“Single Mother of Four Seeks Man with Pulse”

“I was going to specify GSOH and plump wallet. Among other things,” says Rose, her wine glass poised in the air as she gives a meaningful look. “But then I thought: you can’t be too picky.”

“You are so NOT going to compose a lonely hearts ad for me.” Karen crosses her arms for emphasis.

Karen is a newly single mother of four from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. And Rose, as you can guess, is a well-meaning friend who’s sitting in her kitchen dispensing advice.

kitchen

“Well, how are you going to meet anyone?” asks Rose.

Good question. Certainly not at the Tupperware club. That’s what the local mums call the evenings they spend together moaning about the price of school blazers or discussing how to get grass stains out of their kids ’ gym kit. There is no Tupperware, but there is plenty to drink.

red wine

Not at her children’s school, either. As it is, the one male teacher has to fend off the attentions of every single mother, especially when he’s in PE shorts.

“I don’t suppose there was any talent at the tyre place last week?” Rose’s eyes light up briefly.

Karen shakes her head. “One spotty youth in a beanie, and that roly-poly one who can barely squeeze himself under a car.”

Since when has Karen’s world become so divided along gender lines?  Since the children, that’s when. It has got worse with every one of her four kids.  Now it is as if feminism never existed.

She tries to explain this, but Rose doesn’t get it at all. “You’re not going all Mary Portas on us now, are you? Not that there’s anything wrong with being a late-flowering lesbian, I suppose. Got any more Merlot?”

Karen is giving this search her best shot. She never leaves the house without lipstick, when she remembers.  Even for shopping she wears her best clothes, which are her latest finds from Oxfam and the Red Cross shop.

shopping trolley

From previous experience, she reckons Sainsbury’s is hardly a great place to pull, except maybe a shopping trolley. But you never know, do you?

Yesterday she made Mr Jellicoe’s heart beat a little faster in the supermarket carpark.  

old persons crossingThere he was, looking like the man in the Elderly People Crossing sign, with a humungous carrier bag that clanked as he shuffled along. He still had his Lambrini habit then. He recognized Karen and got so close she could see his dentures moving. So she said she had to run. Which she did, like the wind.

Rose drains her glass. “You know what?”

Karen says nothing. ‘You know what?’ usually presages a really, really bad idea.

“I’ve got my cousin coming to stay next month. He’s a widower, and he’s not short of a few bob either. I don’t know why I didn’t think of him before.”

“What does he look like?” asks Karen, mostly to show interest.

“Actually, he’s not bad. I think you’ll really like him.”

Karen refills her glass. Yes, another really, really bad idea. But what’s there to lose? 

No Living Persons Were Harmed in the Writing of this Novel

Or were they?Jane Davis

You know that text at the beginning of every novel? The bit that reads, This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously? Let’s explore that. 

Here’s fellow author Jane Davis, whose novel An Unchoreographed Life is one of the seven in Outside the Box: Women Writing Women. As an avid student of human life, I’m often tempted to slip real  people into fiction. Jane Davis sounds warning bells. 

Pitfalls of Writing Fact-based Fiction

I hold up my hands. I am guilty of being a scavenger of facts. There is nothing more flattering than when, after reading one of my books, people tell me their extraordinary stories and say, ‘I’d like you to write about it’. As with An Unknown Woman, sometimes I borrow elements from personal accounts, a snap-shot here, an emotion there, a potent and heart-felt line, but never the whole.

Any author who wants to stay out of court should consider two main areas of the law.

Jane Davis at workLibel

Libel is a false statement presented as fact of and concerning a person that causes damage to their reputation. Unfortunately, pointing out that yours is a work of fiction may not be enough to protect you.

John Green added an ‘author’s note’ at the front of A Fault in Our Stars: “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up. Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.”

But not even this carefully-crafted statement would protect Green were a court to find that he had:

  • Included detail about a living person which enabled people who knew that person to recognise him or her, and
  • People who read what he had written about that person believed it to be true
  • The person suffered damage to reputation as a result

In 2009, a plaintiff was awarded $100,000 by a US court for a fictional portrayal that was recognisably her. The ‘Red Hat Club’ presented the plaintiff as a sexually promiscuous alcoholic. 

