Transcription of BWT podcast 013 – romance and chick lit

The thirteenth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 15th November 2010 and the content has never been shared in print other than website links (on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twelve episodes (see earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting and comedy. This episode talked about romance, chick lit etc.

  • Probably the most famous (and prolific) romance writer was Dame Barbara Cartland who wrote 723 novels over a span of 77 years…no wonder she had five secretaries! Princess Diana’s step-grandmother (little fact of the day if you didn’t know it), Barbara died in May 2000 aged 98!
  • Again probably the biggest name in romance publishing is Mills & Boon. They have a great ‘Information for Aspiring Authors’ page ( I have one of their annuals (as far as I know they produced just two; 2007 and 2008 which is a shame as it could have been possible outlet for short story submissions! Another publisher is Choc Lit which Sue Moorcroft writes for (see my website for a two-part interview I did with her recently).
  • CHICK LIT…’Chick lit’, Wikipedia, amongst other sites, explains is a genre of fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary is an early example and similar titles regularly topped bestseller lists, spawning the creation of imprints devoted entirely to the genre. Chick lit features hip, stylish female protagonists (usually in urban settings) and follows their love lives and struggles for professional success (often in the publishing, advertising, public relations or fashion industry). The books usually feature an airy, irreverent tone and frank sexual themes. The genre spawned Candace Bushnell’s ‘Sex and the City’ and its accompanying television series. Variations have developed to appeal to specific audiences, such as “Chica Lit,” (aimed at American Latinas), Christian Chick Lit, ‘Matron Lit’ (or ‘Hen Lit’) which Wikipedia says has “older female characters as protagonists. Subjects are often romantic in nature, and heroines are usually between the ages of 45 and 65.
  • Probably the most difficult thing about writing romance is to be original. Whilst boy meets girl is common for Mills & Boon, each story still has to be unique and the characters still need their challenges. Most stories have been already told, a new idea is fairly rare. Romeo & Juliet is probably the most well known of these and on which the play ‘West Side Story’ was based.
  • The Romantic Novelist’s Association (the RNA) says that “Romance is the most popular genre of fiction. According to our research, more than ninety per cent of all readers like to see a bit of romance in the books they read—men as well as women.” The RNA was formed in 1960 to promote romantic fiction and to encourage good writing and now represents more than 700 writers, agents, editors and other publishing professionals.


Here I give you a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts picked from my Twitter page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Pick two characters from a TV programme and write a romantic dialogue between them;
  • Buy a national or local paper, look at their lonely hearts column and pick two characters, writing a scene of their first date. While you’re looking at the classified section look at the births, marriages and deaths column, and you may find this useful as a source of names (although you split the first name from the surname though to avoid using real names).
  • Real-life situations can also inspire. This could be anything from your office computer going wrong, and an engineer coming to fix it, to being trapped in a lift with an incredibly attractive man or woman (although the latter is rather clichéd). What are the romantic (or even erotic – I’ll be covering erotica next week) possibilities of those situations?  What kind of events would happen with that kind of backdrop? Other options are visiting new places, whether it’s somewhere as mundane as an optician or perhaps starting evening classes in a foreign language – think of its potential as a romantic or erotic setting. What could happen? But do try thinking of less likely scenarios.

