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A nice girl like Abigail

Abigail Bosanko's new book is a romance aimed at the professional female. But it includes whisky tasting notes and its central character is a whisky expert. What's going on?
On the face of it A Nice Girl Like Me would seem to be a typical girlie novel. It’s got a pink cover. It’s about a woman married to an older man but is romantically drawn to a young, dashing, handsome buck. Will she or won’t she?And to be honest, do we really care? Not if we’re male we don’t.Hang on a minute, though; isn’t that a quote from Charlie MacLean? Aren’t those tasting notes? And have I read that right?The woman narrating the story seems not only to be a bit of an expert on whisky but actually works for what is called in the book the Edinburgh Malt Whisky Society.And there’s more: who on earth is this referring to when it talks of Dodgio? Where do these references to pink whisky come from? And is it my imagination, but are the conversations between traditional whisky drinkers and the younger ones who want to, among other things, add ice to their whisky, serve as a metaphor for the romantic cross-generation comings and goings in the rest of the book?Novelist Abigail Bosanko’s new book, published in September, might be all frothy waves on the surface, but underneath issues seethe like angry currents. In the Autumn, U.K. women’s magazine Marie Claire will give away her last book on its cover and promote A Nice Girl Like Me inside. And there’s the rub – Abigail, or rather our heroine Emily, isn’t such a nice girl after all.In fact she’s metaphorically going in to battle on two fronts; against the old guard of the whisky industry who frown at anything beyond a dash of water in a single whisky, and her target audience – women who aren’t considered natural drinkers of whisky but could and should be. Or at least as far as Abigail’s concerned. Part time employed at the real Scotch Malt Whisky Society, she’s convinced that there are lots of potential converts out there, and old fashioned and crusty attitudes shouldn’t be allowed to put them off.“The people who started the Society were excellent people but it was a very different thing to what it is now,” she says. “It was very old guard.“One of the problems with whisky was the paternalistic attitude that prevailed, that ethos that told you how you should enjoy your whisky and that was it. In the book I wrote about the Whisky Conservative Marketing Board and of course it doesn’t actually exist although it feels like it does in some ways.“Early on in the book someone says that we are going to teach the whisky industry how to talk to women. The marketing departments of some whisky companies are like spotty adolescent boys at a party wondering how to talk to the girls.It’s a very real intention to do something about that. When I started sending out renewal letters to Society members it was all men and I started to ask why women weren’t interested.And I realised that the whisky industry wasn’t talking to them.“In a way it’s all symbolised in the book by the fact that the main character is married to a much older man. That’s like the whisky industry. You can respect the older view, you can look up to it, it can make you feel warm and comfortable, but a younger woman might want something different.It’s not about changing it fundamentally but changing it a bit.”Abigail, now 39 but going on 25, is well qualified to take this view. Originally from Newcastle in the North East of England, she grew up in a family where all the women drank whisky, and as a result she never thought there was anything odd about doing so.“It was always my favoured tipple,” she says. “It was only when I got old enough to realise that the drink wasn’t actually being targeted at me that I realised I was doing anything unusual.”In the book the lead character is involved with the launch of a pink whisky called Wild Cat. Abigail believes that a fresh approach to whisky can attract independent career-minded women who pick up the book for holiday escapism.“And I am in a great position to do so,” she says. “I can get to places that whisky companies simply can’t reach. There has never been a book like this before, a book aimed at women but where whisky is featured so prominently.“You could say it’s a sophisticated sort of product placement. Or more accurately, product displacement because the book is taking whisky in to a different place.”That, she says, is why the whole book is structured like a whisky tasting.“I structured it as if I was taking a whisky novice by the hand and leading her through the story, giving her drops of information on whisky on the way.“What I want to happen is that some women will read the book and enjoy it and then go back and experiment with whisky. I’m very passionate about whisky and I want other people to be too. That would be a success for me.”*A Nice Girl Like Me will be published in the United Kingdom in September by Time Warner.