Gemma Burgess (image from her website)
Well, just for something different, I thought I’d do a written interview with an author – it’s a little bit faster than getting audio edited…hint hint Tom ;)
I also wanted to help one of my favourite writers, Gemma Burgess, celebrate the UK publication day of her new novel Brooklyn Girls….which is today!
If you enjoy chicklit with a bit of an edge, chances are you’ve heard of Gemma and her first two fabulous books – The Dating Detox and A Girl Like You. Her latest, Brooklyn Girls, is a bit of a departure from her previous work, mostly because it’s in an entirely new genre. Brooklyn Girls is the launch title of a New Adult (somewhere between young adult and chicklit) series about the transition from college/university life to real life, one messy mistake at a time.
In this first book, we follow the story of Pia, who is 22, fresh out of college and living the dream, sharing a house in Brooklyn, NYC, with her four best friends. But then everything goes wrong – she gets fired from her office job, some major romantic rust sets in and her parents are threatening to have her move back in with them if she doesn’t sort her life out soon. It’s rather inspiring (and hilarious) to see how she does it!
Gemma has said of the series:
“I think that the world is made up of smart funny girls who like to have a good time and want to read about girls like them…some of the publishing industry seems to think we want to read about friendless drips who obsess over labels and cupcakes, and wouldn’t know what to do with an erect penis if it hit them in the face.”
Gemma will be appearing on an upcoming episode of Book Ends, so you’ll get to hear her voice (and mine for the billionth time!) but here’s a nice taster for you!
Philippa Moore: Gemma Burgess, welcome to Book Ends. My first question…what inspired you to write a New Adult series? Is this a relatively new genre?
Gemma Burgess: I didn’t even know it was a genre when I thought of the series. I just wanted to write a series about and for girls in their early 20s, as I felt like there wasn’t anything out there like that. Then when I talked to Dan Weiss at St Martins Press about it, it turned out he had just coined the phrase New Adult, and he loved the idea. In a way it was serendipitous, in another way, it’s inevitable – it was missing in the universe.
PM: Brooklyn Girls is the first in a series about this group of young women, all living together in a house on Union Street. How much of your own experience of being young, fresh out of university, making the transition from college life to real life, have you used?
GB: Hmm. All the emotions are mine – the general feeling of panic, the stress of not being able to get a job, the horror of the realisation that you are at the very, very bottom of a massive mountain called Your Career, that the world is very big and easy to get lost in…but the experiences are all made up.
PM: Which of the girls from Union Street is most like you?
GB: Oh gosh… none of them? All of them? I put a bit of myself into every character – I need to understand the way they think in order to write with empathy. I don’t like writing about characters I don’t like. It’s so draining.
PM: The tagline of the series seems to be “life begins at 22”! What were you doing when you were 22?
GB: I was working as a junior writer in a third-rate marketing company in London, living in a disgusting shared house in the armpit of West London, and extremely, exceptionally, extraordinarily broke. Mind you I could still afford to get drunk every weekend. I just had to take the nightbus home. Generally, I felt a bit lost for the first half of being 22… then things got a lot better.
PM: Do you think it’s harder to be in your early twenties now than it was say 10 or 15 years ago?
GB: Honestly? I think everyone thinks it’s harder for their generation. It’s part of the marvellous solipsism of being 22. And the truth is that it is hard, and previous generations don’t remember or worse, don’t care, about how hard it is. which makes it harder. The best and worst thing about being in your early 20s is that you think it’s never going to end, and the second best and worst thing is that it does.
PM: I know you love music, most of your characters seem to enjoy it too! What song best sums you up at age 22?
GB: Hah! Oh dude. I don’t know. Can I say something cheesy-bad like Nothing But A Good Time by Poison?
PM: Yes, you can!
PM: Now, moving on to your writing as a whole and your books in general….the thing I love most about the central characters in all your books (The Dating Detox, A Girl Like You and Brooklyn Girls) is that they are smart yet vulnerable women, all searching for something and doing their darndest to get it, making mistakes (ok, let’s face it, total and unmitigated fuck ups in some cases!) but never descending into a victim mentality. We see them learning, growing, getting wiser and stronger. Resilient is the word, really, and I think this is an important message for young women.
Anyway….I was going somewhere with this….was writing this kind of heroine something you set out to do, or did it happen naturally? Was it a reaction to anything? I’m curious as I think it’s something that really sets you apart.
GB: Wow, can you write all my reviews for me?! Thanks! Yes, that was absolutely the reason I started writing in the first place. I wanted to read a book about a girl like me and my friends – you know, normal – and I felt sure that other women felt the same way, so I started writing one. Characters who were kind and smart and funny and hardworking and vulnerable and all that good stuff. A lot of chicklit characters always seem to be to be exactly the same.
PM: Do you think you need to write for an audience, or write for yourself? Or both?
GB: I think if you’re only writing for yourself, you should keep a diary. You need to write for an audience – you need to thrill and charm and entertain them. If you’re not writing for an audience, why would anyone bother to read it?
PM: So, how did you become a writer? I realise that could be a loaded question…..
GB: Oh… gosh. I don’t know. I did a triple major Bachelors degree in Literature and History and Theatre, which was totally useless, and then did a postgrad in journalism, which only made me sure that I did not want to be a journalist. I found out that marketing and PR companies always needed writers, so I applied to about 300 of them in London (no, really, it was something like 278, I kept track) and eventually got a job. Then I found out about advertising copywriting and a little lightbulb went on above my head and I thought ‘I WANT THAT!’ So then I became a copywriter. Then about seven years later I wrote The Dating Detox in my spare time, got published, and that was that.
PM: What’s the best part of doing what you do?
GB: I always, always enjoy writing. Always. Also, I get lovely emails from readers.
PM: What’s the worst?
GB: I get a little tired of being alone all the damn time. I miss working in an office and being around people. Also, noticing a typo in a book after it’s too late to do anything about it. That shit drives me nuts.
PM: Now for some fun questions….what is your favourite daily ritual/routine?
GB: Morning cuddles in bed with my husband and our baby Errol. Is that lame? It’s probably lame.
PM: What is your most treasured possession?
GB: My baby Errol. Again, that’s probably lame, but it’s true.
PM: If you could meet up for a drink with any character from fiction (including your own), who would it be? Why?
GB: Great question! Bridget Jones. She seems like she’d be a lot of fun.
PM: Another music question – what song would you want played at your funeral?
GB: Dude Looks Like A Lady. Just kidding. That was the first song that came to mind.
PM: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out?
GB: You can do it. But hurry up. Don’t sit on a manuscript for years, don’t ask a million people for their opinions, because people are idiots and it’ll mess with your head. Just write, edit yourself brutally, and get it out there. Also, read everything you can, not just your genre. The more you read, the better a writer you will be. Lastly, it’s not rocket science, it’s just writing, so don’t psych yourself out. You’ll be great.
PM: And so, after writing Brooklyn Girls, do you think life begins at 22? What age did life “begin” for you?
GB: Definitely 22!
Thank you Gemma! I’m so looking forward to doing the “real” interview :)
Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess is out in the UK today. You can find out more about Gemma and her books at her web site. She’s also doing a special series on her blog where lots of people are weighing in about what life was like for them at 22. You can join in too!