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Toni Jordan: Useless Hearts, useful chicklit

HerCanberra Team

Toni Jordan is a writer of that wonderful thing – clever chicklit.

Her latest novel is an old-fashioned farce, a comedy of errors, missteps and dodgy decisions, and features her trademark emotional intelligence, wit and storytelling prowess.

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts sees Janice holding things together for her nieces as their father runs off to Noosa with their teacher Martha. Their mother Caroline is close behind, but then next-door neighbour arrives (through the window) for a tryst with Caroline, only to find Janice in her bed. He is in turn followed closely behind by wife, Lesley, and we arrive in screwball comedy territory. When Alec, Janice’s ex appears, hold it together she can no longer.

Along the way, themes of infertility, loyalty and the relevance of microbiology to the everyday are explored. We caught up with Toni ahead of her conversation with Nikki Anderson at Muse this weekend at a very special Mother’s Day event which will include special cocktails like the Økar Spritz – an Aussie take on the classic Italian aperitif using generous glugs of prosecco poured over a couple of shots of devilishly delicious Australian Amaro.

HerCanberra: Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is reminiscent of the screwball comedies of 1930s and 40s. Do you have a favourite film, character or actor from this era you can tell us about?

Toni: I love all of them! Those films were so fast, wisecracking and witty. I especially love the comedies of remarriage, from which I’ve drawn heavily. One of my favourites is His Girl Friday—Cary Grant is the hard-boiled newspaper editor and Rosalind Russell is his star reporter, and they’re already divorced when the movie starts. It’s brilliant, I could watch it over and over. 

You trained (and worked) as a scientist in a previous life and often bring science into your writing – is this a conscious thing or is your brain so imbued with science that it creeps into your writing?

I can’t help it! Once a science nerd, always a science nerd.

You are a great defender of chicklit. Why is it so often trashed and what importance do you see in it?

I think part of the problem is the term itself. I’m not sure what it means. Does it mean ‘novels written by women’? Because that means Michelle de Kretser and Margaret Atwood. Or does it mean: novels meant to be read by women? Because I think that’s every novel.

Maybe it means novels that have a romance in them? But then that’s also Anna Karenina and Middlemarch. Does it mean ‘novels that don’t touch on serious issues’? But Liane Moriarty writes about domestic violence and Marian Keyes writes about depression. Or does ‘chicklit’ actually mean ‘novels that aren’t written very well’? But of course every genre has examples in it that are written beautifully, and others that are not well written. 

I’ve been thinking about this for years now, and the only sensible answer I’ve come up with is this: ‘chicklit’ means a book with a particular kind of cover. Cartoon women or the back of a real woman’s head, shoes or lipsticks or handbags.


Do you think it’s a good medium for discussing relationships?

Novels in general are brilliant for this, and romantic comedies are perfect. I don’t think something can be genuinely comedic unless you balance it with the weight of something serious.

As a teacher of creative writing, what’s the piece of advice you most often give your students?

Read more! You’re not Tom Hanks trapped on an island, crying over Wilson. Every single problem that you have with your writing has already been solved by someone else—you just have to find the right writer to help you. Every good novel is a masterclass in how to write a novel, and every bad novel is a masterclass in ‘how not to write a novel.’

Do you follow this advice yourself?

I’m obsessive. I still read 2 novels a week. One of the reasons I got rid of my car was so I can take more public transport and read more.

Your event at Muse is on Mother’s Day. What makes it the perfect thing to do with mum on May 8?

Take her out to Muse so we can chat about romance and comedy!

the essentials 

What: Toni Jordan in conversation with Nikki Anderson
Where: Muse Canberra
When: Sunday 8 May from 3pm-4pm
Cost: $10
More information: www.musecanberra.com.au/events/2016/4/9/toni-jordan-our-tiny-useless-hearts


We’re giving away two double passes for two lucky HerCanberra readers to see Toni Jordan at Muse this Saturday.

Just email us at [email protected] and tell us why you’d like to go!

Entries close at 11:59pm on Thursday 5 May. Entrants will be notified by 12pm Friday 6 May. Only winners will be contacted. 


Her Canberra

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