On… New Girl

New Girl might be the best sitcom ever.

Why?

Because Jess is a Real Girl.

Unlike every other female twentysomethingish ensemble sitcom character that I can think of, she’s not simply the Hippie, the Ditz, the Princess, the Nerd, the Tomboy, the Slut, the Bitch, or the Neurotic.

She’s just a Real Girl. She’s sometimes a bit of all those things, and she has a soupcon of hipster kook, but she’s also silly and quick and warm and vulnerable and confident. In other words, she is complex and she surprises you. She’s a Real Girl.

And best of all, she’s funny. Very very funny.

Now, of course, all sitcoms rely on archetypes for laughter and conflict, and I get that. So does chicklit, after all. But it just feels so good to have a heroine like this. Someone I can actually identify with and genuinely like. A female character who gets to be funny, intentionally and not intentionally. For once, the joke isn’t always on her.

The archtypical female sitcom favourite, and up till now, the character most likely to not have the joke always on her, is the Cool Girl With Balls.

The Cool Girl With Balls is the character that Rachel from Friends turned into after being a Princess for the first few seasons, the kind that the girls in How I Met Your Mother compete to be, the kind that the dumb blonde on The Big Bang Theory is turning into, in fact, the kind that all alpha female sitcom characters evolve into eventually. A sort of watered down Suck-My-Dick-Sexy-GI-Jane type with a penchant for put-downs as punchlines.

But here’s the thing: Cool Girl With Balls is competitive, cold, insecure and no fun at all. You wouldn’t want to be her friend. Hell, she doesn’t make friends. Every woman I’ve ever known who pretends to be a Cool Girl With Balls is actually miserable and constantly wondering why she feels so sad and lonely. (Here’s a hint, sweetie: you’re acting like a bitch.)

New Girl knows all this, of course. In a brilliant middle finger to those sitcoms, the ultimate Cool Girl With Balls character turns up in New Girl, as the cold-as-ice-and-way-too-skinny-lawyer chick that Nick is dating. She refuses dessert, ‘doesn’t have a lot of female friends’, refuses to be warm or bond with Jess, ridicules her girliness as though it was an act, in summary: acts like a Cool Girl With Balls. It’s so brilliant I kept breaking into cheers.

Here’s Jess’s speech from the end of that episode, defending herself to the Cool Girl With Balls. It’s perfection.

I break for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children, and I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird and it freaks me out. And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown, and I hate your pant suit and I wish it had ribbons on it to make it slightly cute. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.

Join me in a fist pump, my friends. God, I love that speech.

Because I am a girl, too. I like lipstick and manicures and romantic comedies. I have a sewing kit with lace and pearl buttons in it. I can spend half an hour talking to my sister about eyebrows. Flowers make me happy. Sometimes I skip. I don’t like kittens and I don’t like polka dots and I hated The Notebook, but that’s because I’m not a cliche of a girly girl. I’m just me. I am what I am and I like what I like.

I know a lot of girls like me, and you know what? We’re fucking awesome.

I would like to buy Liz Meriwether – the showrunner and head writer for New Girl – a drink.

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On… a few things about my books

Ten things you never really wanted to know about The Dating Detox

1. I lived in an apartment share in Pimlico when I was writing the first draft of The Dating Detox.

The place I lived was a bit like this, but not quite as nice. Our apartment was the top three floors, and my room was the attic, and it was a bit shabby and bare, but it had great wardrobe space and a tiny ensuite with a view over the adorable mews behind. I loved it. In case you don’t know what a mews is, by the way, here’s a picture.

Mews buildings would have been used as stables for the horses and carriages of rich people living in nearby squares in ye olden days, so mews houses tend to be quite boxy, with low ceilings, and they are very pretty and insanely expensive. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The Dating Detox.

2. I wrote The Dating Detox while freelance copywriting 9am to 5pm at the advertising agencies Proximity and Iris. Freelancing in advertising isn’t the same as freelance journalism: you have to actually turn up. So I wrote before work, after work, on public transport to and from work, in cafes near work at lunch, and weekends. I wrote the entire party-in-Oxfordshire bit at lunchtimes on a sofa on the third floor of Iris, one rainy week in early summer. Weird how you remember that stuff.

