Research For My Latest Book – Body Image and Fashion

So. I have been reading LOAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDS of fashion magazines and online articles as research for this book I have in progress, Unleash, the last in the Sub Rosa series. The first two books deal more with the mystery at the heart of this story but the third and final book juggles how the fashion world works—so, what talented writers, editors, designers and photographers etc have to overcome to get where they want to be.

The Sub Rosa trilogy is fashion-based but it is about much more, too. There was one ‘fashion’ article I wedged into the first instalment, Unbind that I wrote very quickly. It came naturally to write it but that was only after reading many, many an article, trying to get an image of how Chloe would present her story in just a few words.

The magazine Chloe works for is called Frame but it is loosely based on Vogue. I hasten to add, very loosely! These books are not The Devil Wears Prada, NADA! In Unbind, you can read Chloe’s article approximately 70% of the way into the novel. It’s called Mind Over Body and the last few words of the article read thus:

Give some purpose to the hurt you suffered because if there wasn’t any grand scheme for the mark thrust upon you, there might still be something you could do to help someone else who didn’t have a choice. Another story springs free, yet I save that for another day…

The other story that springs free is Kayla Tate’s story which will feature in part three, Unleash. It’s only really in the past few weeks that I allowed myself to finally believe I could pull off another trilogy! The third book is from a totally different POV and I told myself trilogies don’t normally happen like this—however I’ve since learned that Kayla is integral to Chloe’s story and so this series without her would be no series at all. Kayla’s relationship with her body is quite an interesting one and one I’ve not written about yet, but you’ll have to read the book…

We all have shit days

We all sometimes feel fat, spotty, thin, empty, greasy, grimy, ugly, too much of this, not enough of that. We all have those days where you feel shit. Nobody is immune. I am no supermodel nor am I a size ten, I range from a 12-16 depending on what shop I go in, what time of the month it is or whether I’ve just had a baby or not! However, despite not being stick-thin, I absolutely love fashion! I love it. (By the way I recently got told that if you tell someone they are too thin, it’s like telling someone they’re too fat. It’s the same apparently.) I loved it when Adele featured on the front cover of Vogue. I love it when supermodels do, too. I have read fashion magazines since I started school, so that’s about 20 years now. I didn’t read them thinking, Oh my god I need to be that thin! I didn’t think like that and why? Because I had a solid grounding from my parents. Yes, the modelling industry does have unhealthy aspects, but I still love it and long ago, I accepted I am happy as a healthy 12-16 (I know, LOL) but when I was a 10 I was unhappy, unfed, looked ill and felt ill – I am just naturally curvy and tall at 5’9’’ so when I’ve dieted in the past, people knew straight away because a sack of skin doesn’t look good on me. I accept fashion isn’t real life and like fiction, it is whatever you make of it. Jamie Dornan recently said modelling “was a bit silly” or something along those lines, but I bet he’s not complaining now he’s got himself a certain part! 😉

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I’ve met more than a few men who say they really aren’t bothered by measurements and don’t notice whether the lady in their life drops 10 pounds or gains 10 pounds. It’s just not an issue for the average man. Loads of celebrities have done the whole big weight-loss thing and have written afterwards that their husbands didn’t fancy them any more or any less, because what they fancied in the first place was the person. At the end of the day, how we feel starts from inside and being healthy mentally and physically is something we all strive for—though for some it is harder. For some people, it just is harder. Full stop.

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Fashion is linked to the mood of the time, like the skirt. They say the length of a skirt shortens more, the worse off the economy is, because obviously we need a bit more cheering up. In times of austerity, some designers have had to get more creative and deal with what they’ve got—like creating dresses and outfits from garbage. I try to read and absorb as much as I can when I’m writing a book because I am a former journalist and I can’t shake off that side of myself. I write to represent people, to speak for them, and I want to be honest and truthful in what I say. Some say when they read a book they don’t want reality but I say, when I was growing up I used to love reading books where I could imagine the characters out there somewhere, living their lives. Personally I need an edge of believability in my work for me to take it seriously. So the fashion of here and now in terms of books (I mean with regards to what instantly flies off shelves) seems to be erotic romance. But with so many people writing erotica, erotic romance or romantic erotica—you now need something else to make you stand out! Which is why I jumped on the bandwagon of writing romantic thrillers.

