Category Archives: Gemma Burgess

On remorse

Since The Dating Detox came out five weeks ago, I’ve received some lovely emails from readers. Most of them are just a little hello with a note about what they thought about the book, some of them are long and funny dating-related diatribes, some are asking for postcards or suggesting bastard names. I reply to every single one (though one girl replied that she was impressed I replied – I promise, there is no Gem-bot, this is all me, dude). And thus we come to my story. It’s about remorse.

Remorse, when you’re alone and hungover, is the dictionary definition of ‘unbearable’. (It is so. Look it up. No, not in that dictionary. Okay, well you must not have the same dictionary as me so never mind, just keep reading.)

The scene: early one Sunday a few weeks ago. I was up early, editing Book Deux (I’ll have a title soon I promise and even a sneak peek), and trying to ignore Foxy’s little snuffled snores echoing through the house.

Naturally, I was procrastinating. I skipped down to get a coffee at the Grocer on Elgin, shuffled home, checked Topshop.com (they update it sometimes on Sundays, you know) and then, hurrah, up popped an email. A witty but clearly heartfelt e-moan of woe.

She’d been on a date the night before and woke gasping with horror at the realization that she had drunk a bit more than she’d intended… to the extent that she couldn’t remember most of the last hour of the date. She emailed me saying ‘arggggh advice please’. My first though: am I so transparently a drink-sozzled dating harpy that people with hangovers think of me before they even think of Nurofen, coffee and toast? – then I realised that what she really needed wasn’t advice on what to text him. She’s funny and clever (we’d been Tweeting for a few weeks; the girl gives good copy) and able to figure it out for herself. What she needed was reassurance; a warm soul-sustaining word-porridge of comfort that would destroy the searing hot fear-flame also known as ‘what was I like?’. And since it was early Sunday morning, I’m guessing she didn’t want to bother her friends yet but couldn’t bear to lie in bed with just her brain for company either. I understand that: it’s practically the reason I wrote The Dating Detox. My brain was really getting on my tits.

So she emailed, I replied, and she emailed again – and then I asked her permission to reprint my reply email here, in case anyone else ever needs their soul soothed. She said yes.

After all, every now and again everyone craves the reassurance that not only are you not the only person to ever feel the way you’re feeling, but that you won’t feel that way for long. You will be happier again, and sooner than you think. And we all need that reassurance in far more situations than just the once-a-year woe-gasm when the last thing we remember saying is ‘Shall I get another bottle?’. But that’s another post altogether. Anyway, here’s my email reply.

Oh no, remorse! I feel your pain.

I am so happy to offer balm for your wounded dating soul, and I recognise the urgent need for reassurance so I am replying immediatement. For a start, you weren’t as bad as you think, I guarantee it. Secondly, everyone does this once in a while – it’s God’s little way of making sure we don’t run out of anecdotes.

I definitely think texting your route two – honest/funny/endearing – is the answer. You can take control and be witty and cute, without admitting any embarrassment, and he’ll think, ‘ah, this girl is so cool’. Something like – and of course your own style of texual healing would be infinitely better, but just as a sample – ‘Aren’t I adorable when I’m accidentally hammered? Seriously. I should have my own TV show’ or ‘Drunk girls are the new black’. Don’t worry about the ‘im not usually like that…’ angle… He’ll find that out when he sees you again, which he totally will.

Proof: on my second date with Paul, we went to the Boisdale and drank whiskey and smoked cigars. I was so drunk from nerves/hunger that when we left and he offered to walk me home, rather than steer us towards my house in Pimlico (four minutes away) I made us walk the other way and we ended up in the middle of Belgravia. Paul says I was wavering all over the pavement and saying things like “Eaton Shquare? thish just doesnt make any shensh!”. Cringe. Anyway. And we’re getting hitched.

Am listening to myself dispense advice like cigarettes here and should probably caveat that I may not know everything and should potentially not be held up as a dating sage… But am very happy to offer reassurance. And God knows, I made a lot of mistakes.

I’m up early taptaptapping away on the edits for book two, but my stomach is a little jumpy. “Grey Goose on the rocks,” I opined last night at about midnight, “This shit is mother’s fucking milk to me, people. I’ll be up early typing while you’re all vomiting from the wine. You mark my words.”

