Thursday, 15 December 2011

Pregnant Woman takes to the Stage

For your listening pleasure... at almost eight months pregnant I took to the stage on Sunday night at Hammersmith's Regal Rooms to perform the Bob Dylan, and more recently, Adele classic: 'Make you Feel my Love'.

Dedicating it to my baby, I belted out the beautiful melody, meaning every single word as I pledged to go to the ends of the earth to prove my love for my impending arrival! Battling the usual nerves, along with a couple of Braxton Hicks and an ever-shrinking lung capacity thanks to my little bubs growing bigger by the day (it seems), I followed my ballad up with a rendition of Florence & the Machine's 'You've Got the Love'.

Actual video footage will hopefully be available in the new year but for now I leave you with this sensory morsel to whet your appetite. I hope you like...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Colour is Only Skin Deep

Lauded by all who have read it, including my mother, I felt sure The Help wouldn’t be as good as everyone insisted… how wrong I was. Though it took me a few pages to get into the narrative, as the plot seemed thin at the start, it wasn’t long before I had become immersed in the lives of Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter; the three women whose stories direct the novel.

Based partly on Kathryn Stockett’s own experiences of growing up with a coloured maid in 1960s Mississippi, the story introduces us to the good, the bad and the downright ugly of racial divides at this time. As ambitious writer, Skeeter Phelan, sets about making a change through the words she crafts on her typewriter assisted by the maids of Jackson, this unlikely alliance comes up against the inevitable backlash from those who live by the rules of white supremacy, chiefly Miss Hilly Holbrook. Advocating a sanitation initiative to sequester the coloured help to their own bathrooms outside the white homes they work in, and directing the state of play among her white society ladies; Miss Hilly is the ultimate villain.

Skeeter, managing to overcome the prejudice held by the majority of coloured maids for their white mistresses, strikes up a deep friendship with the women who bravely share their experiences with her, in particular Aibileen and Minny. Working together in secret to compile a novel that if published will undoubtedly ruffle more than a few feathers, and even result in punishment should the maids’ employees discover they are the inspiration behind the words; we, the readers, are drawn into a world where white children are raised by coloured maids, where marriage is the only acceptable pastime for a college graduate and where true kindness exists if you are willing to accept it.

What this story shows, when you bury beneath the layer of white versus black, is how people can surprise you with their goodness and how, against the odds, fate has a way of rewarding the good and making the bad pay. The strength and tolerance of the maids is inspiring, as is the determination and sacrifice of Skeeter; each woman places herself on the line for the greater good of telling the truth, risking friends, lovers, and most of all, their lives.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

What's in a name...

So, the big news of the week – aside from the inimitable phone hacking scandal – the Beckhams’ baby; but more controversially, the Beckhams’ baby’s name.

Listening to heart FM yesterday morning while going about my usual morning routine, my ears pricked up a notch at the mention that the former Posh Spice had given birth to her fourth child. However, enthusiasm turned to confusion as I attempted to decipher whether I had heard correctly that David and Victoria had labeled their bundle of joy ‘Half a Seven’. WTF!?

I looked at my husband with one eyebrow raised and asked whether I was just half asleep or whether Jamie and Harriet really had just announced that the new addition was called Harper Seven Beckham.

The continuing ridiculousness of celebrity baby names I feel has reached a crescendo at this point, as fruit and town names are trumped by numbers. We’ve had Apple (spawn of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin), Sage Moonblood (spawn of Sty Stallone), Jermajesty (spawn of Jermaine Jackson) and the most unfortunately named Audio Science (spawn of little known actress Shannyn Sossamon – she of Forty Days & Forty Nights opposite his gorgeousness, Josh Hartnett). All equally bizarre and all screaming of the inane pretension that accompanies the rich and famous. Just because you’re in movies/in a band/have more money than sense does not qualify you to subject your child to simple stupidity that speaks more of love for your ego than your love for your offspring.

Obviously little Harper Beckham has become a human shrine to her father’s glorious years as number seven in the Manchester United line up, though whether she will ever see the benefit in this is anyone’s guess. I imagine the overwhelming supply of Hermes handbags and mummy’s own brand collection will soften the blow somewhat.

But it really does beggar belief that she and her peers, Moon Unit, Blanket and Pilot Inspektor must go through life (until they reach the requisite age to legally change their ridiculous titles) with the named proof that their parents are beyond mental sense and reason. I’m all for uniqueness and indivuality, but come on people, there are limits.

And I believe we reached it seven minutes ago…

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

This is life...

Life-changing events can be hard to take,
Especially when they signal the make or break.

Navigating tension, anxiety and fears,
Attempts to make light of it turn into tears.

Trying to be strong as things threaten to unravel,
Tip-toeing carefully across molten gravel.

