Why chick lit sells

2009-07-01 00:00

BRITISH writer Adele Parks, author of nine novels including Young Wives Tale, Playing Away and Tell Me Something was recently in South Africa promoting her latest book, Love Lies, in which a 30-year-old florist ditches her boyfriend of four years and falls in love with a pop star, getting swept off to a super-rich life in California. But celeb-style glamour is not all it is cracked up to be.

Parks is one of the big hitters in the chick lit genre, and she spoke to MARGARET VON KLEMPERER.

 

MvK: How do you feel about the chick lit label being tacked on to your writing? And when and where did chick lit start?

AP: It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a very accessible title for a genre — it invites people to read, and that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, a lot of readers dismiss it. I’m working with the Times newspaper in the UK on a mentoring scheme, helping a young writer for a year. I’m paired with a journalist on the paper and she said she would never have picked up one of my books — but when she did, she loved it. And I’ve sold over a million books, so the genre works.

I do try to address realistic issues. I’ve dealt with infidelity, infertility, having a child when you don’t want one, divorce, etc. When I write, it’s something I want to say, but I make sure there will be someone who wants to listen.

Before chick lit, it was the bonkbuster, with writers like Jackie Collins writing about powerful women who chewed men up and got away with it — the Thatcherite era in popular literature. In the 21st century, it’s more about getting a balance between the genders.

 

MvK: You have been writing in the genre for over 10 years. Do your characters age along with you? And does your readership cross age boundaries?

AP: Ever since I was 21, one of my best friends has been a 50 year old — in her 70s now. Women cross boundaries with their friends: if you click at 17, you will click at 70. My characters are in their 30s, but I’m now 40, and in the book I’m planning for 2011, the heroine is 42. So yes, I think I will make my characters older as I age.

I don’t know what 20-year-olds do any more. We didn’t have Facebook or texting when I was in my 20s. I have a colleague who is still writing about 20-somethings, but I want to write about the issues that concern me. One fan said she can’t wait until I hit menopause. She reckons my take on it will be fun. Maybe chick lit becomes ‘hen lit’, although it’s a rather offensive term.

It takes me a couple of years to process new ideas for a book. Tell Me Something dealt with mothers-in-law: I think younger women like to know where they’ll be at in the future. They think about these things. And I do have a huge Facebook fan base, as well as getting handwritten letters from people in their 70s. So yes, the books do cross age boundaries.

 

MvK: I always think chick lit occupies a very moral universe. The baddies get their comeuppance. If people make mistakes, they learn from them and benefit. Is that a fair comment?

AP: Well, in my books, the girls are often immoral in the conventional sense. Good people slip up and make mistakes and vile people sometimes throw you a curve ball by doing something lovely. But yes, the books do teach a moral lesson. Even if someone thinks they have got away with something, I want to show it’s a problem.

In Love Lies, Fern [the heroine] comes from a place most young career driven women have experienced at some time. You live in a lovely, have-it-all city, but you’re broke. Other people seem to have more than you and you are going nowhere. She’s in a relationship, but instead of letting it move at an organic pace, she backs him into a corner and gives him an ultimatum. She brings the crisis on herself.

I do expect my readers to do a bit of work — they can be one step ahead of the heroine. It’s like our friends: they can see us making mistakes we don’t see for ourselves. I like this about being a novelist: we’re living in a fairer place than the real world. You can make people get their comeuppance, what they deserve. But I’ve never created a character who is out and out evil. • Love Lies by Adele Parks is published by Penguin.

 

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