Or, at least, ten things not to say to me, but that’s insufficiently clickbaity.
Every profession has its own list of remarks they don’t want to hear. Vets cringe at the 94th hand-up-animal’s-bottom joke; doctors refuse to tell people what they do at parties for fear of, “Ah, you’ll want to hear about my knee.” This is my personal and idiosyncratic list, put together in anticipation of the approaching festive season’s conversation-making. Some of them are genuinely well meaning, few of them are answerable, all make me wince.
Have I read any of your books?
People ask this all the time. I have no idea in what way I could possibly be qualified to answer.
Romance? Isn’t that all–
If you stop right there, I won’t have to hurt you. Don’t say mommy porn, hearts and flowers, Barbara Cartland, Fabio, housewife. Don’t say anything. Just finish your drink and back away slowly, and we’ll all be fiiiine.
What’s your book about? What’s the story?
Don’t get me wrong: If someone has read my work and actually wants to know what I’m working on, that’s a massive compliment. However, if this is an out of the blue question, it’s painful for everyone, because I am appalling at elevator pitches.
This is fine:
What’s your book about?
– It’s a historical romance.
What’s bad is when the conversation instead goes…
But what’s it about? What’s the story?
– Well, it’s a romance. It’s about people falling in love.
But what’s it abooooout? What happens?
– Fine, well, there’s a radical printer—do you know about the radical movement in the Regency? No, well, it’s in the book, and anyway he’s having an anonymous relationship with this guy who turns out to be Home Office—no, well, Regency politics again, it’s in the book—and it’s complicated because they are both linked to…people in other books, and…they sort of have to work out their political, personal and social relationships only there’s this conspiracy… [tails off in the face of uncomprehending stare]
Seriously, it took me 75,000 words, a ton of research, three rounds of edits and a companion book on either side to achieve what I wanted with A Seditious Affair. I cannot convey it in two sentences at a party while trying to balance a warm glass of wine and a sausage roll. Can we just stick to “it’s a historical romance”?
How do you find the time to write?
This one sounds innocuous, but I have a feeling, if you looked into it, you’d find female writers get asked this a lot more than men. Before I quit my job, I got a lot of people asking me how I “juggled” having a job and kids and writing. Nobody ever asks my husband, a keen triathlete, how he “juggles” his family obligations to make time for his training. And, come to that, when people talk about, say, TV, they will compare notes on their rewatch of all 144 episodes of Buffy and their plans to watch three of the new HBO dramas and nobody ever comments on long that will take. But if you’re writing a novel, people want to know where the time comes from. Call me Virginia Woolf, but it’s almost as though there’s something self-indulgent about a woman writing books when she must have other things to do.
The Carlsberg Gambit
Carlsberg had a slogan, “Probably the best lager in the world”, which they have extended to an ad campaign that goes, “Carlsberg don’t do [hairdressing / Friday nights in / whatever], but if they did, it would probably be the best [X] in the world.” This is, inexplicably, something people do to writers.
Oh, yes, I’ve often thought of writing a book, but I’d need to do so much on it. I have so much to say and I’d want to do the story real justice. I’d have to spend so long crafting it, it would be a labour of love, I couldn’t just rush something out. [NEON FLASHING SUBTEXT: Unlike you.]
Or to put it another way: “I haven’t written a book, but if I did…”
Why do you write [X]?
There are two answers to this. One of them is a massive sprawling analysis of my personal history, my political and social convictions, my nightmares and desires and obsessions, my way of seeing the world, the ever-fermenting brain chutney of all the things I’ve read and learned and seen. The other is, “Because.”
When are you going to write…
When are you going to write a proper book (not romance!), a grown-up book, a literary novel, a real book. The author equivalent of “When are you going to find yourself a husband?”
(From a random partygoer or relative): I’ll read it if you give me a free copy.
How do you do your research for sex scenes hurr hurr
/fakes laugh, changes subject/
Oh, you write romance. Is that like Fif—
Feel free to add your own cringe-inducers in the comments!
KJ is an organiser for Queer Romance Month, an amazing collection of blog posts, flash fiction and essays on the theme of We All Need Stories, which you should go check out right now.