This weekend someone who was a big part of my teenage years passed away. I came home to find a message from my bestie Julia: “RIP to our educator, mama Collins.” I immediately knew who she meant and it broke my heart: author Jackie Collins had lost her battle with breast cancer aged 77.
Jackie Collins novels—alongside Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place episodes—satisfied and ignited many of my teenage curiosities. When I got into my late teens and stopped reading the books (largely because I read her entire oeuvre), I was embarrassed about it for a good few years. Jackie Collins’s novels are sensationalized, raunchy tales about the rich and famous, full of unrealistically good-looking characters, sex, betrayal, and scandal (they are hilariously termed “bonkbusters”). But I have since stopped being embarrassed and embrace them as an essential part of my growing up. I have always been a voracious reader, but these days I have less and less time to read for pleasure (I didn’t sign up for this #adultlyf). I now look back on my high school years and the amount of books I could devour with fondness and nostalgia. Julia and I would go to our neighborhood’s shopping center (we lived two houses apart) every day after school to eat chips, “buy” (in the Winona sense of the word) lipsticks, and check out if there were any new Jackie Collins scintillators on the shelves. We would spend 80% of our conversations discussing the characters and far-fetched narratives. We kind of always knew they were ridiculous but it didn’t stop us reading them. And we were also aware—even then—that with titles like Hollywood Wives, The Stud, The Bitch, and The World Is Full Of Married Men, that Collins and her books had a sense of humor.
Another thing that Collins’s novels have in common is strong female leads who are not afraid to flaunt and use their sexuality. Unlike most ‘romance’ writers, Collins didn’t write the ‘damsel in distress’ character—her characters were powerful, often vulnerable women that went through plights many women go through (being cheated on, not being recognized for their talents). Sure they were glamorous (Hollywood actresses, businesswomen, wives of rock stars), but their stories were relatable. She has written about how appearance sets you back in Hollywood since the 1970s—something that is rampant, and not only in fiction, up to this day.
It was also refreshing to read about sex that didn’t feel like it was censored or so PC. It was bawdy but there was also something very real and adult about it. It was educational, too. When I lost my virginity, I felt I had the moves—and confidence—down pat, largely due to Collins descriptive accounts. In a 2011 interview with Associated Press, she said: “Sex is a driving force in the world so I don’t think it’s unusual that I write about sex. I try to make it erotic, too.”
I liked that Collins seemed to always enjoy life and be true to herself. She let herself age gracefully (there were no reports of plastic surgery although she had a penchant for lipliner) and appeared on the UK channel ITV’s show Loose Women just nine days before her death. She looked frail but she put in one hell of effort. She has written 32 books which have collectively sold more than 500 million copies in 40 countries (the Queen even awarded her with an Order of British Empire in 2013), but in every interview I read or watched with her, she appeared genuine: a sassy, intelligent woman who was unfazed by her success.
“She was a true inspiration, a trailblazer for women in fiction and a creative force,” her three daughters wrote in a statement (you can read the entire thing here). When her first novel, The World Is Full of Married Men, was published in 1968, it was banned in Australia and South Africa, with fiction writer Barbara Cartland calling it “nasty, filthy and disgusting.” Variety dubbed her the “Original Gossip Girl” and without her, there would be no 50 Shades of Grey (which is PG and rather bland compared to Collins’s novels and just like me, Collins isn’t a fan of it either: “I prefer women who kick ass and don’t get their ass kicked,” she said back in 2013).
Jackie Collins didn’t set out to write poignant literature—she set out to write salacious best-sellers that are easy to read and entertaining. And she succeeded BIG TIME. She didn’t pretend to be something she wasn’t and her novels always had something tongue in cheek about them (I guess that’s why Julia and I loved them so much). Thank you, Jackie for teaching me about female sexuality, thank you for my love of leopard print, and thank you for my very educational and very fun teenage years.
Main image courtesy of doloresdelargotowers.blogspot.co.uk.