Playing for Love with Jeevani Charika

Playing for Love is the laugh-out-loud new romantic comedy from Jeevani Charika! Here she joins us to tell us what inspired Sam and Luke’s love story.

Playing For Love was inspired almost entirely by a children’s cartoon called Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir. My daughter watched it when she was in primary school. She grew out of it, I didn’t. When I confessed to loving the show on Twitter I discovered that there are a lot of mums who are hooked on it for the same reason I was.

The thing that kept me glued to Ladybug and Cat Noir wasn’t the crime fighting superhero antics, but the desperate love square between the main characters. Marinette is secretly Ladybug, Adrien is secretly Cat Noir. Marinette loves Adrien … who considers her to be just a friend. He won’t see her as anything more because as Cat Noir, he’s in love with Ladybug. They keep missing out on finding out the truth and it is brilliant. So much pining!

I decided I needed more of that in my life, so I tried to think of a way to make it work in a contemporary romance. Since superheroes are a bit of stretch, I ended up with online secret identities instead. So, Blaze and Bravura were born.

Then, I needed two stories – one online, one in real life (why do something simple, when you can make life difficult for yourself, right?). Luke (aka Blaze) was in love with Sam in real life and she had a massive fan-girl crush on Blaze in the game. Neither of them knows the other’s secret identity.

I set the real life part in a startup incubator, partly because when I used to work in a university (I’m an IP officer for the day job), we shared a building with a lot of tiny, tiny (often one person) startups. I got to talk to people about their fledgling companies. I loved the ‘anything is possible’ atmosphere there and wanted to capture some of that in this book.

I made Sam’s business handbag related, which meant I had to spend a lot of time looking at handbags on Pinterest. I managed not to buy any new bags – which took some effort, because the Kate Spade site is lethal on the wallet.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I have children and I’ve sat through many YouTube game videos with them. Blaze’s non-swearing, child friendly YouTube channel was completely inspired by Stampy Longnoses’s Lovely World. Luckily for me, my kids and my friends’ kids were more than happy to talk to me about gaming YouTubers and conventions and cosplay.

Since I read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, I decided to make the game a fantasy quest type video game. This meant that I got to write a lot of really fun action scenes with unusual things for them to fight – dragons, carnivorous plants, murder sloths. I got to let my imagination run riot and I had an absolute blast.

Everything else came from wondering why the characters were the way they were. Once I start writing, the characters feel like real people and I feel like I’m ‘discovering’ them. I  realised that Sam’s handbag obsession was linked to the memory of her late mother. As soon as I worked that out, I knew I was writing about grief and becoming an adult who is different from your parents. It meant that her feelings for Blaze were tied up with how she handled her grief, which made it all the more complicated. For Luke, his gaming is about escape – as it is for many people. He insists that his online persona is separate from his real life because otherwise, it wouldn’t be an escape. He has to learn that not everyone sees things that way.

All this sounds terribly logical, like I’d worked it all out before I wrote it. I wish!  In reality, I had a rough idea of both storylines, but there was a lot of flailing around working things out as I wrote. Some things didn’t fully join up until the editing stage.

So there you have it – from inspiration to end product, it was a process of taking something familiar, twisting it a tiny bit, and then staring hard at the various bits of flotsam that floated into view. Once I’d spent enough time with it, they all felt like they had been part of the story all along.

Playing for Love is out now! Available here for just 99p.

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