Thursday, 25 October 2012

Happy birthday, Clazza!

Today, Claire "Clazza" H, who played Kerry Davison in both stage versions of Popular, turns twenty-one and so here, as is the yoush, are twenty-one of her best quotes.

1. "Seriously, my sole aim in life is to be so rich that I use 'summer' as a verb."

2. "God definitely loves us. And not in the sad-act way that He loves all his children; He legitzies fancies us."

3. "Uhm!"

4. "Okay, I'm sorry, but since when..."

5. "Sometimes brunch is literally the only thing that gets me out of bed before 12." #northdowngirlproblems

6. "I genuinely believe that if I ever lost the will to live, those cow jugs they serve with brunch at Harlem would change my mind."

7. "This is literally the most stressed I ever want to be in my entire life." Whilst making a party invite list.

8. "Mother is very stressed because she's re-decorating our Summer Room and cushions are proving particularly problematic."

9. Clazza is famous for proclaiming that she's going in to her room to study, whereupon she wraps herself up to her neck in her duvet, points the fan heater directly at her face and spreads her books around her, before obviously  falling asleep for four hours under a combination of the duvet and the heat.

10. "What do people actually do when we're not around?"

11. "I always forget that people actually choose to live outside Belfast. I don't understand it."

12. "Everytime I drive in the countryside, I legitzies think I'm in an episode of Goodnight Mister Tom."

13. "Uhm, fuck off, and give me some tequila." 

14. "I've got to go; they're playing Nicki Minaj!" (2 minutes later.) "Damn it. Avicii - EVERY time."

15. "Seriously, I'm like the second coming of Marie-Antoinette."

16. "I do not love his life."

17. "She interrupted my nap and I'm finding it difficult not to quite seriously hate her because of it."

18. "Do you think it'd be insensitive to throw Skittles at someone who'd just come out so they could taste the rainbow?"

19. "I caught him eating a rosary. He is obviously a demon." In reference to a small child.

20. "I mean, I am easily the most Protestant person anyone of my friends at Queen's knows."

21. "There are times when I hear myself speak and I think, Am I actually real? Like, am I just a parody of someone? Am I really this ridiculously posh? Oh! Before I forget, look at these cute little promotional vodka bottles I got for tonight. Bronagh and Patrick got them in their goody bags at the Ulster Tatler Person of the Year Awards..."

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Happy birthday, Kerry!

Kerry Davison (standing) played by Claire Handley in the 2012 theatre version of Popular. She's with Gareth Russell as Cameron Matthews, Emma Taylor as Imogen Dawson and Lucy Williams as Catherine O'Rourke.
Today is the birthday of the fabulous Kerry Rogan, who was one of the real-life inspirations for Popular's princess of pink, Kerry Davison. In honour of this glorious day, I've decided to post a special sneak-peak preview of Popular's sequel. This is also in prep for some good news and an announcement about the book's title, which will be announced on Facebook very soon!

This scene is from chapter 2 of the sequel and it takes place on the group's holiday to Mexico! It's one of my favourite scenes of Kerry!


In a luxurious Mexican resort twenty miles south of San José del Cabo, the great love of Blake Hartman’s life stepped out into the balmy evening air arm-in-arm with Blake’s number one enemy. Standing at exactly six feet in height, trim and tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, Cameron Matthews was dressed in a blue Hugo Boss shirt and white linen trousers. Next to him, with her arm looped through his, Meredith Harper cut a dramatically elegant figure in a Missoni cocktail dress with Mont Blanc diamond studs glistening in her ears and a silver bracelet jangling lightly on her wrist. Her long, gorgeous brunette tresses were swept up for the evening into a cross between a messy bun and a faux bob, with its trail ends bouncing along in perfect synchronicity to the click-clack of her Louboutins as they walked across the marble. She looked like a movie star and an 18th-century aristocrat rolled into one. Trailing miserably behind them, in a pretty Therapy dress, was Blake’s ex-girlfriend, Catherine O’Rourke, looking like she would rather be anywhere on Earth than attending this dinner on the restaurant veranda in one of the most expensive and exclusive resorts in Mexico.

Weaving their way through the other diners, Cameron, Meredith and Catherine approached a circular table set for five at the far end of the veranda. Already sitting down were two striking blondes – Imogen Dawson and Kerry Davison. Kerry’s perpetually perfect curls dangled around her head and she tossed them back as she picked up her second margarita of the evening. Opposite her, Imogen was busy stubbing out a cigarette and hooting with laughter at whatever point Kerry was making. From the table next to them, Cameron could see two young men out for dinner with their parents, trying to steal covert glances at Imogen when they thought no-one was looking.     

‘Oh,’ she said, as the other three sat down. ‘I didn’t think you’d be able to make it, Catherine.’

‘I’m feeling a bit better,’ Catherine said, with a watery smile.

‘That’s good,’ Imogen replied, without much conviction. ‘Has anyone else had the chicken?’

‘Yes, I had it last night,’ Meredith answered. ‘It was quite nice. Too much cheese though.’

