Monthly Archives: December 2010

On… my favourite books of 2010

I love reading.

What a painfully obvious thing to say. Never mind, let us continue.

I average two or three books a week, and I’ll read just about anything. I’m anti-book snobbery. (Incidentally, I’m also anti-carb snobbery: I’ll happily eat Doritos or thrice-baked truffle-infused organic baby potatoes. It comes down to the same thing: a pleasure is a pleasure.)

Reading so much is an expensive habit, as I always buy them (I figure it’s author karma). I don’t have a favourite genre: classics, modern literary fiction, magical realism, chicklit (if it is funny; romance/issues alone do not float my boat), sagas, popular fiction (including my secret vice, young adult paranormal romance gothlit, but more about that in a moment)… I am quite the little book slut.

Actually, I don’t read scary books – not because I don’t like them, but because I am a chicken. During The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) I slept with the light on. This is not a lie. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t read misery lit or those crime books that are full of misogynistic sexual violence either, but that’s because they make me feel sick. You know the kind I mean. Oh, and I read things like Dan Brown if I find myself in someone’s house for the weekend and wake up early (I am forever waking up early, it’s so damn tedious) and I’ve forgotten or finished my book. Dan Browny-type books are interesting to read because you can sort of analyze why they’re sucking you in; I read 137 pages of one of his books one Sunday morning at a friend’s house in Dublin, and realized the plot was structured like this: mysterious event – travel – hint – travel – small reveal– travel – hint – travel – small reveal – travel. (I got bored the sixth time the main character travelled on a super-magic-fighter-jet across the world to get told something exciting but baffling by someone important. I skipped to the last page and thought ‘oh well big fucking deal, it’s alien ice’ and went downstairs and made pancakes.)

The only book I really didn’t like – and note, quite a few made me think ‘this isn’t very well-written/good’; I mean book I actively disliked – in the past year was Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Nevwhatevergefeffer. I LOVED The Time Traveller’s Wife, but HFS was just… cold. In every possible way. It made me want to slash my wrists; its view on humanity and its characters were all so lacking in empathy or love or warmth. Now, perhaps that was just my take on it. But there you have it.

Anyway, without further yapping, here are my favourite reads from 2010:

The Observations

This is a photo of me reading The Observations on a train from Dublin to Cork on the weekend. (We were in Ireland for pre-Christmas parties and – frozen airports permitting, oh please please – heading to Hong Kong on Thursday for Christmas with my parents. YAY.) It. Is. Divine. Here’s the cover again.

I bought this book on the recommendation of Anna, Daisy and Violet at Lutyens & Rubinstein (Best Bookshop Evah, TM). Those girls have impeccable taste. I fell in love with Bessy, the narrator. I find myself, even now that I’ve finished it, wanting to look after her and talk to her… She’s brilliant: funny, feisty, warm, caring, vulnerable, smart, strong… it’s perfect in so many ways: story, voice, characters… just great.

By the way, what is with all these books with ribbons around the cover at the moment? And have you counted how many chicklit book covers feature whimsical girls in red coats? It’s laughable. And I say that as someone whose first book cover has a whimsical girl with a red coat (and a spotted blue neckerchief, indeed). Before I start saying anything I shouldn’t, back to the point: The Observations is wonderful.

Torment by Lauren Kate

Young Adult paranormal romance gothlit sometimes really hits the spot. Yes, I read the Twilight series last year, starting with the thought ‘what the hell is everyone on about?’ and then because I couldn’t put the fuckers down, even when I worried that the ‘imprinting’ thing was perhaps a strange Mormon childbride excuse, and when I cringed slightly at the endless love talk (as I said, romance doesn’t really do it for me… in fact, I cringe writing any romancey bits in my own books and always try to make them a bit sharp or surprising, I probably fail but I try). Something about that teenage alienation feeling is addictive, it was compelling and entertaining…. Anyway, back to Torment. It’s about eternal love and damnation, fallen angels and – but of course – a sulky teenage girl. You should probably start with Fallen, but I enjoyed the sequal, Torment, far more.