3. The original title was The Dating Sabbatical. The publishers changed it.

4. Originally they didn’t go to New York, it just all happened in London. But then I thought New York would be fun and sort of a wink at the awesome ridiculousness of Sex And The City.

5. The thing in the Hogs and Heifers bar? Yep. Happened to me. Word for word.

6. I contemplated taking out the smoking, as I knew some people would disapprove, but then I thought ‘screw it, just about every woman my age in London DOES smoke at least once in a while’.Ditto drink too much. Ditto swear. I also wanted to be faithful to my original reason for writing a book at all: because every chicklit book I ever picked up seemed to star the same hopeless drippy chick who never did anything that anyone I knew would ever, ever do. Girls I know get drunk and work hard and dance on tables and make mistakes with dudes. I’m sure other girls exist, the kinds of girls you read about in some chicklit books, who just bake cupcakes and don’t have jobs they care about and spend their weekends hanging out with their grandparents or their book club (a wildly disparate group of individuals, all of whom have a secret they’re hiding, or some shit like that), but I’ve never met them.

7. I really did work with a wonderful smart talented art director called Chris for years, in my last permanent job before I was freelancing. As a freelancer I met a few lovely art directors, and a lot of lazy pigs, and thus always pined for his creative partnership the way Sass does.

8. The very first scene – the flashback to the party with Rick – was the second last thing I added. I referred to the event throughout the book and eventually my agent said ‘why not just write it so you can show how truly heartbreaking it was?’ This kind of practical, brilliant suggestion is why agents are awesome. I hadn’t wanted to start the full story with that bit because then you’d have to deal with months of heartache which would be boring. But a flashback was perfect.

9. The very last thing I added was the name. She didn’t have one because, well, I hate naming, and I felt like it was fun to keep her as a nameless heroine, but then it really wasn’t practical. So I named her Sass, after one of my best friends from university.

10. I had a lucky yellow clutch for years. YEARS. It was patent yellow from H&M; for about £6.99 and I bought like 15 of them and wore one, rain or shine, until it would inevitably fall apart, then I’d chuck it and take out a fresh one. I still have two left, I sort of stowed them when I began wearing them to publishing meetings about the book and realised everyone was staring at it.

In case you don’t know, The Dating Detox was my first book. You can read the reviews
and buy it here.

10 things you never really wanted to know about A Girl Like You, either

1. I wrote-and-trashed a lot of opening scenes for A Girl Like You, till I found one that resonated: a girl crying on the floor of the shower.

2. The idea for that entire scene came because that’s what I did, for about two days straight, after I first saw the cover for The Dating Detox. Let’s be honest: everything about that cover is wrong. I get a lot of emails from people asking why the hell it has a cover like that, and there similar comments on a couple of book sites and blogs, so I think it’s time to just be honest: I didn’t have any say in it. I tried very hard to stop it, I failed. The joy and excitement I should have felt about my lovely little book being published was, to a large extent, destroyed by my genuine horror and misery about the cover. I’m sure this happens to a lot of authors. I am over it. (Ish.)

3. I wanted the first scene to be a flashforward, rather than a flashback, as I wanted to create suspense. So the reader wouldn’t know who the dude was, or why she was crying, simply that she was in trouble and – hopefully – would want to read on to find out why.

4. I wrote and edited A Girl Like You around freelancing at Iris, Saatchi & Saatchi, Karmarama and Blast Radius.

5. Originally, Plum was two characters, but one was too whingey and negative and one was too romantic and hopeful, and it was veering into chicklit-friend-cliche territory (the hard-as-nails friend! The soppy idealistic friend!). So I killed one off and made Plum a slightly more complicated character who is both lovelorn and chippy.

6. The Henry character is based on about four of my male friends, all straightforward boys-boys who always seem kind of stunned when they occasionally realise they’re hanging out with girls and in a conversation about tampons, and all of whom my mother adores. When I was single she constantly asked why I wouldn’t ever consider going steady with one of them.

7. I wanted Abigail to have a really smart, non-chicklitty-job so after a lot of thinking about the character, decided on financial analyst, and had several lengthy tutorials with my friend Tim, who worked at Goldman Sachs and was brilliantly patient with my stupid questions.

