On… chicklit and humour

I’m trying to write a feature for Novelicious for International Chicklit Month. And I’m having trouble getting started.


Because the topic is Humour And Chicklit.

What right do I have to write about humour and chicklit? Fuck all, honeynuts. I mean, I try to write humorous books, but everyone thinks they have a sense of humour, just like everyone thinks they have good dress sense. So the little voice in my head reminding me that everyone’s idea of humour is different and asking who the sweet hell I think I am to write about this subject is stymieing me, for a start.


For me, for any book – fiction or not – to be humorous, it has to be surprising. And original, smart, irreverent, sharp, confident, quick, honest, compelling, emotionally real, well-written and tightly edited, with characters that I care about and a storyline that has realistic-yet-unexpected twists… it all goes hand-in-hand, because humour needs structure and structure needs a point and that point needs to be emotionally resonant for me to care enough to keep reading. David Sedaris is deeply funny: I laughed so hard reading Me Talk Pretty One Day that I started hitting the seat next to me, and I was on the tube (underground, subway, metro, MTR) at the time. Kingsley Amis is also hilarious: Lucky Jim is one of my favourite books ever (Fox wooed me with a first edition, the smooth bastard). Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons, Nancy Mitford, Nora Ephron… all brilliant and funny. But they’re not modern chicklit.

So what makes a book in the chicklit genre particularly funny? That’s what I’m asking myself. And I don’t know what the answer is. Not all my favourite chicklit books are particularly funny. Or they might make me smile but not chortle, grin but not guffaw. Doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Just means they’re not that funny. I also love Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, Julian Barnes, Mary McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephanie Meyer, yes I said Stephanie Meyer, and they don’t make me laugh out loud either.

Double hmmm.

Recently I read I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crossley, and The Heart Says Whatever by Emily Gould. Both are very well-written and very, very funny memoirs from quick, smart, perceptive twentysomething women, and I laughed out loud several times. When I finished, I wondered: why the hell didn’t they turn their razor-sharp gaze away from the mirror and write fiction? There’s something un peu self-absorbed about writing about yourself all the time, isn’t there? (I can’t even bear to write about myself on this terribly neglected blog, and shit, that’s the whole point of a blog, right?) Then I wondered if the reason they wrote memoirs was because any novel about being a female career-and-love-focused twentysomething, with bits about fashion and family and friends and flatmates, would be labelled chicklit and given a cover that looked like a Disney animator had thrown up on it. And Emily and Sloane are both, quite frankly, too cool to fall for that.


You can see how my brain is having trouble processing what should be a very enjoyable feature to write.

Twenty minutes ago I decided, fuck it, write about what makes the funniest chicklit books funny, and choose a book everyone will agree on. The answer is, of course, Bridget Jones’ Diary.

But I can’t just write that, can I? “Read Bridget Jones’ Diary. It is perfect.”


Share Button

On… things that I find surprisingly difficult

Writing addresses on envelopes. (It’s just so boring.)

Remembering numbers of more than one digit. (Ask me to remember anything over nine and I stare into space like an inbred lapdog, drooling and panting.)

Answering simple questions when I’m writing. (“What? I don’t… In the drawer. I mean… oh. The bus.”)

Choosing anything but pork belly when it is on the menu. (It’s just so good. So good.)

Selecting a cocktail that isn’t vodka-based. (Look, it gets the job done.)

Sleeping in past 6.30am. (I have the bodyclock of a baker.)

Understanding the charms of nature in any meaningful way. (“Oh, it’s leafy. Awesome.”)

Understanding the charms of organised sport in any meaningful way. (“Oh, it’s a ball. Awesome.”)

Wearing a colour that isn’t white, black, grey, navy or red. (Seriously, I’m like a small French child in a storybook.)

Letting go of my lucky yellow clutch*, both emotionally and sartorially. (Readers of The Dating Detox will understand.)

