Author Matt Cain.
There was no-one quite like Jackie Collins. More than just a writer, she was her own literary genre.
When you see her name emblazoned across the cover of a book you know exactly what you’re getting – scandal, suspense and lots of sex. Her 32 novels have sold a massive 500 million copies around the world and each of them has been a New York Times bestseller. I’m one of her biggest fans – and no other writer has inspired me more.
When I was growing up I always loved reading escapist, fun fiction but when I went to university to study French and Spanish, having to dissect and analyse so many serious, worthy novels pretty much killed what had been one of my greatest pleasures. But then I discovered Jackie. A year after graduating I went on holiday to Spain with a few girlfriends and picked up Hollywood Wives
. Within minutes I was drooling, gasping and giggling out loud on the beach. After years of feeling like my batteries had run out, it was as if somebody had switched me back on again. Since then I’ve devoured most of her books, from early classics like American Star
through to more recent hits like The Power Trip
There’s so much I love about Jackie. First of all, her characters are brilliantly drawn – from the Hollywood wives enjoying the excesses of the 80s through to the reality TV stars and Russian oligarchs of her more recent titles. Her stories unfold with a breathtaking immediacy and an electrifying energy that practically bounces off the page. She’s an expert in gradually building up tension, twisting and turning her numerous plotlines before deftly bringing them all together in an eye-bulgingly exciting ending. Along the way she allows us to luxuriate in an intoxicating cocktail of humour, glamour and of course sex, that can lift us out of the mundanity of our own lives and plunge us head-first into some of our wildest fantasies.
Jackie was also a woman way ahead of her time. She was a proud feminist, creating strong female characters like Lucky Santangelo years before the hapless Bridget Jones began sitting around passively pining for a man. Her novels were often bitingly critical of society’s double standard that allowed men to sleep around and be celebrated as studs while sexually liberated women were demonised as sluts. She documented the lives of black people way before most of the white-dominated publishing industry had even worked out that they existed, and she was writing sympathetic, well-rounded gay characters at the same time as her rivals, like Shirley Conran in Lace
, were portraying gay men as either camp stereotypes or dark, twisted villains.
I was lucky enough to interview Jackie in 2002, when I was working as a reporter on a local TV show in London. The woman I met was fun, sparky and fiercely intelligent. She chatted to me about Dickens and Balzac and I was blown away when she told me that she wrote all of her novels longhand, without working out her plot or structure first. I went away feeling inspired – and began to think about writing my own books.
A few years later I finally sat down at my laptop and started work. But at first I allowed myself to be swayed by other people’s expectations: because I’m bright, everyone assumed I was going to produce some kind of literary masterpiece. I tried my best but it was a long and painful process. After years of struggling to find time to write around a full-time job I finally completed my first novel but when I submitted it to agents and then publishers I was subjected to a slow and steady onslaught of rejection that chipped away at my soul and left me feeling crushed and defeated. I wasn’t sure I could submit myself to such a barrage of negativity all over again.
But then I remembered Jackie. I re-read Hollywood Wives
and re-connected with what I’d loved so much about it. Exploring the book again but this time as an aspiring writer, I found myself thinking that if Jackie was so intelligent and was happy to write fun, accessible fiction, why shouldn’t I?
Feeling emboldened, I went away and wrote another novel, Shot Through the Heart
; a romantic comedy about a Hollywood actress who falls in love with a paparazzi photographer. I didn’t want to imitate Jackie’s style and found myself writing much more of a love story than you find in most of her novels – not to mention adding my own camp, irreverent humour. Even so, I couldn’t resist including my own little tribute in the shape of a character who’s a huge fan of her books. And it worked. The novel was published by Pan Macmillan and reviewers called it ‘riotous’ and ‘rollicking’ fun. I was particularly thrilled when Elle magazine announced that I was ‘the closest we have to a home-turf Jackie Collins’.
I haven’t looked back since and my second novel, Nothing But Trouble
, was published earlier this summer. It’s a racy thriller about a British pop star whose wild, rock and roll lifestyle lands her in a situation where everything she's worked so hard for could come crashing down around her. It’s set in London rather than Los Angeles but it includes my first ever sex scenes. To conquer my nerves before I started writing I re-read some of Jackie’s raunchiest ever moments. So what better way to treat myself once I’d finished promoting the book than by going to see Jackie read from her latest novel, The Santangelos
? I had no reason to suspect it would be one of her final public appearances and just ten days later she’d be dead. She was on sparkling form, without the slightest sign that she was suffering from breast cancer. When we chatted afterwards she remembered our first meeting and was very supportive of my work as a writer. She signed and dedicated a copy of her latest book to me with the message, ‘Keep on writing!’
So thanks for the inspiration, Jackie. Thanks for helping me find my voice as a writer and thanks for all the pleasure you’ve given me as a reader. And I promise that every time I start a new book I’ll think back to that summer I first read Hollywood Wives
– because if I hadn’t discovered you I wouldn’t be writing now.
WORDS: MATT CAIN
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