8. The speed-dating scene was one of the original ideas I had for the book, as I wanted to do a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac slash Pygmalion story. I loved writing that scene. I also loved writing the running-away-from-a-one-night-stand chapter. Writing funny is fun.

9. I thought of the title on the tube home from Iris one day, on the Circle line around South Ken somewhere. I love the title. Luff. Lurve.

10. I love the cover, too. Sure, the cover girl is dressed like the mother of the bride, but the typography is awesome, and she has an open bottle of champagne, bare feet, knickers falling out of her purse and is clearly doing the walk of shame. Gnarly.

A Girl Like You was my second book. You can read the reviews and buy it here.

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On… Sleigh Bells, Comeback Kid

Sleigh Bells, Comeback Kid.

Totally my favourite song right now.

I really want to star in a music video. Can someone please make it happen? I am REALLY good at lip-syncing. And posing and prancing. And spelling, not that it’s relevant, I know, but I just wanted to tell you that anyway.

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On… missing clothes

Why is it that the clothes that you miss the most are the ones that can’t be replaced?

Exhibit A: I had a secondhand tweed jacket that cost £20 from Pop! Boutique in Covent Garden. The label was a Savile Row tailor, now extinct. It had a nipped-in waist, and strong angular shoulders, and oval suede patches on the elbows, and the lining was worn bare with age and ripped around the armpits. Sometimes I wore it with J Brand Lovestory flares and a yellow tshirt and high-heeled platform sandals and felt like a groovy 1970s heiress. Othertimes I wore it with white skinny Topshop jeans, Converses, a lacy white high-neck Victorian top and pearls, in a sort of Jane-Eyre-Meets-Jilly-Cooper thing. God, I loved that jacket. I wore it nonstop from 2001 to 2010, when it disappeared during a house move, and if I think about it too long, I get tearful. I will never, ever find its equal. Come back, little tweed jacket. I swear I’ll fix your lining.

Exhibit B: I had an electric blue silk parka from Topshop. Yes, ridiculous. It wasn’t warm, it wasn’t waterproof, it was always wrinkled, it had huge billowy pockets that constantly turned inside out and an oversize hood that stayed on one’s head for approximately half a second before sliding off. Foxy thought it looked like something that they hand out at rugby matches when it rains, and he was probably right. But I wore it nonstop one rainy London summer, with big galumphing motorcycle boots and tiny floaty dresses, or little grey Converses and skinny jeans and white singlet tops, and felt like a punk rock fairy. Then one day it just vamoosed into thin air.

Exhibit C: I had a pair of high-waisted, super-short navy shorts that I only wore ONCE. They made me taller and thinner and, I’m pretty sure, smarter and funnier and less likely to make a dick of myself after too many whiskeys. A drycleaner in New York lost them, and I swear to God, if I ever see that old Korean lady rocking them through the streets of Soho, I will tackle her to the ground and rip them off her right there and then.

Sigh.

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On… newborn gift list

I meant to post this ages ago!

My latest blog for the divine SheerLuxe on what to buy for newly-sprogged friends.

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On…. awards season

Gosh.

Tatler has nominated me for two P&G; Beauty & Grooming Awards for The Boytician and The Nail Files.

Am delighted, flattered, surprised, and a little hungry.

A friend in the know tells me that these are the Oscars of the beauty world. In which case, someone please get Tom Ford to make me a cape dress, NOW.

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On… funny stuff

It must be February 29 when not one but TWO links make you ache with laughter.

From The Onion: Female Friends Spent Raucous Night Validating The Living Shit Out Of Each Other

From McSweeneys: I’m Comic Sans, Asshole

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On… growing up

How did you decide what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I never knew. Well, actually, when I was four I wanted to be A Lady With A Baby. (Yah. Fight the good fight, little feminist.) Then I wanted to open a library in which all the books were written by me. (This seemed totally do-able.)

Then I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the future (though I really liked acting for a while in my teens and spent a lot of time imagining myself Being Discovered). And so, somehow, I ended up doing a triple degree in English, History and Theatre (if you consider turning up to the bare minimum of lectures, reading everything except for the books I was meant to be reading, and copying and cramming notes the night before the exam ‘doing’), and then a postgrad in Journalism, and boom, I landed with a thud into adulthood with a serious dislike for journalism and no fucking idea what to do.

