Monthly Archives: September 2010

On… perfumes. And blogging. And… oh, stuff.

As mentioned umpteen times before, I often don’t know what to write on this blog. I’m not going to bore you with stories from my day-to-day life (“And then i was like, I am SO not pleased with the standard of that drycleaner, and she was like, I KNOW!”). There’s only so much one can say about writing (“Read, write, edit. Repeat”). And I’m not just going to talk about the career side of writing the whole time, either (“So, the German rights have sold, and I’m hoping for the Dutch soon clunkzzzzz”).

Actually, I think that author blogs are like a little pulse check. As in: yep, I’m still here.

And this is also a hello to anyone who just read The Dating Detox. Yep, I wrote that. Yep, it’s pretty much my 20s in 400 pages. I lived in Pimlico (though I’m now in Notting Hill). I was permanently dumped (now married but only very newly so it hardly counts). I was a copywriter (I still am, some of the time). I sometimes named my outfits (I’m pretty consistently French Schoolboy these days, I don’t know why but it seems to have stuck – a lot of little shorts and crisp white shirts, peacoats and brogues).

And yep, I have a second book coming out in December. It’s called A GIRL LIKE YOU. It, too, is another tale taken from my life, but more of a how-to-regain-single-confidence-after-a-long-time-in-a-relationship kind of thing. And lots of drunken mistakes and high jinks and crazy parties and you know, all that good stuff.

Sometimes I think writing novels is the most self-involved, solipsistic thing a person can do. It’s like ‘this is ME and here’s what I THINK and things I’ve OBSERVED and now let me ENTERTAIN YOU and make you LAUGH and/or CRY! TA-DA!’. I’m not really that showy at all in person. Whenever I meet people who’ve read the book before they actually meet me, they spend the first few hours watching me carefully, as though expecting me to keep up a running narrative commentary (I am doing that, of course, but only in my head) or jump on the table and start doing shots and air guitar (ditto) (okay it still happens but rarely).

So my blog, I think, is really just mostly news, and every now and again, a little chatty piece like this.

Yeah. So. Solipsism is an awesome word, n’est-ce pas? It means extreme self-obsession. My friend Sarah and I went through a phase of making up pretend perfume names and straplines. Like SOLIPSISM. Strapline: ‘It’s all about you’. PATRIARCHY. Strapline: ‘Daddy knows best’. And APATHY. Strapline – actually, there was no strapline, just a shrug and a sigh.

I love perfumes. I wrote a paragraph somewhere in The Dating Detox about the intense rush of memory a scent can provide, and I named a few that mark my progress through my teenage years and 20s… I think the list was pretty much the truth (which shows how lazy I am, as does the fact that I’m too lazy to actually check the book to see if it is or not.) My first scent was Miss Diorissimo, then Benetton Colors, then Anais Anais, LouLou, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel No.5, Gucci Envy, Gucci Rush, Sisley Eau de Soie, L’Eau de Guerlain, Shalimar, Balenciaga Le Dix… If I smell any of them now, I nearly pass out from the olofactory memories. My friend Alex freaks out when she smells LouLou as it reminds her so strongly of me and first year university. I’d like to go through and tell you the exact boyfriend or lifetime period that each perfume represents, but I feel kind of bad talking about ex-boyfriends in this blog. I respect their privacy. (The cockmonkeys. ) (Just kidding! Some of them were nice.)(Ahem.)

At the moment I have several favourites, I don’t know why. Perhaps because my taste is more complicated than it used to be. Or – and this is far more likely – because I’m more flighty. Also, I read this amazing book called PERFUMES, THE A-Z GUIDE by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. If you’re not a flighty perfume addict before you read it, you will be afterwards.


This is the newest addition to the Burgess scent family. I bought it rather cheaply after reading about it in the book PERFUMES. They describe it as a vanilla-vetiver hybrid “like Arthur Miller arm in arm with Marilyn Monroe”. I think it’s damn interesting and manly and spicy-lemon.


