Friday, 25 November 2011

Ehm... is this the cutest ad ever?

Okay, I very rarely get emotional but this public service ad from Australia is, I think, one of the cutest things I've ever seen and very well-directed. What do you guys think? Big thanks to my friend Eric for forwarding it to me. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Hartman Family Thanksgiving

Blake Hartman's first proper experience of November in Belfast hadn't exactly filled him with confidence for December. In contrast to the cold but bright fall days he was used to in Connecticut, Belfast seemed to count a November day as a good one if it happened to be dry. Or rather, if it didn't rain. There had probably been so much rain the day before that the ground and the leaves were still wet. And it was always overcast. No wonder everyone here hated Fall/Autumn.

Today, however, Blake's usual sense of homesickness was far, far worse. It was Thanksgiving and he was three thousand miles away from his mom, his grandparents, his cousins and his friends. It hadn't been helped by the dozens of cards he, his dad and his brother had received from home, with their friends photographed as a family to send out holiday good cheer. 

His dad was at home right now organising a big Thanksgiving dinner for them, but it would be the first without their mother's cooking, the first without friends calling over, the first time they didn't sit down after a long day of watching the parade and playing tennis outside. It was the first Thanksgiving away from America and Blake hated it.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Captain America."

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Emma Rutter (Year 10, Friends' Grammar School) reviews "Popular"

Okay, so many of the Facebook fan page followers might remember that last month I went to speak at Friends' Grammar School in Lisburn (behold their crest, above) and had a really great time there. It's a great school and the audience was a lot of fun. I spoke a bit about what it's like to be an author, read from chapter one of the book and then did a book signing (luckily, signature has definitely improved since the first time I did at Waterstones in Belfast when the first five books looked like a drunken spider had been dropped in ink and allowed to wander across their front page...)

Anyway, one of the Year 10 students at Friends', Emma Rutter, has written a review with her thoughts of Popular and a big thanks to Emma for writing it and Mrs. Black for sending it to me. Love this review and hope you do too!

Gareth Russell: Popular by Emma Rutter

The bitchy, backstabbing - and totally beau - debutantes of Belfast. 

Meredith Harper, Kerry Davidson, Cameron Matthews and Imogen Dawson are the monarchs of Mount Olivet Grammar School. The trend-setters, the queen bees and the heart-achingly beautiful, everyone wants to be them - and don’t they know it.  But what the outsiders don’t see is the web of scandal, silences and intrigue that lies behind the glamorous front.

It’s the tale of their lives, in and out of school. It’s the book which reveals the struggles between friends, the decisions faced by the possibly-gay Cameron, the troubled relationships between the characters. It’s an insight into the lives of the A-List, filled with dinners, parties and lots and lots of sparkle.

The characters are all different, yet each of them needs each other indefinitely. Where would Meredith be without her bezzie Imogen? And can you imagine ditzy Kerry with anyone other than Cameron to soothe her down at the time of a Fabulously Induced Breakdown? 

Coming from Northern Ireland myself, I thought it was a great idea to have a book set in good old Belfast. An attempt to change the misconceived idea that Ireland is just a green country filled with leprechauns, terrorists and and endless amount of pubs, it’s part of a new generation of books set in an alternative area to the typical England or America.

When I first looked at the book, I thought to myself, “This is just an Irish version of Gossip Girl.” How very wrong I was! I really love the fact that both the characters and the storyline are extremely believable (and I confess that, as I was reading the book, I found myself placing people I know into the shoes of many of the characters!) All the little local details (such as the Ulster Tatler) add a richness to the storyline which nothing else could replace. Throw in the artfully constructed sentences and the emotional journey taken by most of the characters during the book, and you’ve got yourself a deliciously indulgent read that’ll leave you begging for more.

UK readers can purchase Popular HERE.

'Distressingly familiar': an Australian review of "Popular"

Viewpoint, Australia's leading young adult literature magazine, includes a new review of Popular in the current edition (Vol. 19, no. 4). Printed out of the University of Melbourne (coat of arms; left), the magazine is dedicated to reviewing all major new novels for Australia's booksellers and teen readers. The review is by Katy Gerner, a writer and reviewer from Sydney, who didn't expect to like Popular based on its cover, but here's what she had to say.

Popular: Have you got what it takes? by Gareth Russell

When I first picked up Popular, I expected (a) it to be about a bunch of mean American girls and (b) that I wouldn't like it. (I went to a high school full of mean 'popular' girls and I don't like being reminded how nasty females can be to each other.) However, the girls and one boy were Irish, although pretty mean, and I did enjoy it. Russell stands back from his characters and describes them almost mockingly, and puts them in undignified situations for the reader's amusement. 

His plots did not go in the direction that I expected them to. I was expecting a 'Benedick' and 'Beatrice' denouement but it didn't happen. Sometimes, the main characters had moments of enlightenment about their behaviour which I thought would lead to a change of character, but no, they happily slipped back into their old ways. It also wasn't clear who were the true 'baddies' and who were the true 'victims'. This aspect of being unable to guess what the characters were going to do next or what was going to be done to them, made the story compelling.

