go off with each other’s husbands and have sex (but not that much for a ‘bonkbuster’) before Deeley opens her big mouth and drops them all in it.  The Police come knocking, all hell breaks loose and one of them gets her comeuppance.

I read this book so quickly I skipped whole sections due to the fact I didn’t really care that much what happened, I just wanted to find out who did it in the end.  I suppose that’s the good part, I did want to know what happened, but on the way I wasn’t worried who I trampled on, as I didn’t care for any of the sisters apart from Deeley.

Its funny this book, as I finished it, and I might consider another Rebecca Chance novel, but I didn’t think it was the greatest chic lit of this style I’d read because, though Maxie wasn’t the nicest of character – I didn’t really find her one to hate either, which might have made other things make more sense.

Even though what Phil and I have written is classed as Chic Lit comedy I still think it has more depth that this, I’d like our stories to be something that people don’t finish and immediately think I’ll throw that in the charity bag.

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Chick-lit for beginners: Pip by Freya North

Pip by Freya NorthShe always lands on her feet, but can she fall in love?

Phil: Spoiler – Yes she can.

Pip is the third in the trilogy that revolves around the McCabe sister. Previously, I dipped my toe in the chick-lit waters with Cat and Fen. At the end of Fen, I said I’d try to get hold of a copy of Pip then promptly forgot about it.

A chance find in a second-hand bookshop before a train journey delivered the chance to satisfy the completionist in me. An added bonus was that Pip is short for Phillipa (Phil – see) and her job is being a clown, and I love to juggle. It’s like we were meant to be together. In a literary sense of course.

The novel thing about this tale is that you know what is going to happen pretty much by the end of the first chapter. We’ve met both Pip and Zac. We like them a lot, or at least I did, and we know they will make a great couple. So far so good. 362 pages to go then.

This book is all about the journey. The course of true love never runs smoothly, or at least it doesn’t if you have a book to fill. Along the way Pip has a good and then bad time with a doctor. Zac seems to just have a girlfriend. Neither of them are able to talk to each other honestly. Both, for perfectly good reasons don’t see what the other is thinking.

Pip has an interesting job, part children’s entertainer, part clown doctor (Yes, they really do exist, I linked to them didn’t I?). There’s a lot of research gone on into this and it shows. The rounding of Pips character with this is very effective.

Zac is an accountant. This is less convincing. He works in London and earns loads of money. Fair enough. He is also described as “ripped” which I understand to mean the same as “buff”. Not out of the question except that at no point there is no mention of him going to the gym. The way the text is written, there doesn’t seem to be any time for him to be working out. Accountantcy isn’t a proffesion known for turning men into beefcakes. I’ve met accountants, it was only my complete incompetence that stopped me becoming one years ago. None were “ripped” or “buff”. “Pudgy” maybe. Perhaps “Skinny”, but not one of them had what could be described as an athletic physique. Freya is obviously confusing accountants with lumberjacks.

The biggest problem I had with the book was Freya herself.

There is a narrator who talks to both the reader and the characters. A lot. It’s not a good idea to sit on a train shouting at a book to “Shut up and let them get on with it!” People look at you like you are odd although at least you don’t have to put up with anyone sitting next to you.

Narrator interruption is a feature of both Cat and Fen as well. By this book in the series, I have a feeling she is so interested in the journey that she left out some of the plot that made Cat so enjoyable and replaced it with talking by someone who’s not supposed to be there.

The story takes place in the same time frame as Cat and Fen which is clever and well done. If they weren’t all planned together then it doesn’t show, the integration of the stories is seamless and taken as a set, the concept fascinating. In a way I wish I’d read them one after the other to enjoy the overlaps more.

Anyway, it’s chick-lit. It’s fluffy. It’s light, a bit raunchy in places (You don’t want to give a copy to your granny) and perfectly enjoyable to read.

Just try not to shout at it.

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How long should a book chapter be?

How long sir?

