Bridget Jones Meets Online Dating in the Debut 'Queenie'

Posted by Cybil on February 28, 2019
Candice Carty-Williams never thought she'd become a writer, but when she got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on her manuscript at Jojo Moyes' cottage, she knew what story she wanted to tell: a tale of a black woman doing online dating and generally making her way in the world. The result is Queenie.

Carty-Williams, who works in publishing as a senior marketing executive, talked to Goodreads about how she was influenced by Bridget Jones’s Diary. "Even though we couldn’t be more different," she says, "she’s the first character in literature who showed me that it was OK not to be perfect."

Goodreads: Summarize your book for us.

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Candice Carty-Williams: Queenie is a young black woman living in London. Life is all set out for her, or so she thinks. She’s managed to get a good enough job in journalism, a field middle-class enough for her family to stop nagging her. She’s living with her white boyfriend in a nice middle-class area in an expensive flat that he’s mainly paying for. This suits her fine, as she’s determined not to end up in the relationships her mum has been in. Queenie decides that marriage, children, and stability are for her. And she’s so set on this ideal of the perfect life, she’s been ignoring the signs that her relationship is taking a turn for the worse.

They go on a break—that’s fine, Queenie thinks, maybe time apart to reassess and remember how much they loved each other will do them good.

But while Queenie is meant to be remembering how head over heels she is with the supposed love of her life, she gets distracted. Attention is what Queenie wants. From all of the wrong people. Through an unrelenting spiral of reckless behavior that every young woman has fallen into the grasp of, as well as the exhaustion of trying—and failing—to assimilate into a culture she can’t quite fit into seamlessly, Queenie begins to unravel, and after ignoring and burying a turbulent childhood, she now has to face up to the past that’s catching up with her.

It’s a book full of politics, the inevitability that is gentrification, bad sex, worse decisions, and relatable WhatsApp group chats. Everyone who has read it can find something in it that speaks to them.

GR: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

CCW: I had no idea that I’d become a writer, and I’m still pretty shocked when I’m referred to as one. When I was younger, I was obsessed with libraries. I got kicked out of class a lot, and the school library was where I’d end up, reading a book a day while my friends were learning. It was then that I decided that I’d do for people what books would do for me; being the person encouraging reading. You can imagine my unmatched delight when I realized that publishing was a career and that I could contribute to the life of a book.

Skip to the end, when it dawned on me that I’d been trying and failing to find myself in books that could have helped me through breakups or spells of low self-esteem or bad decisions, I decided to write my own.

As queen Toni Morrison said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." So I applied to a legitimately life-changing opportunity offered by mega-author Jojo Moyes to go and write in the cottage near her house for a week. I took a week off of work, drove there, sat down to write before unpacking my suitcase, and a week later drove home with 35,000 words written.

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GR: What sparked the idea for Queenie?

CCW: I myself have…dabbled in the dating apps, and while I’ve had my fair share of unmemorable dates and encounters, there was one person I can’t forget. I would use OkCupid, and one of my best friends (white, brunette, attractive) preferred to use happn, a dating app that allows you to talk to people that you’ve crossed paths with. We always compared and contrasted potential dates, and, one day, sent each other screenshots of our respective conversations with the same person. "Hi. I’m *****. Great to meet you on here" was his opener. "I work with kids. Really gratifying." We laughed at how earnest he was and how one of his pictures was the obligatory one of him surrounded by "African" kids on some sort of volunteer year.

His opener to me was quite different. "Hey," he’d said. There was no name attached to his profile, instead a nondescript username. "You look hot." After a small back-and-forth, he said this: "Why don’t we each take a day off work so I can take my time f**king you?" It was then that I realized that me and my white friends were really living different lives when it came to dating, and that so much of our existence as young women in this day and age is so focused on dating, desirability, and ultimately marriage. It’s what society would want! While that was the spark, it was so easy to build on Queenie’s story. Like me, her family is Jamaican, a culture not to be messed with or adapted in any way, try as we second-generation immigrants might. Plus, I’d had the material in my head for longer than I realized. When I sat down to write, I could see and hear every single character loud and clear. Very loudly. Especially Maggie. And Kyazike. Definitely Kyazike.

GR: Did you find yourself influenced by any particular books or authors as you worked on your debut?

CCW: I don’t read anything while I’m writing, I think because I’m scared about my voice sounding like someone else’s, but Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is always going to be one of the books that I love the most that has had a huge impact on me. Even though we couldn’t be more different (though, like Bridget, I work in book publishing), she’s the first character in literature who showed me that it was OK not to be perfect.

Obviously, Queenie is ten times more political due to my being black and writing through my black female working-class lens, but I still feel comfort in her story. One of my main characters, Queenie’s best friend, is called Darcy, in homage to Bridget Jones’ dream man and savior in her diary.

GR: What was your writing process for Queenie?

CCW: After banging out 35,000 words in Jojo Moyes’ cottage, I work full-time and can be found exclusively in front of Netflix every weekday evening, so I worked solidly on my manuscript every single weekend until I had a first draft. I was more disciplined than I thought possible, but it was mainly because once I started writing a character like Queenie, I couldn’t stop.

