Category Archives: Gemma Burgess

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 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.

On… thank yous

I have been a very poor blogger of late, my friends, as I am in the very last stretch of the first draft of my next book.

But I want to say thank you.

Because yesterday I found out that A Girl Like You sold over 10,000 copies in the first six weeks of publication in the UK alone.

This is, of course, small fry compared to the James Pattersons of the world, but for a girl who just wrote a couple of books because she was fed up with never finding the kind of comfort-read-with-balls she craved sometimes, it’s just… amazing. Kind of mind-blowing, actually.

So, anyway. Thank you to all you lovely lovely people who bought a copy and especially thank you to everyone who has emailed to say that they enjoyed it. I love your emails. You are the most delightful, hilarious and talented readers a girl could ever wish for. And I like your hair. And your shoes.


On… Friday mornings

Did you ever do that thing where you wake up and think, oooh, I’m going to go for a walk, and so you get up and you go for a walk and peoplewatch and eavesdrop for a while, and then you get a coffee, and then you walk home, and then you check your emails, and you email your mum back because you didn’t email her yesterday and you owe her like three emails, and you reply to a few emails from friends, then you check Twitter, and then you check Topshop out of habit even though you’re not shopping right now but just in case it has something you’ve wanted for years like the perfect flowery teadress or the hot pink Sakura heels you missed out on in 2009 though thank God you got them in electric blue because they honestly go with everything, and then think ‘ooo, haven’t looked at ASOS in a while’, so you look at that but you wonder if the ASOS materials will feel like the material that camping tents are made from because they often do, and then you think I wonder what I should wear this weekend so you check the weather, and then you think about how much happier you’ll be getting dressed when it’s warmer outside and you can wear bare legs because bare legs are really your thing, and then you think about all the weddings you have this summer and how you have nothing to wear to them so you look at NetAPorter for awhile and play Pretend Spend, and then you look at TheOutnet which is often really good like those J Brand skinny jeans that you got for like 65% off, then you think ‘should really check the news’ so you go to and then you go to just to round things out and then you think, hmmm, what a nice morning I’m having.

And then you remember that you have work to do – or, oh, I don’t know, a book to write – and you have just wasted an hour and really should get a grip on reality?

Snap. Me too.

On… Junk Kouture

On the weekend I caught up with my niece, Lisa, who is 15 and lives in Dublin. She showed me some photos of an awesome outfit she and a friend designed and made themselves. They came runner-ups in a design competition called ‘Junk Kouture’.

The outfit is titled ‘Party in the USA’.

How cool is it?! I would totally wear the shoes. The dress is made from woven, rolled and taped magazine pages. It’s dramatic but totally intricate. The shoes have hundreds of thumb-tacks in them and those huge pompoms are rolled up rubber bands.

If I was the kind of smart person who analyzed art, I’d say this was a bold, witty statement about the impact of celebrity magazines on fashion and pop culture, and the disposable nature of tabloid journalism. Only I’d probably say it better than that. Because I’d be smart.

What do you think?

On… copywriting tips

Let’s face it, most of my blog posts are the dillydallying type. I ponder, and
chat, and wander off point, and put in little asides. Then I have to use a lot of ‘So,’ or ‘Anyway,’ type words, to get back to the point. And then the point itself tends to drag on.

But that’s okay: it’s a blog. It’s not ad copy. Blogs are all about the dillydally.

Anyway (see?), I got an email from a would-be copywriter today, asking for copywriting tips. And so I thought perhaps I’d post them here. I wrote them like ad copy, so they’re nice and short. Enjoy.


1. Get to the point. I probably won’t read more than the first line.

2. Use the shortest possible words and sentences. So I can skim it and still understand.

3. Don’t bore or confuse me. Use active words and straightforward syntax.

4. Tell me why I should care. How will it make a difference to my life?

5. Don’t overdo it. No exclamation marks, no hyperbole, no grand promises. Smart copy tells, not sells.

And yes, you can do all this and still keep within the brand guidelines and tone of voice. Whether you’re being formal or friendly, medical or mummyish, selling BMW or Bovril, good copy is good copy.

