Sunday, 30 October 2011

The All Hallows Friendship Quest (Part 2 in "Halloween")

Here is part II in this blog's 3-part Halloween story, following some of the characters from Popular as they celebrate All Hallows. For part I, Fireworks, click here.
The rain had gone and the wind calmed down by the following afternoon when Cameron stepped off the 8B Metro bus in the city centre. Saying a silent prayer that no-one from school would see him using the peasant wagon, he checked the road twice and ran quickly across it. Turning left, he very nearly collided with one of his best friends as she emerged from Rio and Brazil BT9 with a shopping bag slung over her left arm.

"Heysies," she smiled. "Where are you going?"

"I'm meeting a friend for coffee in town. I'm actually already kind of late. What are you doing?"

"Were we supposed to have coffee today?"

"No. It's with ... someone else."

A dark look crossed over Kerry's face. "Oh."

"It's one of the guys," Cameron explained quickly. "It isn't Imogen or Meredith. Or Catherine - obviously."

"I'm sure it isn't," she shrugged. Her eyes darted away and Cameron was seized with a terrible memory.

"It really isn't. Do not follow me to see if I'm lying."

"Fine! But I'll be calling them. I will be calling them, Cammy. Callingsorama."

"Fine. But I swear, we wouldn't make plans without you."

Kerry's face brightened into a pretty smile. "So, how excited are you for Mariella's bash ce soir?"
"So excited," he replied dutifully. "It'll be amazing."

"It will. I heard your ghost costume is super-hot? I'm going as an angel. I got new lipgloss for it. I was going to go as a mermaid, but I can't move in the outfit. Like, not even a little bit."

"You'll look amazing as an angel, Kerry. Good call. Listen, I'm running seriously late - can I call you later?"

"No problema," she smiled. "See you later. Enjoy having coffee with boring people!"

As Kerry sailed off down the street in search of her mother, Cameron dashed across the pedestrian crossing towards the city hall. A large gathering of indies, emos, goths and faux-Satanists were congregated on the black and gold benches nearby; one pubescent couple in matching hells' angels boots were making-out vigorously and Cameron repressed the urge to vomit. A group of girls looked at him with undisguised loathing as he passed by, although he had no idea if he had ever before seen or met them in his entire life. Blake was standing up ahead of him, on the cobbles near the main gates, looking at his phone. Cameron debated whether he should speed-up to show contrition for being fifteen minutes late or to slow down to appear non-chalant and cool. Unfortunately, he was still grappling with this decision and walking in a bizarre half-run, half-skip, when Blake turned to look at him. 


His smile belongs in a Colgate commercial, Cameron thought enviously. "Hey. Sorry I'm late."

Blake extended his arms to hug him, but Cameron had already fallen in to step beside him and had to turn awkwardly for the embrace. Americans are huggers, idiot!

As they broke from the hug, Blake looked at him with a glint of amusement in his eyes, as if he knew the hug had been awkward, but they weren't quite close enough yet for him to tease Cameron about it. 
"So, where are we going?" Cameron asked.

"I thought we'd go grab a milkshake or something... What?"

"You're so American."

Blake smiled again. "Thank you."

They were about to cross the road when Blake put his hand out in front of Cameron to stop him proceeding. When the black taxi that had been approaching passed by, they crossed over and began walking down Donegall Place.

"How are your classes going?" Cameron asked politely.

A little, rare smirk tugged on Blake's lips. "Do you care?"

"I mean, I’d definitely pretend to," teased Cameron.

Blake turned to look Cameron in the eye as they walked. After a few seconds, he smiled and looked down. "Class is good. The curriculum a big change from the one I had in America, but if I work hard, I should be fine. I think."

"And how are the guys in your form class? Still circus-worthy?"

"You said that, not me."


"They’re okay," Blake said neutrally. "But I think I’m kind of ready to start making some real friends now."

"Oh! Is that what this is? A mission?"

"Would that annoy you?"

Cameron shrugged and smiled. "I dunno. You are a Baptist. That's a bit gross. You might give me a W.W.J.D. bracelet and then, it'd all be over."

Blake ignored the jibe. "Do people usually have to make an effort to become your friend?"

"Yes. But they usually fail," Cameron joked.

"Which means you think I have a good chance of succeeding?"

Cameron paused for a moment and regarded Blake quizzically. "You’re far more confident than you seem at first, Blake."

"And you're far less."

