Recap of The Bachelorette with Guest Blogger Anastasia Blabbergasted

What an absolute delight it is to welcome Anastasia Blabbergasted to Off the Beaten Track today. Those of you who have read The Dating Game will be familiar with Anastasia and for everyone else, Anastasia is well-known across the UK for writing witty recaps of reality TV shows for the online magazine, Feed Your Mind.

Welcome, Anastasia, and over to you!

Cast of The Bachelorette - 8 women and 8 men vying for Brooke, who is a 26-year old Indigenous woman centre of group, wearing a black gown.
Image from 10Play

Well, thank you, Sandy, and what an absolute treat to be invited back Down Under for another season of ‘love amongst the film crew’ – only instead of The Stag, this time I’ll be recapping The Bachelorette! Now for those who aren’t familiar, The Bachelorette riffs on the tried and tested format of The Stag, swapping out Pin Rituals for Rose Ceremonies, the Manor for a Mansion and Soirées for Cocktail Parties, but you get the gist. It’s a ‘reality’ show where one unlucky person seeks love amongst desperate, hopeless, attention-seeking hopeful contestants.

And this season’s Bachelorette (Bachina?) is attracted to both men and women, so we have eight of each – how fabulous!

Aside: With eight women in the Mansion who are attracted to women, will we see love amongst the contestants? I’m no mathematician but one Bachelorette divided by 16 contestants equals 15 disappointments (or a lot of blood and gore but this is a TV show, not a slasher movie). Or does it? Perhaps we will see some pairings amongst the cast offs. Isn’t that how Jamie-Lee ended up on this season – but let’s come back to that later.

We commence the season with our host, Osher (rhymes with Posher – and really, what is posher than an enormous velvet bowtie? No really … did he borrow it from his grandfather? I mean, I’m into retro fashion too, but I draw the line at wearing my nana’s bloomers), speaking ominously to camera as though he’s delivering a report on climate change. Oh dear. Perhaps he left all his enthusiasm in the Masked Singer studio. Come on Osher, buck up, it can’t be that bad. Surely, they are paying you a mint to wander about the Mansion casting forlorn looks and speaking in hushed tones.

We are so relieved when bubbly Bachina Brooke shows up that we immediately forgive that horrendous ‘Alexis Carrington called – she wants her gown back’ dress. No seriously, she’s 26 for crying out loud. Iris Apfel’s outfits are more youthful than this debacle. And please don’t get me started on the gloves! Does Halloween come early in Australia?

(Aside for Gen Y and Z readers: Alexis Carrington is a character from Dynasty, a night-time soap from the 80s, and she is an icon of 80s fashion for middle aged women of means. Go ahead and Google her. I’ll wait.)

Moving on!

The set is rather lovely with all those trellises covered in faux blooms – someone on the crew must be handy with a glue gun – and outdoor illumination that would make West End lighting designer proud. And aren’t the producers getting their money’s worth out of that drone! There are so many fly-over shots, I’m getting vertigo. Must be a b-i-t-c-h for the sound editors though.

A serious moment to acknowledge the beautiful Welcome to Country, with this recapper reaching for the tissues faster than you can say, ‘This show is sponsored by Kleenex.’ Truly extraordinary.

And now it’s time for our contestants to walk the red carpet. Aside: those ‘insider’ shots from the limousines are hysterical. Did they script those or are our contestants just well versed in awkward patter while holding aloft a bizarre prop and trying not to come across as desperate, bitchy or a bit of a muppet? I wonder.

A few standouts on the red carpet:

Bombshell Holly – honestly, I adore anyone who can slow dance like that and it looks like I’m not the only one. Brooke nearly called a halt to the whole proceedings. ‘Stop the show, I wanna get off … with Holly!’ Well done to the producers for trotting her out first!

Speaking of trotting … Emily shows up with a horse! Albeit a teeny one, but oh how I wish we’d seen the inside of her limo ride. How do you get a (teeny) horse into a limousine? More to the point, how do you get it out!

Carissa brings another tear to my eye – though I’m not sure if it’s her earnestness or concerns about how close we are to shifting from a PG to an R rating. Just one itty bitty sneeze and (literally) all will be revealed. Thank god those aren’t real flowers! Let’s just hope she’s not allergic to horses!

Darvid rolls up on a mower. I’m fairly certain the grass is as faux as the flowers, lovey, but you do you. And then they have tea! Zzzzzz. Oh, sorry – dozed off for a moment there. I’d love to know why the producers have turned the meet and greet into a parade of mini dates. Just imagine how many times those limousines are having to lap that circular driveway. No wonder Jess is tetchy. One bump in the road driveway and she’ll sprinkle that black velvet with icing sugar.

Aside: I wondered why anyone would bring a plate of brownies to the red carpet, but with Brooke sitting down to tea and building furniture while the others drive round in circles waiting for their turn, it was actually a spark of genius for Jess to bring a snack.

I’ve lost count by the time we get to the last man, but I think 7 out of 8 are carpenters. Very handy for when those trellises start to buckle under the weight of dried glue and silk flowers.