The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon

I wrote about this earlier in the year, and said it was the reason I learnt to read. It’s still true. If you’ve read it, by the way, and loved it, try The Wonder Boys. It, too, is wonderful.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep is a sort of coming-of-age story – dreadfully overused term, sorry – about a girl at a New England boarding school. Parts reminded me so much of my boarding school – the strangeness and loneliness of it – that I cried real tears, people. Real tears. American Wife, by the same author, is brilliant too, but Prep is just… phenomenal. I loved it so much that I wrote Curtis Sittenfeld an email saying so. (She didn’t reply.) (Hurrumph.) That is the UK cover, by the way, and I have to say, what the fuck? It looks like a photo you’d get free with a cheap photoframe. And what’s with the quote? “The OC?” “Clueless?” Are they seriously comparing a brilliant novel to a terrible TV show and a movie released in 1995 (yes Clueless was fab and the clothes were awesome, but apart from a teenage protagonist, Clueless has NOTHING in common with Prep, though it’s got a lot in common with Emma by Jane Austen, of course). And why “The Secret History?” Because it’s also set in New England? The Secret History is by Donna Tartt, and it’s wonderful, but it’s about a group of college classics students who become obsessed with Baccanalian revelry and go on a excess-fuelled rampage, kill a farmer and then one of their friends, and then are destroyed by guilt. For Pete’s sake.

The Best Of Everything by Rona Jaffe

Yes! God this is a fabulous book. Five young women working in Manhattan in the 50s: their careers, families, love lives and friendships… I loved it so much. If you enjoy this, try The Group by Mary McCarthy, which charts the lives of a group of Vassar graduates in New York in the 30s. It’s fantastic.

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch

I love a saga. I always forget I love a saga, as I look at them and think ‘man, that looks like such a commitment’. But then I start reading and think ‘amazing, amazing, amazing’. This book, and its sequel, Sins Of The Fathers, is about American and English families entwined by love and hate and money over a 50-year period. The books are narrated in chunks by different characters, and it’s an incredibly compelling storytelling technique – it’s seamless and each character is so damn believable. I’ve never read anything like it. By the way, if you like a good saga, try Elizabeth Jane Howard’s wartime saga (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, and Casting Off). After that you’ll probably be in the mood for Mary Wesley’s Chamomile Lawn, which is delicious. Then you might go through a Persephone-ish betwixt-the-wars phase, so start with Mariana by Monica Dickens, read all the Nancy Mitfords if you haven’t already, and dive into Dorothy Whipple. Mmm. Yummy books.

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Yep, it’s YA, yep, it’s the same character that made me want to throw knives at the screen during Sex And The City 2, yep, it’s awesome. Candace Bushnell is a fantastic writer: One Fifth Avenue and Lipstick Jungle are also excellent. Four Blondes I didn’t get along quite so well with and I can’t remember what I thought of Trading Up. Weirdly, I haven’t read the Sex And The City book. I should probably do that.

I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson

I don’t know how the hell I missed reading this book for so long: it’s great. You already know that, I expect. Everyone else seems to have read it. Perfect chicklit: smart, funny, fast, surprising and empathetic.

I’ve probably forgotten some other favourites, but shall come back to add them. A Girl Like You is coming out in 15 days, by the way, and my recent blog and Twitter silence is mostly a result of fretting about it. Thinking about other books simultaneously calms me down and makes me more nervous. Isn’t that weird? Hmm. Fret fret fret.

On… Mannerfrei

The German cover for The Dating Detox just landed! I adore it. I am clapping my hands with glee.

It’s called Mannerfrei: Roman in German (Man Free: A Novel) Which I kind of love. Claudia Geng translated it. I hope she enjoyed it… I wonder what ‘cockmonkey’ is in German?

