Remember when you said that thing? That really embarrassing thing? And you beat yourself up for days thinking about it? Or have you ever been really irrationally angry at someone for doing something really trivial, like eating the last biscuit, or cutting you up on the road? Do you find yourself overjoyed at the silliest thing? Like when a lorry does the double flash to say thanks for letting them in? Or finding a fiver in a jacket you haven’t worn for months?
It’s the little things that have the biggest impact on our emotions. The mundane trivialities of life that raise our heartrate in good ways and bad, the little big things. If I divorce my husband it won’t be because he had an affair, or slighted my family, it will be because for the 100th time he has left the foil top of the milk bottle MILK SIDE DOWN on the sideboard. I can feel my blood pressure rising already…
It’s these little big things that often drive the much derided ‘chick lit’ genre of books, a genre that I would challenge anyone to define properly, so broad a term is it. It is basically aimed at books by women, about women, focused around the daily bump and grind of life. Buildings don’t usually blow up in chick lit. Grand conspiracy theories aren’t often uncovered. And people are rarely murdered. But still people buy or borrow these books by the score.
A year or two back I attended an author night at Waterstone’s with some doyennes of women’s fiction, Milly Johnson, Veronica Henry, and Penny Parks. Veronica Henry used to be a script writer for The Archers, a radio soap billed as a ‘contemporary drama in a rural setting’. Yes, it’s a soap about farmers and village life, and it has been running continuously for 6 nights a week since 1951, making it the world’s longest running drama. The period of lockdown has forced a temporary pause in recording, but other than that it has been aired for nearly 70 years. You want to know what one of the recent storylines was? A reveal of who stole the summer fete bunting TWO YEARS AGO. That’s some pay off. Other highlights include the annual flower and produce show, and the recent battle over the renaming of the village pub. Yes, the Archers has dealt with some challenging dramatic storylines. Domestic abuse, drugs, and yes actually a building did recently blow up. But it also reflects what’s going on in the real world in the UK, Ambridge was hit by floods as much of the rest of the UK was taking a battering. The farmers battled with foot and mouth, and discussed the impacts of Brexit. But predominantly the storylines are about everyday relationships and interactions. Neighbours rubbing along, marriages going through bumps, the stresses and strains of scratching a living. And the reason the drama has been going so long is because rather than the tumultuous, unbelievable lives of many soaps and dramas, people love to hear about lives like their own. As thrilling as it is to read about big events like a tense court trial, the government under attack, or living through a war, it’s the little big things that make up most people’s lives.
Chick lit allows people to identify parts of themselves in the safe space of fiction. It can help readers navigate difficult emotions that emerge through our daily lives, in marriage, having children, relationship with family and friends. And the almost guaranteed happy ever after gives us hope that whatever happens there might be a happy ever after for us.
Remember, whether you’re reading books or writing them, drama and tension can come from the smallest events. Sometimes the little big things are the most important of all.