And I don’t often choose favourites – all right, I do – but I absolutely adore Konrad and here are the reasons why:

  • He’s ridiculously handsome in that boy-band-of-the-90s meets male model way
  • His million-watt smile could light up the Mansion should there be a power outage
  • No other man in the history of the world has ever made high visibility wear look so good (honestly, you could pop a fluorescent orange vest on Chris Hemsworth and even he wouldn’t be as gorgeous as Konrad)
  • He’s a perfect gentleman when Jess (in a totally cowish move) usurps his plan for the inaugural sitting on the love seat
  • He ridiculously handsome (have I already mentioned that?)

Beau – This poor chap is hilarious but, unfortunately, not on purpose. The only way he could be more narcissistic is if he showed up with a cardboard cut-out of himself as a gift to Brooke. It’s too bad he didn’t, as it would have had far more depth than he has. Fairly certain he won’t be around for long, which is a shame. Every season needs a buffoon – so entertaining.

The final standout on the red carpet would have to be Jamie-Lee – former contestant on The Bachelor, former Brooke bestie (though only distanced, not estranged) and former (potential) crush. No guessing who the plant is this season – plant as in ‘deliberately cast to ruffle feathers’ rather than foliage, though there is an awful lot of that, as I’ve mentioned.

And I’m (not) sorry, but her note to Brooke sounded like she was reading out bumper stickers while driving along the motor way. But you just be true to yourself and have faith in the universe, Jamie-Lee. You deserve every happiness – natch.

And then onto the Cocktail Party, which reminds me of Christmas lunch with the family – the menfolk huddled around the fire while the woman do all the work. There’s so much collective terror in their eyes, they look like fourteen-year-olds at a school dance. Meanwhile, the women are as bolshie as and line up to sweep Brooke off her feet faster than any of the men think to say, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but …’

The tete-a-tetes unfold in a series of handholding and relocating, each new pairing off to explore a different part of the garden as though we’re having a guided tour of the Chelsea Flower Show. The men eventually grow some … er … courage and some time around 3:00am (my best guestimate), the assembled hopefuls set down their (hideous) red and green champagne flutes (seriously, where did the producers get those? The £2 Shop’s post-Christmas sale?), and head to the Rose Ceremony.

Ah, yes, the Rose Ceremony – just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a faux flower left in all of Australia, this set will set you straight. It looks like a showroom at a funeral home.

Our contestants assemble in rows, as though readying for their class photograph, while Darvid of the ride-on mower holds aloft the ‘First Impression’ rose and tries to not to look smug. One by one, the producers whisper names in Brooke’s earpiece and with only a few hours to get to know the rest of the cast, she does a stellar job of remembering which one goes with which person. Finally, there is one man standing and we say goodbye to Johann – though, not a total loss as we still have six carpenters left.

So! At this early stage, who are the frontrunners for ‘Bride’ or ‘Groom’? I do think Jamie-Lee is one to watch, though she may have peaked too early by snatching that kiss at the Cocktail Party and she’s already showing signs of ‘jealous girlfriend’ with all those side-eyes at the others. Darvid is also an early front runner, but a sneak-peak at Episode 2 reveals an almost unforgiveable wardrobe choice – a 70s style turtleneck – ghastly.

So, I’d have to say Holly. She seems as smitten as Brooke and no doubt, she’s already choregraphing the bridal waltz when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Five books I wish I could read again for the first time

I love this thought experiment, which I have shamelessly stolen from Bookish Bron. What are the books I loved reading so much the first time, that I wish I could have that exact experience again?

Not surprisingly, the five books I’ve chosen are on my ‘favourite books of all time’ list, though that list is much longer than this one.

The Thorn Birds

Cover of The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
Rural image of a farm in outback Australia

Blurb

A sweeping family saga of dreams, titanic struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback, returns to enthral a new generation.

What I remember about my first read

I was far too young to read this book when I read it the first time – around twelve years old – but I got lost in it. The writing taught me so much about the depth of human feelings. I wanted to be Meggie, as wretched and heartbreaking as her life was. I’d even read excerpts aloud, playing both ‘parts’ and cutting my emerging acting teeth. My copy was dog-eared and by the time I left high school, I must have read it a dozen times.

I should go back to it.

The Bronze Horseman

Cover of The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Half a woman's face
Two tanks in background denoting the context of the book - the Russian Revolution

Blurb

The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

What I remember about my first read

My first full read happened after starting the book several times and not being able to get past the first chapter. Once I did, I could not put it down. Paullina Simons was inspired to write this story by the love story of her grandparents and this re-imagining is epic, heart-breaking, and often left me breathless. I was in constantly in awe of the characters’ courage, and I was utterly swept up by the love story, which was richly explored. And I found it impossible not to fall in love with Alexander. I wept at the end and impatiently waited for Simons to write the follow up (there are two).

The Goldfinch

Cover of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Painting 'The Goldfinch' obscured by paper wrapping; tear in the paper revealing only the bird in the painting

Blurb

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

What I remember about my first read

I spent most of this novel in awe of the prose – Tartt’s unique way of crafting a phrase or a description, the succinct but poignant way she conveyed human emotion. The story itself shifts in tone in a way that echoes the protagonist’s experiences and realisations in perfect, seamless harmony. It’s exquisite and definitely one I will re-visit after some more time has passed.

The Time Traveller’s Wife

Cover of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A young girl's legs; she is wearing knee socks and black shoes and is standing in a field
Next to her is a picnic blanket on which are stacked men's folded clothes and a pair of men's shoes

Blurb

A most untraditional love story, this is the celebrated tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.

