The Secret Ingredient

Or a little shameless self-promotion.

I had written another post for today, but it felt wrong not to give this space over to the launch of my new novel, officially published today. The Secret Ingredient is my eighth book. Coincidentally, my mum had eight babies. I wonder if she ever felt it would be expecting too much of people to be excited for her by number eight? Even though I have no doubt she loved that baby – my little sister – as much as the rest of us, and felt just as proud and elated … if perhaps, a little more tired!

By novel no. 8, I don’t expect everyone to experience the same thrill they did when my first book, Call Waiting, was published. My family are very proud of me, but it’s what I do now. There’s not the same level of excitement when my advance copy comes. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great, Mum. Congrats … What did you say we were having for dinner?’

Same with friends. ‘You’ve got another book coming out? But aren’t you writing at the moment?’

‘Yes, I’m working on the next one.’

‘So what will this be, six … seven now?’

There is no way the heightened level of excitement that accompanied that first book – even the first two or three – could be sustained. It would be impossible, and exhausting. I couldn’t do it, so I can hardly expect everyone else to.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud, and happy, and that I feel a very real sense of achievement. With the publication of The Secret Ingredient, I have over a million words in print. That boggles my mind. But more than that, the characters are part of my psyche now, taking their place alongside the characters from all my previous books.

So here’s to them! I hope they’re all right out in the big wide world, without me overseeing everything they do. They’re on their own now. I’m on to number nine …

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The chick lit debate continues

Some of you may have seen this article in the Guardian over the weekend, asking the question if we should mourn the death of chick lit, a death which may, in the words of Mark Twain, be described as an exaggeration.

It all depends on what you mean by ‘chick lit’. Is it a catch-all label for all women’s fiction, or does it only refer to those with the hot pink covers sporting ‘stilettos and Martini glasses’, as mentioned in the article? But is there much more going on inside the covers, and the problem is merely the way women’s fiction is being packaged?

When my first book (above) was published, a male friend asked me what women’s fiction was, and was he allowed to read it? He also said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover, but he was surprised he enjoyed it. Now I don’t mind that our books are marketed to women, women are the biggest buyers of books by far, but has this led to the assumption that all women’s fiction is the same, and worse, that it’s light fluff? There is a whole other discussion to be had – in a future post – about covers and marketing, but this is more about perception. Those of us who read women’s fiction know that it’s often about much bigger issues; that martini glass could be making light of alcoholism, and the shoes masking some painful body image issues.

So why the cutesy label? Because we do mention shoes? Martinis? Love? Or, gasp, is it because it’s written by women? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if men write about relationships or domestic issues, they’re considered insightful forays into the human condition. Perhaps they’re not always lauded, but they ain’t called chick lit either. I’ve heard many excellent female authors shrug and apologise for what they write. I’ve done it myself. ‘It’s just entertainment’. ‘I don’t mind it’s called chick lit’. We wouldn’t want to look like we’re taking ourselves seriously as writers, for goodness’ sakes.

That doesn’t mean you must write only about serious stuff to deserve to be taken seriously as a writer. Look at Nick Hornby and Nick Earls – both wonderful, funny writers whose books are very much about relationships. Their solid reputations are well-deserved. Just not so sure that female writers of the same ilk are given quite the same status.

What do you think? Am I worrying about nothing? Does it matter what it’s called? Do you love the girlie covers or shy away from them? And if there are any blokes out there – would you be caught dead reading one?

In sickness and in health

Well, any of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know I’ve had the flu, because I have had a bit of a whinge about it. I made it through winter relatively unscathed, so it was probably bound to happen. There are many perks when you write for a living – you can slop around in trackies, work at whatever time of the day or night that suits you – but one of the downsides is that you don’t get sick leave, or anyone to take over for you when you are sick. The book doesn’t write itself in your absence. You don’t return to your desk to find that the next couple of chapters are there, waiting for you to look over.

However, this early in the piece, and this far away from the deadline, I didn’t feel too frantic. I was just sick enough not to care. You know the different levels of illness? At a milder level – say, head cold – it’s just irritating, but when it steps up to include aches and pains and fever flushes, you don’t give a toss any more about missing work or missing whole days, you just have to go and lie down. I had to beg off a couple of social engagements that I had been really looking forward to, but even the idea of them was too much to contemplate.

The only thing that did get me out of the house last week was my youngest son’s graduation from Year 12. Mothering is another occupation with no sick leave. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – it was momentous, the grand finale of 25 years of end-of-school ceremonies. However, feeling less than a hundred percent obviously stopped me from becoming quite as emotional as I thought I would, which was probably just as well for everyone around me. I’m not good at endings, they make me cry.

Coincidentally, I had the flu when this particular child weaned himself. They say babies sometimes do that when Mum is sick; it doesn’t taste right or something. Anyway, he had to be brought to me in my sick bed for his last feed of the night, and he had a little try, but then turned away, uninterested. He didn’t fuss or cry or fret, he just didn’t want it. I offered it the next morning, and through the day, and the evening, but he had no interest at all, he wasn’t at all bothered, and I was too sick to really persist. A few days later, when I was well again, I realised that my last baby had had his last feed ever, and I hadn’t been paying attention. And there was nothing I could do about it by then, which may have been just as well.

I read a beautiful quote on Twitter over the weekend from the singer, Kate Miller Heidke, “There was a day when your mum/dad put you down, and they never picked you up again. They didn’t realise it was the last time.”

Just as well we don’t realise it’s the last time, or how could we ever let them go?

What’s in a name?

Well, plenty, I reckon. I’m stuck for a name for this blog, though. I’m thinking it’s probably going to remain ‘dianneblacklock’ so you’ll still be able to find it. I have at least changed the tagline. Must get around to decorating next week …

Names of blogs aside, I love naming things, namely, the characters in my novels. And that’s what has been occupying me lately in my current novel. I have most of the major characters sorted, though the female protagonist took three goes to get right – hoorah for ‘Find and Replace’ on Word. I had a name in mind as I began, but it jarred as I read back over the first few chapters. I tried another name, but it didn’t feel right either, and finally this one evolved – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with in the first place, but it feels absolutely right now.

In a way, characters name themselves, at least they certainly won’t be shoe-horned into a name that doesn’t suit them. When I was writing Almost Perfect, I could not settle on a name for Liam. I had a very long list but I just couldn’t decide. One day, a scene from later in the novel came to me, and I quickly scribbled it down – by the end he was Liam, and he couldn’t be called anything else after that.

I have an admission, I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was a girl I wanted to have eighteen children, weird but true, and I think at least part of the reason was that I would get to choose so many names. I made long lists of monikers for those would-be children, giving them second, and sometimes third names. It was updated regularly as my tastes changed. I still have an extensive handwritten list – needless to say most of the names make me cringe now.

I only had four children in the end, and didn’t even give two of them middle names. So I have plenty of names to use up! The names of my characters are very important to me: they have to go with the surnames, they have to fit with the other members of their family, they have to be true to the age of the person. And somehow they have to reflect, as best they can, the personality of that character. It really grates on me if names don’t seem right when I’m reading a novel. One thing (among many!) that really bothered me in The Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ was a very odd choice for the seventeen-year-old daughter of hippies. And ‘Anouk’ was a white, thirtysomething, middle-class woman – the only explanation for her name is an offhand comment that her parents were francophiles. But as I remember she has a sister called Tracey. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for giving her such an unusual name, and it irritated me throughout.

Maybe it’s just me? Are names in books important to you? Are there names that grate for you as well? Would the wrong names affect your enjoyment of a book? Or would a rose, regardless of its name, smell just fine to you?

PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments and feedback on my first blog! So encouraging xx