Posts Tagged ‘chick lit’

To write chick-lit or not to write chick-lit?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Chick lit is genre fiction within women’s fiction which addresses issues of modern women often humorously and lightheartedly.[1] The genre sells well, with chick lit titles topping bestseller lists and the creation of imprints devoted entirely to chick lit.[citation needed] Although sometimes it includes romantic elements, women’s fiction (including chick lit) is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because in chick lit the heroine’s relationship with her family or friends may be just as important as her romantic relationships.[2]” – www.wikipedia.co.uk

Do you write chick-lit or do you not write chick-lit? That is the question. Right up until Things He Never Knew was published, I didn’t really give the actual genre it fell into much thought, besides being happy to say that it fits comfortably into the commercial women’s fiction bracket. It was only after it was released and I started publicising it heavily and looking for reviews and things like that that the words ‘chick’ and ‘lit’ started featuring more and more often. The first time it happened was in a bookshop where I was discussing a possible book-signing and the manager asked rather guiltily if the book was “chick-lit” and then apologised profusely in case I considered that a slur. I was rather taken aback, because at that stage I did not perceive chick-lit as a bad thing. After all, a book is what it is and falls into the category that suits it best. However, this negative attitude was one that I came across again and again. Sentences often began with “I’m not saying it’s chick-lit or anything, but….” And my bemused brain would immediately shriek “But it IS!” – not audibly, thank goodness. I just couldn’t understand it, the term is not an insult as far as I’m concerned and I certainly didn’t want to attach literary pretensions to Things He Never Knew – it’s a good book, but it’s not literature (writing that word always makes me think about Educating Rita where Michael Caine enunciates the word so carefully in that scene – “…li-tar-rit-ture…”)

Anyway, after about a month of the same, recurrent situation happening, I did some in-depth research into a genre that I already thought that I knew pretty well. After all, Carmen Reid, Adele Parks, Jane Beaton and Jill Mansell are some of my favourite authors. Not to mention Jilly Cooper, Jenny Colgan and Catherine Alliott. And indeed I did know it well. The section of it that I chose to read. When I explored the available titles within the chick-lit range more fully, I discovered that the ‘chick-lit’ term refers to nothing more than a scale, and there are wild extremes at either end of that scale. In my opinion there is a trashy end, and there is a more refined end. And what’s more I think there is a distinct over-lap at that end between chick-lit and literary fiction, which is a whole other sphere.

Chick-lit is commercial women’s fiction, i.e. novels pitched at primarily younger women (the ‘chick’ bit) and usually containing a romantic element to the story. However as the Wikipedia definition at the top shows, there’s not always a romantic element; with which I wholly agree. Chick-lit as a genre was born in the 90s and much like a real child has continued to grow ever since, now encompassing many, many different types of books. Which is where the trouble comes in, because chick-lit has different associations for different people. The lady I talked about in my last blog, for example, would have refused to buy anything carrying that label, yet when she read the synopsis of my book, she was intrigued enough to buy it. Personally, I think that shows prejudice towards the genre, but why is she prejudiced? I imagine it’s because of some of the rubbish that can be found on the bookshelves of Waterstones these days. By rubbish I mean the fiction books written by people who are not authors, and furthermore haven’t actually written the book themselves; it’s been visited by the hand of a ghostwriter. That’s the bottom end of the scale in my opinion. As we move further up there’s a whole host of different titles jostling for position which in all probability can muddle along together. And then at the top of the scale, the boundaries between chick-lit and literary fiction (hereafter referred to as lit-fic to save my nails which are suffering as I type) become blurred. Like my vision after the amount of wine I drank the other night.

When I googled the term ‘literary fiction’ it brought up a list of books which have been defined as just that and whilst most weren’t familiar to me, one did leap out. It was a book called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I read this a while ago, a year or more, and yet I recall it distinctly as one of the best books I have ever read. At the time I declared it to be my favourite book, which as any avid reader will know is a ridiculous concept. But I was so gripped, intrigued and impressed with the book (encompassing therefore the writing and the plot) that it was how I felt. I would thoroughly recommend it even now. So why is that book defined as literary fiction and not chick-lit? It’s fair to say that the appeal of that specific title does not lie in superficial storylines, i.e. girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy does not like girl – oh oops, yes actually he does like girl but by that time girl is seeing someone entirely unsuitable – or similar. The Thirteenth Tale demanded deeper thinking and presented more challenging ideas. The point of the story appeared to be not just entertainment but to inspire deeper thought and requiring a degree of cerebral analysis. Using those criteria I would also place Kate Mosse and Kate Atkinson into the lit-fic category. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is a stunning, intellectual and passionately researched book. It’s not an easy read, it does require concentration, but is no less enjoyable for doing so. Perhaps therefore that is one of the elements of lit-fic.

At this point the old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ must be mentioned. Because whilst I don’t agree with doing that, you do actually need to read a book to judge it, it’s definitely true that a person can be lured or otherwise by the colour, composition and other details of a book cover. For example, chick-lit books usually have covers depicting variously women, shoes, handbags or all of the above. The cover of Sophie Kinsella’s “Twenties Girl” is one of my recent favourites. They are bright, cheerful and frivolous, giving an idea of the contents. My mother refuses to buy a book with a pink cover (“I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson being an exception) and my mother does not read chick-lit. She did however read Things He Never Knew so does that therefore mean that it is not chick-lit? Absolutely not. I would place my book directly into the chick-lit category (sorry lady who bought it at the signing) but I would also place it further up towards the lit-fic end of the scale. I don’t think the book is a superficial tale, I think it does require some thought, some exploration of morals and emotions, but at the same time it is not iconoclastic in any sense, nor a particularly demanding read. So maybe it is chick-lit for the more intellectually-inclined chicks?