"Shut up. By the way, Blake, quick question, since you've organised everything for today so well and are so familiar with Belfast - have you any idea where we're going?"


"Kerry!" Imogen's greeting contained a faint tone of confusion as she swung open her front door and found Kerry on her doorstep, Rio and Brazil bag still swinging from her arm. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing," she smiled, stepping in. '"Just checking you were here. I saw Cameron in town and thought... Anyway, how are preparations for tonight going?"

"Really well. I very nearly wobbled and changed my costume."

"To what?"

"Sookie Stackhouse. But I changed my mind, because she has a stupid name and, frankly, she's a whore."

Kerry had  no idea who this Stackhouse creature was, which meant it must be something to do with either Harry Potter or vampires. "Cameron's having coffee with someone who's not us today."

Imogen shrugged and sashayed into her kitchen. "Must be Mark."

"He is very tall," Kerry mused. "And not fun. Imogen, I'm not kidding, wait to you see my angel wings for tonight. I truly look like Jesus's beffers."

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fireworks (Part 1 in "Halloween")

Mariella Thompson was a girl who very seldom felt stress about anything, but this year she had fought long and hard for the privilege of throwing one of the most important non-birthday related social events of the school year: the Halloween house party. As one of the most popular girls in sixth year, Mariella had cunningly torpedoed any rival party ideas as far back as July, when she had "casually" suggested to Anastasia, her group's uncontested queen bee, that she should throw this year's Halloween blow-out fiesta. And once Anastasia had given her permission with a graceful shrug, Mariella had worked hard to make sure no-one in the senior school popular groups organised a rival party. To ensure she remained unchallenged, she had traded a new year's pre-drinks with Olivia-Grace Wallace, pleaded with Lavinia Barrington, negotiated with Meredith Harper and flat-out bullied Tangela Henton-Worley, Sarah-Jane Rogan and Celeste Fitzpatrick. Now, with only one day left until Halloween, Mariella was gazing at her own reflection in the first-floor girls' bathroom and silently praying that she would successfully throw the party of the year. After all, the social committee elections were coming up next term and now definitely wasn't the time to be dropping the ball when it came to party planning.

Halloween is a difficult time in any socialite's calendar and throwing a party for it is, without doubt, a double-edged sword. Unlike birthdays, new year's or Christmas, Halloween has no set rules to monitor your guests' behaviour and, as a result, a Halloween party can end up being magical, irritating, tacky, fantastic or just plain embarrassing. It's a v. useful time for girls to figure out who the closeted whores in their extended social circles are. Anyone who puts the word "sexy" in their costume title is almost certainly just looking for an excuse to turn up in public dressed as Whoregasma, Queen of the Tramps. At the other extreme from the chlamydia parade are the people who go to frustratingly minimal effort with their costumes. For the last couple of years, it has become very difficult to avoid seeing someone on Halloween who's just lazily dunked themselves face-first into a vat of talcum powder, put on a leather jacket and called themselves a vampire. That's fine if you're trying to go as one of the hotties from True Blood, but if it's Twilight or Vampire Diaries-inspired, it becomes a good deal less sexier. (Seriously, Edward? She has the personality of a cactus and you want to live with her forever?!) Mariella, who had actually embraced the vampire craze to go to last year's (awful) Halloween party at Louise Mahaffy's as Lorena Krasiki, had spent twelve weeks planning what to go to her own party as, eventually settling on Cleopatra, which she felt was glamorous and, with the right amount of bling, might just avoid being tacky. 

Sweeping out of the girls' bathroom and ignoring a friendly wave from Cristyn "clingy" Evans, Mariella nearly collided with Imogen Dawson and Cameron Matthews. "Hey, you two!" she beamed. "Looking forward to tomorrow night and stuff?"

"Yeah, so much," smiled Cameron. "How're preparations going?"

"Super-stressful, but nothing I can't handle. What are you guys going as?"

"A Tudor ghost," Cameron answered.

"It's so erotic," Imogen said, enthusiastically. "He's got these leather trousers and one of those pirate shirts. It's all very Jonathan Rhys Meyer, circa season 1." 

"Beau!" gasped Mariella. "I totes love it. What about the rest of you?"

"Well, I was going to come as Evita," Imogen said, "but I'm not allowed to, apparently, in case I bitch-slap everyone at the party until they agree to listen to me singing Don't cry for me, Argentina. Again. Then I considered Kimora - obvi. But finally, I've decided to go as Venus. Which I think is appropriate. Kerry's going as a mermaid and Meredith's going as Jackie O. What about you?"

