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Writing My First Book: Straight Talking

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Writing My First Book: Straight Talking

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I was twenty seven when I came up with the idea for my first novel. Two things had just happened that made me think I could do it. The first was Nick Hornby’s book, High Fidelity, which spoke to every thirty-something single man I knew, and the second was a friend of mine who wrote a book in her spare time, and suddenly signed a publishing deal, for far money than I was making as a journalist on the Daily Express.

I can do that, I remember thinking. I can write about the single thirty-something woman. I can write about what it’s like being single, living in London, wondering why he never calls when he says he will. I can write about my girlfriends, all of whom seemed to be having the same relationships with the same commitment-phobic men.

They say first novels are usually autobiographical, and now that twelve years have gone by, I can finally admit that yes, I drew largely upon my life for the stories in Tasha’s world, although she is not me, too angry, too rough, too raw.

But the good-looking guy I went out with at twenty one, who professed undying love until I found photographs of a gorgeous blonde model in his pocket? He went in. The tall but dim one who whisked me away for a country weekend with all his friends, then told me it wasn’t working in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere? He went in. The one who was pompous as hell and a horrible kisser? But of course…

I had such fun writing that book. I trawled through my memory banks and dredged up every man who’d ever made me angry, made me cry, made me think that I was never going to get it right.

And I wrote about my loyal girlfriends, the ones who were there to pick up the pieces, the girls I met every Saturday for long, liquid, smoke-filled lunches (back in the days when all of us smoked).

I wrote it all in a heartbeat, then sent it off to literary agents, and weeks later there was a bidding war.

My novel was called Passion Junkie, for Tasha was addicted to passion, to the pleasures and pains of being on an emotional rollercoaster. Until she decided to grow up. The book was based on a quote from William Wharton. ‘What is love?’ his daughter had asked him, on the eve of her wedding. ‘As far as I can tell,’ he said, ‘it is passion, admiration and respect. If you have two you have enough. If you have three you don’t have to die before you go to heaven.’

Which three were enough, I had wondered, even before I used it as inspiration for Passion Junkie, which soon became Straight Talking, my publishers reluctant to publish a book that had the word ‘junkie’ in the title. Could you live without passion? Was it perhaps more sensible to live without, to choose someone sensibly, not through passion-fuelled glasses. Passion had never served me well, after all. What if Tasha grew up, what if she chose her best friend?

The book came out and was an instant bestseller, and I knew I’d never work in an office again, but I didn’t dream for a second I’d have a string of novels after that, each one doing better and better.

And in my personal life I met a man who seemed much like Adam in the book, in that he didn’t inspire passion in me, but friendship, and I thought I ought to learn the lesson I had written about.

We married soon afterwards. Four children and seven years later, we divorced. I no longer think you can live without passion. You need all the things William Wharton described, passion, admiration and respect. And you need a third: kindness.

If I knew then what I know now, Straight Talking would have ended very differently, but the journey has brought me to where I am today, to a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man, with a sense of peace that was always missing in my life, and for that I will always be grateful.
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