The nastiness and self-destructive behaviour in Popular is believable, perhaps because Russell saw it when he was a teenager. The introduction says, 'nearly all the book is based upon events that have happened during his schooldays - the more ridiculous they seem, the greater the chance that they are close to real life.' I did wonder, as the characters worked so hard to avoid any school work, and their exam answers are distressingly familiar.

Popular is the first of a new series. I'm wondering how the characters will cope after their exams having deliberately sabotaging their schooling? Or what they are going do to their livers? Perhaps Russell is arranging an embarrassing ending for them, better even than the scene on page 105. One can hope so.

Katy Gerner is a Sydney writer an reviewer. She also survived her high school years, although she still has nightmares about them.

Copyright to Viewpoint magazine is owned by the University of Melbourne

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Dictatorship of the Bathroom (Part 3 in "Halloween")

On Halloween night, Mariella Thompson, dressed head to toe in shimmering ancient Egyptian-themed costume and jewellery, poured another drink for her friends, Natasha Jenkins and Lavinia Barrington, who had come to her Halloween house party as "shady bitch hunters," which seemed to involve skin-tight black leather trousers, black leather jackets and various accessories which were apparently their tools in prosecuting the war against shady biatches and their shady ways. Inebriated and spiteful, at one point earlier in the evening Natasha had shimmied drunkenly over to Gemma March and said, "Watch out, Gemma. Tonight, we can hunt you!"

So far, the party was going well and Mariella was distinctly relieved that no-one had vomited. At her last party, Tangela had made the whole thing v. irritating by going projectile directly in the face of Mariella's elder brother, Hugo, who had understandably failed to see the funny side of being coated in lime vodka-scented throw-up. Adjusting her serpent-topped crown and glancing swiftly round the room, Mariella spotted no-one who seemed to be on a one-way ticket to Vom City. 

In the Thompson family's large den, the drinks were flowing as freely as the gossip and the two shady bitch hunters, Natasha and Lavinia, were perched on a comfy blue ottoman, when Mariella sat down to join them. They were part of a larger group which included three members of the upper sixth popular clique, Sarah-Jane, Olivia-Grace and Louise, a few members of the First XV rugby squad and two members of the fifth year group - Imogen Dawson, currently snuggling up to her boyfriend, outside centre Stewart (dressed atrociously, Mariella thought, as some sort of demented version of d'Artagnan, Jack Sparrow or a 17th century hobo) and Cameron Matthews. Holding court with his rowdy banter was Peter Sullivan, a six-foot fifth year rugby player who, at some point in their lives, most girls in senior school seemed to have had a reluctant rite-of-passage crush on. Conversation had turned to Nicola Porter, a once-pretty fifth year who had since tried to transform herself into an easy-going sex symbol and had thus earned for herself the undying hatred of every popular girl at Mount Olivet. Mariella, who considered Nicola to be a boy-crazy desperado with bad hair and fat thighs, had banned her from ever coming within a five mile radius of one of her parties after Nicola had shamelessly flirted with Mariella's then-boyfriend, Richard Murland, at the Helen's Bay Country Club Young Members' annual mixer back in July.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The ALPHAREADER review of "Popular"

Danielle Binks, author of the ALPHAREADER blog (, a really great young adult review blog, has given Popular five stars out of five! To quote: -
"I loved reading about the life and times of Irish teens. I especially loved the fact that Russell’s teenagers are neither middle-class ‘Skins’ or spray-tanned O.C. bitches. Russell’s Mount Olivet teens are in a world all their own. There are very different rules of popularity for Irish cliques; attending Mass is a chance to hobnob and being on the Lady of Lourdes fundraiser board is a sign of status. I love, love, loved the fact that ‘Popular’ is about Irish teen cliques – not the typical (and done-to-death) American ‘Mean Girls’ variety. Yes, the characters reference Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, but their lives are decidedly Irish, right down to their religious-laden quips;

‘What are your plans for revision, Imogen?’ asked Cameron, taking another drink of Diet Coke
‘Saint Jude,’ she replied. ‘Well, I mean, it’s sort of staggered really. I’ll start off with Saint Giuseppe and Saint Thomas Aquinas, but I think in the end it’s all going to come down to Saint Jude.’
‘Oh, he’s very good,’ said Meredith.
Decipher: Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.

Russell’s characters are also delicious dastardly darlings. These teenagers are the richest of the rich, getting their own spreads in the Ulster Tattler and residing in Belfast mansions to rival even the cliff-side residences of Orange County. Fair warning, few characters in ‘Popular’ are redeemable or even likable. Meredith is an Ice Queen who rules by iron fist and double-dealings. Imogen is a pretty girl who knows it, and Kerry is wholly concerned with usurping her best frenemy. These characters are horrendous . . . but Russell writes them with so much panache and ‘OH-MY-GOD!’ antics that they bypass annoying and head straight into horribly entertaining. Like a car crash you can’t look away from, the characters in ‘Popular’ are often times so depraved and annoying that they’re entertainingly fabulous."
Check out Danielle's amazing review in full HERE

What do you guys think? Do you agree with her? Personally, it's one of my favourite reviews of Popular so far!
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