By the way, this is how Google translates the German back blurb. It works for me:

Problems with men? The solution is men free!

Men are dangerous and have various side effects. After the sixth failed relationship Sass decides to start a romantic Lent: no men, no divisions, no disappointments. And what happened? Their lives – usually filled with joy-traumatic with dates, clothes, and the relationship of vodka after that – is suddenly released! Abstinence is cool, and suddenly you’re flying to all, especially men, especially Jake: witty, intelligent and ever … If Sass break the rules? Or is the carefree life too good to turn it to gamble?

About the Author
Gemma Burgess moved to London at age 22. She worked at an advertising agency and was looking for happiness. Eight years later she decided to process the most important findings of this beautiful and turbulent period in a novel. Men free is for all self-conscious, intelligent, witty women of style who have difficulties to recognize the love, even when it is standing before them.

On… what I wore

Yesterday was the photoshoot and interview for North East magazine.

Absolutely delightful fun and in the most incredible venue: Lost In Beauty, a shrine to all that is girlie and great, in Primrose Hill. They sell handpicked hair and makeup brands (Chantecaille, Becca, RMK, etc) and have a boudoir downstairs dedicated to makeovers.

I just decided to try to make you one of those lookbook style compilations, you know, the kind that fashion bloggers make? Dudes! It took forever. Newfound respect. Anyway. Here it is:

I chose this outfit because:
1. The jeans make me feel very tall and thin. Which is the only job any pair of jeans ever has to do, really. They are from J Brand via TheOutnet. (They’re on there right now! Run!)
2. The cardigan is cosy-snuggly, but looks kind of put together (unusual for a cardigan), and it’s a nice pinky shade of nude. I look like vom in those camel-nudes. I like grey and nude together: those colours are friends, like grey and white. Actually grey is friends with every other colour, really.
3. The top is pretty and white, and any pretty, white top does it for me. Have you ever noticed that you buy multiple versions of your favourite things, even though you don’t really need them? I have a friend who owns nine pairs of black trousers. Me, it’s white tops. It’s like I’m preparing for some kind of fashion war, where there might be a white top rationing law. I also have a thing for Victorian-governess-style lace tops, you know the kind? I once found a beyewtiful one at H&M; that had about 50 tiny buttons on the back. Then I broke up with the guy I was living with and was like ‘shit, I am never going to be able to do this up by myself’. Yah. Total nightmare guys.
4. The shoes are – okay, I didn’t put much thought into the shoes, I just grabbed them on the way out the door in case I needed them. Good thing, too, as they ended up taking photos of me walking/strutting around Primrose Hill, laptop in hand. Because I totally walk around with my laptop in case inspiration strikes.
5. The earrings are little sparkly skulls. I am a bit jewelry-tarded, and rarely wear anything except the wedding/engagement rings. I bought those at Topshop years ago.

I’ve been a bit meh about posting about fashion up till now. I write about clothes a lot in THE DATING DETOX and A GIRL LIKE YOU, but I definitely don’t want to pretend I’m a style maven. I’m just a fashion enthusiast, like most women I know… I sometimes look at photos and think ‘Sheesh, I should really have put the crack pipe down that day.’ Particular mistakes include the outfits titled Crushed Grape, 70s Babysitter and Drunk Headmistress. Not good. I hope this outfit stands the test of time. It’s pretty innocuous – I can’t even think of a name for it, in fact.

On… publication nerves

So my second book, A GIRL LIKE YOU, is coming out in a few weeks.

Naturally I feel sick about it.

This time last year I was in exactly the same state with THE DATING DETOX, which came out exactly the same week.

My brain goes something like this: oo, book coming out soon. Goodygumdro…. Wait. (Brain-gasp.) What if everyone hates it? What if my friends hate it? What would they say? (Here I try to plan exactly what nice-but-untrue things my friends might say if they hate it.) What if everyone thinks it’s stupid? (Here I list all the things in the book that might be stupid.) What if they don’t think it’s funny? (Here I list all the things I think are funny that might not be.) What if it fails diabolically, and no-one buys it, and everyone laughs at me, and it ends up being pulped and never printed again? Then it would be like (brain-whisper) it never even existed.