Fashions change and so do tastes

Yes, women love sex in their books. It helps. I know erotica has saved some marriages and I have massive respect for that. I think whatever empowers and makes women happy is great, I really do. Whatever floats your boat. Some people told me there was too much sex in my first erotic novel A Fine Profession and maybe there was, or maybe that person or person’s tastes just weren’t catered to. A lot of other people argued the story was the strongest aspect so maybe people were reading different books? Which is another thing—we can never please everyone with what we write. A lot of people genuinely believe A Fine Profession is based on my own experiences but it really isn’t. I never spanked men in hotel rooms although I have held a whip and I do like corsets. However I know a couple of people who are like Lottie and when it came to putting the book out, I decided I would be happy if the words within helped just one person. Luckily the book helped many. If people think I am Lottie, it means they actually believed she’s real—which was what I set out to do. Lottie has an acute case of low self-esteem.

I’m the eldest of three sisters and I have a younger brother too. My youngest sister is a pear shape and has men salivating over her ass, my middle sister is athletic and I’m hourglass. We’re all different. Two of us are big-chested (one of those is my brother, by the way—he won’t care if I say that) and one of us was so happy when she was breastfeeding because she finally had boobs. We’re all different but any body issues we’ve ever had haven’t been picked up by images in the media. It’s just biology.

A lot of men and women have struggles with their bodies for deep, psychological reasons that are buried deeper than we imagine. You only have to read A Fine Profession to realise that. There isn’t a chart for how we feel inside and no sexual partner can fix it. Most of the research for my books is already in my head—because I’ve spent so many years logging so many different people’s tales. Never one to shirk, I’ve also spent a lot of time writing about men’s issues too, such as Noah’s in A Fine Pursuit and Cai’s in Unfurl.

So, I’ve read a lot of magazines as part of my research of Unleash. A lot of articles. The heroine Kayla Tate is an up and coming jewellery designer and she’s worked for Elle, too. Her experiences and impressions of the fashion world are genuine and she’s a humble, talented and yet quietly opinionated woman.

I have never had so much fun researching a book because Kayla is such a multi-dimensional woman and the heavy metal she loves, well, I won’t tell you what I had to do to find out about that!

Let’s say, she’s not an ordinary woman and it’s been difficult picking a partner for her who’s worthy!

Unleash remains a work in progress…

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Catching Up with the Joneses – for fans of Angel Avenue

Recently I re-read one of my own novels (oh the vanity!!!). It was quite nice actually, and because of the distance I’ve put between myself and this novel now, I was reading it as if from a new reader’s perspective (almost).

Angel Avenue was a novel I wrote in a rush of affection and nostalgia for young love and the city I went to university in and still live nearby. In the novel, Angel Avenue, I never state the setting is Hull. I guess I wanted you, the reader, to envisage the world of this novel as any place – anywhere. I never state the main, bustling avenue Jules and Warrick live on and around is Angel Avenue, because there is no such thing as Angel Avenue. There’s Newland Avenue in Hull – and many of the other sites I’ve described in the novel are real, too. You can go visit them! How glamorous, eh? The title Angel Avenue was suggested to me by my husband Andrew. The original title was Losing Laurie and the book originally was centred around the idea of this woman, Jules, transferring the loss of her mother to a man who did the dirty on her. Like a mourner who goes to their loved one’s grave on a specific day of the week, maybe every day, Jules returns to the spot she met Laurie. I think it is difficult to understand Jules’ psychology but the moral of this book, Angel Avenue, is hidden very carefully within the pages. I focused on etching the characters and the build-up of real love (not teenage or lust-fuelled love) but actual, long-lasting love.

angel avenue collageWarrick is a man given a second chance at life and since he washed himself clean of all his vices, he’s not taken them up again. There’s a splice between innocence and experience in this book – and it’s experience which redeems Warrick – because he saves Jules. A teacher, she in turn gets a new reputation for herself at school for being a cool, ballerina/dancer chick, and when the kids find out Jules and Warrick are together – they trust him too. And thus, a paedophile ring and a traumatic case of bullying are uncovered in this novel. Therefore, ANGEL AVENUE this is, because wouldn’t we love such difficult problems to be solved so easily in real life, eh? Jules’ life was fucked up by her parent’s addictions and she triumphs professionally, yet falls down personally.

I read recently that it takes a hard heart to write a tender novel and this is so true of me and this novel, Angel Avenue. This novel was a terrific salve for me after finishing the gruelling and brain-taxing novels A Fine Profession and A Fine Pursuit. Perhaps I recently re-read Angel Avenue because I needed some salve again!

Anyway, after doing my re-read, a scene came to me which I wrote a few weeks ago now. In the actual novel, which I will never add to or subtract from because it’s exactly how Jules and Warrick told their tale to me at the time, we have an epilogue from Warrick’s POV. But not one from Jules.

