Former Cosmo and Harper’s Bazaar beauty writer turned “chick lit” novelist Zoe Foster has always been someone I’ve looked up to: since reading Comso from age 15, her and Mia Freedman are two writers I’ve tried to emulate, not so much career-wise but more style-wise.
Foster appeared at one of the first events of the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday morning, in conversation with freelancer and Crikey literary columnist, Bethanie Blanchard.
Dressed in pink sparkly pants and looking flawless as usual, Foster, who now writes from home and whom I remember writing about spending a “working” holiday in New York City a few months (or maybe it was a year? Time flies!) ago, managed to make me believe that there is hope for me as a successful, stay-at-home writer yet.
Granted, Zoe writes the kind of prose I try to avoid: beauty and chick lit. Foster explained how she got the job as beauty editor of Cosmo because Freedman liked that Foster had no beauty knowledge whatsoever and that she’d be writing from a readers’ perspective. Zoe said she never reads the beauty pages, and I have to concur with her there: unless it’s written by Zoe, beauty is the most mundane thing in the world to me.
But where chick lit is concerned, Foster gave an anecdote from Puberty Blues author Kathy Lette who, when Foster told her that she writes in that genre, spat her drink out and said, “No, don’t ever call it that. It’s commercial first-person narrative.”
I have to admit, when I see that phrase or a book cover with a suspiciously chick litty-esque cover, I steer clear. However, when I heard Foster read from her latest effort, The Younger Man, the following morning at The Morning Read (from which the above photo was taken), along with the hilarious Sloane Crosley, I had a hankering to pick it up and give it a whirl. From the excerpt Zoe read, her fiction writing sounds exactly like her beauty columns for MamaMia and her dating advice for Cosmo.
But that’s something I have a whole different issue with: in this month’s Cosmo, Zoe advises not to make an effort in the early stages of courtship: it’s his job to chase you. Firstly, this advice doesn’t work for me because I much prefer the chase (maybe I should take some of Zoe’s advice and perhaps I wouldn’t be single!). And secondly, it’s a bit backwards, which Foster concedes to in the article. She also mentioned that she sometimes “cops a bit of shit” for her… traditional would be a nice way of putting it… views on dating.
Finally, another valuable thing I got out of the session was a glimpse into Zoe’s writing schedule and how she plans her day. While she doesn’t read in the genre she writes in whilst she’s in the drafting process lest she start writing another version of 50 Shades of Grey, she does get up at 6am to get a few hours of non-interrupted fiction time in before email, Twitter and other distractions hit. Ahh, I remember those days. You know, when I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and responsible. Interestingly, Zoe also favours a solitary drafting process in which she doesn’t let anyone read her work before the first draft is submitted to her editor. One conscientious audience member asked how, or more pertinently why, she only relies on herself and doesn’t seek outside insight. Zoe replied that she’s on her fourth novel at the moment, so she’d kind of an old hand and should know what she’s doing by this point. But also, I think, some people are just better at assessing their own work than others. I know I don’t like to have any input from anyone, or even tell people what I’m working on. Once it’s out there, I know it’s mine and mine only; good or bad. The writers’ life is a solitary one, after all.