Once my first draft was written and all of the "INSERT MORE DESCRIPTION HERE, TOO BORING RIGHT NOW" and "CHECK THIS MAKES SENSE, CANDICE!!" or "WOULD SHE REALLY LET HIM DO THAT? REALLY??" notes to self had been gone back over and the thought of showing it to someone didn’t make me feel nauseous, I sent it to four trusted readers and said, "Hi, please would you give this a once-over and give me some feedback; I don’t want to know what you like, I ONLY want to know what doesn’t make actual sense, what’s a bit too overboard, or is just crap writing."

When I got their notes, I color-coded them (I’m a nerd, nobody seems to understand just how nerdy I am), went off to Jojo’s for another week, and got back to work. There was also a terrifying few minutes at Jojo’s where she read my first three chapters WHILE NEXT TO ME and gave me vital feedback. After draft two, I sent it very timidly to my now agent, and there we have it. I should add, it was only when I finished the first draft that Queenie had a name. Every name I thought of didn’t feel right, so she was just "X" until I said to my mum one afternoon, "What name would you call a girl that was actually really nice but she maybe would think was a bit too much?" My mum immediately answered "Queenie?" and there she was.

GR: In 2016, you created the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize, which aims to find, champion, and celebrate black, Asian, and minority ethnic writers. Tell us about that and the reaction to the annual prize.

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CCW: When I was 23 and had been in the publishing industry for less than a year, I very quickly realized that I was mainly working on books by white writers.

I didn’t understand this, as I’d grown up seeing writers of all backgrounds on my godmother’s shelves (we didn’t have books in our own home), so I took a week off work (you know I’m about to do something significant when I book a week off work) and wrote down a loose plan to get some more voices like mine coming through. A short story seemed to be a feasible thing to request from would-be authors who had other jobs and were writing in their spare time, and the prize format meant that they could come directly to us, the publishing house, instead of going via an agent.

So many writers don’t even know what an agent is, and I think that can be easily forgotten when you’re so used to doing things the way they’ve always been done. With the help of the head of publicity at 4th Estate, the Guardian came on board, and the prize was launched soon after. This was the first inclusive initiative of this scale the industry had seen, so it was incredibly well-received, more positively and wider-reaching than any of us could have imagined.

We had some amazing entrants; the prize was something I ran alongside all of my other work (I was a marketing assistant at the time), so I sat in a room with many cups of tea and sifted through all 300 short stories we received. Along with the winning story, "75" by Abiola Oni, one that really jumped out to me was "Black Flag" by Guy Gunaratne. He went on to be shortlisted in the next round of reading (thankfully not by only me), and his debut novel, In Our Mad and Furious City, was longlisted for the Booker Prize two years later.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

CCW: I’m always forcing my friends to read books (it’s the librarian in me trying to get out), and some of the books I’ve loved and have shouted about recently are How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs; We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, a collection of essays by Samantha Irby; poetry from Morgan Parker in the form of Magical Negro; My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh; and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

GR: What’s next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

CCW: Before Christmas, I sent a first draft of my second novel to my editors and said, "PLEASE I don’t want any notes on this for MONTHS because I need to enjoy my life again, THANKS," so I can tell you that another novel is coming, but it’s still in its infancy. Very different to Queenie, but just as character-led, with a cast that told ME what they were going to do next. If you loved Queenie’s Corgis, taut friendships on the verge of breaking, and the unwinding mess that can be human nature, you’ll be very into novel two…

Candice Carty-Williams' novel Queenie will be available in the U.S. on March 19. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Chelsea (new)

Chelsea Downey Great interview! I love how y'all captured her wonderfully British yet incredibly unique voice. I hope I win a copy of Queenie but I know I'm going to be reading it soon either way. We need all the strong, diverse female authors we can get :)

message 2: by TeAnne (new)

TeAnne Great piece!

message 3: by K. (new)

K. What a distinctive voice and a timely reminder to write from what we know. Also reminded me how much of reading is American and need to consciously expand my reading to other writers in English. Love the link to all the books that have come up in the interview.

message 4: by Erimwionghae (new)

Erimwionghae I I love the fact you took out time and out did yourself! Am trying to be a great reader too

message 5: by Mikaela (new)

Mikaela Loved this interview! Candice, Queenie just jumped the queue to be the next book I read, probably this weekend. I can't wait!

message 6: by Cedricsmom (new)

Cedricsmom I cannot wait to read this! I listened to 3+ minutes of it on audio and BOOM! got my copy at Can't wait to laugh out loud while rolling down the highway during my daily commute listening to Queenie talk about her adventures. I'm very far from 25, but I think there are some experiences that most women share.

message 7: by Tumelo (new)

Tumelo Motaung I'm chaffed that you've dealt with the issue of non-black men commodifying women of colour. This also is my experience. It baffles me. I keep thinking, really! Is that all they think we are?

message 8: by Marsha (new)

Marsha Great interview! I have this book but haven't read it yet but now I kind of want to put down my current read and start on Queenie!

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