"Oh, I'm going as Cleopatra. Natch. Anastasia's going as Kate Moss and Natasha, Lavinia and Tangela are all going as shady bitch hunters. You know, to hunt down shady bitches and their shady ways."

"So cool," nodded Imogen. "Okay, well, we'll see you later."

Mariella smiled, hugged them both and swept off down the corridors, in her never-ending quest for fresh gossip. As she walked away, Imogen turned towards Cameron and arched her eyebrow: "I really hope this thing isn't a train-wreck, like her sweet sixteenth."


The rain was pounding down on Belfast that night, as Cameron Matthews sat staring out of his bedroom window. Gingerly opening the door to his balcony, Cameron stepped out and was hit in the face by a blast of cold, cruel wind. Wrapping his arms tightly around himself, he stepped forward and inhaled. From here, he could see leaves being ripped off the trees that lined either side of the road in Malone Park and the hedges that lined his family's garden were bending slightly with the force of the gale. The middle three fingers of Cameron's right hand rubbed slowly in a small circle on the navy-blue cashmere sleeve of his left arm. This was nice, he thought; pleasantly dramatic and weirdly soothing. He felt some of his own thoughts and feelings drain out of him, as if they were getting swept away with the weather. For a brief moment in his overly-cerebral life, Cameron Matthews had managed to stop thinking. He was brought crashing back to reality by the vibrations of his phone in his back pocket. Reaching in, lifting it out and staring at the screen, he saw the caller ID, Blake Hartman (school), and a sudden bolt of pleasurable panic shot through him. Moving quickly across the balcony and back into his room, he clicked answer before he had closed the door behind him, nervous of missing the call.

"Hello?" he asked, in a voice that he knew sounded far too questioning. No-one answered phones with that level of curiosity since the invention of caller ID.

"Hey, it's me. It's Blake." Another piece of redundant conversation, but whatever. Cameron slammed himself back against his balcony door and locked it.


"Em, yeah, hi." Blake laughed a little on the other end of the phone at the awkwardness of his own sentence. "How are you? Are you ... Is this a bad time?"

"No! No," Cameron said, trying to keep the slight breathlessness caused by the door body-slam out of his voice. "No, now's fine. Good, actually. I'm not doing anything. I stayed in tonight. How are you?"

"I'm good. I stayed in, too. How are you?"

"Fine," Cameron said, slightly more calmly. "You?"

"Yeah, really good," Blake answered. Cameron thought he heard him sit down. Or maybe stand up. Either way, he'd moved. "So, what are you doing tomorrow night?" Blake's voice sounded almost theatrically casual on the other end of the line. 

"For Halloween?"

"Yes for Halloween, dinkus!" Blake laughed. "That is what tomorrow night is, isn't it?"

"Okay, jerk," Cameron smiled. "I was just checking! Ehm... well... I'm supposed to be going to this house party that Mariella Thompson's having. Do you know her? She's one of our friends in the year above. Her little sister Jenny is best friends with my sister. So... yeah. We're going there. I'm going as a ghost. That's stupid, I know. But it's actually a really good outfit. I think. Imogen thinks it is. But a ghost is dumb, right? I dunno. Anyway, yeah, I'm supposed to be going to Mariella's. Why?"

"Oh, okay. Cool."

"Did you ... I mean, did you want to do something?"

If he could have seen him, Cameron was almost certain Blake would be shrugging for the next sentence. "No, it's okay. I mean, yeah, I wanted to see if you wanted to do something. But it was nothing big. It's fine. I should've assumed you had plans. It's really short notice.  It's fine."

If it's fine, then why do I feel so bad for going to Mariella's now? Cameron hated guilt more than Kerry hated work or Imogen hated sobriety. "What was it?"

"What did I want to do?"


"There's a fireworks display over Belfast Lough and I thought that maybe we could go. Fireworks are cool and Halloween's like a big thing in America. And this is the first... But it's fine. I'll get Jack to go with me. Don't worry about it." 

Oh god, spending Halloween with your 11 year-old brother. Tragic! "Well, you should do something fun. I'd like to do something with ... It'd be cool to hang out, I mean! I could ask Mariella if you could come? I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

Cameron bit his lip and silently groaned at his own stupidity. In the first place, of course Mariella would mind. She'd arranged this guest list with the same care and consideration that most people put into arranging their last will and testaments and, even if she didn't mind, nothing was worse than being the plus-one pity-recipient of a party invite. Mercifully, a soft chuckle came down the phone, "No, that's okay, Cameron. Seriously, don't worry about it."