Because how do you know? How can you possibly know? My mother was an English teacher, my father a lawyer, I was the eldest in the family. None of us had a clue what a 21-year-old with a fantastic education in Nothing Useful should do, or what jobs existed outside of the Teacher-Lawyer milieu. I had no skills, no experience beyond some abominable internships, no talent, no mentors, no clue. Eventually I got a terrible job with a terrible salary in a terrible company, and just plodded along, realising slowly that what I was probably best at, apart from having fun, was writing after all, and then realising that there was quite a lot of exciting jobs out there that involved words but weren’t journalism.

But God, it’s hard. Unless you’re really certain of yourself, and want to go into one of the traditional careers that everyone understands. (Accountant! Nurse! Marine Biologist!) (NB there are no marine biologists. I have a theory that whole career is a myth. I have never known anyone who is a marine biologist. Except Jacques Cousteau. And I’m pretty sure he’s dead. In fact, he may have been a myth, too.) For the rest of us, figuring out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it and – most importantly – how the hell you’re going to be good at it seems impossible.

When I really think about it, I have no idea how any of us survive that stage. Let alone go on to lead happy, fulfilling, successful lives. We’re like those little penguin eggs that get shuffled across the ice by their daddies. The odds seem stacked against us, but somehow, we all get through and live to spend another blizzard nestled together in a big penguin loveknot. (Or something like that. Whatever.)

I’m thinking about this, by the way, because I’m writing the book series of which you have head so much (and my friends, Advance Reading Copies shall be yours, I promise, as soon as I have my hot little hands on them – I will know soon when that will be…). And so I’m spending a lot of time remembering life at 21. And thanking fuck I’m not there anymore.

Perhaps even worse than 21 was 17. When I was an unexceptional, insecure, pretty-good-if-she-works-hard-student, trying to decide what to do at university. The careers counsellor my mother took me to gave me a bunch of aptitude tests and said I should be a social worker or a therapist of some kind. Thank God I didn’t take her brilliant advice. (I think that was because I allegedly have a ridiculously high empathy level, by the way; it has come up in other personality and aptitude tests. What that means, basically, is that if you cry in front of me, I will cry too. Seriously. I will sob. If someone is mean to you, I will want to hunt them down and kill them. Watching the news leaves me sleepless with worry, sad movies make me hysterical. It got worse, unsurprisingly, when Errol was a newborn: I lay in bed at night fretting tearfully about other unknown newborn babies who weren’t being loved or fed or cuddled enough. One morning I heard a baby crying outside our house, and wept inconsolably for about half an hour. Fox thought I’d completely lost my mind. So frankly, if I’d become a social worker I would probably have killed myself/someone else/been killed for being such an annoying dork by now.)

Anyway, a bachelor’s degree seemed like a good solution to buy me some time, and it was. I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t sure what to do with their lives. You get to figure out who you are in the perfect gateway between school and real life: a tiny, comfortingly insular academic world that also gives you more freedom than you’ve ever had before, plus booze. You meet like-minded funsters, you read a lot, you laugh at all the self-loving pseudo-intellectuals spouting Kant and smoking rolled-up cigarettes, and you study things like Crime And Deviance In Britain (awesome course, I went to at least 40% of the lectures, a personal best). Have fun.

PS:

Ladies with babies. I am four and my sister and our friend Jane are about two and a half. Holy crap, this photo makes me laugh. Such total confidence. I think, from memory, that I am the grandma, and that’s why I don’t get a pram but I DO get the awesome accessories.

This is me at five, pretending to read some books, with an early example of the patented Gemma Burgess Uncomfortable Fake Smile. Man, that hairstyle was BAD. So was the dress. Laura Ashley and the Eighties have caused a lot of pain over the years.

This is my teen acting troupe, Snakes And Ladders, in Hong Kong. Look at us, we’re a crazy/funky bunch of thespians! I am the blonde rocking the side braid and a variation on the Fake Smile: the Look How Much Fun I Am Having No Seriously For Serious This Isn’t A Set-Up Fake Smile.

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