Clean, green, sharp with that soft ambery woody drydown… Argh! I love this one. I don’t know why, but for the past three years I’ve worn this perfume constantly in April, May and June and then I stop. The Perfumes book calls it “sleek, dependable, perfectly proportioned… basically perfect”. But the bottle is the size of St fucking Pauls, which makes it hard to travel with.


That perfume book famously called this scent ‘dirty knickers’. When I wear it, I just want to feel myself up. Seriously. That’s how deliciously sexy it is. A Muji salesguy followed me around his shop the other week and said ‘I HAVE to tell you, you smell CAPTIVATING’ which has never, ever happened before and doubtless never will again. (Obviously he was gay; a straight man would never use the word captivating. More’s the pity.) It’s musky and salty and sweet and smoky, all at once. Amazing.


When I’m feeling clean and uncomplicated, I wear this. But, like plain white cotton knickers that I also put on when I’m feeling clean and uncomplicated, this perfume is surprisingly sexy. You can buy it in a little rollerball pen, which is ideal for nights out and travelling.


Like being slapped by a big fat man-eating flower. This smells so aggressive that I wear it very rarely, and only on a big-time night out, when I’m wearing the highest fuck-off heels I own, a very tight and/or short dress and feeling uber-confident. Seriously. It never wears off; one spritz lasts all night, and it never really softens and becomes that little skin-hug like most perfumes do. When I wear it, I think of Brigitte Nielson in Beverly Hills Cop II, when she’s at the rifle range. I also think of Jllly Cooper’s Rivals, because Cameron wears it. Yep, that’s how often I’ve read Rivals. Daisy in Polo wears Je Reviens, by the way, but I’ve never managed to smell that. Anyway. I’m digressing, as usual. In fact, this whole blog is one long digression.

I just smelled Serge Lutens Chergui today and now I cannot stop sniffing my wrists. And I think it might be the smell of Winter 2010. Argh! So good. Dark and spicy and honey-pipe-ish.

Anyway. The point, if there is one, is that I love discovering new perfumes. What are your favourites and why?

On… my new cover

This is the cover for A GIRL LIKE YOU (coming out December 2010).

I am so happy with it, I want to clap my hands like the ex-Brownie geek I am.

The title really pops and the colours work, but above and beyond all that good stuff, the girl is clearly doing a walk of shame. She’s barefoot. She’s drinking champagne from a bottle. She has what appear to be knickers popping out of her 2.55.

Plus, I really like her jacket. Pale grey is awesome.

All in all, this is a girl I could hang out with.

What do you think?

On… failure

My friend Sarah is a psychologist and journalist. She’s also impossibly beautiful and hilarious. I am friends with her despite these massive flaws.

She emailed last week saying she’d been tasked with writing about ‘famous failures’. People who overcome huge life-changing fuck-ups and go on to become bigger and better, like Nicole Kidman post-divorce and Al Gore post-election.

My first reaction (after ‘Nicole Kidman is ‘bigger and better’? When was the last time anyone watched a movie she was in? And anyway, is it called ‘failure’ when the marriage contract simply expired?’) was that there are a lot of them. In fact it’s hard to think of anyone successful who hasn’t overcome fuck-ups.

For example – and this is just the ones I thought of in a few minutes, so I know you can probably think of loads more – Hugh Grant got a blowie from a pro but used the incident to make him look less foppishly fey. Victoria Beckham was a singalong robot till she discovered her love of design (and Roland Mouret’s dressmakers, ahem).

Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks was cancelled and he went on to make Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, etc. (Freaks and Geeks being cancelled while shit like Two And A Half Men is still slopped out on our televisual plates like week-old spagbog is a travesty, by the way, a fucking travesty, and don’t even get me started on the utterly needless cancellation of Firefly and just-finding-its-feet Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and the best show of our time, Arrested Development. Amen. At least we have True Blood, MadMen and 30 Rock. And now we come to the end of my viewing favourites tour.)

