Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Could Britain's next Chick Lit star really be a man?

The answer to that is a resounding yes! In the spirit of equality, what with girls running football clubs and haulage companies, men have started to infiltrate the chick lit and women's fiction market. Earlier in 2012, Novelicious.com, a women's fiction and chick lit website, ran their Undiscovered 2012 competition, looking for Britain's next chick lit star. Out of hundreds of entries, Neal Doran (yes, Neal...a bloke) was shortlisted with his latest book 'Occupied'. The prize, and there are two of them, is a professional critique of your work and introduction to an agent. I first 'discovered' Neal on Authonomy, where I read and loved his earlier book 'Dan Taylor is Giving Up on Women'. Apart from being an all round nice bloke (sorry Neal, that's like a death knell isn't it) and very funny, Neal has also been very supportive of me and my book, spurring me on and sending me lists of agents, so this is my time to give him a bit of a hand.

Neal has kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog so you can all #discovernealdoran for yourselves. It's a lighthearted 'chat' with a serious message. Voting will start in the next few weeks and I hope you will all read his excerpt, enjoy it and vote for him as Britain's New Chick Lit star. He's truly undiscovered but deserves to be on every Waterstones in the country... and beyond.

Only 2nd in the Pontin's Little Prince Competition,
Neal is aiming at 1st place in Novelicious
Undiscovered 2012

WG: So Neal, first things first. Is there any truth in the rumour that you are very close, orthographically at least, to the young Irish pop sensation, Niall Horan from One Direction?

ND: Yes, I’m just a couple of letters away from global stardom, but it’s probably for the best. I could never fit in those skinny trousers.

WG: Well that's a blessed relief! And I understand you once had delusions of pop stardom yourself with your band, The Understudies, who were apparently the musical equivalent of ‘Man on Bus’ in the credits of a film. Do you still play the bouzouki… sorry, it was the guitar wasn’t it?
ND:  How on Earth did you find out about the Understudies (or [thE] uNderstUdies*; to give them their full title) I thought I was safe with them existing before the internet. (WG: Nothing is safe mwahahahaha...)  I don’t play much now, but then I couldn’t play much then either. We wrote our own songs before we weren’t able to play proper songs that other people wrote, and prided ourselves on the ability to all stop at roughly the same time. People seemed to like it when we stopped. We had a few gigs, and even managed to get a tiny bit of record company interest. The grain of truth in this has obviously expanded to the point where I now tell my children that I was *this close* to being on Sony Records alongside Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen.

WG: So tell me a bit about your earlier writing. You cut your teeth on the spoof news website, Newbiscuit, where there is still a photo of you looking like a 12 year old boy, and you were a regular winner of the Writer of the Month award. You are the person credited with revealing the truth behind the ‘Mothers Union Martyrdom’ videos.   Do you still think that Bob the Builder is not sufficiently aspirational for middle class parents now that you are a parent yourself?
ND: Yep, I was a regular winner of Writer of the Month on NewsBiscuit in much the same Halley’s Comet is a regular sight in the night sky. I spent a few years writing for Newsbiscuit and by the end was helping out with the editing too. It’s a great site for getting new writing out there and I got a real confidence boost whenever things that I thought were funny were recognised by other people. I eventually stopped working on the site when I realised that everything I’d tried writing for NewsBiscuit amounted to more than half a novel in terms of word count, and I began to believe I could write something proper book length.

As for Bob, you have to admire people who can get things done. In our house a cry of ‘can we fix it?’ is usually answered with a chorus of ‘Nah. Better get a man in’. I think it’s one of the more depressing aspects of parenthood that you become very aware that no child is going to want to emulate a career path of pecking away at a computer every day just waiting for someone to figure out you’ve no idea what you’re doing. They’d rather be a postman. Or a dinosaur. And I’m probably jealous they still have these options.

WG:  Occupied, your shortlisted book is about……. Actually I’ve no idea as I’ve never read it. Tell me a bit more...
ND: I’m terrible with pitches (as can be seen here:  But to try and sum it up in a way people actually talk, Occupied is the story of Rebecca and James, an expecting couple.

They find that the attention they think they deserve for this exciting development is overshadowed rather by the news that Rebecca’s stuffy old dad has been arrested for cottaging in a tube station gent's. James’s old hippy protester parents then decide to take up Howard’s cause, sparking a local media circus and the poor couple have to deal with parents embarrassing them at levels not seen since they were overly-sensitive teenagers. Then James loses his job and a secret conviction in his own past makes it tricky to find a new job, and the whole pregnancy gets a bit fraught...
It’s about how people have an expectation of what ‘a Parent’ should be, but when (and if) it comes around to being their turn suddenly those expectations seem a little demanding. And it has lots of jokes -- hopefully lots of good ones that anyone who’s ever had a parent, or been a parent, will enjoy. And I hope it wouldn’t be too alienating for orphans either.

WG:  An inspired idea. I think just about anyone who is a parent can identify with that sentiment.  And who are your inspirations as a writer, apart from me, of course? Do you actually read Chick lit or are more of a testosterone fuelled action adventure sort of guy? Who are your favourite authors?

ND: Well obviously WG, you’re the wings beneath my wind (is that what I was supposed to say – I can’t quite read your writing...).

