Justin Myers grew up in Yorkshire but now lives in London, leaving the accent behind, but taking with him an incredulity at the cost of everything, along with his gayness. After years spent writing and largely being ignored – which suited him just fine at the time – he wrote anonymously about his dating exploits, renaming himself The Guyliner, and suddenly people stopped ignoring him. He’s been a columnist for GQ since 2016 and his writing has appeared pretty much everywhere, including The i, The Times, and the Guardian, but he’s perhaps best known for his playful reviews of the Guardian’s much-loved Blind Date column, gently skewering traditional outlooks on romance. When his first novel The Last Romeo came out in 2018, Justin decided to reveal his real name and show his actual face and was pleasantly surprised that very few people ran screaming in horror. Justin’s proud to be a gay writer creating commercial fiction that features LGBTQ characters in all their messy yet marvellous splendour. Cute, dashing, bitchy, bitter, enigmatic, vivacious, wholesome, filthy, lovable, or borderline unlikeable – there’s room for everyone in a Justin Myers book, and there’s all that and more in his third novel The Fake-Up. You can find Justin online here.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I loved this book from the moment I read that iconic first line, and have reread countless times since. One of my favourites, despite the fact I loathe almost all the main characters – they’re selfish, dim, delusional, ignorant, and yet utterly compelling. Never let anyone tell you you need a relatable narrator to make a good story. My background couldn’t be more different from these privileged, tortured toffs, but Rebecca invented imposter syndrome years before any of us even knew what it was.
Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
Can I take all the series? No? That’s cheating? Oh. First one, then. Poor Adrian. Now he *is* a relatable character. Although I’m slightly more in on the joke that is my life than dear, deluded Adrian is, his struggles on the peripheries of credibility and popularity are painfully relatable. His obliviousness is his shield in a way. His mother Pauline is one of the greatest comic inventions in literature – her quote about listening to other people tell you about their dreams is worth the cost of the book alone. Sue Townsend is one of my untouchable icons.
Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane
All Mhairi’s romantic comedies are excellent, but Last Night is perhaps her masterpiece. The thing about rom-coms is most of the best ones aren’t just about the joy of finding love; they have something else to say. Last Night’s theme is loss, and grief, and realising you don’t know even your closest pals as well as you thought. It’s moving, wise and packed with one-liners, withering descriptions, and brilliantly caustic characters. It spoke to me like few other modern novels ever manage.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
I read this book when I was maybe a little too young to be reading it. Or perhaps it was exactly the right time. This coming-of-age/coming-out/coming-into-your-own story of a bunch of singletons surviving ‘70s San Francisco is delightfully funny, gossipy, soapy and melodramatic, but with sadness and thoughtful commentary on important issues marbled throughout – all of which is the kind of stuff I love to write, funnily enough. And while I’ll never forget Mona’s Law – you can have a hot job, a hot lover, and a hot apartment, but never all three at the same time – I have enjoyed proving her wrong over the years.
The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith
I know it’s a cliché for authors to wang on about how much their childhood books meant to them, so I’ll be brief. It’s not often a sequel betters its predecessor, especially one as deranged as The Starlight Barking, but to my mind, the continuation of Pongo and Missis’s story is far superior to their original caper. Here, their youngest pup Cadpig is the Prime Minister, all the world’s humans have slipped into a bizarre coma, and all dogs can fly – well, swoosh. My absolute favourite children’s book.
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
There have been many books about what it’s really like to work in the NHS, but Adam’s diaries from his time as a junior doctor on the obs-gynae ward were perhaps the most visceral portrayal yet and pretty much reinvented the genre. It can make for a shocking, uncomfortable read – the department is underfunded, staff are overworked, and the patients sometimes bear the brunt. Although he’s not always a sympathetic character, what keeps it compelling is Adam’s sparkling wit and gallows humour, and his honesty about the toxic culture and his place in it. A worthy smash.
The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
I grew up on a council estate in Yorkshire, yet I love books about miserable posh people, preferably set in the past. I was 16 when I first read this story of five cousins on the brink of adulthood as the Second World War breaks out. Mary Wesley was brilliant and scathing, and although very different from me, something of an inspiration – her novel-writing career came late in life, and I didn’t get my first book deal until I was 40. If you live long enough, you’ll get to see the strangest things happen to you.
The Stud by Jackie Collins
My new novel The Fake-Up is what I call ‘normcore Jackie Collins’. JC wrote about the dark underbelly of the rich and famous like nobody else, but what fascinates me more when I’m writing is ordinary people discovering how wilfully unglamorous fame actually is. The Stud is Jackie before she went full bonkbuster, quite modest in length, but packed tight with the sexploits of bored trophy wife Fontaine, the manager of her club, Tony, and her dreary stepdaughter Alex. The sex is almost always bad, the hangers-on dull, but the atmosphere is electric. I still have the old edition someone ‘lent’ to my mum in the ‘80s.
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