I am pleased to be able to share with you an extract from Boys for Beginners.
Gwynnie, who has just turned fourteen, is a tomboy. The closest she’s ever got to a boy is tackle on the football field, and she’s perfectly happy being one of the lads. Perfectly happy, that is, until the gorgeous Charlie Notts joins her school. Suddenly Gwynnie starts taking an interest in the strange and terrifying world of hair-straighteners and lash-curlers. Luckily she’s got super-girlie girl Jenny to help her - queen bee of the BB (Bellybutton) Club, Jenny is more than happy to teach Gwynnie how it’s done. In this extract, Gwynnie arrives at school after an exhausting morning doing her hair and make-up...
‘You look so good!’
I can’t tell if Jenny’s being honest, or being nice. Or maybe neither.
‘Hi Jenny.’ I just about get the words out.
‘Is this because of the lesson I gave you yesterday?’ She’s still speaking really loudly. ‘If you want, I’ll give you some more coaching after school, to teach you properly.’ She can see my worried look so she quickly adds, ‘Don’t get me wrong- you look fabulous!’ I’m just saying that it’s not easy when it’s your first try.’
I hope no one can see how red I’m going under all this make-up.
‘And why have you been hiding your divine little stomach under all those gross T-shirts and sports clothes?’
‘From what you’re wearing, I’m guessing you want me to get you into the BB Club,’ she stage-whispers. I nod. ‘I can get you in, no sweat. It is basically my club after all!’
I don’t know if I feel like a supermodel or a five-year-old, but I let Jenny lead me over to the BB Club because I am totally out of my depth here and she is slap bang in the middle of her depth. The BB girls are standing in their usual space: leaning against the railings of Beckett’s Park.
I can see Charlie Notts up ahead and we have to pass him to get to the girls. I’m praying that we won’t have to talk to him, but Jenny makes sure that we do. ‘Hey Charlie, look at Gwynnie. Don’t you think she just looks awesome?’
I’ve got shooting pains all up and down my left arm: the first sign of a heart attack.
Charlie says, ‘You look really nice, Gwynnie.’
Charlie Notts thinks I look really nice. I act completely gracefully by replying, ‘Hwah, phnma, sllmp.’
Jenny starts laughing at me, but not in a mean way, just in a kind of isn’t my friend Gwynnie so silly sometimes? way. ‘Oh Gwynnie, you’re an absolute riot when you’re shy around boys!’
Charlie says, ‘Gwynnies’s not shy around me, are you Gwynnie?’
‘Hsma, waa, ngag,’ I say, coherently.
‘Besides,’ he says, ‘she has nothing to be shy about. She looks good.’
Charlie Notts said that I look good! I don’t give a damn if this heart attack kills me, my life is complete. It couldn’t get better unless I was signed for Tottenham.
She does look good, Charlie, you are right,’ says Jenny. ‘And I don’t care what anyone says, but over-applying the make-up is brave, and some people can even pull it off.’
I was worried about the make-up, but Jenny is making this out to be a good thing.
‘The critics might disagree, but size zero is still so in right now,’ she continues, as if evaluating some piece of modern art. Wasn’t there an artist who tried to pass off elephant dung as a masterpiece? That’s what I feel right now.
‘Well,’ she says, ‘Gwynnie is more like a double zero, which is even better. Most guys say they want girls with a bit more meat on the. What do you think Charlie?’
Whatever Charlie says now is going to be the most important thing he ever says ever. He will either finish me off, or make me float.
‘I couldn’t possibly comment on what most guys want, but I think Gwynnie looks very nice today.’ He looks at me and says, ‘Not that you don’t look nice every day Gwynnie. I’m just saying, make-up suits you.’
That’s it, I’m airborne.
‘Are you going to talk to Paul?’ he asks. ‘I want to see if I can borrow one of his games.’
I didn’t see Paul arriving at the bus stop. I am worried what he’ll say about how I look, but I also want to spend every second with Charlie, so if Charlie is going to talk to Paul then I am too.
‘Yeah, of course-‘
‘Er, no!’ Jenny cuts in. ‘Gwynnie is coming to talk to my friends over here. Gwynnie and Paul are not joined at the hip, you know!’
Jenny drags me away and we leave Charlie stranded.
‘You’re welcome,’ says Jenny, and I don’t know what I’m welcome to. ‘I purposefully steered you towards Charlie so that he could see how nice you look. But top tip, sweetie: always leave them wanting more. If they want to spend time with you, that’s when you leave.’
Jenny is going to teach me so much about being a girl.
We get to where the BB Club are standing and I feel almost as nervous as I did when I was approaching Charlie Nott. Jenny takes the lead.
‘Heya ladies how’s it going?’
They are dumbstruck.
‘Don’t stand with your mouths open, you might catch flies,’ she says. ‘Gwynnie wants to be in the BB Club and I think we should let her.’
Kimba pulls her bitchy face, which she does so often it’s become her normal face. She looks me up and down and says, ‘She doesn’t have her belly-button pierced, so she can’t. Sorry Gwynnie.’ She doesn’t really look sorry at all.
‘But,’ Elizabeth Philip says really quietly, ‘Tanya doesn’t have hers done and neither do I.’
‘Yes, thanks for that, Elizabeth,’ says Jenny, frowning at her as if she’s interrupted an adult conversation. ‘Kimba, the BB Club has always been about a shared ideal.’
‘But’, says Melissa, ‘as Gwynnie herself once said, we don’t want to include even more members that haven’t got their belly-buttons pierced. People might start thinking we’re idiots.
I have to fight back the urge to say what needs to be said. Yesterday’s Gwynnie wants to kick Today’s Gwynnie in the bum. But Yesterday’s Gwynnie wasn’t called really nice-looking by Charlie Notts, so who gives a flan about Yesterday’s Gwynnie?
‘Actually Gwynnie was quite rude about the whole thing,’ says Melissa.
‘What’s with the long memories, girls?’ asks Jenny. ‘How about this? How about we give her, like, a bronze membership, like not a full membership, until she’s proved herself?’
Will Gwynnie ever manage to get Charlie to see her as more than just a great football player? And why is Jenny so eager to help her? Can Gwynnie turn her back on her footie-playing past? And will she ever learn to master those lash-curlers?
Find out in this cringingly hilarious debut from a fresh new voice in British children’s fiction