Writing a First Kiss

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I’ve been thinking about kissing, more specifically about writing about kissing. It can be a tricky business getting that first kiss between your OTP right and that got me reflecting on my first ever kiss.

I don’t actually count my first kiss as a real kiss but I’ll tell you about it anyway. We were sitting at the back of a coach, I can’t remember where we’d been but we were on our way back to school and there weren’t that many of us. I don’t really remember how old I was – 15, maybe 16? Anyway, we were playing truth or dare and I was dared to kiss this boy who I really did not want to kiss. Peer pressure is such a forceful thing when you’re trapped at the back of a bus. Well, after declaring I’d never kissed anyone and surely my first kiss shouldn’t go down like this I still managed to find myself facing the boy. He was quite sweet about it but honestly, I just felt dread. He leant forward – I squeezed my eyes and mouth shut – there was no way that tongue was getting anywhere near me, and he proceeded to slobber over my face. It was horrendous. He pulled back and said that I didn’t open my mouth and I just shrugged and told him it was my first time, I didn’t know what to do. And then wiped my face. I still don’t count it, I didn’t kiss back.

It doesn’t count, okay!

Then I had my real first kiss with a guy two years above me (I know, I know, I was a badass). I think I was 16. A late bloomer but I was thoroughly willing. And honestly, you cannot make this stuff up, if I wrote this in a book it was be laughed at being far too implausible. “No one would ever say that!” People would cry. After our first kiss he came up for air and said, “Wow, that was electricity”. (See, I was a superb kisser, that’s why the first one doesn’t count.) I was pretty horrified when he said that and told my best friend straight away and we laughed and laughed… but I kept seeing him for a few weeks because he was two years older than me. I wasn’t a fool.
Let’s skip ahead a year or so to my best first kiss of my teen years, one of those first kisses that you can really draw inspiration from for when you write your teen characters locking lips. His name was Roger Herman*. I had had a crush on Roger Herman for a long time. He took art but in a different class and I was thrilled when I realised he was good at it. He was, quite literally, a dream YA fiction crush. Not a jock but got along with them (think Penn Badgley’s character Woodchuck Todd in EasyA). Played football really well and was a delight to see in his shorts. He was cool in a way my friends couldn’t see, but I could. He didn’t conform to the school social structure, he was apart and that was so incredibly enticing. I thought I didn’t have a chance after I tripped over a desk during our art exam right in front of him. I know, it’s basically the plot of a YA novel. And then, one Saturday evening, outside our school bar (I went to boarding school and they had a bar that served alcohol to stop us from running away), Roger Herman was leaning against the fence, drinking his pint like a goddam God. I, myself, was a couple of sips in (we had a token system of 3 drinks each) and already drunk because I am a lightweight. I don’t think I ever got through my third pint. I don’t remember how the conversation started between us (drunk, remember), I do remember repeatedly asking him to hold my beer whilst I went to pee. There is a lot of liquid in a pint. Anyway, he obviously found my tiny bladder charming because mid flirty lean-in HE leant-in, our lips touched and they were both warm and cold from the beer. I hate to plagiarise but, it was electricity.
You see, writing about the moment lips touch and typing that sacred word ‘kiss’ is scary. You don’t want to undersell or oversell. You want it to satisfy the readers who have been waiting for this moment for 300 pages, you can’t let them down. But you also run the risk of falling into cheesy/gross territory. You don’t want the kiss to seem ‘wet’ or too ‘staring into eyes’. You also don’t want it to be perfunctory. So what I have found, in my personal first kisses and writing first kisses, is that it’s all about the moments before. The way you can feel it coming, what your bodies are doing. That is how you get a first kiss to feel like you’re back in your school bar and the boy of your dreams is leaning down towards you, a slight smile on his face. You know that this is it, this is the moment, and it is everything and more.
You may be wondering what happened between us. Well, we had a very on and off relationship. Excitingly tempestuous, dramatic relationships were LYFE to me back then. I could not get enough, even though my heart was repeatedly broken and I ended up seeing someone else whilst still pining for Roger Herman. It wasn’t to be. He apologised at our reunion, and I apologised for the dramz, and we both just shrugged and said “we were 17” and carried on with our lives.
And don’t despair, I continued on my dramatic romantic journey with fervour until I calmed down considerably almost 7 years ago, when I met my partner.

Now for book news, I’ve started a new one! Hurray! I cannot tell you how good it feels to be writing again. It’s a YA, hence me thinking about first kisses, and it’s a retelling. I’m not ready to say what it’s a retelling of yet, but when it feels like a book, and I’ve figured out a title, I might just reveal all.

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