Knowing where my phone is at any given time. (Really. That thing is like Ferris Bueller. It just takes off whenever it feels like it. It is probably driving around Chicago right now in a red convertible with a hypochondriac and a chick called Sloane.)

* I will happily wear a hint of yellow. Ditto hot pink or electric blue. But only a hint.

Share Button

On… Heartbreaker

You know when you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy but you’ve seen all the good ones and you’d stab yourself in the throat with your eyelash curler before wasting any time on a Katherine Heigl movie again?

Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.

You want to be entertained (but not patronised with something predictable). You want attractive actors (particularly the dude), and characters that seem fresh and real (not annoying). You want romance (but not schmaltz). You want humour (but nothing predictable). And you want something clever (because sweet mother of fuckmonkeys, romance doesn’t have to be stupid).

My friends, I have the answer.


Skip to your laptop and download it from iTunes or Netflix right this second.(Or rent the DVD if you’re feeling retro.) It is so brilliant and clever I kept punching the sofa with joy, thinking ‘I have GOT to tell EVERYONE I know about this’. It’s about a guy who is a professional heartbreaker, ie, breaks up relationships for a living. And it’s awesome.

It’s French, by the way. The French are so damn good at romantic comedies. One of the only other really excellent romantic comedies I’ve seen in the last year or so was PRICELESS, another nice little French number. It’s deeply funny. GOING THE DISTANCE was hilarious too, by the way. Since we’re on the subject of good romantic comedies. But it wasn’t French. Okay I’ll shut up now. Oh wait, I just found a photo of the dude from HEARTBREAKER without his shirt on. In case you’re interested.

Okay I really will go now.

Share Button

On… Sweet Valley Confidential

Are you an Elizabeth or a Jessica?

I know a cultural phenomenon when I see one, particularly one that has lay dormant for a decade or two then come back, bigger and brighter than ever. And that phenomenon, my friends, is SWEET VALLEY HIGH.

Personally, I’m an Elizabeth, most of the time. I always wanted to be a Jessica, but I’m not, at least not until I’ve had a couple of martinis. My friend Amy and I once reminisced about Sweet Valley High over dinner and nearly got told off for shouting at each other and banging the table so excitedly. We tried to remember Bruce Patman’s Porsche’s numberplate (1BRUCE1), the name of the band (The Droids!), argued over which of Elizabeth’s boyfriends was the more bland (Todd, Todd, Todd) and reminisced about poor deaf Regina, who did DRUGS and nearly DIED. The characters were recognisable, the books were compellingly readable, and all in all, they were good clean fun. (I am sure I am not alone in wishing there was more sex in SVH – but then again, the continued undercurrent of unfulfilled sexual desire was pretty adroit for the average SVH reader. If I wanted to read about sex at that age, I’d read Forever by Judy Blume, and then would completely freak out and run back to SVH and – oh how I loved this series – The Babysitters Club, stat.)

EDIT: Apparently, according to the lovely PollyPopTart, Regina really did die. This is no longer funny. Sorry Regina. Drugs suck, kids.

Sweet Valley High was like a John Hughes movie, but even better, because it had a million plotlines and it never, ever ended. I missed it in its heyday, the 80s, but read it a lot from about 89 to about 93, I guess. The series petered out sometime in the 90s, I think. (I don’t know about you, but I blame Nirvana. Those grunge people. Sheesh. Talk about spoilsports.)

I just looked up SWEET VALLEY HIGH on Wikipedia, and saw a bunch of later titles that I never read. I need to fix this, immediatement. I particularly like the last one: #143 Party Weekend – Elizabeth and Jessica learn what it’s like to be drunk. (I can answer this for them: it is awesome.)

ANYWAY. The reason for this long, characteristically pointless blog from lil’ Gemgem is that all your favourite characters from Sweet Valley High are back.


