First of all, can I say what a total joy it is to be part of a book club which talks about books you actually want to read. A couple of years ago, some very kind friends invited me to join something called Shakespeare club and I agreed instantly because I love them all very much, but I failed to appreciate what a feeble contributor I’d make. Every six weeks or so, we gather to discuss one of Shakespeare’s plays (in the old days when gathering was still permitted). From King Lear to Macbeth, Titus Andronicus to Cymbeline and all the Henrys (there are a LOT of Henrys), each play is discussed in minute and intelligent detail by the others while I sit mute, drinking wine. I have almost never read any of the plays beforehand because Shakespeare was an immensely clever chap but you don’t absolutely want to fall into bed with a copy of Hamlet, do you? Normally I try and bluff my way through the evening having read the play’s Wikipedia page beforehand, but I’m not sure I’m fooling anyone.
So, this new HQ book club is a wonderful and very exciting thing. I mean, I’ll probably still fib from time to time and pretend I’ve read a book when I haven’t, but at least I’ve read my own books a few times and know them fairly well.
Which brings me to the topic of funny, escapist fiction and how much we need it right now. Whenever anybody asks me what sort of books I write, I reply with a quip. I’m British, after all; making self-deprecating jokes about myself is the law. ‘Romantic comedies,’ I tell them, ‘they’re probably not going to win the Booker Prize but I just hope they make people laugh.’ It’s partly the snobbery of the book world that makes me feel as if I have to say this, that I should play down my books because romantic comedies are viewed as much more frivolous than certain other books. ‘Chick lit’ is another term that’s often used sneeringly these days, a phrase that’s supposedly fallen out of fashion, although I’m pretty chuffed whenever anybody uses it to refer to my books. I’m chick lit! I’m a form of lit! Great news!
Because who cares about winning any sort of prize if you can just make people laugh? That’s what I reckon. I’m never more tickled than when a reader gets in touch to say they’ve laughed reading one of my books. It makes my heart fizz with pride. And if you can forget the chaos going on around us at the moment, lose yourself in a book and laugh for even just a few minutes, that’s a major achievement. Why punish yourself in lockdown by deciding it’s the moment to read that thick classic you’ve never got around to, when you could pick up Beth O’Leary’s glorious The Flatshare or a Mhairi McFarlane, one of Sarah Morgan’s or Sophie Kinsella’s? Or even What Happens Now? which is my second book and has a few good jokes in it (I think?), as well as an amusing scene involving a breast pump. You’d never get that in Shakespeare, would you?