Not knowing when to talk or just not breathe a word,
But afraid of the consequences if you are not heard.

Life throws many obstacles across the paths we walk,
The good, the bad, chiding us to meander along their fork.

But ultimately things have a habit of working out on their own,
And it’s irrelevant whether you greet them with a smile or with a groan.

Following the notion that things happen for a reason,
That days will pass and year on year life moves with the seasons.

It becomes that much easier to stand aside and enjoy what is in store,
And then you’ll find undoubtedly that you’ll enjoy it that much more.

Stress and worry may appear but it’s better to lay them aside,
Positivity and strength make anything possible; it’s easy when you try.

In the face of other’s doubts, look at what could actually be,
Because then, in the end, you’re likely to spend your life happily.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Game, Set, Cake!!

Strawberries and cream, grass stains and Rafael Nadal (sorry, Andy Murray) – yes, it’s that’s fabulous time of year again. The time for pulling consecutive sickies to stay home and watch the top seeds serving up a sport-tastic treat on the BBC to the tune of Sue Barker’s customary curatorship; the time for reaffirming your patriotism in the blind hope that a British player might actually make it to the final; the time for kicking back with a pitcher of Pimms and watching the time-honoured summer tradition, Wimbledon.

And this year, to go with your usual refreshments, innovative bakery have a mouth-watering range of delights to see you through those nail-biting weeks. From tennis rackets to tennis whites, however you envision your sporty sweets the team at Completely Cakes will serve it up on a gleaming platter!!

Here are their top ten tips for surviving Wimbledon:

- Schedule time off work for those all-important matches you don’t want to miss

- Install Adobe Flash Player to get the most out of BBC iPlayer

- Accept that Murray, and any other British hopeful, will probably just scrape the quarters

- Stock up on sun-cream if planning a trip to Murray Mount/Henman Hill

- Similarly, stock up on Pimms and yummy treats to enhance your viewing pleasure

- Purchase a TV Times to keep up to date with match schedules

- Read up on the competition on the official Wimbledon site (

- Download the Wimbledon iPhone App to get the best of the event on the go

- Free up space on your TV recordings library – just in case you’re worried about missing any of the action

- Sink your teeth into a delicious cake/cupcake instead of your nails as you watch Murray fight it out for that all-important victory!!

To sample their tennis-inspired range, visit, and place your order now!! They are also taking orders on graduation goodies and of course treats for Father’s Day this Saturday 19 June…

Follow them at twitter/@completelycakes
Like them on facebook at

Monday, 6 June 2011

More Sour than Sweet...

The adventures of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield were among my favourite stories during my pre-teen and teen years. Exchanging piles of books each weekend at Stanmore library to sate my voracious literary appetite and dining in on the loves, lies and sun-kissed lives of these Hollywood-standard beauties. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I received my copy of Francine Pascal’s decade old tribute to her twin heroines, revisiting Sweet Valley High ten years on.

However, though it started well, evoking the OTT descriptions of the Wakefield beauty and the page-turning pace that kept me hooked during every other SVH tome; something started to jar this time. It wasn’t the lost love: the fabled romance between Elizabeth and former-basketball hero, Todd Wilkins had met its fate at the hands of Elizabeth’s ditzy, manipulative sister, Jessica. It wasn’t the split storytelling between Elizabeth’s rundown New York apartment and the sun-drenched Californian oasis in Sweet Valley. And it wasn’t the fact that our heroines seemed to have switched personalities in the ten years they have been absent from our bookshelves.

No, as I attempted to immerse myself in Pascal’s prose it dawned on me that the sparkle which had so attracted me to her tales all those years ago had been lost as she endeavoured to reignite the relationship she had with her heroines. They just weren’t there anymore. Their appearances may have been the same but the substance which made them who they were seemed to have disappeared and they could easily have been any blonde, blue-eyed heroine in any story. Their traits were magnified as though to remind their creator who she was writing about and there was more retrospective and back story than I could quite willingly take.

Jumping from third to first person depending on which era she was writing in, I found it fairly disjointed at best, and excessively boring at worst. It was not the Sweet Valley I remembered from my youth – the sugary-sweet tales of revenge, intrigue, friendship, romance and rivalry – it was a sad return to a much-loved film set that had long-since lost its allure and glamour, replaced now by a depressing reality.

Pascal ties up the ends of this anniversary issue in a pretty bow, making sure to end on smiles and happy endings – though a tad implausible and rather predictable – and includes a brief rundown of past characters in her epilogue. However, I sadly did not close the final page with the sense of satisfaction I had been hoping for, but then perhaps my expectations had been too high. After all, a lot can change in ten years, I guess I just thought the Wakefield twins, like so many of my literary heroes and heroines, would be forever entrenched within the pages of the stories I loved.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Somewhere beyond the sea...