I hope this helps? Drink tea. Eat anything you want. Go shopping. And log onto this www.textsfromlastnight.com – it will definitely make you feel better, I promise.

Gem x

And by the way, the emailer is still seeing the man in question. So clearly she had nothing to worry about. Which is probably always the way when it comes to these things…

Sheer Luxe is the new black


I’m not posting every time I have a review, I promise – but I LOVE this one so much I had to put it here. Sheer Luxe is THE online luxury shopping mecca, and you can trust it to give only Top Gun tips. (The best of the best, obviously.) It also has a brilliant book club. And the reviewers are clearly utterly lovely women. I’d like to take them out for a drink.

On me

A few people have commented that I’m not awfully, hmm, personal on this blog. This isn’t because I’m particularly shy, I just don’t think I’m that interesting… Anyway, someone suggested I do a ’10 things you didn’t know about me’ piece. I got to 15.
1. I can tie a cherry stalk in a knot in my mouth with my tongue. I really can, it’s not a porn thing.
2. I sometimes think about clothes to help me fall asleep at night. Like counting sheep. I used to worry that this made me shallow. Now I don’t care.

3. I have moved house 28 times in my life across four different countries. But I’ve been in London for almost 10 years. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. The best thing about growing up all over the place is that I find it pretty easy to make friends. The worst is that I am always missing someone. Especially Bec and Sarah.
4. I failed French at university on lack of attendance. Don’t tell my Dad.
5. Failing French was particularly pathetic considering I went to a French school in Hong Kong. (I know that nothing in that sentence makes sense. Just roll with it.)
6. I giggle in my sleep. I think this sounds adorable, but apparently it’s very annoying.
7. I can say ‘what a beautiful baby!’ and ‘crazy white devil’ in Cantonese. Nothing else, which is also pathetic considering I mostly grew up in Hong Kong.
8. I met my boyfriend in a bar at 2am when his friend chatted up my friend. I wish it was a classier story.
9. I am marrying him in New York in April. I don’t like the word fiancé.
10. My favourite-ever copyline, ‘Love You Long Haul’, for a new long-haul flight, never got past the first hurdle: the uber-conservative account manager. Shame.
11. I can’t count. And I mean, really, I can’t. I’m severely mathematically challenged. Ask me to remember a number and seconds later, it’ll be gone from my brain. Bills are a mystery. Taxes are magic. The word ‘invoice’ makes me perspire.
12. When I turned 29, I quit my job, my house and my long-term boyfriend (who was a very nice guy who just wasn’t the right guy for me – the bastards were before him) in the same week and discovered that life was a lot easier and more fun than I was allowing it to be.
13. I have zero tolerance for judgmental or negative people. Or as I prefer to call them, ass-hats.
14. I love big cities. I want to marry them.
15. I believe everyone is happier in a mullet wig. Here’s a picture of my sister and I wearing mullet wigs. See how happy we are?

On editing

I’m chest-deep in the quagmire that is the first edit of Book Deux.

And whilst it’s fine (it’s not particularly difficult or stressful, and anything to do with writing is kind of fun) it’s also like carrying on 11 conversations at once. Or, a better analogy: it’s like keeping 50 pins in your mouth for 50 tiny tweaks in a dress that you’re altering. (For this to work, we need to imagine for a moment that you and I are the kind of people who alter dresses.)

You have to remember how each tweak will affect another tweak, and how the whole thing will hang because of each tweak, and then you think of a new tweak (or hem or dart or shoulderpad, whatever) as you go along, and so you go back and adjust an earlier tweak, and oh… After eight hours I’m exhausted, and after 10, I’m a zombie.

And as mentioned before, editing can be brutal.

Killing dialogue is tough, especially if you think something is funny but know it’s not really adding much else. Killing an entire scene, though, is oddly thrilling when you realise you can do the same job better somewhere else in the story. I tend to scavenge my deleted scenes for my two or three favourite shiny dialoguettes and put them somewhere else. I’m like a little magpie for one-liners.

And killing a character is… well, it’s sinfully easy.

She was only a minor character. Her name was Janey. She whinged a lot, and then after I made her happy, I couldn’t figure out what else to do with her, and nothing just turned up the way plotlines normally do. She never really sparked for me, she was never real the way the others are. So boom: she’s gone. Anything important that she did can easily be done be someone else. No one misses her. She leaves no mark.

