Category Archives: Gemma Burgess

On romance

What do you want in your chicklit?

My needs are simple. I want to not think the heroine is a drip.

I want her to have a life and a brain. I want her to have friends that I’d hang out with. I want to fancy the dude. I want to find their conversations compelling and surprising and real.

I want to not want to miss a single word because the whole thing is crafted so delightfully.

I want, oh my GOD I want to laugh. And of course, I want an emotionally satisfying, optimistic happy ending. (With most chicklit – mine included – you can usually guess she’ll end up happy in some form or other. I don’t mind knowing the destination as long as I enjoy the journey.)

What I don’t particularly want is romance.

You see, I forgot my book on the way home to London from Cork last night, so I had to pick one up at the airport. I wanted a chicklit book, but there wasn’t much choice, and I’d read quite a few of the good ‘uns, and finding one that I thought would do all that… God, it was a nightmare.

I spent what felt like hours picking up book after book with covers jammed with flowers/hearts/stars/shoes/jaunty foot kicks/script font/cartoons (I try to look past the covers now, for reasons that are a whole other blog post and probable shitstorm), and turning it over to read the blurb. Every single one boasted about romance. And that’s just not what I’m after.

Perhaps I’m callous. Maybe I’m the only one who wants a little bite with her chicklit, who doesn’t want something overtly sentimental. I’m not a particularly romantic person. I don’t like long walks on the beach, slow dancing or the opera. I didn’t love The Notebook*. I will never watch Marley And Me. I don’t like Audrey Hepburn films, especially Breakfast At Tiffanys, or teddy bears holding hearts or surprise picnics with chilled white wine at dusk on Hampstead Heath. That sort of romance is just too contrived for me. It’s predictable, and a bit annoying. Surprise me with a romantic picnic and about three minutes later I’ll be bored, dying for a wee and the grass will be making my legs itchy. I’d much rather go to that bar around the corner and have a real drink.

Romance is boring.

But love is awesome.

And I do want to read books about love. I LOVE love. Real love. Falling in love, and love at first sight, and second-chance love. And I crave books about that giddy, exhilarated, almost unbearable full-of-joy feeling that you get when you realise that the person you know and love more than anyone else in the world knows and loves you even more.

Why is that so hard to find?

The morning after our wedding last month we lay in bed, ate smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and gossiped about the night before whilst half-watching A Fish Called Wanda. (Kevin Kline! So awesome.) It was brilliant and funny and silly and intimate and deeply satisfying. Everything I think love should be. But was it romantic? Fuck, no.

In the end I bought Jane Fallon’s Foursome, by the way. The blurb said nothing about romance and someone on Twitter said it was funny.

*I did, however, cry at The Notebook, but not at the romance bits. I do cry at quite a lot of things. Brothers and Sisters fucking slays me, every episode, even though I only started watching it when editing The Dating Detox as I thought it wouldn’t distract me. I seem to cry at Glee a surprising amount. And once I cried when I saw a very old man posting a letter. But that is different from romance. Oui?

On New York

So as the plane approached Heathrow after almost a month of wedding fun in New York and Anguilla, I decided to start writing a list of my favourite places in Manhattan.

Now! I’m not a New York expert, just an enthusiast. And I won’t even try to sum up the best places to go when lists like do it so much better, particularly since there are more restaurants in Manhattan than you can poke a breadstick at. I’m just going to tell you my favourites.

After all, it’s hard to get a bad meal in New York – but why take the risk?

We’ve been about six times in the past year and about once or twice a year before that, so I’ve got quite a few favourites to share.

Clearly, I love New York.

I should just move there.

I probably will.

Right. I won’t bore you with obvious things like the Boathouse in Central Park or the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Hotel or Clinton Bakery on the Lower East Side as every guidebook in the world will tell you about them (and they are awesome, it’s true). Instead, these places were all found by a very enjoyable process of trial and error.

DBGB: Bizarre-but-wonderful sausages, the paleron carbonnade was to die for and I WILL be back to taste the peanut-butter-and-jelly-chocolate-cake. Potentially the best meal I’ve eaten in my entire life. Apparently a new Daniel Boulud restaurant is opening at the Mandarin Oriental here in London. I could skip with happiness.

The Monkey Bar: Ahh so cool and (new) old school. I came over all MadMen when I was there. Exceptional burger. I’ll be back here ASAP.

The Bowery Hotel Courtyard: drink beer, read a book and smoke cigarettes with just a neglected graveyard to look at. A tiny, peaceful oasis practically smack-bang in the middle of downtown Manhattan.