"I feel bad, though. It's your first Halloween here."

"I told you, it's fine."

"I could go late to Mariella's?"

"It's fine."


There was a pause and then Blake sighed. "But..."

"But what?"

"See, it sort of seems like you owe me."

Cameron smiled. "Oh, really? Don't you think I'm giving you enough by gracing you with my friendship?"

"Oh, it's a friendship now?"

"Well, sort of. More of a community outreach programme, to be honest. To the impoverished. It feels good to give back, you know? Like Brangelina. Only not annoying."

"Shut up."

"So how do I owe you, then?"

"Well, you did promise that we'd hang out on the regular and since movie night at your house, we haven't. Which basically means you broke your word, Cameron. Which means that you're a liar and you are not a gentleman. And now you're leaving me stranded in a new country on Halloween."

"Haha. Ouch. What do you want, ass-face?"

"I wanna hang-out!"

"Well, so do I! I'm just... busy."

"Because you're like so popular and stuff?" teased Blake, doing a worryingly good impression of the Malone accent. Cameron sensed this skill was going to be used to haunt him. 

"Well, I don't like to brag, but yes. And anyway, what are you doing celebrating Halloween? Aren't you the pastor's son? Shouldn't you be staying in and praying for all the little pagans?"

"You're so funny, Cameron. So. Funny. Can you meet me tomorrow afternoon?"


"That was a quick response. I didn't even tell you what time."

Cameron felt himself start to blush. "Oh. I..."

"I'm teasing you. Remember, it's okay to actually show feelings sometimes."

"You're annoying me."

"Tough. Front of city hall, tomorrow, 2 p.m.?"

How do you deal with a bad review?

Okay, so this really made me laugh. Mostly because it's so true and because it's refreshingly honest. It kind of how got me to thinking though about how people cope with bad reviews in life. Anyone have any of you good tips/hilarious stories on how to cope when you get a negative review about being you, something you've done or just generally being alive when some super biatch would rather you weren't?

Anyway! This is from the blog of the American novelist Christopher Gortner, who's the author of some really great historical novels like The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret. (You can read my review on Tudor Secret on this blog.) Christopher put down his thoughts on how he copes when one of his books get a bad review. What do you think? 

"I got a really bad review a few days ago. No, let me re-phrase that. Not merely bad. Rotten. Dreadful. As in, this reviewer said everything I imagine someone saying in my worst nightmares about my book. I wasn’t expecting it -writers rarely do - and at first I sat there, stunned. I couldn’t believe anyone could take such offense to what is, in the final say, fiction. A novel. Entertainment... 
Bad reviews are, of course, part and parcel of being published; it comes with the territory and there’s no handbook to teach you how to deal with the emotional impact. Some authors cry. Others get drunk. Some call a friend to gripe. Most get mad. A few take it in stride, or at least pretend to. After all, it’s your book someone just skewered—the tangible fruit of years of labor. You’ve sacrificed valuable time with family and friends; forgone movies, restaurants, sex; you’ve walked the dog aimlessly in circles, muttering like an indigent to yourself; burned or forgotten meals; lost sleep; tussled and agonized over a single word, even screamed at your computer when no one was looking. The hard truth is writing is tough and writing a novel is the epitome of toughness. It takes perseverance, ego, and more than a touch of insanity. I mean, you spend all this time by yourself, locked in your head in a room staring at a screen or piece of paper, conjuring imaginary things, and hoping, praying, someone else will care enough to want to read it, let alone publish it. Then, insomniac, battered and badly in need of a shower, you turn the manuscript in and have to deal with everyone else’s opinion of it— your agent, your editor, the marketing team, the booksellers. In their own ways, they will each shape your work into something that can be packaged and sold to the public. Sentences you slaved over will be cut without mercy; scenes shifted here or re-crafted there; a character will be eliminated and another, to your astonishment, will attempt to hijack the plot. You’ll go back over the same lines time and time again, until you can recite them from memory and your spouse or significant other will look at you furtively as you sit hunched at your desk, crab-handed over those first-pass pages, and remark perhaps it’s time for us to start thinking of taking that oft-delayed vacation. 
In the end, the idea that started as a seed in your febrile brain, was nurtured on imagination and ... will become a cooperative project, a team effort. A Book. And then, it gets sent out. To anonymous people and places you’ve never seen. Newspapers (though these are less and less); trade magazines; online sites; bloggers—hundreds of eyes will peruse your painstakingly crafted prose and, within a few lines, maybe a few chapters, if you’re lucky, pass judgment. To review or not review; to like or not like. After all, this person who will now review your book has no stake in your well-being... They don’t know if you’re a nice person or a mean one; if you talk on your cell phone when you should be driving; if you donate to an animal shelter or spend too much money on shoes. All they care about is that ... moment which you have no control over, when they read your words for the very first time and had a reaction. Or didn’t. So, those words you hoped and prayed were worthy of attention will now, finally, garner words of their own, for better or worse. In some cases, as in bad reviews, you’ll almost wish they hadn’t. Almost, but not quite. Because in the end, even a bad review is still a review. It means someone cared enough to take the time to say: Hey, this sucks. Don’t bother. Buy a DVD instead. Check out the latest Ikea catalog. Collect stamps. Browse online for new underwear. Do anything but purchase this lousy book.Yes, someone cared. And isn’t that what every writer dreams of? I know I do. So, how did I deal with the bad review? How else? I cried. I got mad. I pretended not to care. I poured myself a stiff drink and called a friend to complain."

