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 luckybra777@aol.com” and gave me her card.

True story.

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3 thoughts on “On… true stories

  1. Christina

    First of all, just reading Hogs and Heifers in your post gave me the shivers. I have heard so many stories like yours about going to that bar. Apparently that's the point of going there.
    Secondly, I applaud your strength of character in going right up to that crazy person and ordering a man's drink. I would have been out in the street hailing a cab within nanoseconds of "hey Sweet Valley…."


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