And today’s sentence starts…

1.     Felicity’s daughter was forever telling her to switch off the …

2.     As a small business, Heald’s Nursery was struggling… (kindergarten or garden centre?)…

3.     The dealer’s phone rang and stopped, then rang again… (what kind of dealer?)…

4.     The (ice/sugar) cube melted slowly as Reece stirred the spoon …

5.     Lose his balance and Paulo would lose everything …

6.     No-one had brought/given Dora flowers before …

7.     If Allie stood still long enough she might just get away with it …


  • Richard Joseph’s book ‘Bestsellers – top writers tell how’ includes biographies about, and interviews with, various authors. Romance writers include Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jilly Cooper, Barbara Cartland, Dora Saint (who wrote as ‘Miss Read’) and Catherine Cookson (although she prefers to be referred to as a ‘social history’ writer). Tips include “write the story you want then leave it for a while, look at it again and all your mistakes will come out of the page and hit you.” (courtesy of Catherine Cookson) and “keep a diary because we all forget things so quickly…keep your sentences short, use as much colour as possible” (Jilly Cooper).
  • A book, which may at first sight may be an unusual guide for writing romance, is the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Chin up girls – a book of women’s obituaries’. ‘Chin up girls’ covers ‘heroines’ (great for romance!), ‘trailblazers’, ‘battleaxes’, ‘sportswomen’, ‘matriarchs and muses’, ‘adventuresses’, ‘bluestockings’, ‘entertainers’, ‘writers and artists’ (including Angela Carter, Mary Wesley…who  started writing aged 70! and Tom Ripley creator Patricia Highsmith) and finally ‘low-life and the afterlife’. I suggest this (or other obituary books…the Daily Telegraph do a few) as they summarise someone’s life in a few pages…great inspiration for characters. Another book which may come in handy for characters is Parragon’s ‘1000 great lives’, a 518 page book crammed with biographies including Winston Churchill, Edgar Allen Poe, Horacio Nelson, Mozart, Karl Marx, William Shakespeare and Madonna.
  • The subject of heroines leads me nicely on to light-hearted book ‘The Action Heroine’s Handbook’. It tells you how to do “dozens of TV and movie skills” including ‘how to win a high-speed chase in high heels and bustier’, ‘navigate a roomful of laser beams’, ‘fend off the undead’, ‘profile a serial killer’, ‘land a failing helicopter’ and ‘outrun a fireball’…you never know when your character might need any of these!
  • Jilly, Frederick Forsyth, Barbara Cartland, Arthur Hailey, Barbara Taylor Bradford were all journalists before becoming writers. Barbara Taylor Bradford says that “it’s (being a journalist) not an automatic passport to fame and fortune…but the wide range of subject matter and discipline required provide not only the confidence to write but also that other vital ingredient…experience.” She adds “Basic writing ability is not enough. A would-be novelist must also observe what I call the five ‘Ds’: Desire – to want to write more than do anything else; Drive – the drive to get started; Determination – the will to continue whatever the stumbling blocks and difficulties encountered along the way; Discipline – to write every day regardless of mood; Dedication – dedication to the project until the very last page is finished.”
  • It’s said that Barbara Cartland read 20-30 novels (mostly historical) for every novel she wrote – as she wrote a book a month she can’t have done much else but read! The basic format of Barbara Cartland’s books are described as “such sex as there is, is left until the last page, and is then expressed in emotional terms, and only when the hero has married his love one”! Barbara says “I never specifically describe the sex act because it’s such a bore laid bare. It makes readers wonder if they’re normal if they don’t have sex upside down, swinging from a chandelier. So I’m their escape, their fairy tale. I give them the glamour, the beautiful clothes and the marvellous attentive men they are starved of.”


  • I mentioned the Romantic Novelists’ Association earlier and their website is Their ‘What is Romantic Fiction’ page is says that “The trouble with trying to define a romantic novel is that there are so many sub-genres. The words ‘romantic novel’ cover an amazing variety. It’s like stepping-stone into the most beautiful old English country garden, a hollyhock here, a cowslip there, different, but each perfect in its own way. Many writers, even those who have just won an award for Romantic writing, deny that they write romantic fiction. So how does one decide that a novel, a story is romantic? The dictionary defines romantic as “characterised by or suggestive of Romance, imaginative, visionary, remote from experience.” Romance, apart from being “the vernacular language of old France” is defined as “a prose tale with scenes and incidents remote from everyday life…”
  • American-based is a site ‘where the Book Tarts talk love, laughter, laundry and the mysteries of writing life’ and is full of information for writers. They have a really interesting page on Male Romance Novels – I’ll put the link on this episode’s page on my website.

I have a submission opportunity for you: ‘Still Crazy’ ( seeks submissions by writers 50+ or by writers of any age if the subject matter portrays people over 50. Short stories and non-fiction of ideally up to 2,500 words (although they will consider up to 3,500 words) and poetry of up to 30 lines. Their submissions page ( provides full details and although you won’t get paid but you will receive a free copy of the magazine so, although it won’t make you rich, it’ll make you a little more famous. They publish twice a year (January and July) with respective submission cut-off dates of mid-May and mid-November.

