Why I Wrote…Girlfriend, Interrupted

2002: Step-girlfriending in full sh-wing!

Girlfriend, Interrupted, was inspired after becoming part of a stepfamily at twenty-five. I’d been single for three years. Graduated from University the year before, and hadn’t spent much time with children since my childhood… Overnight, weekends and holidays became strictly PG. I abandoned high heels and hangovers, in favour of cooking nutritious, family meals, and knowing the dates of School holidays. While Girlfriend, Interrupted isn’t based on actual events, real-life experience felt like advantage, so I held off making it my first novel.

I put Ella through her paces as a coming-of-age heroine for every step-something, out there. The highs and lows of any family are ripe for satire, but as Ella discovers, family hierarchies are unique, unless disclosed or experienced. While this was a playground for writing Comedy, I wanted to bring insight into the practicalities, emotional conflict, and subtle politics, of sharing responsibility for a child. You don’t have to leave home if you’re looking for an on-going saga, but while Step-parenting is increasingly common, it’s not so readily depicted beyond Fairy Tales.

Answers are seldom universal, but themes are universally shared. Wicked Stepmothers, hapless husbands, interfering Mother-in-Law stereotypes, had to go! But first, we needed to have a lot of fun with them. Devising comedy is the most fun you can have and still claim to be working. A light-coating of archetype brought the chance to dispel myth, and develop living, breathing, characters, who brought their own themes, complexities, and humour, to proceedings. It was important not to play Heroes and Villians with the book, and instead, create a patchwork family who ultimately share the same goals.

Female Sexuality was an aspect of the novel which developed from the basic premise of Ella, technically, having sex with someone else’s dad. I mean, unless you’re the one having the kids, it’s not going to be up there with Fireman fetishes, or being ravished in a Dothraki temple by Khal Drogo, is it? (Just me?) As Ella struggles to reconcile urge with opportunity, her mother, Renee, Sex Therapist and Radio host, is back on the Dating scene, leading the life Ella’s left behind, along with best-friend, and former flat-mate, Kim.

Outside of the family, Ella’s career arrives at a crossroads. Required to step-it-up in her Creative-role at a boutique PR agency, among a colourful cast, she’s also trying to find her place in Dan’s family, and especially with his children. Quarter-life Crisis is more frequently acknowledged within Male-specific literature, (I’m thinking Jonathan Tropper, David Nicholls etc), but that post-Academic, pre-long-term relationship period, bites all of us squarely on the ass.

Writing Girlfriend, Interrupted, I was mindful of an African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child. This encompassed my responsibility to ensure each character in my fictional family was portrayed with positive intentions, and a lot of emotional investment at stake. The novel is a love letter to the many shifting shapes and landscapes of family. As well as those times that are so hilariously awkward, so testing to your sanity, so wonderfully ridiculous, you know you’re going to have to write a book about them, someday.

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