I erased her in less than a day, after months of writing about her.

Then, drunk on the power of playing God in my tiny world of lustlorn Londoners, I decided to kill another character, too, even though I found her quite funny. Her name was Leigh. Killing her wasn’t necessary, but neither was her character. I merged the best bits of her plotline with someone else’s. It’s not personal, I feel like telling her. It’s a numbers game.

Let us be silent a moment and think of Janey and Leigh, two characters who were never meant to be.

Right then. Enough of this babble, especially considering how zombie-dull and blunty-witted I am tonight. My next blog entry shall sparkle and shine, I promise. The edits are almost done. And then the book will go to my editor at Harper Collins, and she’ll come back and tell me what she thinks, and I’ll go over it again, with 50 more pins for 50 more tweaks that will leave it a tasty, tight little amuse-bouche of a novel.

Exciting, huh?

And at many points in the next few weeks, as happened today, I’ll wonder if the thing is funny at all, if the main character is as sympathetic and lovably quirky to others as she is to me. Sometimes, tired of my endless edit list, I’ll open the manuscript to a random page, reread the dialogue I find there, scowl with dismay and start viciously editing to make it sharper and (God, I hope) more amusing. And at other times, I’ll read it and it’ll feel like it was written by someone else entirely, and I’ll think, oh, maybe this is a cute funny little thing after all. And then on nights like tonight, I’ll lie back on the couch, my stomach making growling noises because I ate too many cherries, my head lolling on the cushions and my hands tapping on the laptop and I’ll just think, I hope this book is good. I really, really hope this book is good.

On breaking up

I’ve had a few emails from people about love-woes. I guess because The Dating Detox is a compendium of love-woes.

So, to help you pass the time while your heart heals, here something I wrote earlier: 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.

If you want to add anything to this list, email me at gemma@gemmaburgess.com or add a comment… (By the way, I did post this a few months ago, so apologies to you long-term blog readers, I promise to have something brand-spanking new for you soon.)

On music

According to my iPod, I have listened to the Divinyls ‘Ring Me Up’ 26 times in the last 24 hours.

You can listen to it here.

OD-ing on a song is very typical of me. I am currently recovering from recent overdoses of Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’; Roxy Music’s ‘Oh Yeah’; the Pixies ‘Here Comes Your Man’; Placebo’s ‘Nancy Boy’; Flesh For Lulu ‘I Go Crazy’ and the Ga-Gas ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’. These songs are the soundtrack to my second book (the first draft is done! I am tinkering with it right now and am sending it to my agent on Monday. So, in other words, it’s blogcrastination as usual in Casa Burgess).

I tend to have, hmm, extreme fads. I don’t think it’s that unusual, is it? For example, if I’m going to snack on something sweet right now, I’ll only snack on chocolate-covered brazil nuts, and if I drink, I’ll only drink whiskey. This will last for a month or so until I tire of chocolate-covered brazil nuts and whiskey and discover something else. Or it may last longer. I ate one Tunnock’s Tea Cake at 4pm every single day for a year. I cannot look at those marshmallowy little tykes now without throwing up in my mouth.

Films are a real problem, too. In the past I’ve gorged on The Saint (I know! I have no idea why either), St Elmo’s Fire, Mallrats, Dazed & Confused, Some Kind Of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles and a little-known Susan Sarandon film from the early 1990s called Safe Passage (I really, really have no idea why).

This is all odd and probably means I have mild Asperger’s syndrome, which I am secretly quite pleased about.

I think it might be because I spent a lot of my childhood in Hong Kong, where there was deeply limited TV in the late 80s and early 90s, so my sister and I were allowed to rent one video each a week and would watch them over and over and over again. Hong Kong was a funny, isolated little pop-culture vacuum before cable and the internet.

Am I getting to a point? I don’t know. Maybe. (It’s exciting wondering, isn’t it?)

Okay, this is the point.

For some reason, I’ve managed to keep my OK GO fixation under control where other pet songs and bands have died a wrought-out, overplayed death.

And this isn’t some flash-in-the-pan band-love, by the way. This has been going on for years.

I first heard OK GO on Xfm in the summer of 2003. It was love at first air guitar strum.