What I remember about my first read

Sobbing constantly, intercut with laughter and swooning. I fell so in love with Henry and was so heartbroken every time he and Claire were separated, I was a wreck for the duration of this read. I also thought it was an absolute stroke of genius that Niffenegger stated the premise at the start of the book – that because of a genetic disorder, some people jump about in time. Once the premise is stated and accepted, it becomes ‘realism’ and she handles the ‘what if’ of time travel so perfectly, so humanely. God, I loved this book. And although I like both Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as actors, I watched about ten minutes of the film before turning it off.

Strangers

Cover of Strangers by Dean Koontz
Sign for the Tranquillity Motel on a lonely highway; hotel in background overshadowed by a large, red full moon

Blurb

Six strangers are unaccountably seized by nightmares, attacks of fear, and bouts of uncharacteristic behavior. The six begin to seek each other out as puzzling photographs and messages arrive, indicating that the cause may lie in a forgotten weekend stay at an isolated Nevada motel.

What I remember about my first read

There was a decade of my life in which I read every Dean Koontz book as soon as they came out. Strangers and Lightning are my favourite Koontz books – both because of the mind-blowing twists. The twist in Strangers was so epic, I went back and re-read the first ninety per cent of the book before finishing it. Just wow.

Drop your list below in the comments.

A year to remember

I created this meme several months ago and it turned out to be a perfect foil for the despondency I felt when the Premier of Victoria announced that we were going into the strictest pandemic lockdown in the world ― and not for a pre-determined amount of time, but (seemingly) indefinitely, until we reached zero cases for two solid weeks.

It seemed impossible ― impossible ― that we would ever achieve such a lofty goal, something no other city, region, state, or country had achieved after having such a proportionately high number of daily cases of COVID-19.

Like many others, I felt trapped, claustrophobic in my home, my city, even in the state of Victoria. I started house-hunting online, seeking a rental property in coastal and/or regional Australia ― for when they let us out.

But as we emerged from Winter, as the days started to get longer, and as we started to see results from our compliance with the newly-enacted laws, hope started to show its face again.

I had some saving graces during this time, aspects of my life for which I am extremely grateful, and I wanted to share those with you. I do want to say that I write this post knowing exactly how fortunate Ben and I are. Throughout 2020, we have remained healthy, our loved ones are (as I write this) safe and healthy, despite many of them living in hot zones, such as the UK and the US, and we retained our income and, subsequently, our home.

Space

Our apartment is in an older building in downtown Melbourne (older meaning 15+ years) and that means an expansive floorplan and enough separate spaces for two people to cohabitate 24/7 for months on end without getting (too much) in each other’s way.

I have a super splodge work station for my day job and writing (I commandeered the guest room after realising we would have exactly zero guests for the rest of the year), and we have a stunning view (2 angles, 2 different times of the day).

Exercise

I need to exercise ― it is critical to my mental wellbeing and with our gyms closed and time outside limited (or just super shitty weather in the dead of Winter), I relied on home workouts and riding my spin bike (so glad I bought it in March!). I’d tee up back seasons of The Great British Bake Off and ride and ride and ride ’til I was a sweaty mess. Pure escapism. And when I ran out out of British Bake Off I watched the Aussie version. When I ran out of that, onto the Canadians. Oddly, it’s highly motivating to cycle while watching people make cake. Don’t ask me why.

When the gym opened back up, I was there ― mask and all.

Date night

Once we realised we would be in lockdown for months, not weeks, we committed to a weekly date night. When you can’t leave the apartment, this means dressing in nice clothes (and makeup for me), putting on some music, cooking something special or ordering in from a local restaurant, opening a nice bottle of wine, and eating at the table (how novel!).

Date nights reminded us that although we saw each other all day every day, we are still each other’s person. He’s the love of my life, the man who makes me think and smile and laugh out loud, who thinks of me and cares for me and lets me do the same for him. I chose him and he chose me and that doesn’t go away, no matter how much time we spend together.

(I love you, babe)

Getting out and about

We were allowed out. We could walk together for up to an hour a day (with masks). We could bike ride (without masks!). And at one point, we could have a socially distanced picnic in the park with our besties. And we took those opportunities to get outside, breathe fresh air, get a different perspective, and just be out. And, I have to say, our ‘hood, Docklands, is just gorgeous, which is great food for the soul.

Consuming creative content

People are clever ― really clever ― and a massive saving grace for me this year has been watching, listening, and reading other people’s creations (and not just Bake Off). I’ve watched entire television series from the beginning ― new, new to me, and old faves. I’ve watched films, concerts, plays, documentaries, and cast reunions. I’ve listened to podcasts, concerts, pop, classical, rock, techno ― really, just name it. And I have read a few dozen books this year ― mostly chicklit, some histfic, and (my fave) crime thrillers.

Busy, busy, busy!

For me, this year was not a time for much introspection. Perhaps 2021 will bring me the mental and emotional space to look inwards, but as well as voraciously consuming content, I’ve been creating it. I’ve published 3 books since the start of lockdown (including all the editing, marketing, and social media that go along with publishing a book). I’ve finished a work-in-progress and have nearly finished a book I started in August (my 5th and 6th books).