The Cupping Rooms: The best brunch in Soho IMHO. The menu is the size of my johnson.

Bonbonniere: Grubby diner, amazing pancakes.

Bill’s Bar & Burger: It’s brand new, but looks old. If you can forgive that, just enjoy the burgers and fries.

The Soho Grand Lobby Bar – okay, I’m biased, this was the hotel all our wedding guests stayed in, and I’ve spent a lot of time there. But the bar is all understated, dusky sexiness, with cocktails that will make you weep with boozy joy. Also, one of the hi-how-are-you guys is a third culture kid like me, so he deserves a shoutout just for that. (Hi Brendon!)

Westville: Great everything. The sweet potato fries are amazing. Why don’t we have them in London?

Paul’s. Greasy little place, unchanged for decades by all accounts, with truly awesome burgers and shakes.

Bar Griffou: Any bar that has a cocktail called the Trophy Wife is a winner.

Commerce: Damn, I like this place. Flattering soft yellowy lighting, great food, interesting menu, lovely waiters, chichi buzz. Will be going back for brunch.

Public: Small but perfectly formed menu with a sprinkling of Asian-Australian magic. And the guava-chili margaritas are sick.

Torrisi: I think this might be the best coffee in New York, and you know that I’m obsessed with coffee. The sandwiches are extraordinarily good, and apparently dinner is excellent too.

La Esquina: The walking-through-the-kitchen thing is, obviously, thrillingly stupid and stupidly thrilling, but the food is amazing. The tequila menu is frightening.

Liquiteria: Okay, so pre-wedding I was on a health kick but I think I’d come here for the amazing jucies, smoothies and wheatgrass shots even if I wasn’t.

Brinkley’s: This place always lets us in for drinks at 2am and that is reason enough to like it. Also you’re guaranteed a seat and my heels are always hurting by that point.

The White Horse and Spring Lounge: you will meet future best friends at these bars.

Aside from the obvious big New York stores like Sephora/Bergdorfs, this is my pick of the US-only high street and smaller independent stores: Club Monaco, Rag & Bone, Ricky’s, Fabulous Fanny’s Frames, Aedes de Venustas, CO Bigelow, Steven Alan, McNally Jackson Books, MOMA Store, Economy Candy, Greenwich Letterpress, Calvin Tran, Moscot.

Hair salons… dude, there are hundreds of great ones. But I get my highlights done by Lola at Space Salon. She. Is. The. Best.

Brazil Bronze gives the most incredible spray tans in da world. Seriously. I am perfectly nutbrown even though I’ve worn SPF50 almost every day since I was, like, born.

And lastly, you can get particularly great manipedis at Dashing Diva in Gramercy.

More wedding photos

Is this the right place to post wedding photos? I don’t know. Is it relevant to someone who wants to know more about writing and publishing? Negatory. If that’s what you’re after, scroll down. I write about writing a lot because that’s what I do most of the time. Just not lately. Lately I’ve been getting mawwied. (Said in Princess Bride voice.)

These are wedding ceremony, post-ceremony bridal party and dancing shots (yes, I am a wanker when I dance. I am at peace with this). If you’re into flowers/invites/decor, I’ll post them too. Let me know.

PS In answer to email questions:

My dress is Max Azria, and the shoe are MiuMiu, my headdress is from
The venue is Tribeca Rooftops in Manhattan.
The flowers are Matthew Robbins (you can’t really see them, but trust me – the dinner tables etc were like flowerporn).
The photos were the wonderful and amazing Daphne Borowski.

On relaxing

I’m still on honeymoon. But I thought I’d say hello. You see, it’s been three weeks since we left London, and I haven’t gone this long without writing in a decade.

And I really miss it.

I’m just not that great at doing nothing these days. That’s something I’ve realised over the past ten days of honeymoon. (We’re in Anguilla in the Caribbean, and it’s hot and sandy and blissfully five-star with hot and cold running mai tais.)

We got here and for the first two days I marched around, looking for activities, making lists, worrying that I didn’t know how to do nothing. Then on the third day I got back into bed after breakfast and had a nap, and realised that I did know how to do nothing. I just haven’t practiced doing nothing since, well, university.

And I’d forgotten how awesome it is.