On… NorthWest Magazine

Pretty cringe-making – I am NOT the world’s most natural poser, despite being a total poseur in so many other ways – but check out who is ‘the thinking girl’s chick-lit author’.

Here are a few more photos from the shoot courtesy of Archant and photographer Kristian Hana. Memo to self to not give up the day job till learn to smile without looking like I am also in pain. Also, that cardigan wrap thing that I thought was so cosy-chic is in fact all cosy, no chic. But the jeans are good. They may remain.

I’ll scan the whole feature, written by the lovely Tash Paulini, in as soon as I can.

On… true stories

I keep being asked about this, and yes. Almost every single thing in my books is made up. The characters, the storylines, the events. The emotions and reactions are based on things I’ve felt, obviously – I’ve been cheated on, and fought with people, and worked with cockmonkeys, and fallen in love, and broken up with people, and had shit dates, and all the rest of it. But the events are made up.

Well, except one or two.

And I just remembered about a real event that ended up in The Dating Detox. I’d sort of forgotten it as I never reread The Dating Detox, obviouslah (I can’t think of a worse way to pass the time than to read my own work when I can’t edit the meh bits), and it was a late addition to the book, as it only happened in March and I was handing in the final ms in like, May. But it was too funny and strange not to put in. I just got an email from a reader about it and thought I’d tell the real story, just for the record.

So Fox and I were in New York.

It was his birthday and well, we just like New York, we go there a lot. We got married there last year, in Tribeca. My next book series is set there. We have a lot of friends there. And we’re currently waiting for the visa situation to work out so we can move there.


On our last night we went to go and see OK Go at The Bell House in Brooklyn, and then we went back to the hotel in the Meatpacking District. The Standard had just opened – in fact the Standard Grill wasn’t even open yet – and it’s right across the road from a little bar called Hogs & Heifers.

We had a beery gig buzz, decided we felt like one last drink, and walked in. Hogs & Heifers really is the Disneyland of dive bars. It’s dark, dirty, with a thousand revolting bras grotesquely strung up in a big bunch on the wall, it’s covered in graffiti and the clientele is mostly losers and tourists. It was only about a third full, being Sunday night.

“HEY SWEET VALLEY HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH!” screamed a voice from a megaphone.

Everyone in the bar looked around at me and then back to the girl standing on the bar wearing jeans, a hot pink bra and hair extensions.


I was wearing a trenchcoat. She was talking to me.

I realized instantly that I could either turn around and walk out and never come back, or walk up to the bar and look her straight in the eye and order a goddamn drink. It wouldn’t matter if I did walk out – I’d never be back there again, and losing face to a skanky little bar-ho isn’t exactly top of my Oh-No list – but I really felt like a goddamn drink and her arrogance was annoying me. So Fox and I just kept walking and sat down at the side of the bar. (Fox was still laughing at the Sweet Valley High line.)

“WHAT DO YOU WANT!?” she screamed at us, hopping down.

I considered saying I’d like the time machine in which she went back to 1999 to get the whiskered bootcut jeans she was wearing, but instead I read the name of the first bottle I could see on the bar.

“Two shots of Makers Mark.”


Anyway. So we had a shot, and we started talking about the bar and the hotel, and I don’t know, just the usual chitchat I like to make with new people. Fox was bemused, as he usually is when I decide to befriend someone strange. (Another night out I started chatting to a very large, well-spoken, gentle man who gave me a light when I was having a cigarette outside some bar in the Village, and we talked about his journey in from Jersey, and his girlfriend and baby and his last holiday to Nantucket, and then when I said ‘so what brings you to the city tonight, John?’ he said ‘well Gemma, I deal MDMA.’ All I could think to say was ‘and how’s business going for you?’ as coolly as I could.) After another bourbon, the skanktender bored of us and started dancing on the bar and abusing some new guys. Fox and I decided to head back to the hotel, our appetite for a few drinks rather diminished by the weird faux-tough atmosphere.

Then, as I was leaving, she jumped down and said “Let’s go shopping next time you’re in town! My email is” and gave me her card.

True story.