For me, lockdown meant ‘head down’. I threw myself into my work ― the ultimate distraction from a world on fire. I know this was not the case for a lot of authors, but for someone unwilling to spend much time on proper introspection (something I tend towards when the world is not on fire), it was an excellent panacea. With my fulltime job in online learning (and didn’t our industry pick up exponentially this year?) and authoring, it was typical for me to be at my desk 12 hours a day and most of the day on weekends. Work was an excellent distraction.

Publication day celebrations:

I’m in WA now (Western Australia), where we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to for the holidays. Spending time with our family and friends in my home state has been our ultimate reward for what has been an unforgettable year.

And when they ask how we survived it, there is one simple answer: together.

Where I was when Princess Diana died

I’ve watched The Crown since it started. Until now, season one was my favourite, with Claire Foy doing an exquisite job of portraying the young monarch. Then came season four.

I’m only a few episodes in, but with the incredible Emma Corrin having perfected Princess Diana’s voice, posture, and mannerisms, I’m finding myself overly emotional every time she is on screen.

You see, I loved Diana.

From afar, of course like most people, but she was … I cannot put into words what it was like growing up with her as an icon – of femininity, sure, but also of compassion, bravery, and humanity. She was an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. I admired her and, yes, from afar, I loved her.

I was touring when she died – running a five-week tour for fifty 18-35 year olds and we were in Austria when the news broke the morning after a brilliantly fun dress up party.

This is an excerpt from my travel diary:

The kitchen was oddly quiet, only one rep, John, there preparing breakfast instead of the six or seven I expected. I asked where everyone else was and he casually replied, ‘Oh, haven’t you heard? Diana’s dead.’ Diana, who? I thought.

‘Diana who?’ I voiced aloud, still nowhere near connecting the dots.

‘The Princess.’ He continued his preparations, seemingly unaware of the bombshell he’d just dropped, so I thought he must be joking.

‘That isn’t funny, John.’

He stopped what he was doing and looked at me. ‘No, I’m serious.’

‘Well, you’d better be bloody serious, because I’m about to walk in there and tell fifty people,’ I said, indicating the dining room where my tour group was having breakfast.

‘It’s true, listen.’ He switched on the radio and the announcer was, of course, speaking German, but I could make out, ‘Prinzessin Diana ist tot,’ and had enough of the language under my belt to understand – the language at least. I still couldn’t comprehend the meaning of those words.

I fiddled with the dial on the radio, hoping to find an English speaking station, and finally found the BBC. ‘Diana, Princess of Wales, has been confirmed dead, killed overnight in an automobile accident in a tunnel in Paris.’

Well, there was no mistaking that.

Princess Diana was dead.

Without another thought, I walked through the swinging doors to the dining room and called for quiet, not looking at any of their faces. Some people still spoke, and I shouted, ‘Listen!’ I never spoke to my group like this and the tone of my voice must have conveyed the seriousness of the situation. There was immediate silence.

My eyes locked on the tiled floor, I said, ‘Last night, Princess Diana was in a car accident in Paris. She died.’ No one spoke, or maybe they did, but I choked back a sob and pushed back through the swinging door into the kitchen, vaguely aware that some of the people on my tour followed me, consoling me then crowding around the radio.

My sister! Victoria lived in London and she would be distraught. I needed to call her. It would be expensive, but she’d need me.

My fingers were shaking as I dialled the number and I made a mistake and had to start again. She answered sleepily on the third ring. ‘Hello?’

‘Hi, it’s me. Are you okay?’

‘Yes. Did you call me at 7:30 in the morning just to ask me that?’

She doesn’t know, I thought. ‘Vic, have you heard the news?’

‘What news?’ Oh, god.

‘It’s bad, Vic. Princess Diana died last night.’

Her screams, then her wailing, were so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. Tears streamed down my face and I caught the eye of several others who were also crying. I wiped my nose on my sleeve and someone handed me a napkin.

When Vic calmed down enough to talk to me – I could hear the news blaring from her TV in the background – I made her promise to call someone so she wouldn’t be alone and we hung up.

I made my way back into the dining room where someone had turned on the TVs, all tuned to BBC news. Fifty of us – give or take – sat either in silence or sharing quiet murmurs as we watched footage from Paris – the mangled car, the tunnel, and the security footage of Diana and Dodi al Fayed leaving the hotel. And scenes of the thousands of people converging on central London bearing flowers, cards, and signs, and wearing their grief for all to see.

I both could and couldn’t believe it.

The following days of the tour – we were only about 3 weeks in – were spent scouring English newspapers and watching newscasts where possible. As we headed towards the last leg of the tour, I had to tell the same group that Gianni Versace had been murdered outside of his house in Miami, and then on the last day of the tour, that Mother Teresa had died. A few people thought I might be joking – too many sad announcements for the same group – but no.

That day also happened to be the day of the cortege, September 6th. In the late afternoon, as we drove into London, it was like a ghost town. I had never seen the city deserted before and likely wouldn’t again. It was eerie, disturbing, and unsteadying.

At the hotel, we said our goodbyes – for most of us, long and tearful and I felt especially close to this group. Alone in my room, I watched a replay of the full cortege, my heart breaking as I watched 12-year-old Harry and 15-year-old William walking behind their mother’s casket, that handwritten card on top, the envelope reading, ‘Mummy’. Those brave, brave boys.