Where was I? Yes. And then we have a long, long list of people who didn’t quite fail, but took a while to find their success boots, from Kevin Costner (cutting room floor of The Big Chill) to Dustin Hoffman (was a jobbing actor for as long as I’ve been wearing a bra). Or JK Rowling, whose Harry Potter manuscript was rejected, what, 22 thousand times? And so was John Grisham’s first manuscript. (I don’t read John Grisham either, darling, but he has done rather well.)

And Marc Jacobs designed the infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 91 or 92, I think it was, then he was fired, but then it went on to be like the biggest influence in fashion evah and he became his current, utterly amazing, ridiculously awesome self.

And so on.

As I was wittering thusly in my email reply to Sarah I began to think that no one’s trajectory to success is seamless. Success takes a shitload of work and luck and the ability to bounce back and keep trying when you fuck up.

I think that’s why I hate the word ‘failure’. It’s deflated, bloodless little sigh of a word that implies ‘you may as well stop trying, there’s no point, you’ve hit rock-bottom and you’ll never succeed from here’. I would happily say I’ve fucked up in my life. Many, many times. But I’d never say I’d failed.

And sometimes, my fuck-ups result in a high-five.

I hope this doesn’t sound too Pollyannaish, but let’s take a look at a few examples of Gemma fuck-ups-turned-high-fives… (this is especially for you Andrea, who requested ‘more personal stuff in your blogs!’). I hated boarding school (and it hated me). But that made me more independent. I failed French at university. But I had to make up the extra points and graduated with a triple major in English, History and Theatre. I was cheated on by my first boyfriend and dumped by several shallow bastardos. But I can sniff out a cockmonkey at 20 yards and got a lot of good stories. In my first houseshare in London, my flatmates stole £600 from me and left the country. But I got wiser and tougher and lived in a series of far nicer places (with occasional nutjob flatmates who stressed me out but made for even better stories). I was made redundant. But my boss was a fuckwipe and I immediately found a far better job. I broke up with a guy I was living with after three years together, which was excruciatingly sad. But then I felt truly invincible, because I’d been (retch, apologies, cliché incoming) true to myself, and found someone who was (retch, again, apologies) really and truly perfect for me. I had a very painful back injury and was bedridden for a few weeks. But then I wrote the first few chapters of The Dating Detox and discovered the joy of Pilates. And so on.

As Mummy Burgess (yoga-teaching, cocktail-loving little hippie) always says: everything happens for a reason. No matter how unhappy or stressed I have felt in the past, everything has worked out fine… sometimes as a result of being unhappy and stressed.

I need to caveat here that I know my bad times really haven’t been that bad, and if I was talking about genuine tragedy or loss, I would never be so glib.

And – second caveat, as usual, I love a good caveat – not that I’m all happy-happy-joy-joy all the time these days either. I get insecure and weepy. I enjoy regular ‘I suck’ moments when I want to just lie down on the floor and wail, and/or burn everything I’ve ever written. I fight the eternal desperate need for reassurance that plagues every creative. I worry that everyone will hate A Girl Like You. I wonder if anyone will ever option The Dating Detox and think that dagnabbit, the script I wrote is really funny and it’s just sitting there, and then wonder if any of the other projects I’m working on will ever work out. It’s all pretty damn pathetic, I can tell you. But then I tell myself to shut up and stop whinging. Because life is good. And most of the time, as long as I keep trying, I feel like I’m doing okay.

I say we should embrace our fuck-ups. If nothing ever happened to us, we’d be so boring… and so bored.

On… cows

I love cows. Isn’t she beautiful?

I’ve been in love with her for months. She’s been hanging at the Whitewall Galleries on Westbourne Grove and I’ve been visiting her whenever I walk past. And now, she is mine.

It is perhaps odd that I love her so much, considering that I a) have zero affiliation with or affection for real cows, farms or the countryside b) grew up in Hong Kong and live in London and am avowedly the most city-loving person you could ever meet and c) get nervous in the country because of all the nature, which gives me asthma and makes my skin itch, and silence, which makes me feel alone. But I do.

I haven’t named her yet – maybe Bessie? (Too cliche?) What do you think? She’s definitely a girl; she has long eyelashes. Suggestions welcome…