Phil: When working on people’s websites, I come from the usability camp. That doesn’t mean I sleep in a tent or walk funny, it’s those of us who decide how a site should work by looking at the people who use it and see what they are doing. We don’t ask them what they want, we watch to see what they do and then modify the pages to match those expectations.

The theory is that if you give people what they expect, using the website is easier and they achieve whatever it is they came to it wanting to do. It’s a bit like car design really – put the brake pedal anywhere but the middle and you’ll lose a sale. Steve Krug nailed it with his book, “Don’t make me think“. If I have to learn how to use a website then I’m probably not going to bother.

I reckon you can apply some of these lessons to writing a book and chief amongst these is chapter length.

Grabbing some books from my shelves, I did a quick survey:

John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos – 12 pages

Tony Hawks – A Piano in the Pyrenees – 16 pages

Freya North – Pip – 13 pages

Stephen King – The Long Walk – 19 pages

Alan Titchmash – Knave of Spades – 7 pages

My methodology (for those who care about such things) was to pick a random chapter somewhere in the middle of the book and count the pages. Don’t complain, it’s as scientific as most of the stuff you get reported on the telly.

What does it tell us?

Not as much as I expected. My guess was that chick-lit would have shorter chapters than other genres. Freya North and Alan Titchmarsh (same audience I reckon) are on the lower end of the scale and she manages a few 2 pagers in the book. A quick look at our Book and I think we are in line with this.

Since it’s rude to gawp over people’s shoulders while they read, I’m basing the conclusions on Candice and my feelings. Both of us are fans of short chapters to give a story pace. We’ve broken our story pretty much every time you change scene as this seems logical and tried not to stay in any one place too long.

I also think it makes the book easier to read. I pick books up and put them down to snatch a moment of reading. If I can do a chapter, the bookmark moves in a satisfying way and it doesn’t seem odd to stop. If the chapter end is 4 pages away, I’ll stick at it. 10 pages and I’ll probably realise that I’m not going to make it to the end in this session so will look for another convenient place to halt, be it a paragraph or end of page. Picking up won’t be so easy but I don’t have any choice.

Injecting pace with short chapters will probably increase the tiem a reader spends with you each session. Get momentum in the story which carries you along and you think, “Oh I’ll just do another chapter” making the book becomes a page turner. Both readers and writers want that don’t they?

Conclusion: Length matters and for commercial fiction, short wins.

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Chick-lit for beginners: Fen by Freya North

FenPhil: Back in July last year, I lost my chick-lit virginity to Cat by Freya North. A gentle introduction to the genre and one I surprised myself by enjoying.

Cat is one third of a trilogy based on the three McCabe sisters, the other being Pip and Fen. Guess which one is the subject of this book?

The idea is that this book and Cat’s take place at around the same time and events in one appear in the other. So, when Fen and Pip head of to France to visit their sister, you could say, “Oh, I know what happens when they get there.” even though it’s not in these pages. I found the idea novel, so spotting a tatty copy on sale in a charity bookshop while I was buying something else, I spent an extra 50p out of curiosity.

Anyway, the plot. Fen McCabe is the middle sister and something in the art world. She bags a new job sorting out the archive for an organisation that tries to stop important works heading out of the UK. This bit is based on the authors own experience as an archivist at the National Arts Collection Fund. She (Fen) is obsessed with the (fictitious) artist Julius Featherstone, a dead painter and sculptor, producer of the sort of mucky statues and canvases that rich people used to “admire” while chastising the lower orders for their lack of morals.

The new job brings her into contact with magazine editor Matt Holden and also the owner of a couple of Featherstone pieces, broke gardner James Caulfield.

To reduce the story to its basics, Matt lives in London, where Fen now resides. James lives in Derbyshire, where Fen was brought up. She falls into both love and bed with both of them. Much of the story revolves around here trying to sort out her feelings for both. There’s a lot of fourth wall breaking and quite a bit of narration talking to Fen, unusual but as a style it works well. A monologue of her thoughts would be really difficult to pull off whereas this comes over as though you were sat on a sofa with a glass of white, trying to sort out a friends love life.

