On comfort

I read an interview once with someone who said he read Bleak House every year, at Christmas. The sophistication! Kind-of-but-not like how I used to read Polo by Jilly Cooper every time I was dumped.

Now these days, I’m with a nice young man and we’re getting hitched, but I still read Polo about once a year. All the Jilly Cooper books are dear friends by now, and I have to be careful when I’m writing, because I’ve read them so often that entire sentences from them can appear in my fingers and on the page.

Not quite Bleak House, but then again, I sometimes find reading Dickens like talking to someone extremely quick and self-consciously clever. It’s brilliant, but I feel a bit tired afterwards, like I’ve been holding my breath till the end of each sentence. Jilly Cooper, on the other hand, is equally fast and smart and amusing, but also kind and observant and bitchy-in-the-good-way and a bit naughty. Someone with whom you could play hooky from work and drink a bottle of wine. Someone who, no matter how bad the thing is that’s happened to you, will make you laugh by the end of the first drink.

And so, because there is no new book news on my front (other than, The Dating Detox is coming in January, and when it does, please buy it), I think I’ll list other books I read for comfort. Books that will be your best friend and sit with you for hours and make you laugh and sigh when you’ve just broken up with some asshat, had a shit day at work, fought with your sister, made a fool of yourself or anything else that results in a blue soul. These are books with wit and warmth and smarts and optimism that I find easy to get into – even when most of my brain won’t let go of my problems.


1 Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Like a heart-to-heart with a warm, confiding, wise, self-deprecating, sarcastic and absolutely stomach-achingly witty friend. After you read this, read I Feel Bad About My Neck, which has only one fault: it isn’t four times as long. I wish Nora Ephron would start a GOOP.


2 Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
When you’re feeling stuck and bored and worried about your future, this is the book to read. Oh, or if you have a hangover.
My sister did this cover, by the way, when she was working at Penguin Classics. No, she wasn’t allowed to do my cover. I wish she had.


3 Mariana by Monica Dickens
Makes you wish you grew up posh in the 20s.


4 The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford
Makes you wish you grew up posh in the 20s in a family of sharp, bored eccentrics.
This cartoon cover is about as good as cartoon covers get.


5 Persuasion by Jane Austen
In the mood for spine-tingling confessions of love? Forget Mr Darcy. It’s all about Mr Wentworth.


6 The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
She’s an American living in Paris in the 50s, she wears ball gowns all day and she gets drunk and has inappropriate affairs all night. What’s not to love?
Fab cover, too.


7 Nightingale Woods by Stella Gibbons
Yes, Cold Comfort Farm by the same author is sharper and funnier – but can the uber-sensible Flora ever really console when you’re feeling down? She never makes a mistake. The heroines of Nightingale Woods, however, start out lonely messes and end droolingly happy. The perfect book if you feel like a lonely mess.


8 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Rip-roaring adventure: sex and swashbuckling and intrigue and D’Artagnan. My crush on him is severe. Corset-ripper with balls.


9 Polo by Jilly Cooper
If you’ve never read them, start with Riders, then Rivals, Polo, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous. Then see if you can stop. And go back and read Prudence and Harriet and oh, just trust me. Makes you wish you were rich, bored and libidinous in Gloucestershire in the 70s.
Such brilliant covers, too. For the reprint, some fool photoshopped out half the original covers so they look all uneven and odd – just a bit of his knee remains.


10 Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
I heart Bridget.

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On writing

So, someone asked me the other day if I’d always wanted to write a book. And the answer is no, I never really wanted to write a book, but I always wanted to write. I’d write anything. When I was little, we moved around a lot, so I wrote letters to everyone I knew from previous places we’d lived, then when I ran out of people I knew (ie, pretty fast) I researched the family tree and wrote to second cousins and great-aunts and uncles. I wrote to Harold from Neighbours (my sister wrote to Gran. We were odd kids). I even wrote to the Queen. Eight times, in fact. (My mother stole one – sorry, ‘saved’ one of the letters to the Queen and read it out at my 21st. It began “Dear HRH”.)

Writing paper was my heroin. I constantly begged my parents to buy my next fix and sometimes ended up writing on that weird 80s printing paper with the perforated holes at the sides. As well as letters, I wrote cartoons and little stories and a newspaper for the dogs of the neighbourhood. (When I ran out of dog news I filled up the lines with woofwoofwoof – the lorum ipsum of the canine world.)

Eventually I went to boarding school, which was filled with composing long unhappy letters that I will never reread, and then to university, where I was far too busy having a very very good time to ever write everything. Even the essays I was supposed to be writing. (Creatively, university was my fallow period.)

After university I fluked a job as a copywriter (you can’t do much with a Bachelor of Arts; I think that when someone asked what I could do I paused for a long time and said ‘spell’). As a copywriter, words were my bitch and I was their daddy. I didn’t really care if no one read what I’d written, or if the client changed every line. I was pretty damn happy to get paid to write. Even better was the discovery of the endless email discussion. I don’t know how people passed the time in their first jobs before email, but I’ll bet it involved sniffing White-Out and making friendship bands out of typewriter tape. Ie, desperately boring.