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

See you soon, princess!

I can remember the day Kerry Rogan and I met for the first time. We were eleven years old and it was our first day of high school. As fate and the future luck of tequila manufacturers everywhere would have it, we were both put into the the same house at school, Rathkeltair, which to be completely honest with you is totes the best house at Down High. Some of them, I'm not saying which ones, have a distinctly Hufflepuff-y vibe to them. No lie. 

Anyhoo, Kerry's surname is Rogan and mine is Russell, which meant that when it came to Miss Hopkins' Geography class, where everyone was seated in alphabetical order, Kerry and I were next to each other. It was magical, it was fate, it was the least productive table in the class. 
At that stage, I was at my physical peak - a podgy eleven year-old, with curtains and a posh accent. (Deffers did not help matters by being the only boy in the year to wear a scarf. But, oh well, everyone's wise with hindsight.) Kerry was a radiant being in blonde curls, with a fringe which we have mutually agreed shall never be discussed ever again and which she soon ditched faster than I ditched full fat Coke. I shifted in my seat to say hello to my new Geography partner, presumably resembling a baby killer whale in motion as I did so. "Are you Laura Bell?" I asked.

"What?" came the response.
"Are you... I think I sat next to you in Miss Patton's Maths class before break? Are you ... You're Laura Bell?"

"No," came the cold response. "I don't know who that is."

Conversation slowly died off. As Kerry turned regally to stare out at the classroom as if vaguely confused/irritated about the precise point of Geography or what role it was going to play in her life, I sat and cursed myself for assuming that in a class sat in alphabetical order I would be sitting next to someone whose surname started with "B." Actually, I probably wasn't that smart to realise why I'd been wrong. Knowing me back then, I was probably thinking about crisps.

Eventually realising that we would either have to talk to each other or face the dreaded prospect of listening to the teacher, Kerry turned back towards me and re-initiated convo. A lifelong friendship was born and, yesterday, she went to Australia for the year. It's the first time since that day in Miss Hopkins' classroom that we won't be with in travelling distance of each other. And, frankly, me no likey.

When you say goodbye to a friend, it's easy to put on rose-tinted glasses and pretend everything was always perfect. (Our friend Sarah's particularly good at this, literally. She once bought a £600 pair of rose-tinted Dior sunglasses because the shop assistant panicked her by telling her they were the only pair anywhere on the island of Ireland and if she didn't buy it now, she'd never be able to own a pair. This is the girl, after all, who, when her student loan arrived, ran up and down the corridors of her college halls squealing, "Free money!") But I digress. Just because Kerry is off on the other side of the world, there's no point in pretending everything between us was always a bed of roses. (The flowers, not the chocolates - I got thin.) For the first two years of our friendship she repeatedly called me "Gavin," because she preferred it to "Gareth." We were banned from group discussions in Geography because we were a) too argumentative and b) too stupid. We were sent out of Miss Gorman's GCSE English Lit class after we both took a game of slapsies just a little bit too far. I initiated the world's longest and most unnecessary fight when I claimed (wrongly) that only sick people were allowed to bathe in the water at Lourdes and when I found out that this wasn't the case, attempted to re-start the fight by claiming that what I meant was only sick people should be allowed to bathe in the water at Lourdes. And she (Kerry, not the Virgin Mary) once lied to me that she had been punched in the face so I would leave Oxford in the middle of the night and come up and see her in Manchester. She greeted me at the train station with a shrug: "Everything's fine. Just got bored." 

