On… naming

I HATE naming. Those of you who have known me a while already know this.

I’m not very good at it, and I tend to change my characters’ names constantly throughout the writing process till I land on one that works.

Recently I realised that I’d called a dude in one of my manuscripts Ali, without even thinking for a second about the fact that one of my best friends from college, a girl, is called Ali, and I had to go back and change it.

So I thought perhaps we could go through the process of who I named and how I named them, if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
Let’s start with The Dating Detox.

SASS. This is another of my college friends. I only gave the character in The Dating Detox a name at the eleventh hour and it’s just a fucking cool name, non? I asked permission, and she didn’t mind, lucky for me.

JAKE. After Jake Ryan. In Sixteen Candles. Obviouslah.

RICK. Originally he was called JJ, a similar name to a particular idiot I dated in my mid-twenties. Then Leo, for a while (though thank God I didn’t stick with that as my friend Sarah’s baby boy is called Leo and it’s a gorgeous name). Then Rick, as that was the bastard ex of a friend.

BLOOMIE. I wanted a name that was an abbreviation of a surname, as my girlfriends and I call each other by our surnames a lot. I think it makes us feel like marines or something, I don’t know.

KATE. This is my middle name. I really love the names Kate and Katie. I have three girlfriends called Kate too, and I just think it’s one of the prettiest names in the history of names. It’s kind of my go-to name whenever I’m writing about a girl I like, and I have to go back afterwards and think about it properly and change it.

MITCH. Actually, he was called John for a long long time. Then someone said it was too similar to Jake and I realised, ah yes, a variety of names – the sound of them, the length of them, the number of syllables, the hardness of the consonants and the softness of the vowels – makes them easy to remember when you have a lot of characters. Boom.

Some names just plain work with whatever character you’re creating. Harriet is a good name for a really sporty, competitive girl. I watched a bit of the London Marathon once and they all have little labels on their vests, and I swear to God, all the girls were called Harriet and Rachel and all the guys were called Tim and Richard. I don’t understand the draw of doing shit like marathons at ALL by the way. They should time people to read War And Peace instead, it’d be far better for their brains and lives then running stupidly till their nipples bleed and they spontaneously poo and they nearly die. But I digress.

And now, A Girl Like You.

ABIGAIL. Again, just one of my favourite girls names. No particular reason.

PLUM. This was a name suggested by the gorgeous @larawilliamson when I was asking Twitter for help one night. Plum had previously been two characters that I’d decided to amalgamate into one, and when you do something like that I find it helps to get an entirely new name so you can give them a new personality in your head. This also helps when you’re bored with where you’re taking a character, or not sure what you’re doing with them. New name = new lease on life.

ROBERT. I don’t know where this came from. It was just always his name. When I first met Fox I thought his name was Bob, maybe it’s that. His name is actually Paul, but it was a very loud bar, and when he said ‘Paul’ in an Irish accent I thought he said Bob. I called him that for a quite a long time, and he’s still in my phone as Bob. (Gosh! I am interesting, aren’t I?)

SOPHIE Another ridiculously pretty name that I basically chose because started with a letter at the other end of the alphabet to Abigail and had a nice softness that the name ‘Plum’ doesn’t. I’ve worked with some lovely girls called Sophie. My cousin is called Sophie. It’s just sort of a win name for me.

LUKE. A nice solid name, with a sort of spikiness to the consonants.

DAVE. This was the winner of the ‘name that bastard’ online campaign thingy I did. You wouldn’t think it, but there are a LOT of bastards called Dave out there. Before this, his name was Felix, which I was aware was kind of a cheat as it’s just the sort of name that bastards in chicklit are always called. I quite like the innocuous innocence of Dave. (By the way I have several friends called Dave, I don’t think they read this blog anyway but just in case: dudes, you are not bastards.) (Or ARE you?)

VIX. I have two friends called Victoria, and they are both very cool and funny. Neither of them abbreviate their names to Vix, but I needed a really short spiky name.

And for the other characters… I just really like the names Charlotte, Bella and Henry, I don’t think there was any reason why. Particularly Henry, actually. I was gunning to call my baby Henry for a long time – Hank for short – but Fox refused. And so we chose Errol. Every now and again I think to myself ‘Fuck me, I called my kid Errol.’