What follows now is an epilogue from Jules’ POV. You’re now catching up with the Joneses a few years after they met, as they navigate married and family life. If you haven’t read the novel, you might not want to read this extra/extended epilogue. However, I don’t think this will spoil your enjoyment of Angel Avenue too much if you do decide to go back and read the main novel. After all, it’s the way they fall in love that counts.

When we first had the twins, I was frightened to death of dropping one of them. I was terrified of all sorts and I relied on Warrick for everything. I only know how to be a parent because of him, because I never really had a parent of my own, not one I remember well enough anyway. Everything before my eighth birthday, I’ve blocked out, because that was when Mum was alive and I don’t allow myself to remember how happy I was before she was stolen from me.

To read the full epilogue, click the link below…

Put the kettle on, kick your feet up, and revisit my favourite fictional couple. Well, no I can’t say that, because they stand alongside Cai and Chloe, Lottie and Noah, Seraph and Ryken (and a few others I can’t tell you about yet…)

Just…. enjoy! 😉

DOWLOAD: Jules’ epilogue

Purchase Angel Avenue in paperback or eBook:

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Reaching 100,000 Words and Knowing…

…you now have another novel. That recently happened for me. It’s a point where you feel achievement, also a point where you know there’s much more work to do!

Often the story of creation is a story in itself, one you feel loathe to tell, but might be just as important as the work you’re creating.

A lot of my books centre on psychology and it’s something I have always been fascinated by. The human mind and its strengths, weaknesses and possibilities are why we write after all. I’ve found with my recent books, 100K is around about the stage I find myself with a first draft. In the first draft I’ve told myself the story, and now instead of telling it, I need to build upon what I’ve already established and embellish the events that make sense of the mystery. It is time to slow it down and explode the smells, sights, feelings, thoughts and dialogue… et al. So in other words, I need to ensure the reader can see exactly what I see.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????When I was writing UNBIND, the prequel to the novel I’m currently writing, I didn’t want to put a label on the complex psychology of one person in that novel. I still don’t. We all know mental illness is a complex thing, a grey area, and I consciously created a character you can’t put into one box or another. Going forward into the sequel, I had a job on my hands to keep away from that box and still not put this particular person into one category or another.

So when you’ve written about difficult topics in the past (i.e. issues of the mind), you feel like you have to find different ways of exploring those avenues…

I probably would have made myself ill in trying to keep UNBIND at just the one book. I know that sounds freaking crazy!! There was too much story and what I took out of UNBIND, I did purposely, so I could write a whole other story in UNFURL. No way is the sequel a retelling of the first book or a rehash. It’s not the same book, it’s got its own plot, yet some bits elevate and expand upon UNBIND. As an author, it is the hardest thing to know your characters and to try to write their stories without ruining the suspense.

UNFURL came to me so thick and fast and when I read it through last week, I felt the arrangement set into place inside my mind and I knew after that… I knew what I had left to do.

Yet still, the mysterious character I’ve alluded to in this blog is more than just a victim. She’s so much more. She’s an enigma, a mystery that will never be solved. She’s an artist and what I hope I am doing with UNFURL is showing how and why we use art. Why, even, we need art, and what it evokes in our souls.

Cai, our hero, is a dual artist – a photographer and a painter. He has the same gifts his mother mastered – and more. The purpose of Cai’s point of view in UNFURL is to explore that struggle we share, as artists, during the process of creation. A pain that is necessary to produce something that actually speaks to other people.

Instead of focusing on the label, then, I tried to focus on the confusion and mindset of a person who refuses to be misunderstood or even, understood. There isn’t even a middle ground. There is an unrealistic place where things make sense and another place, a worldly place, where nothing makes sense. Basically, there’s an artist who had her talent ripped from her… and her ability to create was tainted. Imagine if you’re born to create, and you just can’t. The reasons are hard to bear, but must be.

I wrote about life as art in another blog and I’m trying to follow through on that with UNFURL, a book that doesn’t play by the rules but when knotted to UNBIND, side by side, makes sense and yet, whether an injustice can be ever be truly resolved, we may never know…

As a writer, you know, anything can happen during the editing process. It’s a miraculous, thing, editing. Maybe like Rorschach in Watchmen, whose mood changes constantly, whose mask expresses him better than his own face, a writer can keep trying to paint the truth but only the reader can give the book its truth. So like an artist trying to paint a picture, I’m trying to use the tools (words) at my fingertips to explain what creation feels like, to explain why creatives need creation and what could happen if someone born to create had that ability tragically stolen from them.

Perhaps that’s why a novel is a novel and why sometimes, you can write all those words, only for one truth to come out of all of it.

It’s a work in progress… for sure!

(Hopefully this was an annoyingly spoiler-free preview)!