What with the two books (and a half a one that died, RIP poor little bookfail), the trailer, the screenplay, my freelance copywriting, the wedding and moving house, it’s been a busy 18 months. And even pre-book life, I never took a long holiday. I didn’t have a gap year, I never saved enough to take time off between jobs (I’d like to blame the pathetic pay of an advertising copywriter for this, but it may also have had something to do with my well-documented fondness for cheap clothes and expensive bars). I guess I could have gone to work in a bar on a beach somewhere, or whatever people do when they’re on a career break, but I was generally paranoid that if I did I might not have a career to come back to. The holidays I did take were broken up into one week chunks over the year so I could pop to Hong Kong to see my folks regularly (which was lovely, but any family holiday is by definition not relaxing, right?), and the odd long weekend somewhere cheap and hot with friends. So you see, all in all, this extended-relaxation honeymoon thing is a bit of a shock to the system.

Not, by the way, that I was a workaholic in my 20s. Very, very far from it.
In fact, for most of my 20s, I focused on having a good time, and tried not to get lost/dumped/broke/drunk before sundown. Then I turned 29, and got a strange ‘I can do more than this’ feeling about, well, everything in my life. It was like someone flicked the ‘on’ switch in my brain. And these days there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I want to do.

I’ve started to wonder if I enjoy working (by which I mean writing) more than I enjoyed relaxing.

That is probably why I’m here, writing this, like some QWERTY-addicted junkie. Just between you and me, because I know it’s a bit odd, I realised today (as I savored the thought of writing this, thought about what I wanted to say and then sat down in peace and quiet and zoned everything out as I started to type) I really do find writing thrilling. It floods me with those feel-good endorphins you read about in magazines. Like sex, chocolate, coffee, shopping, or smoking cigarettes, I get a strange euphoric rush when I write. I just love it.

Good thing I’m a writer, huh?

On mawwiage

Dearest loveliest everyone – Paul (aka Foxy) and I got married on Friday. Awesome day. I’ve lost my voice from talking and singing and laughing.

For now, just two very quick photos…

This is Friday morning when we got the official marriage thingie at City Hall in downtown Manhattan. It took about 55 seconds. Pretty damn funny. For people who like this sort of detail (chicks): I’m wearing a white silk dress that I picked up at Baby Ceylon on Portobello three weeks ago, and sequined Converses.

This is Friday 5pm – the real wedding ceremony at Tribeca Rooftops surrounded by 150 of our nearest and dearest. Dress is Max Azria.

We were rather fortunate in that only a few people were unable to come because of the volcano; most of our guests are of the show-up-three-days-early-and-start-partying persuasion, thank God. They’re all now stranded stateside and are scattering to Mexico and the Caribbean to make the most of this wierd no-fly period. A group of guys are going to Las Vegas for the week – and yep, Foxy actually flinched with jealousy when he found out…. we’re off to Anguilla tomorrow for the honeymoon – I’ll post more pictures soon… Very tired now. Must sleep. Sleep.


On packing

I am packing for a long long trip away. Wedding, honeymoon, then some work stuff. I’m excited, with a touch of anxiety and a sprinkle of stress. Excietressy.


This is how I feel when I start packing.

This is how I feel at the end of packing.

(I’m the idiot in the middle.)

The Dating Detox book trailer

Daisy Aitkens as Sass, seen from the window of The Only Running Footman.

That’s right! Over Easter we (finally!) filmed the trailer to The Dating Detox. Starring Daisy Aitkens as Sass, Seb Dunn as Rick and Grant Martin as Jake (plus a cast of fabulous extras including moi).

The shoot was a brilliant success, despite London being absurdly freezing, and I’m excited about it. In case you’re wondering: why do it? Well, why not. Sam and I have been talking about it for a few months, and then I wrote a script that we thought might work, and then we found Daisy who is beautiful, hilarious, talented and just the most perfect Sass ever, and then Seb Dunn appeared and was the perfect Rick, and well – bit by bit everything came together. More details: directed by Sam Eastall, director of photography Ross Kirkman, producer Alida Stewart, casting Amy Eastall, makeup and hair artiste Caroline Morrison and special thanks to the staff at The Only Running Footman in Mayfair, who were amazing.

We’ll have the finished trailer edited and scored in the next few weeks – I’m getting married in NYC next Friday so it’s a weeny bit delayed by that I’m afraid – and in the meantime, here are some photos of the day…

Sass in Berkeley Square.

Getting ready: Daisy and Lauren (the infamous Pink Lady…).

Seb Dunn as Rick, and Daisy as Sass. My sister Anika and her young man, Matt Wardle, are in the background. Yellow clutch on the table…

Sass and Rick again.

Grant Martin as Jake, seen from inside the pub.

Philly, Matt and Dan were extras. This mostly involved drinking. They were awesome at it.

Da girls. I’m in the blue scarf. As usual, I’m in the middle of talking.

Sam and his baby Alfred (my godson!).

And in case you’d like to see the actors up close and personal, this is Daisy Aitkens, who plays Sass. She’s an actress and writer and all-round star.