Why was I so sad? Why had the death of a woman I didn’t know affected me so acutely?

I think it was especially tragic, as she finally seemed happy. She’d endured a trying marriage, and she’d been in the spotlight for her entire adult life, enduring scrutiny and criticism for every move she made. Yet she’d emerged more beautiful than ever, as though a light had been switched on inside her. That she should die at 36, at the beginning of her newfound life, was a cruel twist of fate.

Image by Mario Testino

Someone on the tour said, ‘This will be our Kennedy.’ That was true then and still is today.

Catching up with Author Daisy Tate

Today I welcome the lovely Daisy Tate for an author catch-up, whose latest book is A Bicycle Built for Sue.

We’ll find out more about Sue later. First let’s catch up with Daisy

Tell us what inspired you to write A Bicycle Built for Sue?

In all honesty, I came up with the title first. I’ve been on a couple of cycling tours myself and found them incredibly difficult, not just because of the physical challenges, but because of the thinking time. I’d also been on a charity run recently (I promise you, I’m not a gifted athlete, just too up for a challenge!) and everyone had on shirts saying why or who they were running the race for and I was in floods of tears for most of the race because I was making up stories for absolutely everyone. I don’t want to give anything away, but I narrowed it down to Sue (fictional, of course), and her story is about a woman reeling in the wake of a personal tragedy. She finds help and support from a trio of women she least expects, who crowd round and keep her head above water. It’s something I have found to be true on numerous occasions when you’re blindsided by loss or heartache of some variety. And yes, sometimes the people you expect to help do, but sometimes they don’t and it’s always interesting to see who steps in to lend a hand when you need it most.

When did you start writing seriously?

I started writing seriously about six years ago. I’d had lots of stop/starts along the way, but my husband and I had moved out of London to a farm and I found, particularly in the winter, I needed some intellectual stimulus. So, I thought, ‘Get yourself to a keyboard!’

What do you love most about being an author?

The surprises that blossom along the way. I love writing dialogue and sometimes something will come out of someone’s mouth and I’m all … whaaaaaaat? You’re saying that now? To them? I write almost every day but those moments definitely stand out as extra special ones. I also LOVE hearing from readers. I read a review recently where the reader thought she wasn’t going to like the book because it was ‘too relatable’ (the dark parts) but she persisted and said by the end she’d actually felt more hopeful about her own situation. Those kind of moments are amazing.

What are you working on now?

I have an alter ego – Annie O’Neil – who writes Christmas books, and I’ve just put the finishing touches on this year’s book, A Miracle on Christmas Street. It’ll be out later this month. I also have, and I’m not kidding, about ten pitches I’m polishing up for my agent and editor to see if any of them appeal. I love them all and can’t pick, so I’m definitely going to need an outside eye to help me home in on just the one.

What do you hope readers will take away from A Bicycle Built for Sue?

I hope, most of all, that they know they’re not alone, that no matter how sad or lonely or desperate or isolated someone can feel, there is ALWAYS someone there. They may not come in the package you expected, but they will be there. It’s not a mandate to join a charity cycle ride, but I have taken part in a few charitable events (even wiggling a tin in front of a grocery store) and it’s always rewarding. Most of all, I would like readers to take away a belief that everyone is stronger than they think they are and deeply, deeply lovable.

That is lovely, Daisy, and such a good reminder to us all.

Here’s the blurb for A Bicycle Built for Sue

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquillity into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

Get is here: Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon US

Follow Daisy: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Website

Thanks for the catch-up, Daisy! Looking forward to your (Annie’s) Christmas book too!

Why Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show

I have a confession. I came very late to the Schitt’s Creek party, but in doing so, it has proven to be the perfect isolation viewing―and I consumed all six seasons in a matter of months. It was like molten chocolate for my brain.

schitts_creek_cast

But that’s not what this blog post is about.

Schitt’s Creek is the perfect TV show for a romantic comedy author, and here’s why…

[SPOILER ALERT: I will be as judicious with spoilers as possible, but if you hate them entirely, stop reading now.]

Character arcs

Having devoured the entire series over a short period of time―seriously, how did early adopters wait out those long periods of no new episodes for the past 6 years?―the character arcs were heightened for me.

When we meet the Roses, they have just lost their billion-dollar empire to a Ponzi scheme and when they realise they ‘bought’ a town in the middle of nowhere on a lark―just because the name was funny―Schitt’s Creek―they move there. They take up residence in two adjacent motel rooms, parents in one and adult children in the other, as though they are not in their late-20s and early-30s.

The Roses are spoilt, entitled, vacuous, and completely unlikeable―fish out of water in the most perfect, beautiful way.

What ensues over the course of 6 seasons is an unveiling of humility, humanity, and tight familial bonds. And, as a viewer, you come to love them all.

I posted recently about ‘Writing the Unlikeable Character‘ and there are two factors that are key in winning over the reader or viewer.

First, the character―initially repellent―must transform. They must self-reflect, learn lessons, and decide they want to be a better person.

Second, we must see the character’s vulnerabilities, their motivations and objectives, the backstory that explains why they are the way they are. It’s the chinks in the armour that that endear these characters to us as readers or viewers.

Schitt’s Creek accomplishes this perfectly.