Inspired by the perpetually changing British coastline, giving way to beautiful natural yet temporary art, Sea Green Art has evolved with their ever-growing selection of handmade cards.

Unique photos are mounted on eco-friendly card to create loving sentiments, fascinating scenes and messages of those who have been inspired by the coast and all that it offers. From art on the walls to art on the sea cliffs, I chat to one of the creatives behind this coastal venture to find out what more they have in store…

1) What inspires you most about the coast?
The changing colours of the sea, the light, the treasures we find on the beach, the fact that it changes so frequently, the freedom can bring the child out in you.

2) What first led you to embark on this particular venture, creating handmade cards?
Noticing the chalk graffiti on the promenade, I/we were inspired, laughed at some, had my/our thought provoked by others, and some simply left us bemused. So we photographed it, thinking it would be nice to capture and share in card form. We think they’re different and like nothing you would usually find. It’s something everyone can send to each other any time and being mounted they can be framed and kept – mini art forms. It’s important for me to leave a small print and eco just makes sense.

3) Who is your favourite artist and why?Picasso – because he was so revolutionary and lived for so long, he constantly changed his styles.

4) Which are your top picks from your current range for Father's Day?All of the cards are left blank so you can say what you want for whatever occasion. Many either expressing love or simply a picture but for Father’s Day I think my favourite is: Inspirational – how many fathers are inspirational and yet we never or rarely tell them?
Another – I love Beer – say no more!

5) How would you spend a perfect day by the coast?
Whatever the weather the coast is beautiful and inspiring. A perfect day really is about letting yourself go, being willing to explore and see what’s around the next bend. Making the most of what is natural and the pleasure is that it’s simply on offer to anyone who cares to come. And of course, you may get to see one of the sunsets, made famous by J.M.W.Turner.

To find out more and to sample the photographic delights for yourself visit and be inspired.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Daddy's Girl

The time for honouring our parents always springs at the start of the year, while New Year’s resolutions and good intentions are still somewhat present in our ever-harried minds. Case in point, Father’s Day approaching with quickening pace on 19 June and for all of you who feel your Daddy is worthy of some appreciation, why not find out what Heather, owner of blooming London cake company, has in store…

1)What does Father’s Day mean to you?
Father’s day for me is a great opportunity to show my father that I care and appreciate all he does for me. Since we are all so busy with our everyday lives, it’s great to be able to take some time out and remember those important to us.

2)What ideas have you had for celebrating this day in true baking style?
At Completely Cakes, we like to come up with something new and original for every season and event. Since cupcakes, and especially novelty cupcakes, have become so popular, our Father’s Day cupcake range this year features gorgeous ‘shirt and tie’ cupcakes, alongside other hobbies and more traditional ‘Happy Father’s Day’ cupcakes.

3)You offer personal and bespoke designs across your ranges – can you give us some idea of the requests you’ve had in advance of Father’s Day?
People often tend to be stuck for new ideas for times such as Mothers and Father’s Day, when they really want to come up with something special. We find that a lot of inspiration comes from seeing our unique designs on our website. In view of this, we always aim to have new and exciting ideas on our website well in advance of every season/event to keep our customers inspired!

4)What’s the most bizarre request you’ve received so far?
I would have to say that the most bizarre request we have had so far was from someone wanting to order a ‘saucy’ cake, carved to exact specifications…….!!

5)How will you be treating your Daddy this year?
I always struggle for something to buy my own father, as he has had plenty of ‘Best Father’ mugs and socks over the years! This year, instead of this, my sisters and I will be taking him out for a lovely Father’s Day lunch, which we are all really looking forward to. He will also be receiving some of our new ‘Shirt and Tie’ cupcakes!

6)Looking ahead, what treats will you be serving up next…?
There is always something new and exciting coming up at Completely Cakes. The next main event is Wimbledon, so stay tuned for our tennis-themed range!

If you would like to order a bakelicious treat for your Dad this Father’s Day, you can place your order with Heather at and discover what other delicious surprises she has to offer.

Follow her on Twitter at @completelycakes or join the facebook group

Monday, 28 March 2011

B is for Baby ...or is it Book?

Developing a major obsession with Channel 4 drama/documentary One Born Every Minute, closely followed by Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant; the subject of babies is one that is very much on the pop cultural forefront at the moment. Acting as pseudo-councilor to one of my best friends who is starting her journey towards having IVF and needs lots of support and reassurance, I can’t help but wonder about the amazingly strong pull of the natural female vocation. Motherhood.