Hearing ‘Get Over It’ still spins me into an instant air guitar stance: legs splayed, one foot slightly inwards, one arm holding the neck (neck? you know what I mean) of the guitar, the other power-strumming, with my shoulders jerking in a slow epileptic fit and my face in an angry rock-snarl. (Are you doing it? I bet you are.)

I’ve also bought tickets to OK GO six times and seen them just three times. This failure to see them is not entirely my fault. (It’s not entirely not my fault either.)

The sixth attempt is next week. At the Empire in London. Their new album – which I can assure you is AWESOME, having heard some of the songs live in New York last year – comes out the same day.

I am excited.

PS: Do you think OK GO would ever consider a cover of Ring Me Up?

On publication

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of would-be authors out there waiting to get signed. And I thought I’d tell you exactly what I did – timeline, cover letters, absolutely everything, as you might find it useful.

If you’re just here to kill time, please scroll down. There was a post on drinking a few weeks ago that is probably a bit more entertaining.

January 2008: Sheared sacroiliac joint, whatever that is. Was unable to move without excruciating backpain for about three weeks, and my boyfriend was away, and so my sister came over a lot to do things way above and beyond the call of sisterly duty (on the first day she even helped me put knickers on, the poor thing. Apparently I am a nightmare patient, although I compared myself at the time to an adorable duckling with a clipped wing. Anyway.) We watched a lot of Entourage and read a lot of Jilly Cooper, and at some point had a conversation about how we wanted to read more genuinely silly, sharp, warm books about confident, normal, funny girls going through crises. And so one night when I couldn’t sleep, I began writing a thing I had in my head about a girl who wakes up after being dumped again, surrounded by fag packets. Anika said it made her laugh. I kept writing.

Jan- May 2008: Wrote a bit here and there ie every week or so I’d pull out the laptop for a taptaptap, usually when Anika asked ‘what is going to happen next?’. By May I had about seven or eight chapters together and my boyfriend and mother nagged me to send it out to agents. I knew no one in the publishing world, and it’s kind of embarrassing to ask people if they know anyone: ‘um, so I’m writing a novel..’. (Especially as a copywriter, because we’re all fucking writing novels.) So then I picked agents, totally at random, off the internet, chosen according to postcode (my reasoning being that anyone in W1 or WC1 was doing damn well) and sent in the first three chapters, printed and bound, plus a cover letter and synopsis. (Am sure it’s obvious to say here but – everything was proofed to within an inch of its life, printed on good paper, doublespaced, etc.) If you’d like to read my original cover letter, email me and I’ll send it to you.

June 2008 – nothing happens. My birthday is June 15, so my sister (who was then doing covers for Penguin) mocked up a pretend book cover, complete with review quotes on the back. (This is when it was still called The Dating Sabbatical.) She said that it is positive visualisation and ‘if you build it, they will come’ etc. I nodded hopefully and bit my lip. This is a copy of my positive-visualisation cover.

Early July 2008 – got a few rejections. Again if you’d like to read them, email me and I’ll send them to you. They were all standard form letters.

July 16, 2008 – phone call from Laura Longrigg at MBA asking to read the rest. Cue, jumping for joy, etc. (Blogged about this already so won’t repeat myself.) She asked for the rest of it. Immediately dropped everything and started writing. (By the way: my manuscript, being unsolicited, might never have been read at all had an intern who was at MBA for a few days not been assigned to read the slush pile. MBA gets hundreds of manuscript submissions a week. Fortunately for me, the intern read my manuscript and wrote a little report recommending it be looked at by Laura. I have a copy of the report and every time I look at it my stomach drops with what might have been. I never met that intern. I wish I had. If you are out there, please get in touch.)

Mid August, 2008 – Two other agents got in touch around now, but my heart was with MBA, and I sent in my final manuscript. It was about 65,000 words – ie, half the length it is now. (Silly freshman.) Laura rang to say she liked it and ‘more, please’. She was incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging about those 65,000 words, which spurred me on – I imagine many agents might have said ‘novels aren’t 65,000 words, you ninny’. She also gave me some specific feedback about she thought what worked and what didn’t.So, I immediately dropped everything and started writing again. Was also freelancing fulltime so gave up drinking entirely, which was tediously effective as I could survive on about five hours sleep. I lived my social life vicariously through book (why do you think they all drink / smoke so much?).