I cried so many times watching this show, but here are some fave moments of vulnerability.

  • Moira and the Jazzagals singing unexpectedly at Alexis graduation
  • Johnny seeing how hurt Stevie is by the travelling Lothario and treating her just like he’d treat his own daughter
  • Patrick singing ‘You’re Simply the Best’ to David and tears streaming down David’s face
  • Alexis and Ted’s ‘I love you’ dinner at the cafe in Season 6

The final episode of the series had me weeping. I loved these characters entirely and I championed their happiness.

Character arcs―booyah! This show is like a masterclass.

Comedy

I love a good ensemble, character-driven comedy (Brooklyn 99 is a fave) but (for me) what sets this show apart from others is that all four lead actors―and many of the supporting actors―are, quite simply, comic geniuses.

Their skills as actors lead to authentic comedy. There aren’t snazzy rim-shot one-liners, there’s no need for a laugh track. It is just hilarious. I laughed aloud―like a proper, throw my head back laugh―every episode.

The comedy in Schitt’s Creek comes from the whole (character) self―the vocal tones and intonations, the facial expressions, the gestures and postures, the pauses―as much as it comes from the lines.

Though the lines are brilliant.

David to Moira after she is insensitive to Alexis’ break-up: “I have never heard someone say so many wrong things one after the other, [pause] consecutively, [pause] in a row.” You can get that quote on a T-shirt. But what makes the line is the pause Daniel Levy (as David) incredulously takes before he says it, the pauses in the line to drive home David’s meaning, and the horror on his face. Genius.

Catherine O’Hara’s Moira is incredibly funnyher appearance, her dialogue, her gait, the intonation of her bizarre affected accent. There’s a whole compilation on YouTube of every time she says ‘baby‘. I laugh when she appears on screen, girding my comic loins for whatever is to come.

Moira

And Alexis’ posture, gestures and facial expressions, Johnny’s raised eyebrows and confused smileall of these comic nuggets is a masterclass in developing a fully-fleshed-out comedic character.

As a writer of romcoms, I aim to pepper my stories with authentic comedy―the humour coming from the ridiculous real-life situations that make us laugh at ourselves, either in the moment or in retrospect. And I can enhance comedic moments by hitting on all the details that make them up, not just the dialogue―just like in Schitt’s Creek.

Romance

Romantic love is one of the dominant themes in Schitt’s Creek.

At the heart of the show is the great love affair of Johnny and Moira―forty years and counting―and every time Moira mentions how they met, or remembers a romantic interlude, her eyes sparkle.

And, surely, only someone who is completely in love with Moira would be as patient and loving towards her as Johnny is. Moira tells Alexis, when she’s facing a love conundrum, that she and Johnny work so well despite their differences, because they want the best for each other and they love and respect each other. Swoon.

[Major spoiler]Patrick is the perfect love interest for David. Their love story is so romantic, so genuine, that when David doubted he was worthy of Patrick’s love, I wanted to reach into the TV and shake him. These are two people who truly see each other, and they are both better people for the love they share. Swoon.

first kiss_0

[Major spoiler]Watching Alexis fall in love was like watching a toddler take their first steps. Her relationship with Ted begins superficially―he’s the hottest guy in town, so ‘obvs’ she is going to pair up with him. It’s only when she loses him that she realises how kind, thoughtful, generous and incredible he is. When she gets a second chance, she does everything she can not to screw it up―including agreeing to live overseas in a tent―and ultimately realises that she loves him enough to let him go. Selfless, real, and heartbreaking love. Swoon and sob.

Even Roland and Jocelyn are madly in love, which provides it’s own comedy, because, really, Jocelyn? Roland???

At some point (probably soon, as we have just gone into our second lockdown here in Melbourne) I will start at the beginning and watch it all again―this time with fresh eyes as a masterclass in the romantic comedy genre.

 

 

 

Romance Tropes Part 2: The Love Triangle

Earlier this year I wrote about the ‘Enemies to Lovers‘ trope in romcoms and today I’m tackling a trope that, for some readers, is a HUGE turn-off. How do I know that some readers vehemently dislike the love triangle trope? Because I’ve written a love triangle and have learnt* that for some readers, a love triangle equates to cheating―regardless of the circumstances.

Also, this is the most popular post defining ‘love triangle’ from the Urban Dictionary:

Love Triangle

So, let’s dig in.

Simply, as the Urban Dictionary’s indicates, a love triangle is when the main character has genuine romantic feelings for two other characters.

Where I think a good love triangle diverges from this definition is that it is possible for 2 out of 3 people to end up happy. As I write romcoms, this is critical―readers want a ‘happily ever after’ at the end of the main character’s journey.

Another key ingredient to a good love triangle is when each love interest brings out something special in the main character―that both relationships lead to that character’s growth.

One of my favourite love triangles (ever) is from Bridget Jones’s Diary (book and film series).

BJD

Daniel Cleaver is the sexy bad boy who awakens Bridget’s sexuality, sassiness and grit―a downturn in their relationship prompts her to quit her ho-hum job and get into television. And, of course, Mark D’Arcy is the curmudgeon, who despite all outward appearances tells Bridget he likes her ‘just the way you are’ (swoon). Bridget is transformed by her relationships by both men, gaining both confidence and self-acceptance.