My current characters in BEGINNER’S LUCK and the subsequent novels in the UNION STREET series are called:

PIA. I went to school with a girl called Pia in Hong Kong, though she spelled it Piya, and it’s just a lovely name. Nice and short, too. I think it means ‘darling’.

MADELEINE. I needed a really long name that wasn’t flowery the way so many long names are.

JULIA. A sort of bossy, solid name. Another marathon runner’s name.

ANGIE. Whenever I hear the name Angie I think of angels.

COCO. I love this name, so cute and eclectic. It’s not after Coco Chanel, who everyone should just stop fucking obsessing about, because she was a horrible old Nazi peasant with an eating disorder.

But for more on those characters, you’ll have to wait just a leeeeetle while longer…

PS Love love loved this from Rinniez – and hell to the yes, I’m going to put her in a book. Sounds like just my kind of girl. x

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On… a wish list

My friend Caroline is scared of velvet. No, really, I’m serious, she has a phobia. Even saying the word ‘velvet’ makes her start hyperventilating and clutching at her neck. It’s hilarious, obviously, but it honestly upsets her, so I’ve never even entertained the idea of wearing the velvet shorts and blazers that have been around the last year or two.

However, since we live in different countries now, I think I could get away with these Klaude Stud slippers from Topshop. (Caroline is going to FREAK OUT if she reads this. Very Scottish accent: “I’m not going to come and see you in New York if you get them Gemma!” Yes you are Caroline. Come for New Year’s Eve. Screw Hogmanay.)

I am dying to get this eyeshadow palette from NARS. No, I don’t need it. That is not the point. (That is NEVER the point.)

I love COS. It’s H&M;’s big sister, but where H&M; is increasingly hookertastic, COS is increasingly awesome, and everything that it stocks is just my style. Lovelovelove. Anyway, they are not in NYC. I do not know why the hell they are not in NYC, it’s goddamn ridiculous, but they are not. They are, however, all over Europe and even in Hong Kong. So if I REALLY love something I get it delivered to my mother in HK or girlfriends in London and Dublin. (Clothes addiction combined with a touch of OCD makes you ingenious at this sort of thing. I could source anything from anywhere. If this was 1942 I would be the goddamn black market queen.) And this is the perfect example of Cos perfection.

I’ve never worn Uggs-style boots. I think they’re, hmm, how can I put this… fucking revolting. (And this made me laugh so much, in case you missed it.) But I can’t decide if it would be acceptable to wear these boots from Mou, JUST INSIDE, I promise, because I get really cold feet in winter, and it would be easier than keeping track of dozens of thermal socks. Thermal socks are also the size of soccer balls when they’re folded, which takes up too much room in the drawer, which really gets on my tits. They’re wayyy more than I’d usually spend on, essentially, slippers, but when you consider that I’m a writer and at home 23hrs a day, they make more sense, right? And these are a teeny bit more chic than Uggs, aren’t they?

Confession: I already bought this lipstick.

It’s Chanel Culte, and it’s like no lipstick shade I’ve ever seen – sort of super-sophisticated purply/browny/rose, ultra-moisturising but matte. It makes your skin glowy and your eyes clear and boosts your brain power by 12.5 per cent. It reminds me of Linda Evangelista in the 90s, and early Bobbi Brown and Kevyn Aucoin features in Allure magazine, and everything that made me love make-up. Oh, and it’s just the perfect shade for the autumn / fall / whatever you want to call it. I’m wearing it to a wedding in Ireland in a couple of weeks. Will report back on how it performs. (Oh, of course I won’t, who am I kidding, that is a big fat lie. This isn’t a beauty blog and you don’t care that much, do you? But I will be wearing it. That much is true.)

NARS Exhibit A blush. BEAR WITH ME. I know. I know. It looks like a Kabuki drag queen’s idea of Sunday best. And it is the most pigmented blush in the history of blushes. But this is what you must do: take a big blush brush, a teeeeeeny tiny swish (one, no more than one) of it, then swirl the brush on the back of your hand (to get rid of excess) and then splodge it – GENTLY! – on your cheek. Once. Only once. Voila: Snow White cheeks. I have (dramatic and incredibly superficial statement incoming) never seen anything like it. Best blush ever.

And lastly. After decades of Converse dedication, I growned-up myself to Superga this summer. I was pronouncing it SOOO-per-gah. Then yesterday my super-stylish friend Amy, who works in fashion, told me that her young, cool colleagues told her it’s pronounced ‘Sah-pur-GAAH’. I laughed my ass off. Can anyone confirm if this is true?