I suspect this is pretty classic chick-lit. Whereas Cat had a strong background story in the Tour de France, Fen has to generate its own momentum and without a deadline to fixate on, it doesn’t manage to do this as well. There are no real surprises at the end apart from a hasty appearance of some photos and a sort of joined up family tree affair that lost me. I think the idea is that both lovers and Julius are in some way related but I can’t be bothered to go back and work it out. We had the same issue with The Book but recognised the problem and dropped a few clues into previously written passages. Here it looks like a bit of an afterthought.

There’s also the little issue of the sisters ages. Fen is the middle sister but apparently the same age (28) as her younger sibling, Cat. Not that it matters. Matt is a couple of  years older, James 20 years so you can guess what happens in the end. Interestingly, reading her website, Freya was surprised who the character ended up with, something that amazed me as I couldn’t see the story playing out any other way. Incidentaly, she also tells us what happened to the characters after the books ended, a fascinating idea. Apparently this was the first book where North’s editor told her to tone down the sex, which might explain why it’s less raunchy than Cat but not to the detriment of the story.

Enjoyable? Yes, in a light and fluffy sort of way. I’ll keep an eye out for Pip so I can read the set.

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Rumours by Freya North

Rumours by Freya NorthCandice: After a spell of not reading anything other than the Sunday Times Style magazine, I found an interesting book in the charity book shop in Stratford.

Phil and I had both liked a book called Cat by Freya North, you’ll remember.  So when I saw another by her I thought, I’ll give this a go.

If you remember Cat was a strong female character and her book was as much about the Tour de France, as it was about her finding a man.  Well, Rumours is on similar lines but without the bikes.

The premise of the story is a woman, Stella, who has had a bad break up and is now working in a job she doesn’t want to do to pay for her and her son.  Her job is as an Estate Agent and she gets the biggest sale possible, the local country seat Longbridge Hall.  In the mean time, the Lady of the Hall is trying to assist the help’s son (Xander), as he has also had a bad break up… can you see where this is going?

Well I won’t give the whole game away but with abit of tooing and frooing Stella and Xander end up happily ever after, but certainly without any serious farce type ‘will they won’t they’ stuff.  Thinking about how Cat is written, I can tell the way that Freya’s life must have changed in the last x number of years.  Cat’s character was young, free and single, Stella is nearly 40 and has a child.  I know we all write from our own experience but I expect this is what has been going on for the author.

Like Cat, and Freya’s own description on her website of her writing style, the female character is strong and independent but able to let someone in.  I have to admit if I had read this before meeting my Husband I would have poopooed it a bit but now I am all married up, I can see both sides.

I wouldn’t say this book is as good as Cat, the premise of the tour kept me more hooked than the idea of selling a house, and there are some situations where characters seem to appear and then disappear for no real reason, the Lady’s daughter for one.  But I enjoyed bouncing along with it for a few hours.

Ironically, I have since discovered it is her most recent book, came out in June, so thanks to the bookshop for being so up to date!

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How to write Chick Lit – Part 3

Phil stared at his Citizen Men’s Skyhawk Eco-Drive Bracelet Watch and sighed. Turning back to the Samsung SyncMaster monitor, he reread the words on the screen through the pair of Paul Smith Green Pironi Spectacles. Try as he might, the WordPress.com blog posting wasn’t going well. Sometimes words would tumble from his thoughts but not tonight.

Perhaps some refreshment would help. Strolling over to the Maharani Drinks Cabinet, a recent addition to the room from John Lewis, he contemplated filling the Villeroy & Boch Scotch Whiskey  tumbler with another measure of Fabulous Grouse but thought better of it when he saw the level in the bottle was already below the birds foot.