Then at some point I started wondering if I could write a book. And then I did. More about that another time.

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Operation Postcard


So, I’ve been hard at work on Book Deux and on the last few things before the birth of The Dating Detox. The lovely people at Harper Collins and Midas PR are doing lots of stellar publicity things, and – probably because I’m a copywriter, so thinking up this stuff is my gluten-free bread and low-fat spread – I’m trying to think of extra ways to tell the above-average gal on the street about the book…

I’m starting a postcard campaign that will 1) create intrigue / interest (“Great Scott! A daring statement about dating that approaches it like ‘twere a health issue!”) 2) make people laugh (“Goodness, if THIS makes me laugh then by jiminy, that BOOK will make me laugh too”) 3) tell them a little about the book on the back blurb (“Dating is a dangerous sport, you say?” 4) invite people to order the book (“Amazon, I must go there forthwith”) 5) have an element of showoff/keepability (“I must show Jennifer/Jessica/June and then pin it to my armoire”).

I have a soft spot for natty postcards. I’ve always kept ones that make me laugh, and pinned them on to my computer monitor at work. Though perhaps I’m just that sort of dork.

The problem, of course, is how to get the postcards in the hands of the right people, without resorting to storming the TopShop online order delivery centre and thrusting one into each and every delivery box, which would be the ideal solution… But let me worry about that. (Or, email me with ideas. That works too. A few brilliant and beautiful friends have come up with seriously ace suggestions, so we’re on the right track.)

The postcards are attached. Let me know what you think. Or email me if you’d like me to send you the whole set, (send them on to your friends! I know, unlikely, unless, again, you are a dork like moi).

The front on is the back, which is the same across all the postcards, the rest are the different covers.

Oh, and if you think it’s a seriously stupid idea, and it’s one of those things that I find hilarious and no one else does – more than possible – than let me know. Very, very gently.

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Postcards

Want the whole set? Just email me at gemma@gemmaburgess.co.uk

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The Dating Detox cover

I’ve been meaning to post the cover for ages! Voila. The Dating Detox, in all its nutritious detoxy glory.

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A proper introduction



So, because I’m not sure what else to say, and I’ve already posted The Rules To Breaking Up thing and had a little rant about book snobs, perhaps I’ll introduce myself properly.

My name is Gemma.

I wrote a book. That’s why I started this blog. The book isn’t out yet, so at the moment this blog is just rather shy small talk. (You know, I should write this blog when I’m drinking, then it’d be much better small talk; albeit inappropriately flirtatious and mildly prone to falling over, with an annoying tendency to beg the DJ to play Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up.)

So the book. Yes. It’s called The Dating Detox, and it’s launching this Christmas. It’s a romantic comedy – skewing towards comedy rather than romantic, I hope – about being unenthusiastically single. I wanted to write a chicklit book that I would actually want to read if I had found it when I was in my 20s and making one of my all-too-regular lovelife mistakes, as some chicklit books (with some notable exceptions, particularly anything from Jilly Cooper, Helen Fielding and Nora Ephron) made me feel, well, more depressed and alone. I wanted mine to be the book equivalent of a hug and a stiff drink with a friend.

I’m currently working on my second book, currently titled The Late Starter. More about that another time.

I’m also a freelance advertising copywriter. So as well as writing said books, I work at ad agencies across London, stringing words together to sell things to people. I started freelancing two years ago with the hope of writing a book, and hurrah that it worked out. But my freelance work is a different subject altogether. If you want to know more about that, please feel free to email me.

In summary, I wake up in the morning and taptaptap till I pass out at night. It’s great fun for my young man.

Sometimes I type in my dreams. This is probably not healthy.

In my spare time, I like to (a) read and (b) drink. Not together. (I say ‘drink’, by the way, not because I am a younger, blonder version of Oliver Reed, but because saying ‘I like to socialise with my friends in bars and restaurants’ sounds, frankly, tragic. My dad went on an accidental bender with Oliver Reed in New York in the 1970s. But that is a different story.)

I can cook but choose not to.

I don’t play sports. Ever.

I do work out, but only because I like clothes and if I gain weight I’ll have to buy a whole new wardrobe.

I like working alone in total silence, but can only cure writer’s block by wandering around in crowds. So if I can’t write, I tend to go for a walk around Soho or Chelsea or Notting Hill. (And no, the shops have nothing to do with it.)

I can’t think of anything else to say so I shall exit, stage right, bowing awkwardly.

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Book snobs

Was in NY last week, and spent some time skipping in and out of bookstores researching the chicklit – apologies, ‘contemporary women’s fiction’ market.

Best reaction: a mouth-breathing Barnes&Noble; assistant who blinked slowly and said ‘I wouldn’t know. I don’t read that kind of book’.

I laughed out loud.

Then, later on, I thought, poor her.

Because here’s the thing.

I eat burgers. I also eat kobe beef, rare. I like French fries and potatoes Dauphinoise. I love Dairy Milk chocolate and handmade truffles from l’Artisan du Chocolat. I like the Twilight series and Tolstoy. It is perfectly possible to enjoy so-called low-brow and high-brow things, you know. The point is you should make your own mind up by trying it.

