Tag Archives: chicklit

Who’s that Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

Phil: The moment you read that title, you heard the Eurithmics in your head didn’t you?

Well, I did. Presented with the book by Candice over cake, I wasn’t sure. It looked very chick-lit, but I know she wouldn’t be shoving anything rubbish my way so I gave it a go.

We first meet Edie at a wedding. During the day, just after the speeches, the groom decides to snog her. The bride spots this and things all fall apart.

Friends and colleagues not only abandon her, but thanks to the joys of social media (this is very much a book set NOW), they gang up and start bullying her. Leaving London for the family home in Nottingham, she has to face a father who has never really recovered from the death of her mother and a sister to hates her. That and getting used to not being in the capital.

The move north is partly engineered by her boss and involves ghost writing a celeb biography for the latest blokey hot totty from something that sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. He’s filming in the city, doesn’t want the autobiog written due to a secret in his past.

Basically, everyone has secrets (Edie wasn’t having an affair with the groom, but was flirting) and needs to take control of their lives. So much so standard. If I tell you any more, then SPOILERS.

What sets this apart is it’s a very modern book. We get loads of social media and also old-skool media problems. A row in a nightclub with the totty results in Edie being identified in the papers as a mystery woman attached to him. This gives her vile and bitchy workmates a chance to sell their stories. There are loads of communication channels, including an internal e-mail system that provides the chance for some blackmail and they all help to build the pressure on our main characters in a way that you don’t see in most books.

Even the ending, while leaving room for a sequel, is convincing and plays like grown-ups making decisions. Not very chick-lit at all, in a good way.

Not living in a metropolitan bubble, I found some of the workmate characters hard to relate to. They are bitchy and quite frankly, childish. Some of the actions are more playground bullying than proper adult behaviour – however, that’s because I live in a different, and probably considerably less well paid, world. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s a proper page turner with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The main characters all develop and change during the story and lots of loose ends get tied up in a way that satisfies the reader.

Lots of short chapters too which builds the pace and, as I found, keeps you reading. Not quite enough to persuade me to take that girly cover on a train mind you, even though by that point I really wanted too!

 

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What do I do now?

Capture

 

Candice: Its my turn to write the blog post after the big launch.  And I don’t know what to say.

We’ve done what we wanted to do – published a book.  Phil even has physical copies for me to fondle later this week. So that’s it then…

I suppose the next step is to make sure we do some serious marketing to get people to buy it.  I’ve done an unashamed plug at work and sent an email round the whole department – so that should get some bought.  I’ve plugged on Facebook and Twitter as has Phil.  Now we need to ramp up the next bit – local press.  Time for a cheesy photo when we meet on Friday to send out to the press.

And then its more plugging over the next few months until the next book comes out.  I gave Phil a scare as I put in that Book 2 would be out in the summer, well we all love a deadline, but I think that is achievable as we have made a good dent in it and I have 5 days holiday to use by the end of March so I think some of them can be writing days.

I think the big build up is why I feel crap today – I’ve come down with a cold and nasty cough.  I just wish I was enjoying the fruits of my labour on a beach like my sister (not jealous at all).

So, plug time, don’t forget to buy Kate vs the Dirtboffins, now available on Amazon!

 

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RIP to the Hollywood Bonk Buster

Candice: I was saddened and shocked to hear of the death of Jackie Collins the other day.

I have to say I read quite a few of her books and though not pulitzer prize winning fiction they certainly entertained me while lying on a sunlounger. Before the days of out and out sex in Fifty Shades, Jackie was letting her ladies give the gents a ‘one two’ in great detail, but without all the breathy tosh.

It is a shame to hear of anyone dying, whether by cancer or any other means, but I would like to think that Jackie had a full life writing her fun, entertaining books which mocked most core American characters.

I don’t think Phil and I will ever hit those dizzy heights, there isn’t enough sex in our books to drive that kind of audience, but we’d like to aspire to be some where in that league.  Oh to have the time to write 32 novels!

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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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What’s good in book covers?

PollyBooks

Phil: When you read a Tweet from an author commenting on a BBC news story that reads:

“The process of designing a book cover is collaborative.. involving the author” – BULLSH1T, HarperCollins. Rarely…

You think, “There’s some history there.”

And you’d be right. Polly Courtney famously ditched her publishers at the launch of her novel “It’s a mans world”. Well, I say famously but neither of us knew about it until we went to the self publishing clinic at Stratford Literary Festival, but then that’s because neither of reads the literary sections of the newspapers properly and as far as we are concerned, the publishing world consists of dumbos who haven’t (yet) recognised our talent with the offer of a five-figure book deal.

Anyway, the session fired us both up to think about how we get our book out there. One aspect that interested me a lot was consideration of the package you present as an author. There’s a lot to think about in appearing to fit within a genre. Books full of SAS rescues don’t look like those involving women and cupcakes. This extends beyond the cover and onto the web site – hence my concern.

As an interesting exercise, I happened to have a couple of Polly’s books handy (read both- reviews will follow on here eventually but if you want a spoiler, they were great) and so I thought it would be interesting to see what was so terrible about them. I waved both under the Nolan’s nose as well as my own and surprisingly we felt differently about them.

The Fame Factor, to me, looks pretty much bang on for the content. There’s an X-Factor look about the design, something that fits the story fairly well. The soft design though would seem to say chick-lit and I’d certainly say it was aimed at women. Candice didn’t like it as it’s too busy.

It’s a man’s world though, I didn’t like.

More than that, I really hate the subtitle “But it takes a woman to run it” which indicates the story is no more than the traditional woman in a man’s world shtick where you just know she’ll win through by the end of the book collecting a square-jawed bloke and a lovely house along the way. The Guardian describes the cover as containing “the chick-lit staple of a pair of slender legs”. Basically, the publishers say it’s a girly book. Oddly, my friend was happier with it but then she hasn’t read either book yet and so is looking at it from market position, which if you are expecting chick-lit, it does it well. Point proved I think.

What conclusion can I draw? Well for a start, I think Polly has a point. Never mind sacking the publisher, I’d have gone down to the marketing department and stuffed their stupid coloured pens up their nostrils. From my reading, this isn’t chick-lit, far from it. I can see why it potentially would appeal to some of that market and why the marketing team would try to push them in that direction, but there’s a lot that is not chick-lit inside. Proper, real issues are confronted. With passion. The male characters aren’t written as 1 dimensional idiots. The plots do not revolve solely around the main character looking for lurve.

If the publishers insist that your work is packaged in a way you don’t think works, it must be very frustrating. You might also wonder if any of them have bothered reading the contents or could you just submit a few hundred pages of Loreum Ipsum.

I bet a few readers got a shock too. They bought a book that promised cupcake and just as they started to nibble around the edges, great big real issue exploded from under the mock-cream and cherry topping. Now, this might be welcome by some who want a dish with more to chew on but if you just want fluff then it’s probably too hearty a meal for you.

What worries me is that we are also not writing pure chick-lit. Our book should be enjoyable for men and women. Yes, there are chick-lit elements as there are in the books above, but then you can see the same touches in James Bond books which certainly don’t get pink fluffy covers. Can stories with a female main character only be chick-lit? How can design say that we’re writing for everyone? Do publishers need to follow the Harry Potter model of offering different covers to allow varied markets, in that case adults and children, to read the same book?

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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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