Sam Brooks talks to the author of Instagram romance novella Blooming Desire about his work, and a fanfiction scholar about why so many of us want to read it.
“No need for a four pm press conference.”
“Yes, Prime Minister.”
She did her best not to quiver with excitement. He smiled his boyish smile at her, his striking blue eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
She wondered whether he enjoyed calling her Prime Minister as much as she enjoyed hearing it.
Thus begins Blooming Desire, the romance novella being written and released on Instagram by Joan Chick (a pseudonym). If you’re an eagle-eyed reader, you might have noticed the characters in the above passage resemble a few people you might recognise from real life – specifically the 1pm Covid-19 press conference. Without spoiling it entirely, Blooming Desires re-imagines parliament as a place of “sweat-soaked” shirts and “pent-up sexual energy” flowing like “red-hot lava”.
Chick released the first chapter on Instagram on August 25, just over a week into the level four lockdown. As of this writing, that post has had nearly 1,700 likes. The comments range from “This is amazing!” to “Why can’t I share this!!! It’s so good ahahahahaha” to “Bravo!!! It’s what we’re all thinking!”. Despite the raunchy content of the novel itself, the comments on the Blooming Desire posts might be some of the most wholesome on the internet.
“This is just some funny joke to hopefully help people pass the time in lockdown,” says Jack Nichol, the man behind Joan Chick. “I’m really enjoying people’s responses because it’s just a bit of silly fun.” Nichol is currently writing up to 1000 words a night. Then he’ll go back and rewrite, which takes him a few more nights. He’s released six chapters so far, but he plans to see the story through to the end.
“It’ll probably be a fun little novella,” he says. “Not a real book, but something you can read in an afternoon, have a laugh and forget about.”
Writing has become an outlet for Nichol, who is a stay-at-home dad. He initially started writing Blooming Desire to give his partner, who is an essential worker, a laugh when she came home from work. “I think this book is kind of a response to the fact that I’m at home with a toddler all day, watching The Wiggles, reading books with her and trying to be a good dad,” says Nichol. “It’s just a release for me. It’s fun to have a couple of glasses of wine and then write a few silly jokes, you know?”
While it started as an inside joke, people are now engaging in the thousands. Nichol says the explanation is simple: it’s raunchy and funny. He reiterates the silliness of the endeavour throughout. “Have you heard that saying that Mark Twain had which is like, ‘Don’t use a $5 word when a 50 cent word will do?’ Well, with this thing, I’m using 5 cent words. This thing’s garbage and I just hope people like it.”
Blooming Desire is the latest in a long, bizarre collection of art depicting the constellations of stars within our public-facing Covid-19 response team. Until now, most of this art has been restricted to paintings (like the one depicting Jacinda Ardern as Wonder Woman and Bloomfield as Superman) or memes (though what is a meme if not an internet painting?), but Blooming Desire represents a step in another, more literary and much steamier direction.
But while Blooming Desire might appear on the surface to be erotic fanfiction – otherwise known as slash fiction, a reference to the slash between the characters’ names when written (Frodo/Sam, Harry/Draco etc) – it doesn’t fall under the proper definition of the form.
Jean Sergent, who wrote a masters thesis on the sociology of fanfiction, says fanfiction is a feminist artform: it’s predominantly written by women for women, which is what sets it apart from other kinds of literary reimaginations. “So, you take the characters of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Professor Moriarty. They were first written in the 19th century. They’ve been rebooted, rehashed and reinterpreted a whole bunch of times, and almost always, those have been done by men, and done by men in a legitimised space.”
Blooming Desire would be better considered real person fiction (RPfic), a sub-genre which uses real people in a fictional narrative rather than established fictional characters, she says. In this case, those participants are Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield, and various other characters in the public sphere of our Covid response (and it also includes cameos from the likes of Chlöe Swarbrick and Patrick Gower).
Sergent says the most popular RPfic is not generally about civil servants and journalists, but about boy bands and emo bands. “The motivation that someone might have to read fanfic about [insert emo band] here, and the guitarist and the lead singer having hot, passionate sex backstage, is completely different to the motivation to read Blooming Desire.”
She sums up Blooming Desire, not unkindly, as “stunt writing”. “It’s a silly little piece of art that people get excited about because it’s people that we know, and it’s an art form that an unfamiliar audience feels comfortable laughing at.”
Nichol intends to release 10 chapters to round out the novella. The latest chapter involves the prime minister walking in on “Bad Boy” Chris Hipkins, Patrick Gower and Clarke Gayford working out in a (presumably fictional) gym underneath the Beehive.
“Then Jacinda understood what was going on: Chris and Clarke hadn’t been torturing Patrick Gower.
Patty [sic] wanted them to tickle him. Patrick Gower’s kink is tickling.”
Blooming Desire is, against all odds and probably against the author’s desire, a genuine page turner. Not because you even want to know what happens next, but because Nichol is clearly enjoying writing true parodies of these public figures we’ve all been exposed to for so long. It could be written off as a meme stretched over several Instagram posts, but underneath all the jokes, you feel the earnest, sweet intentions of a man wanting to make his essential worker partner laugh during a stressful time.
Is it fanfiction? No, probably not. Is it a stunt? Almost definitely. Is it good writing? Debatable. Is it enough to make us chuckle on our daily doom scroll? Yes, and sometimes that’s all it needs to be.