With half the female staff in my office at varying stages of impending or actual motherhood, spring 2011 is certainly living up to its flowering reputation! Perusing the baby-wear in Marks & Spencer this lunchtime to look for a gift I shared gleeful smiles with my fellow female shoppers also rifling among the teeny puff ball dresses, cotton cardi’s and lace-trimmed socks. There’s something about the notion of having a baby that fills people with hope and joy. The idea of a new life coming into the world, untouched by all the rubbish that already exists offering a clean slate, fills us with the thought that this might just provide a chance for something new and good. Adding a new member to the family to promote those values of togetherness, loyalty and community; it all makes us feel incredibly positive. In the same token, the generation of creativity and ideas to be transformed into works of literature is also something that makes us writers feel über-positive and excited. It is also that something new, made with love and filled with characteristics pertaining to us as the writer. Can two things as equally important as babies and books co-exist successfully in a writer’s life? This may sound strange but it really is something that clouds my mind every so often when I allow it to reside there.

When someone has a baby, people want to associate themselves with that new life in any way that they can, either by buying gifts or looking at pictures or inquiring after a pregnant friend’s health. My boss gave birth on New Year’s Day and barely a month ago, my other boss announced she’s four months gone, while our senior designer made the same announcement shortly after. Meanwhile two ‘maternity-leave new mothers’ are due back this year, one in the next two months and the other towards the end of the summer. It got me thinking about that all-important work-life balance we all try so hard to achieve. It’s so difficult to make that choice to start a family, particularly when your career aspirations are equally as great. As a writer close to completing the first draft of my debut novel, I feel like I may be doing my writer-self a disservice by having a baby before I’ve even launched my literary career properly. But then for the increasingly broody feelings that have been churning up inside me there is also the maternal-self to think of as well. And I know many of my writer friends who are successfully balancing the two. It may not be easy, but then nothing worth having ever is.

So here I am, caught between two strong desires: the desire to procreate with my wonderful husband and the desire to procreate with my equally wonderful laptop… I am determined to do both because, well why shouldn’t I? Surely a woman is allowed more than one great love in her life and after all, who said we shouldn’t have it all. We’re the only ones standing in our own way with rules of professional and personal life each meeting our individual lists of criteria and demands. Well I am giving myself permission to throw the list out and rewrite the rules because it’s doing and having the things we love that makes life worth living. My destiny is in my hands and I choose to type and nappy-change my way to a blissfully happy ending…

Monday, 14 March 2011

Going, Going, Wrong...

I despise eBay. Truthfully, I hate them, loathe them, despair of them. A large online conglomerate making decisions about the little people who deign to buy and sell within their worldwide empire of stuff.

Okay, I’ll tell you why I hate them.

I recently sold a bag under the auspices of eBay; a satchel bag from Zara to be more specific, attaching a high resolution image from the store’s website and stating my ‘NO RETURNS’ policy. Tagging various additional elements that I perceived also accurately described the bag, I also added a blurb extolling its values. So eBay Bitch (a.k.a. “The Buyer”) sidles up – metaphorically speaking – to request further information on height, width and depth of the bag. I duly responded and once the sale ended the transaction was complete and I posted out the bag to the buyer – at added cost to myself to ensure it arrived in pristine condition but I only charged standard posting costs out of courtesy.

Less than a week later, she requested a refund based on the fact the bag was not as described. She claimed it to be green not tan as tagged in my description, though later relented to khaki after I came back to her and reminded her that I have a ‘no returns’ policy. She asked that I make an exception in this instance… I’m sorry, but have any of you been into a store with a clear ‘No Returns’ policy and been successful in asking them to make an exception just for you because you don’t quite like the product you’ve bought for whatever reason? Besides which, colour is objective, and I tagged ‘tan’ because I thought it an accurate shade – after all, khaki (and pale khaki at that) is a fine line between light brown and light green… and eBay don’t have the option of ‘khaki’ in their tagging anyway.

After numerous emails back and forth, aggressive from her, polite from me, she lodged a dispute with eBay demanding I pay her a full refund and when I reiterated my stance on the ‘No Returns’ policy she escalated the case enabling eBay themselves to make the final call. She lodged it Friday night at around 9.30pm, eBay had settled it by 9.30am on Saturday morning. And with no weekend number seemingly in operation all I could do was wait until this morning to challenge them via phone. I had been unable to file my own case against her for harassment and speaking with an eBay representative this morning my concerns that the seller is left with little or no protection were confirmed. They said their decision had been made based purely on the fact that the case had not been resolved; my guess is they didn’t even examine the evidence. So much for innocent until proven otherwise…

I explained the situation to the rep and stated clearly that on account of the aforementioned reasons I would not be issuing a refund regardless if eBay Bitch returned the bag to me. They refused to reconsider their decision while the case was open and said once the bag was returned – and only IF it was in poor condition – that I could then appeal the case. I think this is a travesty and on hearing a friend of mine incurring an even worse debacle involving an iPad that eventually called for the involvement of the police; I am hereby affecting a personal boycott of eBay in a bid to protect myself from further harassment, foul play and disgusting conduct by both eBay and the individual who bought my bag.