It’s recockulous. I spiral myself into a negative, teary frenzy. Eventually, I put on my strictest Brown Owl voice and tell myself to Stop Being So Bloody Silly. Then I go and think about something else for as long as I can.

I wonder if the nerves go away with time. I’ve read that other authors feel proud or excited about publication. I wish I was like that. Instead, I want to press control-alt-delete on the whole thing and shout “Sorry! Sorry everyone. Dreadful mistake. Please put the pastel-coloured book DOWN and step away from the bookshelf.”

But I can’t. All I can do is sit here and think, fuck. I hope they like it.

On… cover shoot

I have my first ever photoshoot on Tuesday.

What the sweet hell am I going to wear?

It’s for the cover of North East magazine, a deliciously glossy London magazine for all the delightful people who live in Primrose Hill (where my soon-to-launch novel, A GIRL LIKE YOU, is set), Hampstead, Belsize Park, and so on.

Like most people, I’m pretty uncomfortable in front of the camera – unless, of course, I am three wheets to the shind, in which case I will either offer a Cheshire cat smile or break out my Paris Hilton pose (the perfect combination of flattering and ridiculous). My Twitter pic is from a wedding in the States last year, it was a Paris pose gone slightly wrong, so I just look tipsy and conniving. Anyway. I can’t do much about my face. The delightful ladies at Lost In Beauty have earmarked two hours to improve it (I’m rather excited to see what they might do to my eyebrows, but that’s a different post altogether) so that should get things in good shape.

The point is I don’t know what to wear.

And you know how I feel about clothes (hint: I like them). I emailed the lovely editor, Tash, and she said ‘not black’ which wipes out half my wardrobe. Apart from black, I only have a lot of grey, white, a tiny bit of navy and red, and one neon yellow skinny belt that, surprisingly, gets a lot of play. In other words, I have nothing to wear. And three days to find something.

Any ideas?


Holly asked if I would do a book signing for A GIRL LIKE YOU. I haven’t planned one yet, as one time I saw an author sitting at a desk in a bookshop, with a stack of books ready to be signed, and no one was talking to him and he looked like he wanted to cry. (I bought one and it was about sport, of all things.) The idea of being that author makes me shudder internally. Maybe I’m wrong, what do you think?

I don’t know about a launch party, either – I had one for THE DATING DETOX but it was really just a party for my friends where there happened to be a stack of books in the corner. Hmm.

On…. my fauxmance

I just found something that I wrote years ago. It was crumpled in the bottom of a box of keepsakes, old tickets, cards, letters and things.

It’s a pretend page from a fauxmance – that’s a parody of a Mills & Boon-style romance novel, of course – called Hot Nights And Cold Shoulders.

I thought I was so damn funny when I wrote it. You may not agree. Sometimes I do things that I think are hilarious and everyone else thinks are silly/pointless/unfunny. I am at peace with this. Anyway, this is the copy.


Hearing the noise, Chenille turned around.

It was him. Entering her chambers without so much as a by-your-leave.

She stood up angrily to go, but at once he was upon her, begging her with his deep brown eyes to listen, to let go of the past, to love.

‘Please -’ there was an urgency in his molten-honey voice. God, he was impenetrable.

‘What do you want from me now, Boulder Bulwark?’ she cried, throwing her lovely head back in passion. ‘You’ve taken my plantation, my hopes for the future, even my house slaves! Enough is enough!’

Beads of sweat were beading on his brow. He grabbed her passionately, his manly arms encircling her girlish waist.

‘There’s one more thing I want to take.’

Before she knew it, his firm lips pressed down on her furiously clamped mouth. He was kissing her! Her small hands pummelled against his manly chest in protest. But to no avail.