The night before Kerry left for Australia, we sat by the fire as she did her tan and nails (essential travel prep - much more important than the suitcase, which had yet to be packed), and watched Gone with the Wind. And I got to thinking (SATC ref - necessary) about the decade or so of friendship we've had. Kerry, my love, we are both shrieking banshees of human beings, at times utterly and entirely ridiculous/delightful; we are incapable of sticking to the vaguest concept of a budget and we live lives centred around naps, shopping and drinking. I haven't a clue what I'm going to do without you this year. I do, however, know that you're going to have an amazing time in Australia with Emma. And, think of it this way, Ken, we're finally doing the one thing I shrieked, screamed and hissed we were never going to do: growing up.

Lol jk - see you in Geog, principessa!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"Popular" in music: An interview with Sarah Patterson

Today, I'm pleased to post an interview with Sarah Patterson, a young recording artist from Belfast, who also appeared in the autumn 2011 theatre version of "Popular". For her scene, Sarah performed one of her new songs, "Today", inspired by the storyline of Cameron and Blake. And here she is in all her fine glory to answer some questions today.
1. So, Sarah, you're fifteen years old and you're already producing records and music videos. That's pretty awesome. Tell us how it all got started and did you always know you wanted to go into music?

I've been singing and acting all my life.  I've been going to Belvoir Players since I was three years old and I love being on stage.  I haven't always known that I wanted to go into music as my teachers have told me it isn't a very wise career choice but at the end of the day I've always loved to perform and if I can, I will.  I started uploading cover songs to youtube last year and was approached by an independent record label with a development deal but it would mean gigging on the mainland and I was just about to start GCSEs.  I decided to do it from home in the first instance.  Recording in Belfast and doing a few gigs here and there. 

2. How many of your songs are available on i-Tunes right now?

I have two original songs on iTunes now but I'm working on an album for release next year. 

3. Sarah, you read Popular this summer and actually appeared in the theatre show, singing your song Today at a house party. How did the storyline of Cameron and Blake inspire the song? I can remember sitting listening to it the first time you played it and being totally blown away!

I'd had an original that I'd written a few months previously in mind, however, when I was warming up in the green room [during rehearsals] I just had an urge to write something.  I thought about what (among many things) would be going through Cameron's mind about Blake.  I was trying to imagine what they'd both be thinking and never saying to each other.  So in short the song was very spontaneous and just sort of wrote itself. 

4. Your filming the music video for Today early next year, with the cast of Popular. Excited?

Extremely excited.  It will be great crack and a chance to reunite with all the popular cast and characters.  The producers are excited too as they've felt a real buzz around Popular which they hope to capture with the video for Today.

5. Your school, Victoria College, is one of the inspirations for Mount Olivet Grammar School, the school in Popular. How similar are they?

Very.  It's full of Merediths but they don't know it (unless they've read the book).  When I read the book and the script I recognised a lot of the characters immediately.  Having said that I love Victoria College and wouldn't have it any other way.

6. What's next for you? Apart from the irritation of GCSEs. Don't worry too much, by the way. We had a surprise quiz from our Biology teacher and we answered 'synapse' for all 31 questions. And I got a C, so, you know, how hard can they be? (Probably shouldn't take all the credit; I prayed HARD. It was my substitute for actual work.)

Hopefully an album and a lot of gigs next summer and stage work with Popular (director permitting).  I'd like to be uber-rich and famous some day but a wise old man once told me 'it isn't arriving at the destination it's the journey that's important' and I've had a pretty good ride so far. 