Here’s a good synopsis of SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL from chicklitclub.com: Sweet Valley High twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are back after a 10-year hiatus and suddenly the girls, who were always inseparable, are living on different coasts and not speaking to each other. Things are not so idyllic for the Wakefield twins and their friends from Sweet Valley High. Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, which led Elizabeth to dash off to New York and cut off all communications with her sister. The once sweet and caring twin, Elizabeth now wants nothing more than to get revenge on Jessica, but what is the best way to go about punishing someone who ruined her life? On the other coast, Jessica is the talk of the town for what she did to her sister and she’s not happy about it. Though she is doing well at work, she can’t shake the need to be near her sister. However, that doesn’t seem possible as Elizabeth is not even answering her phone. Will these two finally put their differences behind them and get on with life or is the rift between them too big to ever mend?

How awesome does that sound?

No fewer than seven girlfriends emailed me links to the news about SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL. And these girls don’t all know each other, and there’s no particular reason they were telling me – I was a fan, but no more than the average girl, I think. It’s just that everyone – everyone - is frothing at the mouth about it. I have never personally witnessed book buzz before (I worked as a copywriter in advertising before I was an author; people in advertising tend to think books are ‘a fantastic concept’) but man, this has got to be it. I mean, I’ve pre-ordered my copy already. Have you?

Now, a blatant boast, but please let me get away with it… The editor of my next book, the first of my brand-spanking-new UNION STREET series (currently doing the final polish on the last few chapters, by the way) is Dan Weiss. He’s Publisher At Large at St Martins Press. He’s also the man who started the Sweet Valley High series AND the man in charge of bringing it back. I figure this makes me practically a Wakefield. And if you tell me I’m an Enid I will not talk to you again.

Share Button

On… Denim And Lace

There are a lot of bad songs out there.

And this is one of my favourites. As a bonus, the dude in this video is one of the worst lipsyncs I’ve ever seen, and I saw Paula Abdul in concert in Hong Kong in 1992. (She danced on stage! With a TIGER!)(A pretend tiger. But, you know, still.)

Anyway. Denim and Lace. I like to sing it to myself when I’m getting ready to go out.

Share Button

On… a new Sheer Luxe blog

So now and again I write a blog for the uhmazing shopping mecca website, SheerLuxe.

This is the latest one.

Share Button

On… my newsletter

I send out a newsletter now and again about what I’ve been up to. Sorry, ‘newsletter’ sounds ridiculous; it’s more like a long, chatty, mildly pointless email. But, you know, it’s fun. And fun goes a long way.

If you’d like to get it direct to your inbox, just email me gemma@gemmaburgess.com and put ‘Email me!’ in the subject line. Or click below and read it. Totally up to you, sugarnuts.

Well, pass me a cigarette and pour me a martini, I’ve just finished the first draft of my next book.

It’s the first of the Union Street series. Each book in the series will be from the point of view of a different girl in a group of friends living together in their early 20s, trying to figure everything out.

I had the idea for it last May, when the illustrious people at St Martins Press asked what I wanted to write next. I wanted to do something more than a standalone chicklit book. I loved writing The Dating Detox and A Girl Like You, but I wanted to write about, not just one girl, but a group of them (I always wished I’d had more space for the friends’ stories in TDD and AGLY). I wanted to do something funny and fast that was about friendship and ambition and finding your way in the world – and of course, love and sex and dating, and all that good chicklit stuff. And I’d been thinking about how no one writes funny books about that exhilarating, difficult period right after university or college, when you’re trying to figure out a) what you want to do with your life and b) how the sweet hell you’re going to do it. And then, lastly, I’d been reading The Best Of Everything, by Rona Jaffe, and The Group, by Mary McCarthy (which are awesome, by the way, and about girls discovering life in the 50s and the 30s, respectively; if you’re into Mad Men and that sort of thing you’ll love them) and found them seriously inspiring. And anyway, all these thoughts came together, and I thought, hell yes. That is what I want to write.