This is Sebastian Dunn, who plays Rick. He, too, is an actor and writer. He captured the dastardly confidence of Rick perfectly – and he’s actually not a bastardo in the least.

And this is Grant Martin, who plays Jake, with just the right amount of ease and charm.

They look spot-on to me, what do you think?

More photos to come from the official photographers Vicky McKillop and Anika Burgess so check back soon…

On Make Up Alley

This post isn’t about writing. It’s about make-up. So if you don’t love make-up, please scroll down. There’s lots about reading and writing in other posts.

I just swapped something on Make Up Alley.

As usual, I’m filled with a very happy glow. I LOVE Make Up Alley.

If you don’t know it, a-ha! You are in for a surprise. Thousands of makeup enthusiasts go on to review make-up items they love/hate/meh. For example, I’ve posted reviews for my HGs (MUA-speak for Holy Grail) like Benefit High Beam highlighter, Dior ShowLash mascara and MAC Cute blush, as well as for meh-items like MAC Bare Study Paintpot. (Don’t bother; Soft Ochre is way better and will keep your eyeshadow in place all the live-long day.)

Apart from being very diverting (the reviews range from highly professional, ie, “the foundation tends to oxidise…” to giddily girly, ie, “OMGF i have finally found it!!! THE PERFECT NON-DEAD PINKY-NUDE LIPSTICK!!!!” to plain hilarious, ie, “If I wanted to look green and chalky all day I would get drunk every night” or “this so-called illuminator is a glitterbomb of Hiroshima proportions”), it’s a great way of picking up application tips, as well as finding out, for example, if the new MAC Limited Edition colour is in fact just a facsimile of a shade from the permanent range, or if a new NARS blush is just a copy of a MAC blush for twice the price. I trust MUAers more than magazines, because – and this is, obviously, not shocking news for any of us – most beauty journalists write what the PR people want them to write.

And the site is great for swapping.

Here’s how it works: you join Make Up Alley and make a ‘Swap List’ of unwanted makeup items – that blush that never quite worked for you, the eyeshadow that won’t stick. Another MUAer will email to ask if you’d like to swap for something they’ve got, making sure that you know how much they’ve used it (ie, ‘x10 swiped’ means it’s been used lightly about 10 times). You both post your items, and that’s it. Every time you make a successful swap, you get a token, so the more tokens you have, the more people will swap with you, and so on and so on. I only swap once every few months. I’m pretty reactive and picky; plus if I really want something, I tend to buy it.

Some of my friends think it’s gross. I can see their point, which is why I only ever swap nearly-unused blushes and eyeshadows and only brands I know really well ie MAC and NARS. In this case, I swapped MAC Shimpagne (it was too dark for me) for MAC Solar White eyeshadow, which sounds interesting. I’ve barely used Shimpagne, she’s barely used Solar White.

Why do I do it? Reason one: because I love makeup. Yup. I do. I am a total girl. When I was five, I stole my mother’s lipsticks and slept with them under my pillow just because I loved them so damn much. My friends say things like ‘I was such a tomboy, always climbing trees’ and I’m perplexed. Why would you climb a tree when you could sew a new dress for your Cabbage Patch Kid? Writing stories, making up plays and dances, reading, drawing, sewing, knitting, baking: I was a pathetically unreconstructed child. Maybe I read Little Women too many times. I always wanted to be Amy but knew I was Beth. Sorry, back to the point.

Reason two: it’s free. No, I’m not exactly poor, but like most women, I probably spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds a year on make up / creams / hair products, etc. Swapping is a great way of trying new and potentially risky colours for free (I would never have found MAC Bitter without swapping, and it’s awesome – electric yellowygreen, a tiny smidge gives a delicious edge to any taupe).

Have I ever been ripped off (or, to use the MUA-slang, ‘swaplifted’)? No. It does happen, apparently, but it never has to me.

And this is reason three, and the reason I probably keep swapping when, God knows, I don’t need the makeup: I just love the concept. You exchange girly, friendly emails with a total stranger; then you swap products through the mail, often with a nice little note and then you have a new colour to play with. It’s simple and warm-hearted and its success relies entirely on thousands of women being honest and generous. Like Twitter, it kind of makes me fall a little bit more in love with humanity. And yes, I know how retch-inducingly positive that sentence is. But I don’t care. So there.

My sister and I, aged four and six. I’m the ballet dancer, she’s showing off her favourite book. See? Girly-girls. (She was always so much more adorable than me.) I have hilarious photos somewhere of us dressing up our dogs as babies and making them sit in prams, I’ll find them…