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This makes me laugh so much. I have watched it twice a day for about four days. So it’s high time I shared it with you.

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On… James Day

About three months ago I was walking on E1st and saw a baby boy of about two years old sitting on a stoop with his grandfather.
He reminded me of my baby Errol, but he was tiny and frail, and had tubes coming out of his nose attached to a pack a dolls pram that he was practising pushing around. I started talking to them (I’m that kind of person) and found out that they were locked out of their house and waiting for the keys, that the baby’s name is James and that he has cancer. James was incredibly sweet, with these huge, calm eyes, and soft wispy hair. I asked if he’d like to do a playdate with Errol at Washington Square Park one day, but his grandfather said he couldn’t do playdates with other babies because chemo gives him such a compromised immune system.

Naturally I cried for about three hours afterwards. And have thought of him so often since then. (Again, I’m that kind of person.)

I recently found out more about James. Shortly before he turned two this spring, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. He’s undergoing intense chemo and radiation therapy. His treatments are going well, but even with health insurance, the cost of saving James life could put his parents into serious debt for many years. The unfairness of this, on top of everything else they are going through right now, blows me away.

The point of this whole blog isn’t just to make you cry, my lovely friends, the point is: we can help.

James’ friends and neighbours are holding a fundraising day to help pay for his medical treatments.

It’s called JAMES DAY and it’s being held concurrently with the Annual 1st Street Block Fair this Saturday September 22nd.It’s a family fun day, so there will be games and prizes for kids, Hula Hoop and dance performances, t-shirt decorating, face-painting, live music and a Silent Auction, and the Brooklyn-based artist, Bishop203, has designed a special t-shirt.

So if you’re in NYC, please come down. If you know anyone in NY media, anyone who can help publicise this day, please tweet and blog about it, and go to this and Facebook.com/JamesDayNYC. If you have anything you’d like to offer for Silent Auction, please email annasaar@earthlink.net. (I’ve spent the past few weeks getting things together, and asking my friends and agents and editors for help, and I can tell you that the Auction is going to ROCK.) Thank you all so much…


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On… Errol

Errol turned one last week.

He’s ace.


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On… an epic post about skin

I like skincare. I like makeup. I like being a girl. (We’ve covered this in previous sessions.)

I sometimes wonder if enjoying this stuff so much makes me a shallow, vain victim of our patriarchal society and / or the billion dollar marketing machine of the beauty industry. But then I think ‘fuck it, it’s FUN’. And so, in response to a lovely request from Elizabeth, here are my favourite skincare things.

For reference, I have pale dry-ish skin. Have never had a zit. I realise that makes me incredibly annoying. If it makes you feel any better, I am definitely developing those little lines between my eyebrows, my lips are practically perma-chapped and my eyebrows suck.


I put on a huge glob of La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF50 when I’m cleaning my teeth, and let it soak and settle while I make coffee and breakfast for Errol and all that stuff. I tried a Josie Maran Argan Oil SPF40 a few months ago, as Cup Of Joe recommended it and if she said ‘jump’ I would say ‘Kris Kross’ll make ya’ and then pogo myself around the room. Anyway, I liked it, but I’m emotionally attached to Anthelios by now, so I went back. It’s very moisturising and gives you a lovely glow.

Then I usually wear a little foundation around my chin and nose, because that seems to make me look better. Either Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation in Porcelain, if I am feeling super-pale, or Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk in 4.5 if I am feeling a little less pale or have been – ahem – fake tanning. Everyone needs a little foundation, just to even out their skin tone. Whenever someone says ‘I never wear foundation!’ I always think ‘oh, darling, you really should’.

How much make-up I put on after that depends on how pale and washed-out I’m looking, whether I’m going out that day, and, frankly, whether I’m procrastinating, because when I have something I’m in a sticky patch with, it’s impossible to get through it with unmascaraed-eyelashes. Favourites: Bobbi Brown Pale Pink, Shu Uemura HardPencil in Seal Brown, Dior Showlash mascara, Urban Decay Naked palette. Pretty predictable stuff. I don’t wear lipstick during the day. I used to, but I like kissing Errol too much. Now I just wear lipbalm. This (which I think Fox picked up skiing one year and every now and again I find it and think ‘this rocks!’ then lose it again), this, this or this – whichever I can find first.

