Since Religion exams were not sat in alphabetical order but according to house, Cameron’s desk was across the aisle from Kerry’s, and as the papers were being handed out the two of them fell into conversation about how criminally gross the three boys in the bathroom were. ‘He sneezed right next to me,’ Cameron said. ‘It was so loud that it was like an elephant had taken a really bad line of cocaine.’
‘What gospel does the angel come to Mary in?’
‘Super. And who replaced Judas?’
‘Who replaced Judas? You know . . . when he died, kicked the bucket, said sayonara, etc.?’
‘Hello all,’ said a nasal voice behind them.
‘Hello, Geoffrey,’ murmured Kerry, who watched as he warily took the desk on the other side of her. ‘What if he sneezes again?’ she hissed at Cameron.
‘No one’s asking you to look in his tissue,’ he answered.
‘Good! Because I’d die. The sound is bad enough.’
‘Greetings, delinquents!’ boomed the voice of the same PE teacher who had covered their Physics exam a week earlier. ‘In front of you are the Religious Studies examinations. I assume you all know the rules of the school’s examinations by now. You may begin!’
As they turned over the first page, Cameron understood why Imogen’s head had been so close to the table for five minutes and why she had asked those ‘last minute’ questions.
The first four questions in the exam were:
1. Who was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’s birth (c. 4 BC)?
2. Who was the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion (c. AD 33)?
3. In which of the four Gospels is the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary recorded?
4. According to the Book of Acts, who replaced Judas Iscariot as an apostle after his death?
Imogen was busy scribbling furiously, before stuttering to a halt at question 5. Kerry had got off to a wobbly start after answering ‘Julius Caesar’ for question 1 and ‘All of them’ for question 3. About twenty minutes in, she was distracted from her incorrectness by the constant sniffing of Geoffrey at the next table. She was in the business of shooting him her best dirty look when, quite without warning, Geoffrey’s head shot back as he let fly the most energetic sneeze in human history. Before Kerry’s traumatized eyes, a straight projectile of snot shot from Geoffrey’s nostrils and on to his desk.
And there it stayed – connecting Geoffrey’s nose to the table.
For a split second, nothing happened. The aqueduct of snot remained and Kerry looked as if she was developing the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now for a few words from our author.
There are quite a few couples in both my books - “Popular” and its sequel, “The Immaculate Deception,” and there’ll be even more in the next instalment in the series, “The Age of Vengeance,” which is out later this year. However, there are two main couples in the series who readers react the most strongly to – Mark and Meredith, who seem to despise each other at first, and Cameron and Blake. In both cases, the course of true love doesn’t exactly run smoothly!
Writing romantic storylines can create all kinds of challenges for a writer and when I began drafting “Popular,” I didn’t necessarily expect to enjoy them as much as I did. In the first place, everyone behaves ridiculously when they’re in love; that’s part of the secret fun of it, I think. Couples behave excruciatingly embarrassingly when in private, which is fine because it’s in private, but then you realize that characters in a book are never really in private, because the reader is always watching them. What’s cute between couples is often vomit- inducing for outsiders, so how do you write realistic scenes between fictional couples without leaving your readers wanting to reach for the nausea bucket? I tried to tackle that problem by having the character of Imogen (a blonde bombshell party girl who’s never without a boyfriend) invent a ranking system of the difference between PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) and PrADAs (Private Appropriate Displays of Affection.) Hopefully, if the characters are behaving realistically enough and not like one of those couples who seem to think they’ll die if they ever let go of each others’ hands, then the readers will respond positively to them.
More importantly, there’s always a risk with a love story that you’ll write something that seems like a fantasy or, even worse, an ‘if only that would happen to me’ fantasy. There is nothing more cringe-tastic than reading a book which you think is the author’s own personal fantasy. While it’s always a good idea for an author to draw on their own life, or the lives of those around them, in order to find some kind of truth, it’s far better to use that truth as a loose inspiration rather than to directly copy from it. The great theatre practitioner, Constantine Stanislavski, once said that when an actor starts to believe he is his character, then you should fire him. In the same way, if an author starts to believe their own story, then they’ve lost the plot. (If you’ll pardon the pun.) In “Popular,” a lot of the little anecdotes – like the teacher walking into a doorway or the epic projectile sneeze in the Maths exam – are directly inspired by things that really happened. The mannerisms and social values of my characters are also based on things I’ve observed in people around me. However, I was very careful to make sure that the storyline had its own voice and that it wasn’t based too closely on real life.
This is something I also made sure to stick to when it came to writing the romances. Every romance and every couple are unique. Every one of them has something which makes them special, whether it’s in a good or bad way. For me, finding out what that something is for a fictional couple is one of the most engaging challenges of being a writer. I sit down with the fact file of information I’ve created about the two characters (where they live in Belfast, what kind of music they like, books they enjoy, favourite colours, classes they’re taking in school, clothes they wear, articles I think they’d enjoy reading), I put together a play list of music that I associate with them and then I sit down and think what it is these two people will have, or should have, that makes their romance believable. It’s a strange process, but one that is so worthwhile once you finally figure it out. Once you’ve established the “feel” of your on-page couple, you find that writing them becomes instinctive, rather than cerebral. Once, when I was doing an author’s visit to my old school’s prep, a ten-year-old kid asked me what my favourite scenes to write were. I told him, “Actually, sometimes, to be honest, the lovey-dovey stuff. The romances.” He looked at me and grimaced, “Seriously? Yuck!” At ten, I’d have had the same reaction, but writing the romantic storylines of “Popular” and its sequels has been one of my favourite parts of the creative process. The final chapter of book two, “The Immaculate Deception,” remains one of my favourites and I hope that it has people cheering for the characters, rather than glancing at the page and thinking, “Seriously? Yuck!”