I also include quotes in my writing group’s handout and Cathy Carlyle is quoted as saying… ‘Love is an electric blanket with somebody else in control of the switch’.

Flash fiction

The last item of each podcast is a piece of fiction – either flash or poetry and this week’s is a 60-worder simply titled ‘Sam and Claire’: Sam was the love of her life. They met in North London and were inseparable. Claire loved his deep brown eyes and he loved her inexhaustible playfulness. She made him wonderful meals, he protected her. “Come on Sam, let’s go for a walk!” He gazed up at her, barked and wagged his scruffy tail. He knew he’d be happy here.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and that some of the links will be useful for you. You can find other transcriptions of my podcast here.

Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 012 (Nov 2010) – writing comedy

The twelfth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips audio podcast was released on 8th November 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first eleven episodes (see earlier blog posts in the ‘podcast’ category), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting then a mixed bag. This episode talked about comedy, starting with the following hints and tips:

– Humour is tricky because, like most art-related work, what one person likes, another may dislike…or in this case may or may not laugh at. Don’t be put off though as it should be as enjoyable to write as to listen to (OK, harder work but do give it a go!). Coronation Street is soon going to be celebrating its 50th Anniversary (I was at their 35th sitting next to Alf Roberts actor Bryan Moseley at lunch, but that’s another story). Coronation Street can be hilarious with ‘Benny Hill’ type sketches (one example that springs to mind was Tyrone/Molly’s disastrous burger van venture that ends up on fire so they drive it into a pond!). Eastenders, although mostly seriously (sometimes depressing), has the occasional light-hearted sketch and it’s lovely to see Alfie and Kat back as they’ve had a few opportunities in the past to lighten the mood. Sketch shows are very popular, from Lenny Henry impressions to comedy series such as ‘Men Behaving Badly’ or ‘Black Books’ (if you’ve not seen the episode with Bill Bailey playing the piano – you’ve missed a treat). Most reflect real life, though obviously with the routine or mundane aspects removed. I’ve mentioned the BBC’s writersroom website before and it also has example comedy scripts (

– Back in 2006 British TV station Channel 4 ran a poll of top 20 sitcoms and Frasier was 1st followed by Fawlty Towers, Seinfield and Porridge. Dad’s Army was 7th then Blackadder, Spaced, The Office and Father Ted. In fact only 6 of the Top 20 were American. The BBC ran a similar poll and Only Fools & Horses came out on top. Two OF&H sketches are often re-played on TV…the one where Del leans against the bar (you can see it at You Tube or and the other where Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert have been commissioned to clean a stately home’s chandeliers ( In case you don’t know them, I won’t spoil the outcome for you but suffice to say that there was little dialogue and the sketches worked mainly due to visual action (another favourite of mine is Morecambe & Wise’s ‘Patricia the Stripper’ breakfast scene – One sketch that works due mainly to dialogue is The Two Ronnies’ Fork handles ( You can find classic and modern clips from the British Comedy Classics site. Their home page ( has five example clips and a comprehensive search facility.

– Wikipedia’s situation comedy (sitcom) section ( is packed with information and explains sitcom as follows: “As opposed to ‘stand-up’ comedy, or the telling of jokes, the situation comedy has a storyline plot and is more or less comedic drama. The comedies of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Shakespeare and Moliere in post-Renaissance Europe were essentially situation comedies. The essence of the current, modern situation comedy on television is that the characters remain in the same situation from episode to episode. The situation is usually that of a family, workplace, or a group of friends. The term was adopted to distinguish sitcom from other comedy formats: sketch comedy, which generally featured new characters and situations each outing, or the humorous monologue or dialogue, which did not feature characters. Often these other formats were presented within a variety format mixed with musical performances, as in Vaudeville. The emerging medium of radio allowed audiences to return to programs, which allowed programs to return to the same characters and situations each episode and expect audiences to be familiar with them. Thus, while the humor in sitcoms varies, it is usually character-driven, which may result in running gags during the series. Due to the need to retain the same situation over many episodes, in many sitcoms characters remained largely static. Events of individual episodes typically resolve themselves by the end, and are rarely mentioned in subsequent episodes. This episodic nature is mirrored in many dramas as well, but there are also many sitcoms that feature story arcs across many episodes, where the characters and situations slowly change over the course of their run.”