In an age where the majority of activity – financial, leisure and social – is carried out online, one would expect a greater degree of protection and democracy extended in this arena. Until that happens, eBay, the only bid I’ll be making is for more stringent online parameters.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Good on Paper

I’ve read and heard a lot recently about tricks and techniques to generate creativity in writing. In a copy meeting the other day my editor suggested getting up early and writing 3 pages of absolutely anything every morning just to release that writing genie for the rest of the day. This works if you are a morning person, otherwise perhaps you could give the following a try…

Some tips:

1) Treat your writing like you would an exercise regime. I have a personal trainer with whom I have a session every Saturday and each week I have to provide him with diaries of what I’ve eaten since he last saw me. Try this with your writing – find someone to who you can be accountable because as soon as you start having to answer to someone you’ll find your motivation increase tendfold.

2) Mentor somebody. Speaking to a colleague of mine recently he expressed a hidden love of writing and asked if I’d read something he’d written and critique it. So over lattes and hot chocolates in Costa one evening after work I read over a piece of his work. He clearly has a talent but it is in those early stages of development, and through brainstorming ideas with him for how to turn what was a description into a story I found myself generating ideas I didn’t even know were in my head!

3) Join a Writing Group: These are excellent for providing you a safe platform to have your work critiqued by like-minded individuals and learn from other’s feedback on their own work. Plus, the more writers you know the more likely you will be to hear about worthwhile events, conferences and website links to helpful information to help you improve your writing and expose you to invaluable workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors face to face.

4) Join a Book Group: Reading and discussing books in and out of your genre will increase your market awareness as well as inspire you in your own writing. Understanding what works and what doesn’t; what people like and dislike; and how things sound in other writers’ words will help you to pinpoint your own areas of weakness, and of course strength!

5) Make a date with yourself to write. I have found that by writing into my diary times when I have to go take out the laptop and type away and by setting myself realistic word goals; I have actually accomplished a great deal in a short space of time. That little bit of forward planning, seeing it earmarked there in black and white means you will be far more inclined to turn on that laptop/take out that notepad and just write. Either fulfilling your preassigned word goal or in some cases exceeding it.

6) This is a bit of a silly one but it works all the same. Go to Rymans/WH Smiths/Paperchase (or another stationary alternative) and treat yourself to a gorgeous new notepad and pen for all your chapter planning and inspiration notes. I even go one step further and stop in at Accessorize to buy cute little stickers to earmark various stages of my writing. Just the idea of opening up something that inspires you (in my case a white notepad with glittery cupcakes all over it!!) can really boost your creativity.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Where will your love take you...

Review of Jill Mansell's 'To the Moon and Back'...

If there’s one thing Jill Mansell does well, it is to write romantic fiction. Creating loveable, compelling heroines who find themselves dealing with any number of relationship dilemmas but eventually get the guy; Jill has a perfected the art of suspense keeping her readers hooked until that climactic moment.

My love for Jill’s storytelling began with The One You Really Want and from that moment on I was hooked. When I had to spend two months away from my then-fiancé working in South Africa there was only one thing I knew that would stop me from being completely miserable, and so at WH Smith’s in Heathrow I stocked up on a few more of Jill’s titles and kept adding to my collection in Cape Town as I got through each one at a voracious pace.

Her latest novel, To the Moon and Back, deals with issues of love and loss in different ways; from the death of a beloved husband, to divorce and the cruel reality of Alzheimer’s disease. Handling each with the utmost care and thought, Jill draws us in to the urban yet idyllic setting of Primrose Hill to share in the emotions that these issues draw out within the narrative. The story of Ellie Kendall made me cry (in public places) and laugh out loud (also in public places) as I watched her journey from grieving widow to “whole again” woman with the aide of larger-than-life Roo, more than a father figure Tony and of course the delicious hero of this tale, Zack McLaren.

Jill creates quite the cast of characters, from “Vile Niall”, as I’ve nicknamed him to Zack’s loyal pooch Elmo, who always seems to bound in at just the wrong moments. Each one is imbued with their own distinctive personality to either make you fall in love with them or in some cases yearn for their head on a platter! If “unputdownable” was a word, it would be the one I would use to sum up this literary treat which will keep you enthralled from start to finish.

Continuing in the tradition of Jill’s remarkable romantic prose, To the Moon and Back will reaffirm that there is life and love after heartbreak, whichever form it comes in. And when that day comes you’ll find yourself on top of the world!