There’s so much more to say on the subject, yet I think the main points have been covered. And just to be clear – I am not being derogatory towards any type of book. There are many and varied titles available on the market and each with their own degree of merit. Choosing a book is a necessarily subjective thing and I would hesitate to say that one book is ‘better’ than another. ‘Different’ is about the best and most general description that can be applied.

Here endeth the lesson :)

I hope everyone has a bright, cheerful and frivolous weekend!

And the countdown begins….

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I’m officially on a countdown! 9 days until publication and exactly two weeks until the launch party. It has suddenly occurred to me that I have no celebration arranged for the day that I finally become a published author. WHAT an oversight. I think it’s because actually, nothing will really be happening for me that day. I know the book will be released, but that’s like knowing that Boris Johnson is alive and out there somewhere – it’s interesting and terribly exciting but has little impact upon me. Unfortunately. I’d be more likely to organise a celebration if he were going to come along to it.

Yesterday was a VERY good day for me. I am still smiling this morning! The first good thing that happened was that I heard that www.chicklitreviews.com ‘really enjoyed’ (and I quote) my book! This came as an absolutely massive relief to me; I’d been scared ever since I read a bad review on their site. It struck terror into my heart in case mine got the same treatment. They are entitled to post bad reviews obviously, this is a subjective thing, and in fact I would wish them to do so because it makes their reviews very genuine ones and therefore reliable. A book should get what it deserves. I’m just rather keen that mine deserves niceness for its first review, poor thing. But it seems that it will, as I heard via the veritable jungle of drums that is Twitter. Tweeting is a skill, I have learned. It’s like being involved in one massive conversation and you must learn where, when and how to interject and add your thoughts. I’m a bit annoyed with it at the moment though because people keep un-following me, and it won’t tell me who which is frustrating. It alerts me via email every time someone new follows me, but when tweeple (nauseating word but I’ve never used it before so I’m going to on this occasion) drift off, Twitter’s lips are sealed. I wouldn’t mind, but I just want to know WHY they un-followed. Did I annoy them? Offend? Irritate? Or did I simply manage to bore them away???? It’s a mystery to me.

The second piece of good news was that fifty copies of my book have been ordered THIS WEEK! Bearing in mind it was Tuesday when I got this news, which counts as early in the week in anybody’s view, AND this is pre-publication, it does sound promising. As ever I am hugely grateful to anyone who has made the effort to order it. It means a lot to a debut author! Plus by my reckoning I have access to approximately another one hundred people that I can coax/cajole/bribe and ultimately force into buying it. This not a mercenary outlook you understand (fat chance of that on royalties) but just to raise my profile a bit.

The guest list for my launch event is looking pretty healthy too. I’m pleased with progress so far. I’m managing a good balance between personal friends and more ‘professional’ attendees (not that my friends aren’t professional) plus some people are coming whom I haven’t seen in ages and I’m excited to see them again. Could I put in a small request at this stage: if anyone knows Boris, do invite him along?

This week was also supposed to bring a brand new experience to me (and there aren’t many of those left) but unfortunately it turned out not to in the end. I was meant to be doing my first ever radio interview. It was a very last minute thing, I had an email from my publishers in the morning saying that an author had let them down for an afternoon slot and could I possibly replace them? I won’t mention what the station was for reasons that will become apparent, suffice to say that it was fairly small and low-key and not one that I was especially concerned about impressing. Hence my immediate agreement to do the interview, despite not being prepared and never having done anything like this before. So a time was arranged, I was told the presenter would call me about ten minutes before to put my mind at ease and then I would be interviewed for approximately five minutes. Not a problem, I thought. So I disposed of my youngest child, reminded myself what my book is about and made sure stock answers were available to things I might be asked – name, age, career history, etc. etc. and settled back to wait. Unfortunately, perhaps twenty or so minutes before my call it occurred to me that maybe I should go online and have a listen to this particular radio station – so I did, which was a mistake. The music they were playing was – er – unique, shall we say, and I couldn’t stop laughing. If any of you have gone into an interview in fits of laughter you will know that this is just not a good look. Luckily they didn’t ring me for reasons unknown so I was saved any potential embarrassment/disaster.

Also in this week it is my husband’s birthday. I think he is twenty-seven……however I know it was a mistake to allow my youngest daughter to choose his wrapping paper. And then the day after that I am going to Winchester for the day. This is partly a promotional visit, and partly shoring up last minute plans for the launch event – about which I am very, VERY excited. My guest list is getting there, my outfit is sorted (minus shoes), my cut-out is ordered – I can’t remember if I have mentioned this? In case not – I’ve ordered a cardboard cut-out of just the figures from the front cover and it should be approximately ¾ of life-size. I’m not sure of its exact purpose but it seemed like a good gimmick to have.

So now it’s just final arrangements for the launch – two weeks today ladies and gentleman! I’d like to reiterate that it’s an open event, all are welcome. And any questions can be sent to me at sarah@sarahhaynes.me.uk or put up on my Facebook author page. On the note of questions, I’ve recently completed a Q&A sheet, which some of you may be interested in. It was compiled by me out of a list of the questions that I am most often asked – in my capacity as author, I hasten to add. It makes interesting reading and if you want an insight into my mind as a writer then keep an eye on my website, where it will be appearing shortly!