One trope I’ll always get excited about: fake dating. Toss in witty banter, a super sweet love interest and a ’90s romcom-vibe & I’m all in🙋🏻♀️. Alexis Hall’s newest book Boyfriend Material (out now) checks all of these boxes and more. The story follows Luc O’Donnell, the child of rock star parents, as he tries cleaning up his public image by entering a (fake) relationship with the super sweet Oliver Blackwood. Soon lines blur & it gets harder for both Luc & Oliver to deny their growing feelings. Below, Hall shares more on fake dating and inspiration behind Boyfriend Material.
What inspired Boyfriend Material?
First of all, thank you so much for having me! Okay now to answer your question. This is probably showing my age but it’s primarily inspired by British romantic comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s, almost all of which involve some combination of Hugh Grant and Richard Curtis. There’s just something really comforting for me about those movies, and I wanted to do a queerer, less ’90s version.
I love a fake dating trope! What made you want to tackle writing this trope?
Honestly, I just really like the trope as well. In general, I like to take on well-established romance tropes and queer them up. Especially because it’s not always as simple as just re-gendering one of the characters. I mean, take fake-dating, it’s messed up that we still live in a cultural context where women are expected to be in stable relationships by [x] time of life that Heroine Must Pretend To Have Boyfriend To Avoid Negative Judgement is a relatable premise. But that cultural context doesn’t apply in the same way in queer relationships. So essentially I had to come up with a LGBTQ+ analogue that made sense and felt believable.
I read that Boyfriend Material was meant to have a late-1990s Richard Curtis-vibe. What’s your favorite Richard Curtis film and who would be your dream casting for Luc or Oliver?
Oops, sorry. I sort of touched on this above! The problem with these movies is that they have aged less well than one might have liked them to—and some degree of my affection is definitely nostalgic. But I do have a huge soft spot for Notting Hill. I’m just a sucker for that almost explicitly fairy-tale “ordinary person / celebrity” dynamic, and I do like the way the Julia Roberts character gets to act in ways more commonly associated with romance heroes than romance heroines.
Dreamcasting is hard, particularly because I like people to be able to imagine the characters however they want to. But I guess I see Luc as having that dissolute Robert Sheehan air? And while he doesn’t look like him, I do sort of imagine Oliver as giving young Colin Firth vibes.
I loved the guest post you wrote on All About Romance’s website about levels of intimacy, sexual activity and emotional climax in romance. Without giving anything away, how did you decide to go about this for Boyfriend Material?
Thank you very much! I mean, as I said in the post I always feel that intimacy and eroticism in romance has to fit the context of the book and the context of the characters. I tend to write across the spectrum depending on the type of book I’m writing, and the thing about romcoms—or at least the romcoms I’m riffing on—is that they are seldom sexually explicit. I mean, Pretty Woman is about an actual sex-worker and while there’s definitely some heat to the film (piano scene springs to mind), it’s classified as a 15 in the UK. So I wanted Luc and Oliver to have sexual intimacy but I wanted the focus to be very much on the intimacy rather than the sex qua sex.
Three words to describe what you’re writing next?
Reality TV Cakes.
Last five star read?
Ahhh, I so do not do star ratings. But I just finished The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon. The setup here is that the heroine discovers the guy she’s dating is sort of two-timing her with two other women (three-timing her?) and, when she goes to confront him, she ends up forming a friendship with the women he’s cheating with. They all decide to spend some time focusing on themselves, and not thinking about men, which—of course—in romanceland is the magic formula for immediately meeting the perfect guy. There’s a lot going on in this book, because it’s heavily focused on female friendship and women in STEM, alongside general themes of race, gender and intersectionality, but it’s also an incredibly charming office-romance between two really compatible people.