As promised, my chat with primped.com.au's editor-in-chief Zoë Foster continues. And this time it's all about the book, baby. Needless to say, I personally enjoyed Air Kisses ($32.95; Penguin) very much. In fact, I read it in a weekend (and I have the attention span of a two-year-old).
The protagonist is Hannah, who has landed herself a job as beauty editor on Gloss magazine. Of course, the story is 'loosely' based on the year Zoë joined Cosmo, with a few romantic ups and downs thrown in for good chick-lit measure (it's not all about the magazine, y'know). The pace is quick, each (short) and wittily titled chapter (e.g. 'Sperm Brows'; 'The Bitchy and Scratchy Show'; 'I signed up for sitting at a desk and trying on lip gloss') opens with words of beauty advice (bonus!) and the characters are believable and endearing.
You'll love the mag industry insider insights (the advertising presentations; the launches), and though there are some 'issues' with other beauty editors on the scene (one in particular), this is no tell-all Devil Wears Prada tale (Zoë wants to keep friends in the industry, you see). Her writing style is Marian Keyes meets colloquial quirky Aussie (there are a few ocker-isms alongside the beauty-isms and Zoë-isms) and you'll find yourself stumbling across more than a few witty similes and metaphors, as you would shoes strewn over your floor.
Pucker up as Zoë puts on her author's hat...
Your father is also an author. Is writing in the genes? What pearls of wisdom was he able to share with you? Dad’s a brilliant writer. I can only hope of being one-tenth the writer he is. His best advice was on how to fictionalise people you wanted to use from Real Life so that they would never guess it was them. Of course, I never actually used this advice…
Other authors whose work you admire/love... Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman, Jared Diamond, David Sedaris, Mark Haddon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Lemony Snicket, Marisha Pessl, Roald Dahl, Italo Calvino, Nancy Mitford... There are more, but as I’m moving, they’re all packed up and I can’t refer to my bookshelf for reminders. Apologies, temporarily forgotten authors, apologies.
Most influential childhood book... Italian Folktales, Italo Calvino.
Favourite ever book (or two)... Tough call. Some recenty ones that spring to mind: Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Jancee Dunn’s But Enough About Me and, of course, Eat Pray Love.
Did you always imagine becoming an author? No. In fact, dad actively dissuaded me from doing it. There’s no money in it! he’d cry. Get into advertising instead! Take up medicine! Learn to play tennis professionally! Become an actuary!
How did the book come about? I had been at Cosmo for a few years, and still enjoying it, but hungry for a new creative challenge. Mia [Freedman] suggested writing a book to keep me creatively fulfilled, and so I started jotting down anecdotes from the beauty world, imagining a Confessions of a Beauty Editor type thing. We soon (wisely) realised it needed to morph into a fully fictionalised novel in order for me to preserve my friendships and, uh, job.
When did you start writing it and how long did it take? It took a year to write (2006), while working full time at Cosmo.
What were some of the biggest challenges as a new author? Sitting inside writing on a gloriously sunny day while everyone else was out playing Frisbee and hopscotch and eating hokey pokey ice cream. Sustaining an interesting narrative pull for 100, 00 words was pretty tough too. Luckily, I had a magnificent editor who did magical things to my story.
I loved everything about the book – from the pace, to the chapter lengths, writing style, storylines, characters and cover (gush). Give us the mini version of the editing process... Mini version, you say… I submitted my finished manuscript to Penguin/my brilliant editor, Kirsten Abbott. She wrote me a document on themes/characters that needed embellishing, tightening or cutting. I did it. I gave it back. She went through and ‘line-edited’ the whole thing (soft copy) and marked up/commented on everything she thought needed work/changing/developing etc. I went through and responded to all of her remarks. I gave it back. This process may have happened again. She then gave it to a copy editor who subbed it. This is crucial as you become so close to characters and story, you don’t notice the fact that the apartment in the book has stairs one day and a lift the next.
Back to me in hard copy. I edited it. My editor edited it. The cover was presented to me. I fell in love instantly. (You don’t get to choose your cover, so I was thrilled to my gills that it was so spectacularly foxy). Back to me in uncorrected proof (book form). Very exciting moment. I made tiny changes. (It’s gobsmacking how different it reads once in book form. Small issued of incongruity or inconsistency leap up and slap you in the chops.) My editor gave it one last edit, I signed off on it, and it was off to get printed by the thousands of small penguins we employ on Phillip Island.
Do you think you'll keep your future works within the 'chick literature' genre? I do. I do indeed. I’ll flirt with other genres and non-fiction too, but I’ll certainly have a few more lattes in the Lady Fiction lounge.
How is the Aussie chick lit scene? We’ve got some very strong chick lit writers here, Maggie Alderson, Melanie La’Brooy, Monica McInerney are all wildly popular and successful writers. It’s a thrill to be mentioned in the same sentence as them. Oh, hang on, I wasn’t. Never mind. Carry on.
Can you tell us about the new book you're working on? It’s a thriller about a band of inebriated, recalcitrant possums who take over a small town using nothing but lemonade and coat buttons.
Zoë has signed a three-book deal with Penguin. Air Kisses is available now.
Girl With a Satchel