For more information on the author and when and where you can buy the book visit

In conversation with the fabulous woman herself…

1) Are you a plotter and planner or a make-it-up-as-you-go-along kinda gal?
I make most of it up as I go along, after getting my original story-starting inspiration. It's difficult to plan ahead, and far more interesting to keep the plotting as a surprise!

2) Where do you tend to find the inspiration for your characters, and most importantly your female leads?
I honestly don't know where the inspiration comes from; the characters just appear in my head, fully formed. The moment I create them, I know everything about them. I suppose there are aspects of me in the female characters - my daughter used to find it weird reading my books because they all sounded just like me!

3) Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I write during school hours while the house is empty, always have the TV on, keep up to date with emails and twitter and aim to produce 1000 words on an average day. The first and last chapters of each book are the easiest to write. I also have to eat a lot of snacks to keep me going...

4) How long on average does it take you to complete each book from idea to finished manuscript? Do you set yourself a goal per day/week to ensure you get a certain amount done each sitting?
Oh, just half-answered that! It takes a year to write a book. Six hundred handwritten pages of actual writing, plus a lot of thinking time to keep the story interesting. The amount I get done varies from day to day, but it all pans out in the end - thank goodness!

5) Did you ever experience that moment of doubt? How did/would you combat it?
Almost every moment is a moment of doubt while I'm writing - I always think my work is unpublishable and expect it to be rejected when I send it off to my editor. Most authors are the same. It never seems good enough until it appears in physical book form - then I can view it as an outsider and realise it's not so bad after all!

6) Your latest novel, 'To the Moon and Back', deals with loss and coming to terms with it; what led you to choose this theme for the story?
To be honest, after 23 books I'm just trying to come up with a theme I haven't used before! But I was drawn to the idea of using the dead person as an actual character in the book. Kind of like Patrick Swayze in Ghost, but without my own character being a ghost!

7) What do you make of the new digital age of publishing as books go from shelf to screen? Are you a fan of the Kindle and e-books?
It's all moving so fast - I'm interested to see what will happen. Signs are that people are reading more, which is great news. I do read via my iPad but also love physical books, especially when the covers are as beautiful as the one for To the Moon and Back.

8) You mention the website Popbitch in your latest book; what are your main sources for keeping up to date with news, trends and gossip?
Same as everyone, I imagine - newspapers, blogs, magazines, TV. I love it all!

9) List your top three all time favourite novels.
Riders by Jilly Cooper.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
One Day by David Nicholls

10) If you could bestow just one nugget of advice to aspiring novelists - what would it be?
Enjoy and empathise with your characters. If you don't like spending time with them, your readers probably won't either. And eat lots of crisps - they're very helpful in the creative process!

Friday, 11 February 2011

It Ads Up

A colleague lent me a 1988 edition of Vogue over the weekend and as I reclined at home with a cup of tea and Cindy Crawford’s youthful beauty emanating from the front cover, it occurred to me just how much has changed in the past twenty three years. There was even a 20p off coffee voucher somewhere in the middle, inserted within the restaurants section.

Okay so the wide-shouldered, angular silhouettes may cast little difference between an ‘80s edition and a current one, however rather than wading through the ads to find the content it was the other way around. With just a few advertorials on skin products, Horlicks and Debenhams, equally interspersed with articles on everything from health, fitness and beauty to travel, fashion and horoscopes; the real age of advertising seemed a long way off from Condé Nast’s flat-planning. With ads being thin on the proverbial ground it was a real joy to cut straight through and read the thoughtful and academic editorial: commentary on relevant designers such as Eileen Gray and Joe Tilson, notes from playwright David Mamet and debates of current political relevance (which at the time centred on the new education bill). Unlike the contemporary version which is stuffed to the gills with predominantly fashion and beauty and ads. Even the cover should tip us off as to the economically sleek content within, particularly when compared with its 2011 peer…

The Eighties marked the era of Margaret Thatcher, higher taxes and budget cuts. Vogue featured a spread on Thatcher entitled ‘Political Dressing’ and raised the point that advertising plays a significant role in the success of any political candidate, particularly a first lady: ‘Politicians and their dress have become a matter of considerable interest. All now wedded to the television camera and the advertising campaign, they must be sure that the way they look stands up to the scrutiny of a public that is skilled in the reading of images.’ So fashion is an ad campaign? But what are we endorsing, ourselves or the craftsmanship of designer and high-street seamstresses? How we look can dictate a number of things: whether we succeed or fail; whether we carry ourselves with poise and confidence; and whether we buy Vogue or not.

