Interview with Helen Croydon, author of ‘Sugar Daddy Diaries: When a Fantasy Became an Obsession’

We enter the world of ‘sugar daddies’ with Helen Croydon, writer of Sugar Daddy Diaries: When a Fantasy Became an Obsession. Find out about Prada shopping trips, dating older men and the tribulations of getting a first book published…

About your book:

Tell us a bit about your new book, ‘Sugar Daddy Diaries: When a Fantasy Became an Obsession’…
It is a confessional memoir about my experiences after I set out to explore my…let’s say…‘penchant for older men’.

It spans a period of three years. I started as a naïve 29-year-old with a harmless fantasy of a fling with a sophisticated powerful high-flyer in a fancy hotel. But I found myself suddenly in a world of Prada shopping trips and first class travel and soon it became too difficult to stop and the idea of a ‘normal’ relationship seemed dreadful!

I intended it to examine the attraction of power and status and to challenge the conventional model of relationships.

What was the initial inspiration for writing it?
I never intended to write a book about my dating experiences. Four years ago I guiltily joined because I was bored of dating guys my own age. I had come out of a long-term relationship so I didn’t want a committed relationship but I wanted the fun and flirtation that goes with dating. I wanted to meet someone older, wiser and more interesting, but whom I didn’t have an obligation to see every week. My experiences on the website and my discovery of the culture of ‘sugar daddy dating’ proved to be the most fascinating journey of self-discovery of my life. Being a writer and having had ambitions to write a book since about the age of 5, it became a story that I couldn’t not write.

What did you find difficult (if anything) about swapping shorter pieces for undertaking a full novel?
Adding more descriptive details, emotions and analysis. With a journalistic article you skim the surface layer of each of the points. With the narrative of a book, you go two, three, four layers down into each point. But then, you’ve still got to keep your train of thought and link it all together so it flows logically.

That’s the hardest bit! Structuring a feature when you have so many case studies, interviews and points to make is difficult enough, but it’s 100 times more complicated with a whole book. I had so many different versions of the manuscript, where I swapped and changed passages and whole chapters, trying to establish the best combination to fit the story arc.

Do you have any advice for budding novelists or future memoir-writers out there?
Don’t give up! It took me a year to get a publishing deal. I started out with an agent which didn’t work out so we parted company a year later. I was so frustrated in how much time seemed to have been wasted that I got out the ‘Writer’s Handbook’ and vowed to go through every single publisher from A-Z that had memoirs on its list. By the time I got to ‘M’ I had two offers!

I would also say – don’t pitch a book before it is ready. When I initially contacted publishers my manuscript was underdeveloped – anecdotal dating tales with no concurrent theme and no continuity of characters. Cue a pile of rejection letters. You don’t need to have a finished, polished manuscript before you pitch a book, but you have to know where it is going and what the overall message will be.

Are there any writers you look up to yourself?
Lots! Jeremy Clarkson makes me cry with laughter. Caitlin Moran makes me go ‘hmmmm.” I love Kathy Lette for her boldness. Christopher Ryan, who wrote Sex at Dawn, argues through anthropology and evolutionary theory that humans are not meant to be monogamous. He does it beautifully.

Any plans for a future update on ‘Sugar Daddy Diaries’?
Well my phase of dating ‘sugar daddies’ is over so that rules out a sequal. It was a fabulous three years but it turned into an addiction and had to end (read the book!). It would be hard to do another memoir unless I could find an equally fascinating backdrop in the form of a new passion, lifestyle or journey I wanted to explore.

So book two will be a piece of non-fiction questioning the suitability of the monogamous, conventional, lifelong, full-time relationship in the modern world. I am interviewing evolutionists, theologists, psychologists, sociologists, desperate singletons, happy couples – the lot!

I’m always keen to hear from PR companies with fresh research, commentators or interesting case studies in this area.

If you had to cast actors for the people you’ve written about in your book, who would you choose?
Oh gosh! I am shamefully ignorant of films and actors. I did actually draw one analogy in my book between a character called Munich Man and Gene Wilder. Munich Man was an excitable, fast-living, party-loving, cocaine-abusing, wide-eyed fuzz of chaos with a lot of money and hair not unlike the Back to the Future professor. He was great fun!

About your work:

Apart from writing and releasing your first book, what have you been up to since the last time we caught up with you?
I suppose I have tailored my niche. I used to say I wrote about sex and the sex industry but it dawned on me recently that I was misbranding myself. I was getting frustrated by individuals and PRs contacting me with stories I had no interest in – tighter restrictions on the porn industry, female genital mutilation, eccentric erotic artists – all that sort of stuff. So I thought “I clearly need to change how I describe what I actually do!” My first few articles as a freelancer were indeed about the sex industry, mainly because of my experiences while writing my book. But really that was just my ‘in’ into print journalism after being in TV news. I am much more about exploring intelligent issues surrounding different models of relationships and how attitudes to relationships are changing.

Oh, and I’ve also done a stand-up comedy course. I’ve always thought that for women, stand-up is the most difficult thing you could ever do. It was nowhere near as bad as I thought.

Are there any other features or interviews you’d still love the chance to do?
Many of the articles I want to write are related to the research I want to do for my next book. Exploring different models of relationships – co-parenting relationships via fertility sites, polygamous networks, long-term mistresses to high-profile men, relationship patterns in different cultures or even in native tribes. Etc. etc.

About you:

What is the last film you watched/book you read?
Film: I really can’t remember. It feels so indulgent to settle into two hours of film that I never do.

Book: Toast by Nigel Slater. It’s a ‘food memoir’ of his childhood. As someone who has never actually opened her oven door, it’s not the sort book I would have bought! But I picked it up free at the London Book Fair and when I sampled the first few pages it was delightful. His writing is warm and touching – a child’s mind written with adult’s words. The story was so subtle it was hardly even there, but it was simply a joy to read.

If you weren’t a journalist and writer, what would you be doing now?
I started professional life as a tax consultant for Arthur Andersen because I studied Japanese at university and they needed Japanese speakers. I hated the corporate environment so much I resigned via a poem to my boss CC’ing in my whole floor (I was quite young and reckless and I’m not that proud – ok maybe a bit proud!)

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