Because being in your very early 20s is brilliant, but so hard and everyone always forgets that. It’s hard to get a job, to find a place to live, to meet nice guys, to survive on no money, to figure out how to make your life work for you and above all, to keep the faith (in a George Michael way, not a Jesus way).

Here’s my early 20s story (hah… now, I wasn’t sure whether to include this, it’s a boring life anecdote, so please feel free to skip to the end): I’d just finished a useless and difficult triple major Bachelor of Arts and a post-grad degree in journalism. As I’d decided I hated journalism, I was pretty much unemployable. I applied for every entry-level job with the title ‘marketing’ or ‘editorial’ that I could find, as I vaguely knew I wanted something word-related. Naturally no one would give me a job, because I had no experience, but I couldn’t get experience without a job. Eventually I got a miserable six-month contract job writing market research reports. Then I worked at a second-rate marketing agency for two long years, writing very dry technology copy. Man, that job sucked ass. I locked myself in the disabled toilet every day at 11am to cry (which, I admit, even then I found hilarious), partly because I didn’t understand most of what I was writing about (what the fk is a robust back end server?) and partly because I had realised that the agency was run by utter fools.* The pay was, obviously, appalling, so I was constantly worried – with that sour-stomach worried feeling, you know the one? – about money. And I lived in filthy little shareflats, except for an ill-judged couple of years living with a boyfriend (looking back, I wonder if I moved in with him because I was so tired of said filthy little shareflats). Eventually I got a proper advertising copywriting job in a sharp London agency. And life slowly improved. I started writing The Dating Detox while I was freelancing at an ad agency and living in a shareflat in Pimlico. I was dating Fox, the guy I’m now married to, by then, but we weren’t living together yet. Anyway. I digress. Again.

The point is that looking back over my early 20s, I realised that, difficult and disaster-filled as it truly was, and despite my regular angst-filled crying jags, I was a happy little bunny. Life was kind of awesome. I went out a lot, drank and smoked far too much, dated a lot of total schmucks, threw shapes in every embarrassingly bad club in London, made predictable wine-fuelled mistakes with my male best friends, spent my lunch hours shopping in Zara or reading in the sunshine in Golden Square, killed four to six hours every Saturday in coffee shops on the Kings Road in Chelsea gossiping with my girlfriends and, you know, had a seriously good time. It was tough, but exhilarating and hilarious and fun.

So that’s what I wanted to write about. And I just finished the first draft.

I hope it’s good.

I’ve been quizzing every woman I know about her early 20s, by the way, so if you’re feeling talkative, let me know how you survived (or, if you’re there now, how you’re surviving). And by the way, what the sweet hell else should I write about in this email I send to you, oh favourite lovely reading people? I never know, so I just end up having a chat.

Happy Friday. Go have a drink this weekend and enjoy yourself. You deserve it.

Gem x

* I should add that my direct boss in that job was lovely. He was patient when I’d come in crying about boys (which I often did… come to think of it, I cried a lot in that job) and more importantly he was an amazing mentor who truly taught me how to write. I was mentor-obsessed in my 20s. If I saw someone who looked like they had a clue about anything, I basically clung to their ankles till they gave me advice. And I had thought I knew how to write, after years of essays and letters and reading reading reading and all that damn education, but I didn’t. Once I learned, I could suddenly express myself far more clearly and succinctly in writing than speech. Which is lucky, since at some point in my late 20s, I decided I’d try being a real writer. So the next challenge (in fact the continuing challenge) is not the style, but content, ie, writing something that you guys think is worth reading. And here we are.

Share Button

On… SheerLuxe

Afraid this is just a little tiny wave hello, my friends, as I’m finishing a book and keep forgetting to find time to do things like, you know, breathe. But sometimes I write a fashion blog for the awestabulous site SheerLuxe. And I wrote a new one last week.

If you’re interested, you can check it out here.

More soon. Promise. x

Share Button