So when someone asks ‘what kind of book is it?’ and I say ‘romantic comedy, you know. Shallow as a pedicure bath,’ and they frown and say sorrowfully ‘oh, I did a degree in English literature you see. I’m a terrible literature snob, I can’t possibly enjoy chick lit’, I just grin and shake my head.

I did a degree in English literature too. And I read everything I can get my hands on. (I started listing my favourite authors here, but started to feel like a prat, I also wrote a blog post on Hardy last week and didn’t post it for the same reason.) So big whoopdy-doo for me. Who cares? I don’t define myself by what I read. Every great book fits in a different way – some offer comfort, some excitement, some philisophy, some make me feel introspective, some just make me laugh, some make me cry, and some, like Tolstoy, are like stepping into the literary equivalent of a Porsche.

Now, The Dating Detox isn’t a Porsche. It’s a shiny pushbike with streamers on the handlebars. If you like it, wonderful. If you don’t, tant pis. Which, as Nick Hornby says, is French for tough shit.

I have no problem being called a chicklit author, by the way. I’m happy to be called an author at all. I could start a feminist diatribe now about how we don’t say dicklit and there are hundreds of thousands of books about love and life and families and sex and it’s only the ones with ovaries that we softly denigrate with the chicklit tag. But why bother?

The point is: people that define themselves by the so-called high-falutin’ things they enjoy probably have a pretty tenuous and frankly, shallow sense of self. And they’re also missing out on an awful lot of fun.

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The Rules Of Breaking Up

I keep thinking about this blog as though it’s a friend who I haven’t called in a while, and I know I should call her, but I don’t know what to say, because all I’m doing right now is running around and writing and freelancing and you know, being the flippertygibbert I am, and if I do call her I’ll just witter on for a few minutes and ask some questions and then we’ll hang up and I’ll feel vaguely unsettled by the whole thing.The phone isn’t my medium, however. Never has been, never will. I like talking in person, preferably over a coffee or a drink, and writing. The point is: I should damn well post something. However, no one is reading this – as far as I know, anyway, certainly not yet, till The Dating Detox is published at least – I think I’ll post a thang I wrote last week.It was meant to be placed in a glossy magazine as publicity for The Dating Detox, but has – I believe – fallen through. So, here it is:

The Rules of Breaking Up

1. First, you cry

Day one: wallow. It’s over. Forget who dumped who, what he did, what you said, what you were wearing and how you have to now burn those clothes in a pagan closure ceremony, etc. Nothing you do now will change the past. So have a good weep. Cry in the bath, in bed, on the bus, at work in the toilets. Just remember that from now on, every minute – every second – will hurt a bit less than this one. I promise. And don’t call him.

2. Next, pull yourself together

Be tough on yourself. Did you eat breakfast today? Have you washed your hair in the last two days? Have you spoken to a friend about something other than your breakup in the past three days? If the answer is ‘no’, then look in the mirror and repeat ‘I will not waste another tear on him’ until you believe it. (My Dad invented that dramatic mantra for one of my more traumatic break-ups.) You can do it: you’re much stronger than you think. And don’t call him.

3. Do something fun

Your ‘something fun’ list shouldn’t include ‘wailing’ or ‘watching The Notebook’. Do something simple and soul-cheering. For example, have a long bath. Eat Tunnock’s Tea Cakes in bed. Binge on glossy magazines. Rearrange your wardrobe whilst listening to 80s music (montage!). Read a book with heartbreak, hilarity and a happy ending. (Jilly Cooper’s Polo is ideal.) Feeling extra-strong and brutal? Throw out his stuff and the clothes that remind you of him. And don’t call him.

4. Get a (social) life

Tragic, but true: the only way to truly get over a break-up is to fall for someone else. Seem impossible right now? Well, flirting is the first step. The admiring male gaze has restorative qualities. Hit a bar with your friends and be the coquette we both know you still are underneath all that heartbreak. Act wry, coy and/or amusing, arch your eyebrow and bite your lip. It’s called flirting and damnit, it’s fun. Don’t end the night crying and vomiting if you can help it. And don’t call him.

5. Now’s the time for a little perspective

Every guy is the wrong guy. Except for one. And he’s out there now, looking for you. He’s probably in a bar with his friends right this second, complaining about the lack of girls in this place, or facing a lonely night in with a DVD and a pizza. You could be eating the other half of that pizza! You could be making eyes with him across that bar! So don’t think about the guy you just left. Look forward to the man you’re about to meet. And don’t call him (your ex, I mean, in case you didn’t know by now).

6. Get ready to fall in love again

Breaking-up sucks. It’s miserable and nausea-inducing. Life will never be the same again. But – and in case the last few sentences made you start crying afresh, don’t worry, I’m about to get positive – everyone goes through it, survives, and goes on to find someone else. Someone who has the same great qualities that your ex had, but even kinder/funnier/smarter/[insert favourite quality in a boyfriend HERE]. Chalk it up to experience and move on. Your life will be bigger, better and brighter without him. Go get em, tiger.

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