Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Entertainer of the Year

A huge congratulations to my friend Laura Schwartz (above), who has just been nominated as one of the six finalists for Events Solutions Magazine's "Entertainer of the Year Award". Laura, who is the author of the very successful Eat, Drink and Succeed: Climb Your Way to the Top Using the Networking Power of Social Events, was formerly a Special Assistant to President Clinton and the White House Director of Events. Laura now works in Chicago with her company White House Strategiesan event, media, political and message consultancy firm. She's a phenomenal public speaker and a really wonderful person. 

Laura and I first met when she was speaking at the Oxford Union in a debate on American foreign policy and I was chatting to her wonderful mother and sister, Andrea, at cocktails after. Andrea was saying how beautiful Oxford was and there was so much to see, so I offered to tour guide and the next day the entire Schwartz family and I took a tour of the city I love. They are fabulous people and it was such a highlight of that term to meet them and hang out with them. 

Anyhoo, before I gush too much, I should thank Laura for how encouraging she has been about Popular and say how amazing this nomination is - and how deserved too! 

If you'd like to vote for the delightful Miss Schwartz, here is the link and she's in the Solo category.

And if you'd like to see Laura in action, back when she was commenting on the 2008 Presidential election, click here. She's talking about one of my favourite topics: the importance of the visual! ;) 

Good luck, Laura!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Delightful new fashion label

It's that time of year again when I stop thinking about my own wardrobe and start focusing more and more on that of my characters - particularly Meredith, Imogen and Kerry. It's so important that I stick to the right style that reflects each girl's personality and sense of fashion, but one of the hardest to have a look for (I think) is Imogen. Meredith's style is so classic and so traditional that it's easier to look around for things and know immediately whether she'd love them or hate them; Imogen, who has much more eclectic and edgy sense of chic, is constantly changing what she likes and so styling her in the pages of Popular and its sequel (which I'm writing at the moment) can be a bit more difficult. I realise in terms of jobs this isn't the hardest thing in the world, but still!

So the dress on the right was a great metaphorical find for Imogen to wear to a summer party that I'm writing about right now. It's sexy, it's fun, it's different but it's also practical (love the colour) and it comes from a fantastic new label created by Coco Fennell. Coco and I seem to have been orbiting each other for a few years, but like fortunate planets, haven't collided (do planets collide? I don't know. Science was not a strong point of mine, as the grimace of my ex-teacher showed when I shimmied back into Down High last week)...

Anyway, Coco is the younger sister of one of my closest friends from university, but I think I'm right in saying Coco and I have only met each other a handful of times. To cut a long story short-ish, Emerald recently told me that Coco (below, left - beautiful, much?) was thinking of starting up her own fashion label and since I was already reading Coco's fashion blog, I was quite excited. Naturally, I went snooping - and I love the label. Coco has basically set-up a label for girls which is all about "some lovely bits and bobs that are easy to wear, flattering and can be dressed up or dressed down." Exactly what Imogen would love to wear. Huzzah.

So far, Coco Fennell is a very small label and I'm so glad I discovered it at this early stage before it really takes off. It can definitely add to my cool credentials (v. important to keep topping them up regularly!) I'm definitely seriously tempted to buy my sister's next birthday present from CF, because this is exactly the kind of stuff she loves and which she's always saying there isn't enough of! Although, like any good VCB girl, she knows that clothes in general are something you can never have too much of.

Along with Alex Perry and Rosa Cha for Meredith, I'm v. excited to have found Coco Fennell as a new favourite label for Imogen to start wearing in the next few Popular books. 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hidden Jewels and Gin

It has been delicately pointed out to me that I haven't been updating this blog as regularly as I had originally planned and so the age of snippets of life columns is upon us. This week, I was very very excited to read Liz Hoggard's interview in the Evening Standard with one of my favourite people in the world, Emerald Fennell (above), who recently completed playing Lady Lottie, the first wife of the main character in Channel 4's four part television drama Any Human Heart, based on the novel by William Boyd. Emmy and I did a lot of drama together at Oxford and I'm still at the stage where seeing her on television or in the newspapers makes me achieve kid-going-to-Disneyland levels of hyper-excitement. Ultimately my plan is to acquire a sort of Simon Cowell-Dean Martin levels of louche sophistication about the whole thing, but that is still some way off! I'll provide a link at the bottom to read the full interview and also earlier blog posts about Any Human Heart.

Anyway, the last couple of weeks have been ones of triumph and humiliation. (I refer you to my earlier article, "Embarrassing much, ice?" for my humiliation.) The triumph came in the form of finally being able to figure out what Skype is, after several years of pretending I understood it (i.e. nodding wisely when it was mentioned, much like when I decided to use the phrase "credit crunch" and "recession" at random points in conversation) and generally assuming that Skype was some weird sort of thing you did on MSN chat. Either that or a type of phone I couldn't seem to find in shops. The push over the edge came when my friend Joel said "We should Skype," to which I initially gave the usual BS about what a great idea that was and let's do it some time next week. 