7. Tell us where people can get your songs!

On iTunes

links are there on my fb page

Thanks, Sarah! And we'll keep you updated with news of her new videos and the rumours that Popular will be experiencing a theatre revival very early in the new year!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Elena Maria Vidal's review of "Popular"

Elena Maria Vidal, the author of "Trianon" and "Madame Royale," a series of novels about the French royal family, and "The Night's Dark Shade," a love story and religious drama set in the Middle Ages, has given a great review of Popular: -

Neither half knew that the other half knew anything about it and so there was no possibility to talk about it openly, even if they had been capable of frank, honest, emotional discussions — which they weren't. ~from Popular by Gareth Russell
Released in July 2011, Popular by Northern Irish writer Gareth Russell, is a scathingly witty and humorous romp dealing with privileged teenagers in Belfast. Now I must admit that before meeting Gareth and reading his novel I had a quite different picture of Belfast than I have now. Most of what I knew about Northern Ireland were the news stories of civil strife and terroristic violence which I heard throughout my life, and which made me resolve never to go there.

In Popular, however, Belfast is not the Irish version of the Middle East as Americans tend to visualize it. Instead, Popular's Belfast is the Paris of the British Isles, a city full of glamorous and exclusive shops and restaurants, elegant homes, and *fabulous* balls and parties which the Romanovs themselves would have relished. The "Troubles" which haunted Northern Ireland for over thirty years, resulting in the deaths of over 3500 people, with occasional eruptions even today, are absent, which serves to heighten the bold frivolity of the teenagers' lives. Protestants and Catholics go to school side by side. The world inhabited by Meredith Harper and her friends Imogen, Kerry, Catherine and Cameron is insulated from ugliness and fear, with the biggest worries being what to wear to a specific event and keeping one's place in the clique. As the title of the book tells us, everything in the lives of the teenagers revolves around being popular. However, since they are the children and grandchildren of those who survived The Troubles, it is not surprising that they would choose as their queen someone with a cool head and a quick tongue, who demands absolute loyalty.

It would be a mistake to classify Popular as another piece of trite teen fiction or chick-lit; it is much more. Popular, although it is a novel, has much in common with a comedy of manners, a drama which satirizes the manners and affectations of a particular social class with the emphasis on comic and witty dialog. It follows in the tradition of Molière's Le Misanthrope, Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, Sheridan's School for Scandal and even the novels of Jane Austen. Most especially, Popular reminded me of such works of Oscar Wilde as The Importance of Being Earnest for its sheer entertainment quality and unapologetic aristocratic flair. Not surprisingly, Popular has already made the transition from book to stage play.

Since the setting is contemporary, the language of Popular is of the present; the protagonists speak pretty much the same way teenagers do everywhere, with swearing and vulgarity, while engaging in what we in America call underage drinking. Being that the characters are mostly Irish, the banter is especially brisk, sparkling and humorous. As we follow the friends from party to party, the interactions become thought-provoking as well. In seeing the foibles, vanities and deceptions of  fifteen and sixteen year olds we are forced to acknowledge that perhaps we have behaved in similar duplicitous and self-indulgent ways, without having the excuse of youth and immaturity. Underneath the froth are heartbreaking truths which most of us try to ignore, as do Meredith and her cronies. In the meantime, the parents of Meredith and company hardly appear at all. Such is the skill of the author in bringing his characters to life that I had to keep reminding myself that they are fictional so I need not worry about them.

While on one level the teens are like teens everywhere, there are differences which make them unique to their own time and place. Although they are under the influence of Sex and the City, Mean Girls and Coppola's Marie-Antoinette they still seem to value purity, especially Meredith, who is a practicing Catholic. Meredith is one of the most interesting heroines I have ever encountered in fiction although I detested her at first. She has been compared to Scarlett O'Hara but I think she is a lot more intelligent and less given to histrionics; there are no Ashley obsessions. She is more like the virgin princess in Puccini's Turandot than anyone else: the icy, intransigent maiden. Meredith appears to have it all together; she has everything, absolutely everything, except a mother. The fact that her mother abandoned her might be the reason why Meredith is so controlling of everyone else, pulling strings behind the scenes, always scheming, while ruling her clique with an iron hand. She is especially against great displays of emotion; her enormous self-control makes her a born leader, which her wealth and sense of style allow her to carry off with aplomb. Meredith is also uncompromising when it comes to protecting her friends, although she bullies them a bit at times, for what she thinks is their own good. She holds them to the same high standards which she has for herself, and ultimately, I think she should become a nun; she would make a good Mother Superior. Only in Ireland would the scenarios of Popular exist with the same mix of hilarity and pathos, along with a small dose of innocence which the rest of the world has forgotten.

Popular is the first of a series; with such colorful personalities, it will be interesting to see where it all goes. I am already looking forward to the next installment.

For a link to Elena Maria's review page on her blog, Tea at Trianon, click HERE.

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