Thursday, 21 July 2011

A review of What Women Want by Fanny Blake

** What the back of the book says **
Friends for life. Then he came along…

Bea’s contending with a new boss, power-hungry colleagues and a stroppy teenage son, not to mention the anxieties of returning to the dating game.
Stressed-out Kate is coping with an empty nest and the growing realisation that her marriage has lost its shine.
Finally, Ellen, who has devoted herself to her children and her art gallery following her husband’s death, is falling head over heels in love with Oliver.
They have always known that they can depend on each other, no matter what.  But with Oliver in their midst, will their friendship survive?

** What I thought **
In this book we meet three women, one in the process of a divorce, one happily married but with her last child leaving home, and one who was widowed ten years ago and has spent the last ten years focusing on her children.
I felt the characters were all drawn very well.  I loved Bea who is feisty and determined, but sometimes finds it hard to control her jealousy and has a few little insecurities.  Kate comes across as loving but sensible.  I felt for her when she was struggling with her empty nest and an ever distant husband.  Finally, there is Ellen.  I have to say I found her frustrating at times, but actually that’s what makes the writing so excellent – that’s the point – you’re meant to be frustrated by her blindness to Oliver’s deceptive nature! It’s frustrating that she can’t see through Oliver, but she thinks she is in love, and women will be able to relate to situations where you literally can’t see the wood for the trees.  Sometimes it takes a friend, and it needs to be your best friends otherwise you’ll just close up and shut them out, to show you the truth.  The descriptions of Ellen are written very well, especially when you think she’s finally going to do something about Olive and turf him out on his ear, but then he’ll do something (sometimes just look at her, or pull her close) and she’ll melt into him.
I was suspicious of Oliver from the start, but I suppose the back of the book told me that something was going to go awry.  I really liked the descriptions of him clicking his nails; its little things like that that really bring a book to life and for me this was one of them. 
The interaction between characters is very clever.  Bea has known Ellen for much longer than Ellen has known Kate, yet Bea can’t help but think that perhaps Kate and Ellen get on much better.  We’ve all probably experienced a similar situation, but this book shows you that actually none of you are loved or valued any less, it’s just that your different character strengths play different parts in each other’s lives.
This is a lovely story of a friendship which is put to the test but pulls through the other side.  Do they say ‘men will come and go, but friends last forever’?  – If they don’t, they certainly should and this book is the perfect illustration of that.
If I had to criticise the book for anything, I’d say it was a little slow starting off.  It took me a little while to get into it (not to warm to the characters, which happened instantly) but before I really started to get that urge to keep page turning to know what was going to happen with the Ellen-Oliver-saga! But that moment did come, and I eagerly read on until I’d turned the last page!
I’ve read some other reviews which say you need to be in your 40’s/50’s to appreciate and enjoy this book.  I totally disagree, Fanny Blake certainly doesn’t alienate the younger reader; I’m in my 20’s and don’t feel I would have gained anything more from reading this book if I was another 20/30 years older.
What Women Want is a warm, witty and heart-warming tale of the lengths women will go for their friends, and is full of little details that really bring it to life!  Not just a story of friendship, but also career women, family life and relationships. 
Finally, I can’t possibly leave this review without saying that this book has given me my favourite saying of the year; ‘vertiginous heels’ – Amazing, I’m going to use this phrase as much as possible in the future!!!
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Finally we have a special treat today as Fanny Blake kindly has answered some questions to go along with this review of her debut novel:

You’ve been a publisher, a freelance journalist and a writer – a similar story to Bea, is anything else from Bea’s character based on you?  

I think there’s a bit of me in each of the three main characters, Bea, Ellen and Kate. I do share Bea’s insecurities about her weight and appearance - and wish I didn’t! But I hope I share her sense of humour and that I’m as loyal as she is to her friends. Unlike her, I am happily married, so I haven’t had to go back to the dating game. If I did, I think I would probably make the same mistakes as her.

Was writing novels always a dream of yours when you worked as a publisher?  

No. Once I became a publisher, my role as an editor meant that I saw how difficult being a writer could be so any thoughts of becoming one were firmly buried. It wasn’t until I left Penguin that I was asked to do some journalism. I was nervous at first but then became more confident and a couple of years later, leaped at the chance to write some non-fiction TV tie-ins. After that I ghosted for several people and learned a lot about structure, voice and pace. I discovered that knowing those things in theory is nothing like putting them into practice. At last I was ready to try my hand at fiction. So it took quite a time for me to get there.

How do you decide on a plot? Do you take a lot of inspiration from real life events and people? 

I take inspiration from wherever I can get it. People I know, newspaper stories, something I’ve read or overheard. But I also spend time gazing at people on public transport, making up stories about them – that helps too.

What does the process of writing a novel actually involve? When sitting down to write, do you start at the beginning and work methodically through, or write bits and then piece them together? 

I think everyone works differently. I like to start with the characters firmly in my head and with a pretty clear idea of the journey each of them are going to take. I don’t like to have everything planned and plotted to the last detail because I find that as the characters develop, ideas come into my head and although the characters reach the planned ending, the path there often changes. So I do start at the beginning and work my way through to the end.

It was refreshing to read a book that wasn’t based on a group of 20-something girls, did you make a conscious decision to base What Women Want on a more mature group of friends? 

It wasn’t a conscious decision exactly, but being ‘more mature’ (!) myself, it seemed natural to write about women with whom I could identify and with whose problems and dilemmas I sympathised.

You say you’re an epic time waster – can you give us an example of how you procrastinate? 

The internet and Twitter provide an endless source of enjoyable distraction. I can spend a whole morning putting off writing if I’ve got to a bit that’s difficult or that I haven’t thought through properly. Otherwise, I can spend hours over crosswords I can’t finish.

What’s it like to ghost write and do you find it less rewarding? 

It’s fascinating. It’s allowed me to meet interesting and talented people and to find out about lives and worlds that I knew little about. I’ve found it extremely rewarding, but it’s a different kind of reward from the one you get when writing something for yourself.

Do you think everyone 'has a novel in them' or do you think some people are just born to write?

No, I don’t think everyone has a novel in them. Some people may be born to write, but I think that others can learn to develop and improve  their craft by reading as much as they can and by writing, writing, writing.

Finally, can you tell me anything about your next book, Women of a Dangerous Age? Also you’ve got a third one in the works….can you tell us anything about that, or is it top secret for now?

Women of a Dangerous Age is about two women, Lou and Ali, who have reached the dangerous age when they’re both asking themselves the questions. ‘Is this it? Or is there still time to change the direction of my life?’ They meet on holiday in India, but when they get home, a shocking coincidence brings them closer together and makes them decide to shake up their lives and take a new tack before it’s too late. The novel’s about women, relationships and why it’s never too late to change … It’s being published in March 2012.

I can’t tell you about the third one quite yet. The characters are just about there, but I’ve got a lot more thinking to do before I can talk coherently about it.


** Thank you once again Fanny for playing an active role in this blog post! You can follow Fanny Blake on twitter here - an amazingly friendly and down-to-earth woman who will always get back to you! I can't wait to get my hands on your next book **

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