And that's when I realised that Joel has a horrifying tendency to figure out when I'm lying and then wait until we're surrounded by mutual friends to announce it and point out in excruciating detail how I managed to embarrass myself. (National Anthem-gate being high on the list of examples.) This raised the stakes and I knew I had to figure out what Skype actually was. Luckily, after a mere 57 minutes in which she was forced to resort to sending me articles from Google, Wikipedia and finally to telling a parable, Alexa managed to explain the entire thing to me and it turns out that Skype is not only a delightful invention, but also one astonishingly easy to use. So, to all those friends over the years who I promised to Skype with but didn't because I was lying, I sort of apologise. Sorry Lucas, Will, Coco, Kitty, Sophie, Noah, Alexa, Amy, Tom, Matthew, Andrew ... etc.

Another high was attained when I shimmied round to my friend Natalie's for a quiet evening gin. Natalie (left) is one of my favourite drinking partners, if for no other reason than she and her mother have taken to serving me gin in some sort of novelty pint glass and Natalie thinks regular measuring cups are "for dwarves." We managed to discuss all the important things - how she had decided to insure her Chlo√© handbag for far more than she ever would her boyfriend, how for some reason The X Factor isn't that exciting this year and why is it that so many people are so ugly? Also, Queen's University students who flounce around the city centre wearing a glorified version of your pyjamas - you disgust us! Wash you hair, clean your clothes and remember that, right now, there are some well-heeled dogs in Malone who are better groomed than you are. Sort it out.

I also want to talk about last night when I went back to my old high school, Down High, to see their annual school play - this year a production of the musical The Sound of Music. I was back in Down High about two months ago to do an after-school talk about Popular and I got to meet some of the drama students there, all of whom seemed really nice and it was great chatting to them afterwards. My old drama teacher, Pamela Mills, (we plan to make her part of my celebrity posse) sent me two tickets to come and see The Sound of Music on its closing night. Thank you, Pamille. 

I invited my friend Aisleagh to come along as my plus one. Aisleagh is only back in Northern Ireland at the weekends for the next six months, because she flies over to London during the week to be a high-powered lawyer. Very useful to keep Aisleagh on side, considering I will almost certainly need one of those before I turn thirty. Which will be happening in about fifteen years, give or take. Aisleagh was a big participant in Drama in our days at Down High, both curricular and social, and she also loved music, so I thought she was a sure bet for TSOM. Plus, I haven't seen her properly in ages and we used to share a flat together in Oxford, so it would be good to catch up and revisit La Mills.

However, half-way to Downpatrick, Aisleagh turned to me in the car and said in her most dread voice, "Just so you know - and I'm just putting it out there - there is no musical in the world I hate more than The Sound of Music." 

I glanced at her, in shock and fear, "Seriously? How do you hate it? Which songs do you hate the least? Climb Every Mountain?" 

"If I told you I didn't like any of them, would that make it clearer?!"

Part of me was mortified, but the other half quietly pleased, because there is literally no-one in the world more fun to sit next to than Aisleagh when you're watching a movie, play, show or production that she hates. She is hilariously vicious.

We arrive at the school and things don't get off to a great start when the people collecting tickets at the door are my old Biology and Maths teachers, neither of whom exactly saw me at my academic best. I still live in fear that the Maths department will one day figure out that Sarah-Jane and I are not cousins and we did not therefore share a permanently ailing grandmother, who conveniently relapsed every time our coursework was due. 

Aisleagh and I swanned in and chatted with Miss Mills, before curtain-up and I have to say that both Aisleagh and I were pleasantly surprised. I was a bit worried that having met and liked so many of the drama students back in October that they wouldn't actually be amazing on stage, which is always really upsetting, I think, when someone is nice to talk to but doesn't measure up in the talent stakes. Aisleagh, naturally, had settled into a mood of merry bile, prepared to hate everything except the sight of her own name on the board of old Deputy Head Girls and her cunning plan for us to storm the stage half-way through and launch into our monologues from our final school production of The Canterbury Tales. I don't exactly remember mine, but that's OK - I didn't remember it when I did it the first time round, either. Luckily, as the sick grandmother shows, improv was not something I ever had a problem with. 

The show was sensational and half-way through, Aisleagh clutched my hand, tears in her eyes and sighed, "How could I ever have hated this? It's the cutest thing I've ever seen!!"

Firstly, a word of praise for the girl who played Maria: I've never met Poppy, but she was so, so good! She's only a Year 10 (i.e. about 14) and I hope that doesn't sound too patronising, because she was sensational, both as an actress and as a singer. Also I was literally staring open-mouthed at how good the Reverend Mother's singing was. Wow. The entire cast was really excellent and whilst I may have queried the dramatic decision that led to several of the junior school being dressed as machine gun-carrying Nazis, the whole thing was superb. I really, really enjoyed myself and I'm so glad we went. Aisleagh, needless to say, had some sort of spiritual conversion half-way through and was actually singing along to Edelweiss at the end, a euphoric expression on her face.

So, anyway, huge congratulations to Miss Mills and Mr O'Hara and to all those involved and especially those I met when I spoke at Down High and who were in The Sound of Music - Ruth, Michael, Lydia, Charlotte, Louis and Robbie - thanks so much for a great show and I hope the cast party was riotously inappropriate. 


