The thing about burning out and nannying three kids pretty much full-time over the summer is that my inbox was blissfully silent. The other thing about burning out and nannying three kids pretty much full-time over the summer is that suddenly, my biggest focus for twelve hours a day was which way to slice the sandwiches – squares or triangles? – with nay a whisper of anxiety about books and careers and achievement. The final thing about burning out and nannying three kids pretty much full-time over the summer is that when you’re watching Harry Potter for the eighth time in two weeks, idle swiping on Bumble results in quite a few matches, and quite a few conversations, and quite a few dates.
I dated a lot this summer.
"...finding love is a lot like finding a job: you put your CV out there, you get as much interview practice as you can, and with the one you think is a match you go for it."
I’ve been dating a lot this year, actually, since moving back to London in February. Boys – men, because I’m 30 now, and surprisingly have come to like a grown-up in a suit – took a backseat when I was trying to get published, because I knew no fella could make me feel how seeing my name on the spine of a book would make me feel. Once that was done – BECOMING, and all of it’s many drafts - and I could breathe again, meeting a man became quite the focus for me. No online match went unmessaged, no offer of a date refused. I committed to my cause, because, I reasoned, finding love is a lot like finding a job: you put your CV out there, you get as much interview practice as you can, and with the one you think is a match you go for it.
I didn’t want to make Superlatively Rude into some kind of dating chronicle to talk about my love life, because I’ve never written about my relationships in “real time” on here. It just doesn’t seem fair. I prefer to talk about relationships already concluded, when there’s a bit of perspective. But six months of a date or two every week and I had thoughts and stories and ideas I wanted to share. And then Grazia features director Emily Maddick emailed me – a powerhouse of a woman I’d never actually spoken to before.
“I have just returned from holiday where I read your book,” she said. “I didn’t just read it, but marvelled, delighted, sobbed and hooted my way through it…” She’d been though something similar, she said, and related to the “single gal” plight of discovery as much as I ever dared hope anybody else who read the book could.
"Now listen. This 13-page proposal? It was fucking airtight."
I’d sat in my favourite café one weekend, just before that, and put together a 13-page proposal for a column based around the “new” singledom, about what it is really like to be on your own in 2016 (hint: not desperate, but also nothing like Samantha Jones would have us believe). I wanted to write about what dating is truly like. I’ve been having a great time. Dating doesn’t make me despair. I’m good at getting a guy to ask me out (because look, I’m sorry: they like the chase, so rarely will I ask them.) and I give great first date. I’ve adored meeting people, and this is something Meg and I email about: that every date is just more information. Information about what works and what doesn’t, and about who is out there and how most of us just want to be seen, and heard, and men aren’t monsters. They’re really quite lovely when they’re away from their pack.
(insert a wink-emoji here, etc. etc. etc.)
Anyway. When Emily said she heard me, that she’d loved the book (!), I knew she’d be into the column idea, too. A column idea I just happened to have to hand. We had a lunch date in the diary, but before we finally met I emailed her and said, “I’ve been working on a single girl column idea, and I think you – and Grazia – will really love it. Would you like first refusal before I send it out more widely?”
Now listen. This 13-page proposal? It was fucking airtight. Like, I had three 8-hours days of absolute joy putting it together because is felt so right. I knew it was good. I wrote a page about who I am, about both the hateful and incredible press around BECOMING, a page about what the column would be about, and a page of quotes from Amazon about what people have said about the book. I had testimony from other writers, taken from my initial book proposal, and wrote three columns as example of what, exactly, Would Like To Meet would feel like. Natasha Pearlman, Grazia’s editor, would later tell me it was one of the best proposals she’d ever seen. I laughed, and said, “I couldn’t give you any reason to turn it down.” It was a cheeky thing to say, but I meant it.
"I had a meeting at a fancy hotel to cement it, with Patrick Dempsy eating his lunch on the next table. It was the most surreal half-hour of my life, that."
I believed in the proposal and the need for a column like this so much that I told Grazia they had a week to decide if they wanted it, because it was timely and I knew other editors who’d be interested. I wanted Grazia, though, because as far as I’m concerned they’re the top publication out there for reader engagement. I’d read once how the Grazia audience aren’t just readers, they are part of the brand, and that’s like, my whole jam. That’s how I feel about what I do: that I don’t have “fans” or “followers” (that actually makes me feel a bit sick), but a genuine community. Also, Grazia has more AB-profile (that’s middle class to you and me) readers than Vogue and Elle. They’re massive.
Grazia came back to me with a big fat yes. Emily helped me hone my ideas, gave suggestions about what else to talk about, shared her own thoughts with me. She’s basically my co-conspirator, so on board with the idea that without her the column in this iteration would not exist, in this particular form, in this particular magazine. We agreed we’d run til Christmas, because I don’t want to have to stay single for my job, nor become a parody of myself for the sake of filing 500 words every week. I want a life before I have a career, so genuinely looking for love over writing about looking for love has to come first. I had a meeting at a fancy hotel to cement it, with Patrick Dempsy eating his lunch on the next table. It was the most surreal half-hour of my life, that. Talking with a couple of national editors about my column as I sat next to a Hollywood superstar. Life is bonkers.
Anyway, all of this to say: I think the thing I’m proudest of with this whole shebang is that I was able to leverage the earliest newspaper articles around BECOMING. The hateful misogyny that surround those tabloid headlines – “Around the World in 80 Lays”, “Derby Girl Romps The Globe After Getting Dumped” – and the ensuing slew of pervy men called Dave in Stockport sending me photographs of their limp dicks through Instagram’s DM feature, well. It cut me to the core. I refused to bleed, but that first month of publication was rough, man. Finding a way to use the outrage around a book about a blonde 30-year old’s sex (and celibacy!) life to empower myself, and girls like me, was very quickly my new agenda. That I bided my time, kept my head down, and turned shit into gold makes me Beyoncé as far as I’m concerned. Not apologising for who I am makes me Michelle Obama. HOLD THE FUCK ON. Knowing who I am despite of what others might try to tell me makes me LAURA JANE WILLIAMS.
A few people, on hearing my news, inferred that by having a love column in Grazia I have “stolen” their dream job. With all due respect, that’s impossible. This column didn’t exist for me to steal before I pitched it. I saw an opportunity, and a way to add value, and I went for it. It just so happened that by stumbling into Emily’s hands, a woman who saw me in herself, who saw herself in me, who knew other woman would get a kick out of all this single talk too, I found a home quicker than I could've anticipated, or hoped.
So. That’s how I got a column in a national magazine. By being myself, relentlessly, and doing good work that means something to me, and trusting my instincts about the people who wanted to support me doing so. Oh, and by writing the kind of pitch that leaves no room for doubt. That was killer. If only there was a similar formula for finding the love of my life.
you can read the first Would Like To Meet column here