It’s all in the advertising really. How we look is a projection of how we would like others to see us. So while Thatcher would don modest mid-calf skirts, neck-high blouses and tailored jackets hoping to instil confidence and respect in her voters, Yves Saint Laurent would don peonies and a glam-looking Milla Jovovitch to instil consumers with an aspirational need to use its perfume. Good looking people, well-photographed products and catchy phrases all concocted to sell. But while Vogue circa 1988 did it subtly, Vogue circa now shoves it up our noses, in our faces and down our necks at every page-turning opportunity it gets.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I class myself a ‘Vogue Woman’ along with the rest of the trend-following lemmings alighting at Oxford Circus station every morning, however, having this ’88 point of reference really opened my eyes to how society views us. Yes 21st Century Vogue covers all the same reference points, culture, politics, fashion etc; but the sheer extent of advertising in modern-day magazines points to the fact that more than ever we are driven by money and materialism.

So here’s a thought for your Wednesday afternoon – particularly those of you who (like me) work on Oxford Street (or in one of the other fashion-heavy districts of London) – when you trawl the stores on your lunch-hour are you buying things because you really want them, or are you just buying into the glittery trap of all-consumering advertising?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Dancing with Herself

For anyone that loves the ballet, Black Swan evokes the grace, the sensuality, the poise and the beauty of this remarkable art-form. Set within the trappings of the stereotypical “parental-child prodigy” parameters, Natalie Portman plays out repressed performer Nina Sayers to perfection. Smothered in the cotton-wool confines of both her mother’s control and a pre-pubescent bedroom, complete with numerous stuffed animals; Nina must impress the director of her dance company into allocating her the role of the Swan Queen in his new season’s production of Swan Lake.

Intermingled with the elegance of performance, the grittiness of the New York subway, the eerie distortion of Tchaikovsky’s soundtrack and the friction between the dancers; flashes of Nina’s inner anxieties can be seen creeping to the surface. Her darker self is threatening to get out as Aronofsky reveals Nina’s internal battle; her biggest contender is herself. The allusion that Nina’s evil alternate is responsible for the scratches that appear on her body mounts as the film gathers pace, with self-harm and bulimia clearly shown as the mediums through which Nina employs her demons which are attacking her from within.

Getting every step, turn and en pointe absolutely right, it is Nina’s obsession with perfection which threatens her aptitude for taking on both elements of her coveted role – the white innocent swan and her darker alter-ego, the black swan. The director encourages her to embrace her sexuality and “live a little” prompting some rather steamy scenes where we see Nina touching herself. In the first instance Nina gets so lost in the moment she is unaware that her mother is asleep in her room; an interesting nod to the unhealthy relationship between mother and daughter.

Enter Lily (Mila Kunis). Tattooed, carefree and sexy as hell, Lily radiates ease and seduction. An import of San Francisco she is free of Nina’s New York neuroses and embodies the dual persona that the director is looking for in his leading lady. Imitating the rivalry and paranoia that the white swan feels in the ballet, Nina (Portman) begins to believe that Lily is intent on replacing her on stage and shuns Lily’s attempts at friendliness. However, as Nina’s imagination runs ever more rampant and we see her effect an emotional separation from both her mother and her childhood self, she lets Lily in and the two spend an evening together. The real blends with the imagined as Nina gives herself over to the freeing experiences Lily is keen for her to try, however the consequences prove deadly. Nina’s paranoia and envy grow to manic proportions as her relationship with both Lily and herself come to a head on opening night.

Aronofsky draws a beautiful parallel between the story of Swan Lake and the dynamics of his cast, as the underbelly of the performing world rears its head amid the injury and rivalry and sexuality rife in the world he creates. Portman’s performance is breathtaking from her face to her movement to her presentation of Nina’s inner turmoil, while Kunis is as ever stunning and easy to watch as she spars with Portman to build up the tension and chemistry that takes us to the ultimate climax of both the ballet and the film production. Slightly bloody at times and certainly tinged with a sinister edge, Black Swan will sweep you off your feet from the start and keep you pirouetting on its intensity long after you’ve left the cinema.

Truly deserving of its critical accolades, Black Swan is one of the must-see films of 2011.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Gym Bunny

In light of this morning’s headlines pertaining to the intended £1,000 “fat” tax to be imposed on fast food eateries in a bid to curtail the British obesity epidemic, I thought I would dedicate this morning’s post to the gym. As someone who rarely (if ever) eats anything that comes under the heading: Fast Food (I’m not allowed or my trainer will personally see to it that I pay for consuming said food), I think this is good news though I am unsure what the impact will be. In the meantime however, it would be advisable for those people consuming the fast food to head to the gym for some fast classes… or slower ones, whatever takes your fancy. Plus, the more you work out the fitter you become and the less likely you’ll be to encounter eejits like the following…

So I was at the gym the other day busting my moves on the cross trainer and eavesdropping on the conversation going on beside me between a trainer and a new member. I later got chatting to the member (who incidentally was female, for your reference) deciding to impart my own gym-related wisdom to an exercise virgin.