For the full interview with Emerald Fennell, click here and for this blog's post about Any Human Heart, click here

For last week's less than delightful ice-capade, click here

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Embarrassing much, ice?

Snow and ice are now well and truly on my List. As some of you may know, Northern Ireland has been covered in a blanket of snow which has turned into sheet ice on most of the pavements/walkways. In practice, this means two things. Firstly, Britain's amazing ability to grind to a complete administrative and infrastructural standstill due to 5 cms+ of snow kicked in with a vengeance, throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.  In Scotland, it was apparently tools-down even on boats (is the snow lying particularly deep in the North Channel of the Irish Sea?!) Secondly, it has meant that everyone in Belfast has very quietly but firmly been praying, hoping or wishing that they a) do not fall on the ice and b) if they do fall, no passing car will toot the horn at them, roll down the wind and shout "Yeooooooo!!!!" 

Yesterday, scenario B occurred to me without scenario A. En route from the gym, I decided to walk down Balmoral Avenue, basically the main entrance way to Malone and one of the busiest roads in the entire south section of the city. Bear in mind, I have my gym bag swung over my shoulder and my i-Pod earphones in, merrily lost in a world of how utterly delightful my life would be if it did indeed have a soundtrack. Then, suddenly, just between the old Public Records Office and the entrance to Malone Park, my right leg decided to go on safari from the rest of my body and shot out in front of me, thanks to our good friend, Mr. Ice. In order to save myself, I was forced to execute something very much like a 1970s' disco dance move in order to save myself from falling flat on my back. My arms flung up and out like a confused Eva Perón, my gym bag swung round and smacked into my crotch and my earphones fell out of my ear. At that moment, three cars honked their horns and one driver somehow magically wound his window down in time to shout out, "Crackin' dance moves there, son!"

Needless to say, I immediately dashed into Malone Park, assuming that the area in which Meredith, Imogen and Cameron live in Popular could not possibly let me down after this horrific in-street humiliation. To my horror, I realised that the entire tree-lined avenue's pathways were coated with a thick layer of ice-rink like ice. I stared down at it, wondering how in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus I was going to make my way across it (it's the longest residential avenue in the United Kingdom) without falling flat on my face.  I looked down at my shoes, cursing the fact that I hadn't brought either an ice-pick or a team of huskies. Then, from one of the houses on the left, a girl emerged with sunglasses on her face, an enormous Louis Vuitton bag slung over her arm and shoes that were definitely not ice-friendly. Not once did she trip or look in anyway perturbed by the ice underfoot. It was in that moment that I knew, more than ever, that I had set Popular in the right place. Furthermore, I could be thankful that despite my Stayin' Alivesque shimmy, I had not in fact fallen either on Balmoral Avenue or in Malone Park.

Today, however, there was no such luck.

On the way to my totally super-cool early morning lecture on late medieval vernacular theology (Julian of Norwich is my home girl), I decided to cut down Rugby Avenue, incorrectly assuming that if I'd successfully navigated the treachery of Malone Park the day before, nothing could fell me now. I had a copy of The Cloud of Unknowing, Mirror of the Blessed Life and GQ in my arms as I strutted my way towards university through the student heartlands. There was some ice, but not much.

Then, as I slipped slightly (quick check for no cars this time!) I saw a mobile phone lying on the ground. I walked on, before remembering how infuriated I had been when no-one handed by BlackBerry in when I lost it a few months ago. And also, in general, I can't think of anything more annoying and irritating than losing your mobile. So, I turned back to go and collect it. I figured I could hand it into lost property at the School of Sociology and then get to class.

The mobile, still lying in a little pile of snow, appears in my sight line again. A girl in uggs is walking towards me. Another, slightly dishevelled creature, approaches from the opposite side of the road. And that, dear friends, is when both of my legs swung out from under me like a demented go-go dancer and I ended-up flat on my back. In the split second it took my back and arms to make contact with the concrete underfoot of Rugby Avenue, I had just about enough time to choose to save my head or my BlackBerry. 

There is no scratch on my phone. And my head hurts. A lot.

At more or less exactly the same time, the girl in ugg boots also did a half-somersault and ended up lying next to me, gazing up with a sort of traumatised expression at the grey sky. Dishevelled girl has, by this stage, arrived and picks up the mobile phone. "I fell here earlier," she explained, retrieving her mobile. "Are you two alright?"

Ugg girl is still staring up, mortified, at the heavens. Apparently too humiliated to move. "The one thing I asked Jesus for this week was not to fall," she explained piteously. I scrambled to my feet and helped ugg girl up and that's when it hit me. I had fallen on my back in broad daylight in the middle of Belfast.

I fell. On my back. Broad daylight. Middle of Belfast.


No, good. Sweet.

And it's funny, but you know, it's one of those things that you fear and then when it happens ... it's every bit as awful as you imagined.

The one thing I will say is that I now regret cackling myself into a coma about that man on RTE news last year - we have so much more in common than I thought.

I need to start throwing salt out wherever I go. 
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