But even a case that doesn’t reach court can be hugely damaging, as author Amanda Craig discovered. In the mid-nineties, the publisher who had commissioned Vicious Circle – a satire that had been four years in the writing – pulled the plug. An ex-boyfriend Craig hadn’t seen for fifteen years (then a literary critic) had claimed that one of the book’s characters was based on him. All parties breathed a sigh of relief when the libel specialist consulted concluded that only ‘a lunatic’ would claim to be the character. But, when proofs were circulated, the ex-boyfriend sent the publisher a list of the similarities between him and the character, down to a pair of shoes he used to wear. Craig’s character was based on a number of men, one of whom was the ex-boyfriend. I am sympathetic. It is impossible to avoid writing what you know. A borrowed facial expression here, a quotation there. Dumped by her publisher, Craig again took legal advice, which thankfully only involved a handful of minor changes. A new deal negotiated and the novel was published, but for some time Craig lived with the worry that she might be sued.

The Right to Privacy Quote from Khaled Hosseini

So, you avoid falling into the trap of writing something potentially libellous by researching your subject thoroughly and only including events that you know to be true. You’re protected, right? Wrong.

Maria Bento Fernandes has been ordered to pay EUR 53,000 to her husband’s family (including her mother-in-law), after she revealed intimate details about their family life in her novel The Palace of Flies, published under a pen-name. When she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that hers was a work of fiction, they disagreed. A number of characters in her book were ‘exact replicas’ of her in-laws. However, rather than uphold the original decision, they ruled that the award should stand as the author had ‘failed to respect her in-laws’ right to a private life’. Christmas at the Fernandes will never be the same again.

A case reported on recently provides an interesting approach to counter-suing. Dr Brooke Magnanti published a blog about her life as a call-girl under the name Belle de Jour. At the time, she had a boyfriend who she referred to only as ‘The Boy’. But when the identity of Belle de Jour became well-known, her ex-boyfriend took her to court, claiming that his identity had also been exposed, that his privacy was breached and his reputation damaged. He also claimed that the book was based on fantasy and that Dr Magnanti had never really worked as a prostitute. And how does she react? It is reported that her defence team will counter-sue on the grounds that ‘The Boy’ has damaged her reputation by casting doubt on her life as a sex-worker.   

“But it’s MY story to tell”

Jane Davis in DorsetThat may well be true, but few of us live in isolation.

When I saw Esther Freud speaking about her autobiographic novel Hideous Kinky a few years ago, she admitted that she’d been surprised by her sister’s hurt reaction to some sections of the book, which she had felt to be about their relationship with their mother.

I have a sister who is less than a year older than me. As I know from her accounts of events from our childhood, my experiences were totally different. She disputes my versions. I believe each of us has our own truth. Memory is both subjective and can be affected by things that happen in between. As J M Coetzee is quoted as saying: “How can one even vouch for the truth of memories that are shared with no one else? 

Hilary Mantel said of telling her mother that she had written her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost: “What she heard was `I’ve written a book about you’”.

So if you must borrow from life, please be nice.

An Unknown Woman by Jane Davis

About Jane

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos.  She spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she had wanted after all. In search of a creative outlet, Jane turned to writing fiction. She cites the disciplines learnt in the business world as what helps her finish her first 120,000-word novel.

Her first, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Five self-published novels have followed: I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl, An Unchoreographed Life and now her latest release, An Unknown Woman. Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth.’

You can get that latest novel An Unknown Woman on Amazon by clicking right here.

Here is Jane’s website. She’s also on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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, do you put real ppl into your novels? Good advice from

What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander

I’m all in favour of egalitarian relationships, as I’m sure you are. Last week I blogged about how to annoy the hell out of your husband, so this week it’s only fair to cover the ways in which your other half can drive you round the bend.

If you dished it out, you’ve got to take it – right? So woman up and let your husband (partner, boyfriend, lover, whoever) do his worst. Here are some of his methods.

leaving the loo seat up

1 Battles in the bathroom. And no, leaving the toilet seat up doesn’t count. It’s just too predictable. Blokes can do far more infuriating things in bathrooms. Like locking the door and singing along to the radio at full volume, so he doesn’t hear you bashing with all your might, pleading to be let in before your bladder bursts.

Like leaving the bath-tap in the ‘shower’ position, so you get an impromptu soaking when you next try to run a bath.

Like using up the last of your megabucks-a-bottle sodium-free shampoo on his own barnet – and later refilling the bottle with the ordinary stuff. The kind that works like paint-stripper on your expensively Brazilian-straightened hair. 

sodium chloride free shampoo

2 Reveal that he’s much younger than you. There’s no going back with this one, because it’s the kind of thing people remember. Then, even if he’s barely a year or so younger, he’s forever known as your toy boy. For added impact, he may even tell people you’re older when it isn’t true.