Aside: the third book in the trilogy is extremely different from the 3rd film and (I think) vastly better.

In Sweet Home Alabama, which also explores the enemies to lovers trope, Melanie is engaged to Andrew (Patrick Dempsey) and returns home to Alabama to secure a divorce from Jake (Josh Lucas), who she married when they were just out of high school.

SHA

[SPOILER] Melanie learns that she’s her truest self when she’s with her soon to be ex-husband and, yes, she shares a kiss with him while still engaged to Andrew, but her ‘cheating’ is far from malicious. She realises that she has genuine feelings for each man and must decide what ‘happily ever after’ means to her.

The television show Younger explores a love triangle over multiple seasons (currently 6 and soon to be 7).

the-everygirl-younger-triangle-fictional-love-triangles

Liza, 40, masquerades as a 20-something to get a job in publishing and has a relationship with the much younger Josh, who knows her real age and doesn’t care about the age difference, and the age-appropriate Charles, who thinks she is 20-something and is, ironically, concerned about the age difference.

Liza oscillates between these two relationships over the multiple seasons, only rarely ‘cheating’ on one when she is officially with the other. It’s a moral dilemma for her as well as a romantic one, because she loves them both and doesn’t want to hurt either man―though, of course she does. This is a love triangle and someone always gets hurt in a love triangle.

In the 1st book of The Holiday Romance series, One Summer in Santorini, Sarah meets and falls for 2 very different men.

Each brings out something different in her. With the older James, she sees herself in a new light―that her ‘heart on her sleeve’ approach to life and the hopeful way she enjoys simple pleasures, make her immensely lovable, something she has never quite believed about herself.

With the younger Josh, she sees how ‘stuck’ she is in her own life and she learns that she has the power to transform it. She needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and participate fully in her own life.

Sarah has genuine feeling for them both and wants to figure out which man―if either―is the right man for her, and in A Sunset in Sydney [NO SPOILERS], we find out.

But along the way, she is in a relationship with both men. This is the core of the love triangle I’ve written and while some readers balk at Sarah’s ‘cheating’, it is never malicious, and being duplicitous about her two relationships makes her uneasy. It should also be said that there is no commitment to either man until the end of Sarah’s love triangle story.

Lastly, I wanted to share my fave love triangle romcom series by Lindsey Kelk, the Tess Brookes series, in which Tess’s love pendulum swings between Charlie, her longtime crush, and Nick, the brooding journalist.

18888251._SY475_

Fair warning, it does take 3 books to find out who, if either, she ends up with but it’s a fabulous ride!

‘Til next time, happy reading and if you have a fave fictitious love triangle, drop in in the comments.

*By ‘learnt’ I mean that I’ve read some ‘passionate’ reviews of my books saying just this.**

**Maybe if you hate a trope so passionately, don’t read books based on that trope. 😉

Writing the “unlikeable” character

LB
Initially unlikable, but utterly loveable―Elle from Legally Blonde

I’m currently writing my fifth book and my sixth main character―the maths doesn’t add up, because one book has three main characters and two books have the same main character. Anyway …

I am hyper aware that my current main character is, based on her role as a supporting character in another book, “unlikeable”―so much so, that when I mentioned to a friend who I was writing about, she cringed.

So, why write this character? Why give her a whole book?

In short, it’s because I love her.

I love the hard, prickly exterior she uses to mask a lifetime of being terrified of vulnerability. I love that, once she does care about someone, she is fiercely loyal and generous. I love that she is feisty and bold, independent and resourceful.

I love that, just like the rest of us, she is complex and a mass of contradictions, and that there are clear reasons why she is like she is.

I am about 80% into the book, and I’m enjoying watching her grow. There are moments she has, where she realises something about herself, or where her heart fills, and I am proud of her―this imaginary person.

And I’m realising as I write, that the through-line of this book is compassion―for oneself, for others. She may not be likeable to every reader right away, but as the layers strip away, she is/becomes a beautiful human being. How many times have we met someone who irked us, and through compassion, we’ve realised that there is more going on than their exterior, that we could love them or let them into our lives?

I’ve said before that I know my books won’t be for every reader. My first three books are about the Parsons sisters, Sarah and Cat. For some readers, these characters read as “immature”―”how can these women be in their thirties?”―and for those readers, Sarah and Cat are unlikeable because of their immaturity. But I stand by them as believable, because in many ways, Sarah is a lot like a thirty-something Sandy―sometimes whiny, often witty, confused about love, and trying to find her way.

But what’s important to me as a writer, is that these realistic, perhaps unlikeable women, transform. I want my books to be about growing, learning, opening the heart, and transformation.

And in real life, imagine how dull it would be if every person we met was instantly likeable, if no one rubbed us up the wrong way, or disagreed with us, or challenged us to see ourselves in a new light. How would we grow? How would we develop compassion and understanding? I posit that we wouldn’t.

So, even if you initially find a character unlikeable, give them a chance to reveal themselves, to become their true, loveable selves―just like Elle.

 

 

Romance Tropes Part 1: Enemies to Lovers

I was thinking about romcoms recently – films, rather than books – and I realised that some of my absolute faves are those based on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope.

Boy meets girl, she thinks he’s a dick. He thinks she’s stuck up. Hilarity and, eventually, love ensue.