No. A clear head called for something less alcoholic. Heading to the kitchen, he leaned on the worktop of the Ikea Factum units to think what would turn the creative taps back on. Perhaps a Le Creuset Stoneware Mug full of Yorkshire tea would be enough. It was too late to consider firing up the Krups Nescafé Dolce Gusto KP 2106 coffee machine for a dose of concentrated caffeine. Anyway, that was the wrong sort of stimulation. Chemically induced hammering at the Logitech Wireless Touch K400 keyboard might produce lots of words but most of them would only be suitable for filling the Rexel bamboo waste bin that lived under the Alphason San Diego desk.

Opening the Ramsjo cabinet, he spotted the solution. Nothing soothes the fevered writers brown like a steaming Mr Men mug filled to the brim with Green And Blacks Organic Hot Chocolate heated up in a Sharp Compact Touch microwave oven.

The pastel green Smeg fridge illumiated the kitchen as he opened the door and and grasped a bottle of Waitrose semi-skimmed organic milk. Staring at a tin of John West Grilled Sardines on the shelf, Phil paused to ponder the next line of the blog post. As he watched the mug rotating through the tinted window of the microwave oven, he knew that this had better do the job.

It was his turn to post to the nolanparker.co.uk website and if he didn’t produce the goods, Candice would be pulling her Blackberry curve mobile phone from the depths of the Gabor  Modena Handbag and speaking very sharply in his direction. He could imagine the conversation,

“Parker, you haven’t posed anything today you hopeless…”, PING – the microwave finished it’s work and interrupted his train of thought.

Settling back down into the Berlin Leather Franklin Office Chair cradling his drink, Phil pondered the chick-lit he had recently read. The contents of Flawless by Tilly Bagshawe floated across his mind. Words and chocolaty aromas mingled in his thoughts.

Suddenly, the room lit up. His wife had returned in her Audi A6 and the beam from the Osram bulbs briefly illuminated the walls, freshly painted in colours chosen from the Dulux 50 shades of grey range. The sudden brightness crystallised his ideas. Not pausing to welcome Nikita, who he had met through the goodrussionbrideforsadgentlemen.co.ru website, his fingers flew across the keys.

He typed like a man possessed. Possessed with the spirit of chick-lit. Possessed with the sure and certain knowledge that if you copy the Google shopping search results, drizzle with a perfunctory plot and wrap it all in a pink cover, every woman will want to read your work.

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How to write Chick Lit – Part 2

Candice:  Ok, so Phil’s done his research.  Probably abit arse about face as we have already written the book, but its a good way to shape this group of 80,000 words into something that a nice publisher might like, based on his reading experience.  However, there is something fundamental missing in his experience, he’s not a girl.  I suspect that’s why ‘Cat’ went down better than ‘Flawless’, but that was part of the test.

I also liked ‘Cat’ more than ‘Flawless’, and I’m the audience I think we are aiming this book at.  Not someone who wants soppy rubbish, but a woman with a brain who wants escapism but realism.  As Neil has commented, people have real experience of the Tour de France, unlike the high flying world of gems and castles.  None of us can understand that so its chance at grabbing us might fade.  I suppose it’s also a bit like the programs I like to watch. Give me ‘Buffy’, ‘Lost Girl’ or ‘Fringe’, set in reality but with escapist moments, rather than ‘Star Trek’ which I have no interest in at all.

So where to now?  Does Phil need to put on a dress and feel some relationship angst.  Um, no, that’s why he’s part of this writing partnership because he brings the Male to FeMale.  He’s the comedy buffer to my comments on shoes and handbags.  Though he does like a good Peplum….

I feel that more research is never enough in this case.  As you followers know I am always reading books, and each one helps to shape how I might approach our writing.  But I still think we need to tackle the other two areas we have set ourselves: submission of short stories (one written and just needing final tweaks), and attending a writing group (mainly for research as I not sure it is our thing, too much navel gazing).

Now I have surfaced from under a few weeks madness at work its time to do the final polish on our horror short and get it sent.  And maybe, if you guys are lucky, we might let you read it too…

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