October, 2008 – Handed in second draft and really, the first ‘real’ draft. This one had longer subplots and a few extra plot twists and turns. Laura liked it, causing me to nearly pass out with happiness, and officially offered me a contract and started talking to various publishers. Sadly, our timing was off: the world had just financially combusted. I kept seeing articles about how it was The Worst Frankfurt Bookfair In The History Of Mankind, etc, and shouting WHY at the sky.

November 2008 – I had lunch with Cat Cobain, then editor at Headline and now at Transworld. She was very encouraging and gave me fantastic, thought-provoking advice. We talked books and plots and character development for two hours and I left thinking ‘maybe I can do this thing…’

December 2008 – February 2008 – very very quiet period when no one was offering a book deal for my poor little manuscript. Got a bit down at this point. Lots of staring into space pondering life. Tweaked book but was starting to hate it. Laura was, as ever, incredibly encouraging and supportive throughout all this…

March 2009 – Harper Collins offers a book deal! Cue: streamers, champagne, balloons, etc. Loved book again. Started writing second book.

April 2009– This isn’t book-related, but I got engaged. So that was nice.

May 2009– Harper Collins editor Keshini Naidoo sent a brilliant and stimulating document of thoughts and suggested additions – particularly (if you haven’t read the book, which I’m sure most people won’t have, just skip this paragraph as it will bore you): the addition of all the boyfriends by name/story; making Sass’s motivations much clearer so that going on a Dating Sabbatical is the only course of action; mentioning the Rules throughout the book so that the reader is constantly reminded of them; etc – basically, refining and sharpening the whole thing. Kesh also suggested I add more dating tips from Sass to Kate – and then my friends requested I add even more. And by the way, over the previous six months, about ten girlfriends had read it and made helpful comments (ie, from my most ladylike friend, “I don’t like the ‘I need to wee’” – someone else felt Kate was a bit cold, etc).

About feedback, by the way: seeing your book through someone else’s eyes is an immeasurable advantage. I’ve heard lots of people say that it must be hard to get criticism but it’s really not. (Perhaps after 10 years as a copywriter I’m used to it.) Try to be bulletproof about it. Everyone will have an opinion on your writing, guaranteed – you don’t have to agree with all of it, of course, or act on it, but the point is that it stimulates thought and that’s always a good thing. For example, if someone doesn’t see a character the way you see them, then you have to ask yourself why and go back and see how you can introduce the character better.

Feedback also inspires editing. I love editing. Sure, sometimes it hurts. If there’s a line, word, character or scene you love, killing them can be tough. But the result is just about always better. ‘Kill your babies’ is the saying (nasty, I know).

And one more thing about feedback / comments / suggestions: you might think ‘but x wouldn’t do that’ or ‘that would never happen’, and that’s cool too. No one can make you change your book in ways that you don’t want to – it’s a world you’ve created, after all, and no one knows it like you do. (By the way, if feedback is really nasty and unhelpful, then just flip it the bird and ignore it.)

July 2009 – I handed in the final-final-seriously-I’m-hanging-up-now-no-you-hang-up draft. It was only at this point that I named the main character. I’m not kidding. I’ve posted about how I named her a few weeks ago, so scroll down to find out. Then I started writing a screenplay based on the book, just to see if I could.

August- September 2009– Copy edits. Proofing. At this point, the control freak in me roared a mighty roar and I became obsessed with proofing and copyedits (which is things like, checking that street names are correct; making sure numbers / names / places are referred to consistently – difficult when, like me, you tend to change minor characters names based on your mood that day). This was possibly the most stressful period of the entire publication process. The publishers also recommended we change the name from The Dating Sabbatical to The Dating Detox around now. Plus, at this point my first effort at a second book drove itself into a ditch and wouldn’t get up. No amount of CPR would bring it back to life. September was a difficult month. I spent a lot of time lying prostate on the kitchen floor, wailing in the shower, etc.

October 2009 – I started a second second novel. Luckily I found an idea that made me laugh and am, at the moment that I’m typing this, half a chapter away from finishing. (This entire blog post is really one long procrastination effort.)

December 2009: The Dating Detox hits the shelves…

EDIT:

If you’re interested, read this excellent piece about how long it takes to get published… apparently I’m fortunate in only having to wait eight months to get published. Yikes.

And here’s a fabulously brutal piece about how agents choose a book.

And read this from soup to nuts. It’s awesome and full of other author How I Did It stories.