Why a novel needs something that readers can believe in and root for

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Vague SPOILERS for Outlander (unless you’re current with the show) and possibly Poldark.

So this occurs to me as I watch Outlander (or actually, this week, the show is taking a break – please, someone, explain to me why a pre-recorded show needs to take a break, I can’t understand it! Why are they so mean to us?!) In Outlander, many bad things happen. There is the ongoing threat in the first season from Jonathan Randall, a series of awful things happen in Season 2, and then there are separations and various sad things happening in Season 3. (I’ve read the books, all the way up to the most recent, so I could go on, but you get the picture.) Why, then, do so many people love this show? There are various plausible reasons. Jamie Fraser. The beautiful, sweeping vistas – oh, wait sorry, I already mentioned Jamie Fraser. Scotland. Various, quite interesting and colourful characters (Angus, Murtagh, John Grey, Jenny, Fergus). But I’d say the one thing that makes this show (and the books) so addictive is that I really believe in Claire and Jamie. The way Diana Gabaldon has written this relationship, nothing can break it. Through ups and downs, and various awfulnesses, the love between them only grows stronger.

Compare this to Poldark. I was really into Poldark in the first season. Of course I was watching because of Ross Poldark at first (who wasn’t) but Demelza won me over with her singing and her vulnerable strength. But then Season 3 hit, that thing happened with Ross and Elizabeth and I totally lost interest in the show. Why? Because Poldark is one hell of a bleak, sad, bleak show. The only light in all this Cornish bleakness was Ross and Demelza’s relationship. Once that was shattered, there was actually nothing left to watch for.

Which makes me think, in all stories, we need something to believe in. In The Walking Dead, there is community, in Game of Thrones, there is – I’m not sure what, some characters that you really care for? Tyrion? Jon? Sometimes Dany? Always Arya? I’m really not sure what makes that show so crazy addictive. It’s the human version of catnip. But all of these epic stories have something in common – they give us something to root for, something in which our belief can endure.

Why women can’t live without chocolate cake

See the thing is this. Cake (or your eagle eyes have noticed no doubt, in this case, biscuits from the ever wonderful Whole Foods) helps in all kinds of situations.

You meet someone you don’t really want to talk to (and truth be told don’t really like), eat cake.

Bored, angry, sad, happy, ecstatic? Cake.

That PMS bubbling-under-the-surface rage beginning to surface (and it’s not even that time of the month, so why are you feeling mental?!)? You guessed it, cake again.

Friendships are formed over cake. Tears are drowned in it. Broken hearts melted into it. Many boring parties find meaning in cake. As do interminable office meetings, week-long wedding ceremonies (what are week-long wedding ceremonies, you ask – have you been to an Indian wedding?), “networking” events when you are wishing you had followed your first impulse of staying home and watching Outlander. You name it, and there’s a cake just made for the situation you find yourself in.

Simples. (A word invented by meerkats.)



And then I reconnected with the SI Leeds Team

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Actually, that’s a lie. It can hardly be called reconnecting when you talk/meet/tweet regularly anyway. A year ago, my short story collection won the SI Leeds Literary Prize. Since then, the six wonderful women on the short-list Jamillah, Stella, Harkiran, Fran and Winnie have met every couple of months for lunch – a definite, decided perk and unexpected outcome of the award. Last time we met – just last month – we talked about all things writing, and partners, kids, jobs, travelling, strange people you see on the tube, and more! Oh, did I mention writing? Yes, now that I think of it, we did talk about writing and how everyone is charging ahead with plans for writing and publishing. How exciting!

Since the award I’ve also seen the lovely Fiona Goh again, when Jamillah, Winnie and I went up to Bradford to deliver a writing workshop for Aspire-Igen a few months ago. And now, with the Harper Collins news to share, I’ve been chatting with them again on Twitter, and with the beautiful and fiercely talented Irenosen Okojie, the previous multi-talented winner Mahsuda Snaith, whose The Things We Thought We Knew has come out this year, and the folks at Peepal Tree Press.


I just read a wonderful debut

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A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the offices of Harper Collins and meet their gorgeous, fun, talented editors. The meeting was memorable was a lot of different reasons, the biggest of which was that the team just blew my agent Samar and I away with their passion for books – but also for their courage in championing a new author (with one of those “diverse” names and faces that are so in debate in the publishing industry at the moment)!

Samar and I had a lovely chat with my brand new editor Charlotte Brabbin, and discussed the ins and outs of Frozen, sisters and funny books with the rest of the team – all with the backdrop of panoramic London singing a romance-and-concrete aria for us as we sipped our chai lattes (well, I did anyway, Samar was drinking a mocha latte.)

Best of all, there were beautiful books everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I got so many freebies that they had to give me a bag – that’s all I can say. In any case, in this haul was Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant, which I’ve really enjoyed reading. I’d say for anyone who’s ever been gut wrenchingly lonely, at perpetual war with their parents’ and their persistent voices, or just someone who likes reading about people going into battle against their past – well, this is a book for you.


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