In this section of the topic podcasts, I give provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts picked from my Twitter page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

– Humour is notoriously difficult to write especially because what one person finds funny another person may not, so write a passage of dialogue, of if you can a whole piece, where the people can’t see eye to eye but it works out OK in the end.

– Try taking a normally-dark location, for instance, a cemetery or church, but make it light-hearted. Maybe one of the characters is trying to take another character’s mind off the seriousness of the situation.

And today’s sentence starts…

1. My mind is working overtime…

2. There was no mistaking the sound of…

3. Noel couldn’t help it…

4. As the monk lifted up his hood…

5. Sophie sank to her knees and…

6. You had plenty of sleep but you still feel tired… (second person)

7. He wasn’t exactly what Joan had been looking for in a companion…


– An search for ‘writing comedy’ found nearly 2,500 books including one I have, sixth on their list, entitled ‘Writing Comedy’ by Ronald Wolfe published by Robert Hale.

– Needless to say the internet is swamped with comedy writing sites and one I found via a Google search for ‘writing comedy’ was

– There’s also a very interest article in the Guardian newspaper’s archive from September 2008 ( by Richard Herring, David Mitchell and Robert Webb; the latter two hailing from ‘That Mitchell & Webb Look’ comedy show (

– One of the other Google links took me to Southampton’s Solent University which has just started a BA (Hons) in Comedy – Writing & Performance, a 3-year full time course.

– E-How’s ‘How to Write Comedy’ page ( is great and again I’ll put the link on this episode’s page on my website. It provides a list of things you’ll need (joke books, spiral notebooks and pens – simple enough) alongside 11 instructions: Keep in mind that good stand-up comedy writers are neither anointed by God nor born into it; they just write a lot. All you need to do it is a pen and some paper. Steal time; compose jokes in your head while you’re stuck in traffic or shaving. Write with a person in mind. Get into their pattern of speaking. Duplicate the person’s style, but use different topics or subject matter. Do this for many different performers. Don’t show anyone your work until you think it’s terrific. Research and analyze topics that interest you. Ask questions about your topic. Understand that a joke occurs at the intersection of two ideas. Connect ideas that go together or are wildly opposite. Manipulate your audience. Take them down a particular road and then surprise them with something else. Pull the rug out from under your audience. Employ good timing so that they don’t step on the rug too early or get on it and then get off before you’ve had a chance to deliver the humour. Respect your audience at the same time; they are your bread and butter.

– There are loads more comedy writing pages at and doing a ‘comedy’ search on e-how’s home page brings up 6 pages of links!

– There’s a great called which is packed with details of over 900 British TV comedy programmes, actors and actresses, DVD releases and more.

Flash fiction

The last item of each topic podcast is a piece of fiction – either flash or poetry – and episode 12’s was a monologue called ‘Unfunny Ha Ha’:

“Marcia do this, do that.” I’m fed up with it. It’s not called DIY for nothing. But that’s all he’s good for. I sometimes wonder why I married him but then I see his smile. I look at him standing by the car and I melt like an ice cube in Barbados. Not that I’d know, never taken me further than Barnsley and that was a holiday never to be forgotten – for all the wrong reasons. Two weeks, caravan, wettest summer since 1842. Say no more. At least I have that to be grateful for. His lack of utterances. Just looks at me with those big green eyes and, well… aforementioned ice cube puddle all over again. And he does make me laugh. His wit, sharp as a plastic knife but some people can be too clever, can’t they? Genuine. And kind.

I think I’m too hard on him. It’s not his fault. Wasn’t his fault. Wasn’t looking where he was going, the driver of the car that hit him. Dropped a CD on the floor, the lad had said. So now all I have is the pictures. Dotted around the house like a Dalmatian. My favourite’s the one in the study, by my desk. Took it when he wasn’t looking so he isn’t laughing, isn’t smiling but it’s the real him. My Harold. I still talk to him. “Ha” I say. That’s short for Harold. He didn’t like Harold and can’t say I blame him. I say “Ha, make me laugh.” And I swear I can see his lips curl.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and that some of the links will be useful for you. You can find other transcriptions of my podcast here.