(By the way, for male readers of this blog, all three of you, if I haven’t already lost you… dudes, I’m sorry. And for people wondering who the heck I am to talk about skin and make-up, you’re totally right, I’m a writer, and we are one teeny missing link from mole people. I can however boast a lifelong devotion to this shit, experience copywriting for beauty brands, an occasional gig writing about beauty for Tatler, and a best friend who is a make up artist, if that gives me any gravitas at all. No? Never mind then. Let’s move on.)


To remove eyemakeup, Lancome Bifacils. I have tried other removers occasionally, they are all terrible. To remove the rest of my makeup, I use Bioderma Crealine H2O.

Then I cleanse with Cetaphil and water. I’ve used other more high-end cleansers over the years –from Lancome to Eve Lom to REN to oh, everything. But Cetaphil just works and if I leave a little smidge on my skin, it’s moisturising just by itself, which makes weekends away much easier.

Every day or so I use the Cetaphil with the Clarisonic Mia 2. Yes, it really does make your skin feel tingly and amazing. But it’s not the second coming of Christ so everyone should calm down about it a bit.

Then I have a bunch of different moisturisers, because I am a total hydration whore.

Trilogy Rosehip Oil. Very nice if your skin is feeling tired. Great to do a little facial massage too, if you can be bothered.

Avene Eluage. Allegedly an anti-aging moisturiser. Is it working? I’ll tell you in twenty years. I keep threatening to get Botox for the above-mentioned eyebrow wrinkles, and Fox has a predictable husbandy shitfit about it. My lovely friend Country Fille told me that facial acupuncture was just as good as Botox, so I gave it a bash at SHL Acupuncture, which is where I go for my deeply tedious back problems. I think I looked a bit better – more awake or something – for a while. But who knows? Let’s get back to products.

Barefoot Botanicals SOS Cream is the best for if your skin is feeling totally dried-out and oversensitive. I used to get excema sometimes, and this was the only cream that worked. (Steroid creams are not a long-term solution, if you’re using them, try this. It is wonderful. Very very gentle and calming and healing.)

I reach for Biofine and Environ AVST Hydrating Water now and again, when I feel like shaking things up (woo!). I see from trying to order more that Environ has changed their AVST range, which is annoying, as I love that water. It sort of tingles and makes your skin all sticky and plump. (Like a donut.) (A SEXY donut.) I need to find an Environ place in NYC. I used to get it at Pacifica – which, by the way, is the best beauty salon in Notting Hill.

I’m a morning shower person, but for nighttime baths, I might use REN Glycolactic Peel or Environ AVST Hydrating ExfoliantMasque. I put La Roche Posay Lipikar Bath Oil in the bath, it’s like E45 Oil, which is available everywhere in the UK and practically nowhere goddamn else. After the bath I put on Ducray AHA Body Moisturiser.

Back to make-up for a second, a few skin-related things: that you might be interested in: If I’m going out for the night, I’ll also wearPer-fekt Skin Perfection Gel in Luminous, just a smidge, before foundation, as it gives you a crazily perfect airbrushed look, and I might go over my skin with a lipbrush and Laura Mercier SecretCamouflage and get all the little dots and splodges – dark freckles and this little broken blood vessel I have in the middle of one cheek. It takes forever, but Lisa Eldridge says you have ;to do it to get a truly flawless look, and I am, above all other things, obedient.

And if you want to look all candlelit and angelic, like you’re not wearing any makeup but have simply been sleeping 14 hours a night and eating organic everything for the past decade rather than often drinking last week’s wine and eating leftovers standing up next to the fridge, then you need some luminous highlighting products.

My favourites are Make Up For Ever Uplight Face Luminizer in 12 (a gel), NARS the Multiple inCopacabana (a stick), BECCA in Nymph (a powder) or MAC Strobe (a cream). You only need to use one, obviously, so the one I choose depends on what else I’m doing with my make up (they range in glowiness from golden to silvery to sunlighty) and, erm, my mood. Sometimes I mix them with the foundation, sometimes I dab them on my very upper cheekbones and above my eyebrows, sometimes I even dab them on that bit just above my top lip. I know! I’m so unpredictable. It’s crazy.