For this trope to work, however, those initial perceptions have to be just a little bit true – he is a bit of a dick and she is a little stuck up – but both traits are about self-preservation. As the audience or reader, we see that each character’s exterior self is a defence mechanism.

And, as we’re familiar with the trope, we just know these characters will shed those prickly layers because they’ve met the other person.

Some of the best romantic comedy films do this perfectly.

  • French Kiss (Kate and Luc)
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (Andie and Ben)
  • Overboard (Annie/Joanna and Dean)
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (Kat and Patrick)
  • Sweet Home Alabama (Melanie and Jake – also a ‘lovers reunited’ story)
  • Clueless (Cher and Josh)
  • The Proposal (Margaret and Andrew – although he’s not a dick; he’s kinda terrific, actually)

Even Harry and Sally, the main characters in a ‘friends to lovers’ story start out as enemies. He’s an arrogant dick. She’s a snooty cow. They become friends, then lovers, but this film – the perfect romantic comedy and my favourite ever – leans heavily on the ‘enemies to lover’ trope.

Engaging with the other person brings out something special in each character. Sally sees Harry’s vulnerable side, getting at the root of his arrogance, and drawing out his better self. Harry appreciates something in Sally that no one else does, and she can be her truest, best self with him.

French Kiss – definitely in my top 5 romcoms – explores the depths of the trope. Yes, it is a lighthearted comedy, but when Kate and Luc are offered (very appealing) alternatives to each other (spoiler) they realise that they have fallen in love – the uptight American and the dodgy Frenchman. And (more spoilers) if that last shot of them kissing passionately in a vineyard doesn’t warm your romantic cockles, perhaps nothing will.

In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Andie and Ben are unknowingly pitted against each – enemies of circumstance – yet loves conquers all. And yes, Andrew in The Proposal is an unwitting victim to Margaret’s arrogance and entitlement – so bending the trope slightly – but they are still at cross-purposes for much of the story. By pretending to be with Andrew, Margaret’s vulnerable side shines through.

Admittedly, although I love this trope, I have yet to write it.  Wait! I have an idea …

What’s in a (character) name?

writer-1421099_1280

As an author, choosing names can be one of the most fun aspects of writing or one of the trickiest.

An author can spend hours on baby name generators, or genealogy and history sites to come up with the perfect names―not only for their main characters, but every supporting character, the names of towns, and even fabricated company names. As an author, I’ve even ‘borrowed’ names from my friends, family and former students.

But why is naming so hard? For me, there are a few reasons.

Names are subjective and (often) have personal connotations for the reader

As a former schoolteacher, there are some names that I won’t touch with a barge pole, simply because they elicit memories of difficult students. Those names may be completely innocuous to most readers, but as I’ll spend the most time with my characters, they make the ‘no go’ list.

The same goes for names with varying ‘heat levels’. If I’m naming a sexy love interest, are some names off limits? Is Milo a hot guy’s name or a hot drink from Australia? Where will my readers land on Rupert (no for me) or Henry (yes for me―but only because of Cavill)?

And while I am a huge Keanu fan―and of course there are quite a few Keanu’s out there in the world, especially ones born after The Matrix came out in ‘99―it’s just too evocative of the Keanu that it’s on the ‘no go’ list too.

Names are ‘fashionable’ and ‘unfashionable’

As we know, names go in and out of fashion, with some names circling back onto the ‘fashionable’ list every other decade or so.

After the film, Splash, came out in the mid-80s, the most popular girls’ name for years was ‘Madison’―simply because a mermaid named herself after Madison Avenue in New York. Until then it was just a last name, but it might be perfect for a character born in the 80s.

And writers of historical fiction are limited even further. There probably weren’t (m)any Kylies or Kylos in the 1800s. As an aside, I have so much respect for historical fiction authors―all that research!

Names have to ‘fit’ the character

I’ve heard this from other authors, so I know I’m not the only one to do it, but sometimes I will choose a name for a character and as I am writing, I realise it doesn’t ‘fit’―that they are not an ‘Eleanor’, but more of a ‘Susan’. Of course, this ties back to my first point about names having connotations, but the name must suit the personality of the character, as it is one of the tools an author uses to evoke their characteristics.

In my 4th book, one of the characters is an actor and I’ve given him a stage name―his mother’s maiden name as his first name. And I got her maiden name from researching last names from Oxfordshire. I tried combinations of last names until I got one that just evoked ‘international film star’.

And many authors I know will name the villain or the antagonist after someone they’ve encountered in real life. It makes me wonder if there really was a ‘Hannibal’ in Thomas Harris’s life, when he penned The Silence of the Lambs.

When naming comes easily

Sometimes naming isn’t hard, like when a character arrives in my head (almost) fully formed, including their name. And some names are an homage to someone special.

In my 4th book, there are three main characters―best friends―and all their names begin with ‘L’, Lauren, Lisa, and Lucy. I have special friends with those names and writing their names into a book is a lovely way of honouring them. Even naming minor characters after people I know can a fun way to include them in my work.

So, next time a character’s name lands with you perfectly, or rubs you the wrong way, just know that the author may have agonised over that choice. And ask yourself if it hit or missed the mark because one of the reasons I’ve mentioned here.

Originally posted on Portable Magic as a stop on my blog tour for That Night in Paris.