‘Have you been coming to the gym long then?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I joined Virgin Active about three years ago,’ I replied.
‘Oh I see,’ she said. ‘So did you lose a lot of weight then?’


I may be being paranoid but I think she was implying that I must have been very fat to have been coming to the gym for three years and look the way I do (which is not “fat” if you must know). Jeez this woman should join the club my mother started back in my teens called “Berate daughter about her weight and appearance whenever one gets the opportunity”!! The woman then pointed to a slender thing on a treadmill over yonder and said, ‘She’s nice and slim, isn’t she.’ To which I replied, ‘Yes, let’s all strive for that shall we!’ and promptly hopped off the cross trainer in pursuit of some other form of exercise to help me vent my frustration.

Speaking of venting frustration, I love my weekly Wednesday 7am boxercise class – it really gets the heart-rate up and the muscles working hard. Though it amuses me to witness the range of strength and boxing style showcased every week. Thanks to my trainer who showed me how to move and position myself properly I feel confident with my technique; however the same cannot be said of some of my sparring partners. To explain I have sequestered them into categories:

The Cat
She swipes her paws (gloves) playfully at you in a kind of ‘come hither’ slash fly swatting manoeuvre, with no real energy behind her.

The Gentle Giant
He’s built like a brick shithouse, probably took heaps of steroids and prides himself on spending 5 out of 7 days preening in front of the mirror at the gym flexing his biceps and triceps with a 4 kilo weight. In short, his punch ain’t got no punch. He’s all muscle and no follow-through if you get my meaning.

The Midget
She’s so teeny you probably didn’t even realise she was there until you heard a yelp from somewhere beneath you to alert you to her presence. Predictably she punches like a girl and thus when donning pads against her there is no effort required on your part other than to smile politely and hold still.

The Batsman
Pads or gloves, this guy is always in the proverbial ring. He just cannot help himself, he’s proud of his swing and that’s all he wants to do… All. Class. Long. So beware when you are sparring with him, he may dislocate your wrist.

The Pro
This is your ideal sparring partner, male or female, they know what they’re doing, they’re patient if you don’t entirely know what you’re doing and their technique is faultless. The only caveat – they’ll probably never partner with you again once they realise how shite you actually are!!

So there you have it, your 101 on boxing classes – take note, it will serve you well. Tomorrow I will be revisiting my love for Ashtanga yoga, again at the wholly unearthly hour of 7am (yes this means a 5.30am alarm and 6am departure from homely abode) – catch ya then!

Excuse me now while I go devour a gallon or two of water…

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Facebook Me!

You know those girls (and guys for that matter) who pose for their Facebook pictures like they think they’re modelling for Vogue (or GQ). We all have them somewhere in our online trove of “facebook friends”.

They pout, they pose, they strike the old-favourite over the shoulder maneouvre as though they were reacting to paparazzi on the red carpet when in fact they have specifically asked a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/stranger to capture them in exactly this pose in exactly this lighting and then post it up on their profile as though they just happened to be looking like that at the time the camera just happened to be in use…

The ones where they’re naked or semi-naked are even funnier, not to mention the bizarre individuals that are literally making love to the camera. Why the F do they think this is something their fellow facebookers wish to see? The joke is that the aforementioned ‘fellow facebookers’ merely regard these images with an arched eyebrow and quizzical expression, not deigning to believe that this loser actually took the time to pose for said pictures and then uploaded them.

These pictures are essentially the work of a serial attention whore. You know the person. The one that cannot survive without the spotlight shining directly on them at all times. The one who in school always had to be the lead in the school play and threw a tantrum if she/he didn’t get it. The one who pulled the most outlandish (and overtly sexy) dance moves at every party you went to. The one who always wore/wears the skimpiest, most ridiculous outfits – regardless of the season. The one who always, without fail, makes a scene about something – just in case people weren’t already paying attention.

The people who litter their facebook photo albums with these poser-esque types of pictures are of course mega show-offs – crying out for people to observe their looks… from every, single, angle. Of course, every facebook user is a show-off of sorts, posting updates about your night in a 5* hotel in Korea, updating your relationship status to ‘engaged’, uploading photos of you and your significant other ensconced in each other’s arms while reclining on a sandy beach on a remote but expensive island while your friends sit at their office computers staring out at the rain and harbour inner hatred and jealousy.

However, the posers are the biggest show-offs of them all. Just saying!!

With the 2010 release of The Social Network, facebook has recaptured the attention of those defecting to the likes of Twitter and Flickr and so on, as people rediscover the fascination of Mark Zuckerberg’s digital brainchild and their equal fascination with what and who their “friends” are doing.

Breaking News: Incidentally, star of the movie, Jesse Eisenberg, has just been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars. If ever there was a time to get your pose on…
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