Remember, the goal is to look flushed and lit from within like a post-coitus Botticelli angel, not glittery like a 70s gangbanger. Choose your products carefully – anything too pale or too dark for your skin will look weird - and blend the shit out of them. (Technical makeup term.)

Oh, I don’t tan. Ever. I never have. If I fake tan, I like Brazil Bronze (the women are epic bitches but they do a great job) and Gotham Glow in NYC. I never found a decent spray tanner in London. Sometimes Fox does Vichy Capital Soleil for me. (I wrote about that experience for Tatler.) For my face, only Lancome Flash Bronzer Self-Tanning Face Gel.

If I’m fake tanning I will usually put some bronzer on my face. I was obsessed with Bobbi Brown Natural Light for years, but the fuckers kept breaking on me, so I did a bunch of research – yes, I am the kind of person who researches bronzers – and got Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess Soft Matte Bronzer. It’s a huge compact and very good indeed. If you get it, make sure you get the Matte one. The woman in Bloomingdales Downtown was too distracted by Errol flirting with her and almost gave me one with shimmer. Yah. Seriouslah. Tha humaniteh.

The links I’ve been using, by the way, are normally the brand product page, or the nearest thing I could find. If you don’t live somewhere that has a Selfridges or a Sephora or whatever, then I highly recommend www.strawberrynet.com and www.leguidesante.com and www.newlondonpharmacy.com – other sites that deliver for free, or nearly free, internationally: www.feelunique.com, www.lookfantastic.com, www.iherb.com

There you have it. An epic post about skin.

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On… a New Author Survival Guide

I was emailing with a newish author (well, newer than me, and I’ve only been a little teeny tiny author for about three years, so whatevs, as people born in the 90s say) the other day and she said how there’s very little on the internet for new authors. Loads of support for would-be authors, forums and tips galore, apparently, but nothing for published authors.

So I thought I’d write my own little New Author Survival Guide.

(The ubiquitous Gemma Burgess caveat: I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, I only know what it’s like for me. Maybe all other new authors disagree, and I’m just dancing to my own little song in the corner of the party. That’s okay. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.)

Let’s get down to it, shall we?

1. Don’t Google yourself or read any reviews. Ever.

The vast majority will be great, but if you see even one negative one, it’ll upset you more than you can imagine.  About two months ago, I was looking for something I wrote on my blog last year, and couldn’t remember where it was. So I googled myself plus some keyword from the blog post. Up came a review that I stupidly clicked on – it was positive, but referenced something a negative review said about the characters all being alike. Cue; immediate misery, unable to write all day, lots of dejected sighing and staring out the window.

You can’t really learn anything from reviews, because other people’s opinions are just that – opinions. They’re valid, of course, but they’re really only valid for the person whose opinion it is. I have oh, so many valid and important opinions, and will argue at length about why [insert acclaimed book title HERE] was a badly edited / self-indulgent / overly verbose / derivative piece of shit, etc, but it’s just my opinion. Not fact. Someone else might adore what I hate. (Some of my best friends read stuff I think is weird and/or rubbish. Fox likes to read sci-fantasy called shit like Dragonsword: Dogs Of War and Darkthunder: The Throne Rises. I wish I was kidding.) So as an author, you can’t pander to everyone else’s opinion. You have to write what you want to write or you won’t be passionate about it (and it won’t be good). If all books took into account all critics then there would only be one book in the entire world, and it would be about Kim Kardashian’s ass.

Now, of course you need to take into account some opinions, but that’s pre-publishing. You’ll have a few readers that you really trust, including your agents and editors. Their job is to help a manuscript become the best it can possibly be, and they do. They see things from a different angle, they offer a highly intelligent gut reaction, they’re smart and sensible and generally goddamn awesome. But like I say, that’s pre-publishing. Once your book is cooked, let people eat it, and don’t ask them about their digestion. You can’t cook it again.

(An aside: the worst thing about someone saying something mean about my writing is that I will immediately agree with that person and can explain why. Of course all my characters are fun-loving urban professional yuppie-hipster hybrids. That’s what I am. Duh. I’m not going to write books about a one-legged war hero spy who becomes a butcher, it’s just not going to fucking happen. And of course my characters drink and swear (apparently this is the other frequent criticism of my books) that’s what professional women in big cities do, that’s how we talk. I’m not going to pretend that the average 20-something in New York or London goes to salsa lessons and then hangs out in a cupcake shop talking about cats and poetry because they fucking don’t. They go to work and then they go to bars and they worry about guys and money and their career, and in between time they read magazines on the elliptical trainer at the gym and fuck up their fake tan and spend way too long crafting a text to that dude they met last week. But I digress. As usual. The point is, never Google yourself.)