To pick a handful of names: John O’Farrell, obviously, as a guy writing about relationships from a predominantly male perspective and with lots of good jokes. Nick Hornby for similar reasons...Stuart McLean is a Canadian radio writer who writes stories about families, which I love. I’d love to do a load of short stories with a linked cast of characters like he does.
I’ve only just got into actually reading chick-lit. I’ve always thought I’d like to read funny books about relationships and family and stuff like that, but struggled to find them. Turns out they exist, just disguised by pink fluffy covers. I’ve now developed a slight obsession with Marian Keyes. The woman is a genius and I can’t believe no-one told me about her before. Properly laugh out loud funny, and with a bit of an edge too.

I do enjoy a good maverick detective or serial killer ‘man-book’, but there’s a lot of testosteroney stuff I’ve never really got. For example, I have a thing against James Bond --a posh psychopath with a fondness for puns? I can’t think of anything much worse. He’s like a murderous Richard Stilgoe. Oh and he’s probably a borderline alcoholic with a sex addiction problem too. Bond that is, not Stilgoe, although you never can tell.

WG:  Hooray! Someone else that doesn't get the whole James Bond thang!  And Marian Keyes is a legend. I'm just reading 'Is There Anybody Out There'. Some people have called your writing ‘dick lit’, not because you are a dick but because it’s the male version of chicklit, and let’s be honest, cock lit really doesn’t work. How do you feel about this new genre?

ND:  Chick-lit seems to be about recognisable women that you’d meet in real life. In fact I wish I’d read more chick-lit when I was single – it would have been nice to have an idea of what was going on in women’s minds... The lad-lit/dick-lit end of things tends to be based on this idea that the average guy is some sort of commitment-phobic man-child who has to be beaten around the head until they realise what they really want is to settle down. It’s not something I recognise really from my life, or from my friends. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life. Perhaps I need to spend more time at Spearmint Rhino reading Nuts. But until that happens I’ll probably stick with the boy-next-door perspective and stand up for the all the decent coves out there. I’m trying to popularise the name chap-lit...

WG:  So, when you were waiting for the Novelicious shortlist to be announced, you admitted to immersing yourself in cleaning and dusting, so much so that you missed the announcement. How do you fit your writing in with all the demands of being a Domestic God and father of two young children? Tell me a bit about you writing day. Where do you write? House? Pub? Shed?
ND:  I guess there’s only so many times you can press refresh on a website page waiting for news before you go insane. It finally reached a point with waiting for the Novelicious announcement where even dragging out the Dyson seemed preferable. My wife now wants me to enter more contests, particularly at the minute, when the windows could really do with a good clean.

But being yet another wannabe writer that has to make a proper living, I’ve got to squeeze it in around work and family. One of the great things about having kids was learning that there’s such a time as ‘before 7am’ and that I could, to a limited degree, actually function at that time. So now that the boys are mercifully conked out till 7.30 I’m getting up before 6.00 to get an hour or two done at the kitchen table six days a week (in theory). Planning gets done in the pub over a quiet pint (in the evening. I haven’t taken to pre-breakfast Guinness. Yet.).

WG:  Don't worry, there's plenty of time for you to develop that habit. What’s your style of writing? Planning to an OCD degree or just letting it all happen?
ND:  I like to have a rough outline of what’s going to happen, and an end I’m working towards. Other than that I just like to know what I’m doing the next day. I tried once to meticulously plan out a novel on index cards. When I finished it (after many, many nights getting strange looks in the pub) I didn’t write it and just filed the cards away. It felt like I chore, and I knew what happened, so why bother?

WG: I'm with you on that one. The Pinterest approach to writing doesn't blow my skirt up either (not that I'm suggesting that you wear skirts, you understand. That would be taking the chick lit writer tag just a bit too far).   Now,  on to the most important thing. You’ve promised to buy all your AuthonoMates on the Chick Lit Crit Group cake and champagne if you win (although I’ll be passing on the champagne myself, dodgy liver you know). How will you afford it, bearing in mind the cake habit of some of the members?
ND:  The Authonomy chick-lit gals have been brilliant and helpful since I started hanging out on the site and they deserve to live on a diet of cake and champagne (actually, forget writing, I think I might try and set up as a health guru plugging that very idea). But as with all promises made in an effort to get votes, the chances are it’ll be downgraded after the event. I’m hoping a box of French Fancies and some Babycham will cover my commitments...

WG: Aha! So the character of Dan Taylor was based on yourself....?  Finally, is there any truth to the rumour that, since ‘coming out’ as a chick/dick lit writer you’ve felt compelled to grow a beard in order to reinforce your ‘maleness’?

ND:  The idea that I’d do anything that could be seen as over-compensating for my girly writing is frankly ridiculous. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off for my shark-wrestling class and my Harley needs to go in for a service.

Thanks so much for giving us some of your time. When you are rich and famous just remember who really discovered you. It just remains for us to wish you all the very best in the competition and may the best man win!

In case you missed it earlier, you can read Neal's excerpt from 'Occupied' here. And don't forget #discovernealdoran


Steve said...

Just goes to show that Britain really does have talent!

Wylye Girl said...

And he doesn't even have a dancing dog!

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