She could feel the warmth of his boy pressed against hers and smell his tanned, work-roughened skin, that curious mix of cotton-rich earth, horse sweat and home-cooked grits that only true Southern gentlemen have. Quite a change from the Yankee-educated dandy who’d darkened her doorstep just three weeks ago.

Suddenly Chenille felt something she’d never felt before. Desire. And nature took over.

Without thinking she arched her back and began to kiss him back. She could feel his throbbing manhood pressed against her thigh as his tongue probed her mouth, his hands grazing he rosebud nipples of her firm but pendulous baps through the sheer muslin gown. An urgent ache started deep inside her virgin loins, and she remembered Momma’s warnings.

But she didnt want to stop. Not now, not ever.

Chenille ran her hands through Boulder’s thick chestnut hair. His turgid member thrust against her ever-questioningly. Her response needed no words as she undulated gently in that ancient rhythm. Her body was responding to his manliness in a way she couldn’t deny.

‘Oh, Boulder,’ she sighed, as he began kissing her neck.

‘Chenille, my darling Chenille,’ he moaned. The sound of his voice brought her to her senses.

With all her strength she slapped him hard across the face.

‘How dare you insult me like this?’ she exclaimed, ‘I may not be one of your sophisticated Yankee girls but that’s just the way the Lord, my Momma and the Confederate Union made me. You take your filthy hands off me and leave my chambers this instant.’

‘I will not,’ Boulder replied, ‘I’ve loved you since the moment you threw that damned jug of mint julep over me. You crazy, tempestuous, gorgeous Southern woman.’

He picked her up and carried her over to the bed. Like a branded filly, she was scared yet excited, and knew there was no use struggling. In the very depths of her soul she yearned for him to possess her. He placed her head tenderly on the pillow.

‘Chenille Clemency Depoise, I want you to become my wife,’ he murmured, his hands roaming and finding home in a place they’d never been before.

He caught his breath, watching, waiting for her response.

‘Yes… yes my darling, yes!’

Yep. That’s a fauxmance. I tried to twist all the classic Mills & Boon cliches, with stilted dialogue, awkwards sexual descriptions and – but of course! – adverbs a-go-go.

I found it yesterday and thought ‘now, why the hell did I write that?’

I guess I liked (still like) writing things that made me laugh, even if there was no reason for doing it. I read a few very bad Mills & Boon-esque historical romances in my early teens and I thought it would be funny to take the piss. And more than anything I had oodles of creative energy that I wasn’t using at work – I was writing a lot of financial copy at the time, ahem – so I channelled it into tiny pointless projects like this, instead.

What else did I do during that period? Well, I played silly games with friends, like making up names and straplines for pretend perfumes (Patriarchy! Daddy knows best…), I organised a series of Notting Hill-to-Chelsea pub crawls called Staggers (with their own advertising campaigns and straplines) that ended up with over 100 attendees, I made compilation CDs for friends and designed unique CD covers, I started a Cocktail Club (with Mad Men-style copy-heavy posters that changed weekly) at work, I offered free copywriting and marketing strategy to a local start up hair salon (yuh I bet they were thrilled).

I never tried to write a book. I didn’t have the concentration. I was a scattergun of creative energy, unfocused and unsatisfied, gagging to just do something.

As it turned out my permanent niggling feeling of vague dissatisfaction was because I was – light bulb moment! – not satisfied with life. Once I sorted that out, everything got a lot easier.

On… overhighlighted hair

My hair was overhighlighted by an overzealous hairdresser about six months ago, and promptly started to break off. I’ve been trying to protect and nourish it ever since – singing to it in the morning, taking it out for quiet dinners and spoonfeeding it organic risotto at night, etc.

(That’s not what I mean, of course, I mean I’m not using hairdryers and tongs, but it seemed such an obvious thing to say that I thought I’d surprise you.)


I realised today that on a hangover, when my back hurts, I look exactly like this.