2. Don’t watch your sales figures

Ask your agent to tell you if it’s amazing, otherwise, just ask for a general update when 12 months have passed. Until then, it’s too upsetting – you’ll never sell as much as you think you should, and you’ll start worrying about being out of print before the ink is dry. You’ll walk into a bookstore or a library, realise there are a million books that people might choose to read before yours, fall to the floor and start hyperventilating.

The whole sales figures thing is especially agonising when you realise you make about 5 per cent of the book price. My first two books have sold pretty well, but I haven’t even made as much from them as I did in my first year salary as a junior copywriter in advertising. Taste my flavour? The odds of becoming JK Rowling are somewhere between ‘zero’ and ‘fuck all’.

Oh, and keep your old job, or get another, ideally one that’s flexible and involves words. I was a copywriter before I was an author (I never particularly wanted to be an author; I wrote the opening chapters to The Dating Detox on a whim, got an agent and then had to finish the darn thing, and realised I LOVED writing books), and continued to be a copywriter while writing the first two books. When I got the book series deal with St Martins Press and found out I was knocked up (in the same week! Good timing, GemGem) I moved to Zurich where Fox was living, scaled back on the copywriting, just writing for a few favorite clients and magazines, and I’ve started screenwriting. (More about that another time.)

3.Take responsibility for your own publicity, but don’t worry about it too much.

I got some publicity for The Dating Detox via the publisher, but between you and me, reviews in those weekly magazines are basically bought. If no one will buy one for you, just do your own thing. I made a trailer for The Dating Detox with a gang of friends the weekend before I got married (about four months after The Dating Detox was published). The publisher Harper Collins wasn’t involved at all, I just did it because I thought it would be fun. I created postcards, I did a silly Name That Bastard campaign online. I started writing for Tatler, and got a gig writing a column for a London magazine called The Grove. All this stuff was good publicity, I hope, but more importantly it was fun, so if it didn’t pay off I didn’t really mind.

It’s easy to get a bit obsessed with publicity (or blogging, or Twitter, or Facebook, or any other book-related activity that can suck up all your time). But focusing on your next book, or your next article, or your next screenplay, or whatever you’re passionate about writing next is much more important – and more satisfying.

Final word on publicity: the best publicity for books is word of mouth, and we can’t control that. I remember hearing about Eat Pray Love, Shopaholic and Bridget Jones Diary from friends, don’t you? They took about 18 months to become bestsellers, mostly through word of mouth. So you just need to hope that people will talk about your books. (And tell their friends to buy it, not borrow it. Ha.)

Here’s The Dating Detox trailer. In case you feel like watching it. The strapline for the trailer is ‘Finally, a book trailer that doesn’t suck’.

I didn’t make a trailer for A Girl Like You. I was going to – it was going to be a mash-up of two dozen girls doing different walks of shame.  You know, because it’s funny, and because of the whole one night stand chapter, and to represent that it’s a novel about every girl, ie, A Girl Like You, blahdiblah. But it was just too hard to film in Jan/Feb last year, as it was winter and dark and freezing - I made about five clips but I needed many more. And I was really goddamn sick with pregnancy and had so much writing to do for the new series, and, excuses excuses excuses. Hey ho. Strangely enough, Harvey Nichols ended up using the EXACT idea – but at the end of 2011. Someone is clearly stealing from my brain.

So if you want to see what the A Girl Like You would have been like, it would have been something like this. But with better music. And classier girls.

4. Your friends will all react differently.

I know from experience that it’s profoundly strange to read your friend’s work, as you can only hear your friend’s voice talking to you through the manuscript. There is no suspension of disbelief, and it’s kind of tiring. So I don’t expect my best friends to read my books, in fact, I’m almost happier when I think they haven’t. I have made a lot of new friends in the past year, and I don’t expect them to read my books, either. When they say things like ‘I should read your books!’ I get all awkward and ‘ah, yeah, no, don’t, seriously, don’t worry about it, I suck,’ etc.