3 Playing dumb. Poor lamb, he does get confused between your hairbrush and the cat’s.

brushes

As you can see, they look nothing like each other. Not to begin with, anyway.

He may also fail to distinguish between coasters and your favourite books. This one’s really challenging, since both are vaguely rectangular and can be found on tables.

coasters

coasters

not coasters

not coasters

Then he makes it tough to get angry because he wears an innocent face that plainly says, “I’m only a man. What do I know?”

4 Cooking fabulous meals. Which means using every single pan in the house, and leaving it in the sink. “I’ll do it later.” Course he will. Three days later.

5 Doing the laundry. This includes washing your cashmere socks in the machine. In case this hasn’t happened to you yet, I’ll tell you that this shrinks them to the size of baby socks and makes them as soft as a kitchen scourer.  There’s no option but to buy another pair. Which your other half will also put in the washing machine. “Just being helpful, darling.”

6 Being a duvet bandit. Like marriage, it all starts off equal, but come morning you’re hypothermic and sleep-deprived. Your side of the bed ends up like this.  

your side of the bed

I tried to photograph the other side, but I tripped over in two acres of duvet and sprained my ankle before I got a decent shot.

7 The final one, the ne plus ultra, without which no programme of annoyance would be complete, and frankly you may as well stick a couple of fingers down your throat.

He does this: totally amazes all your friends. Maybe he cooks them all a fabulous dinner (AND clears up afterwards). Then he sings YOUR praises to the skies, declaring that you’re prettier than Claudia Schiffer, smarter than Stephen Hawking, and funnier than Omid Djalili.

It’s totally sick-making, of course. But it reminds you that, despite the fact that he’s driven you round the twist, he’s a keeper. 

goose

How to Annoy the Hell out of Your Husband

Your own husband, obviously. It’s not nearly as much sport baiting your BFF’s bloke. I should mention that smug marrieds don’t have a monopoly on annoying, so all of the following apply equally to partners, live-in boyfriends, same-sex couples, etc.

It was comedian Rita Rudner who first said “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

with thanks to Ben Earwicker

with thanks to Ben Earwicker

Rudner may have said it in the 1990s, but driving each other nuts has been part of the pact since time immemorial. I’m surprised it doesn’t feature more often in marriage vows. Bottom line is, if you’re not annoying your OH, you’re doing it all wrong.

Here are 7 ways to do it right.

1 When he’s ill, tell him it’s psychosomatic. You can use this in multiple situations, eg something is bleeding or about to drop off, or it’s the dreaded Man Flu. Just make sure he’s unaware of research showing that high testosterone levels weaken the immune system (in other words, flu may really be more severe in men).

hat

2 There’s something far worse than man flu. Baldness. It’s a fear that goes back to Samson. All you have to do is glance at his bonce and say, “Don’t worry, dear. You can always wear a hat.” Careful, though. This one is irreversible. Even if he has a full mane of hair, you’ve planted a seed of doubt. After that, every time someone mentions hair or heads, a nervous hand will creep up to his scalp to check.

3 Be insufferably pedantic. “It’s not my fourth glass of wine. It’s exactly the same one I started out with.” Note that it’s more effective if you can say it without slurring your speech. Or falling over.

red wine

4 Move his stuff, like keys, the remote control or his favourite shoes. You’re not going to put them where they don’t belong. They’ll be in the right places for you. Just the wrong ones for him.  When he eventually finds whatever he’s looking for, he’ll give a sigh of relief and say “It’s always in the last place you look.”  Well, of course it is, you tut with a superior look (see 3).

5 Let the cat into his side of the wardrobe.  For best effect, it should be a long-haired breed, but any cat will do. Even a kitten can totally customize clothes within minutes. When he pulls out the trousers and announces that they’re ruined, completely ruined, FFS, you can, for additional impact, say you had no idea they still fitted him.

kitten

6  No list of strategies for annoying would be complete without bringing a mother-in-law into it. So tell him your mother is coming to stay. For extra shock value, try “My mother’s coming to live with us.” Caution: about 30% of people with heart attacks die before they reach hospital.

7 Here’s the coup de grace, the ultimate weapon: blog about him. That’ll do it.