Some friends will pretend to have read your books, but you can always tell when they haven’t. Some really will love it, and you can always tell that too, and that’s lovely. Some will be convinced you were writing about them. (I promise, I wasn’t. Ever. Trust me, you guys aren’t that interesting.) (Kidding.) (Mostly.)

I think the best way is that no one feels obliged, so I never ask anyone to read it, or give them copies.

Every now and again someone will be a real bitch about your books, which is also kind of fun. A friend of a friend said ‘I read your book! I can’t BELIEVE you got published!’ with a huge shit-eating smile on her face. Someone else flippantly referred to them as ‘fluffy’, which to me is basically a synonym for ‘stupid and trivial’. I actually flinched, and called Fox and cried on my way home (lame!), as I thought everything I write and stand for is the antithesis of fluffy. (Remember kids, just because a story is about a woman figuring out what she wants in life and love doesn’t make it trivial – in fact, what could be more important? And if something is easy to read, and trippytrips along at a page-turning pace, it doesn’t mean it’s stupid. Nathanial Hawthorne said easy reading is damn hard writing. And so on. Sorry, would you help me down from my soapbox? Thank you.)

5. You’ll probably stop telling new people you’re an author.

Or you’ll put off telling them till the second or third meeting or until you’re sure you’re going to be friends, as the reaction can be so agonising. They form opinions about you right in front of your eyes. Oh, and taxi drivers all have six novels in their glove compartment and will ask you to help them get published. Actually, a lot of people will want you to help them get published. Some will ask you to edit their novels for them. Idiots will say ‘they say everyone’s got a novel in them,’ and expect you to agree. The worst is people who say ‘Are you a bestseller? No? Why not? I’ve never heard of you. What kind of novel? Romantic comedy? Oh, chicklit. I don’t read that sort of thing. I have a degree in English Literature, you see, it’s terribly hard for me to read lowbrow.’ Suck my lowbrow. (Where the fuck is my soapbox?)

6. Nothing changes.

This is SO strange. One day, you’re not published, the next day, you walk into a bookstore and boom, there’s your book. With your name on it. Right there. On the shelf. (Next to Candace Bushnell, in my case, which makes it extra surreal.) But in every other way, life is exactly the same. You are a normal person doing normal things with a normal past. You’re the same person that spent most of her 25thyear crying in the bathrooms at work. The same person who is genuinely unable to remember a number longer than two digits, that hasn’t driven since she was 21 and doesn’t really see the point, and still, really, can’t work out what to do with her goddamn eyebrows. You wear the same clothes and go to the same restaurants and have the same friends, you worry about the same things and feel the same about everything. You’re still you.

7. Everything changes.

Life becomes richer and better and more interesting in a lot of tiny unexpected ways, simply because somewhere out there, in the world, at any moment, someone might be reading your book. The same book you wrote, all alone, tapping away feverishly into the darkness, agonising over plot twists and characters and dialogue, hoping it felt real and might make someone laugh one day.

Sometimes those people will email you. This is the absolute best part about being an author. I got my first email from a reader a week after The Dating Detox was published, and I nearly fell off the sofa in delighted shock. Every single email that I have received since then has had, more or less, the same reaction. Sometimes people email you that you’re just like them (which I love), that you cheered them up after a bad breakup or tough period, or made them think differently about life. Sometimes you’ll make friends with readers, and meet up in person, and realise that there are more kindred spirits (with a nod to Anne of Green Gables) out there than you thought possible.

Sometimes people will read more into your novels than you ever consciously thought about. A woman is doing a PhD on new feminist chicklit with a focus on my books, which is amazing and strange and wonderful.

8. Don’t worry too much about any of it.

The pressure of finally being published – after writing, and getting an agent, and getting a publisher, and editing, and copyediting – is insane. And most of it is pressure that you put on yourself – the expectation of being a bestseller, the expectation of your existence suddenly changing, when really, it won’t. So just enjoy what you can, and ignore what you can’t. (That’s pretty much my life philosophy.)

Whenever you’re really stressed out, take a deep breath, and remember: you’ve written something that your great-great-grandchildren will be able to read. They’ll never meet you, but they’ll know you through that little book.

And that’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?

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On… Taylor Swift’s new song

Bet you twenty bucks (or pounds, or rupees, or whatever currency ices your cupcake) that you listen to this for 30 seconds, think ‘nope, not for me’, then put it back on within five minutes and then play it twice more. I did.

Catchy as hell.

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