‘I love cheese,’ whispered Kerry, tenderly. ‘Love it.’

‘Cameron, you need to order a drink. It’s catch-up time,’ Imogen ordered.

‘How many have you had?’ Cameron asked.

‘Three,’ said Imogen, raising her margarita glass to him and winking.

‘I’ll go order us some from the bar then,’ he said with a smile.

‘Just order a round of five,’ suggested Imogen, eliciting a panicked grimace from Kerry, who now practically stuck her face into her enormous cocktail glass to try and finish it off before Cameron returned with another.

‘This place is so beau, Meredith. Isn’t it, Kerry?’

Kerry nodded at Imogen’s prompt, but didn’t remove her mouth from the rim of her glass. 

‘Isn’t it?’ sighed Meredith. ‘… Such a good idea.'

‘Our holidays are the best,’ agreed Imogen. ‘Everyone in school was so jealous. Hilarious. We’ll need to go somewhere equally fabulous next year, though. Once you start this kind of thing, you can’t stop.’

‘Paris!’ squealed Kerry, hiccupping slightly at removing herself from the margarita and trying to speak at the same time. ‘J’adore.’

‘Well, we can do Paris for a weekend in Christmas,’ Meredith reasoned. ‘Who on earth would want to go there in the summer?’

‘I would,’ said Kerry. ‘I said, j’adore.’

‘Paris is hideous in the heat, Kerry,’ Meredith replied, condescendingly. ‘That’s why all the actual Parisians leave it in August.’

Kerry regarded Meredith with sizzling dislike for a moment, before catching sight of Cameron picking-up a tray of five cocktails from the bar and hastily returning to her margarita mission. ‘What about Dubai?’ Imogen suggested. ‘Sexy times.’

‘Imogen, you will not be able to shimmy around dressed like Cleopatra,’ groaned Meredith. ‘We’ve been over this. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, the UAE has a dress code these days and you’re the kind of girl who’ll end up in prison because of it.’

‘Jihad would not be fun, would it?’

‘No, Imogen. It wouldn’t.’

‘What’s going on?’ asked Cameron, passing the drinks to his friends, including an especially pleased-looking Kerry, who triumphantly placed her empty glass in the centre of the table.

‘We’re thinking about where to go next year,’ Meredith informed him. ‘Maybe Paris during the Christmas holidays ...’

‘That was my idea,’ smiled Kerry.

‘... but, we’ve no idea about next summer.’

‘What about a cruise?’ asked Cameron.

‘Oh, fun!’ gasped Imogen. ‘I’ve heard they’re literally the most wonderfully tacky things in the history of humanity. We have to do it!’

‘Well, not all of them are,’ said Meredith. ‘It depends where you go and who you go with.’

A pale and panicked Kerry’s fist slammed down on the table. ‘No!’

‘No, what?’ asked Cameron.

‘No cruise,’ she answered. ‘Me no likey boats.’

‘They’re not boats, they’re ships,’ he said pedantically.

‘I don’t care!’ Kerry snapped. ‘If you take me on one of those, I will go into our cabin, curl up in the bed and cry until we see land again.’

‘Why do you hate boats so much?’ Imogen asked, between sips.

‘Have you forgotten what happened to the Titanic?’

‘I don’t really think we’ll be going anywhere near icebergs for our summer holiday,’ Meredith said. ‘And that was a long time ago. Didn’t someone tell me that the Titanic was the last boat to sink because of an iceberg?’

‘Well, it wasn’t!’ hissed Kerry. ‘Whoever told you that was lying. Weren’t they, Cameron?’

‘Maybe they just made a mistake.’

‘They were liars,’ Kerry muttered darkly ‘One sank very recently.’

'Did it actually?’ Meredith asked.

‘Yes,’ Cameron reluctantly admitted. ‘But it was in the Arctic on an iceberg-viewing expedition, so it was basically asking for it, and it took something like seven hours to sink and there were two other boats nearby, so everybody got off in time and everybody lived.’

‘See? You’ve got nothing to worry about,’ breezed Imogen. ‘I vote for cruise.’

‘Nothing to worry about?’ screeched a scandalised Kerry. ‘OK. Fine! These other boats who rescued the people, did they just happen to be in the area?’

‘I think so,’ said Cameron.

‘And why did they pick these people up off the other boat? Out of the goodness of their hearts or because they legally had to? What if our boat hits an iceberg and we’re stuck next to some bastarding heartless captain who doesn’t want any more passengers?’

‘Then I’m pretty sure he’d be tried for homicide or contributory negligence or something,’ shrugged Cameron.

‘They’d send him to Davey Jones’s locker!’ Imogen interjected loudly, having now polished off her fourth margarita.

Ignoring her, Kerry pressed on relentlessly: ‘Right, I understand that this is the first one to hit an iceberg and actually sink since, like, 1912, and I also understand that it took seven hours to sink, but that’s just luck! How long did it take the Titanic to sink?’

‘About two and a half hours, I think,’ said Cameron.

‘Oh my God,’ groaned Imogen. ‘The movie was longer than the actual thing.’

‘I hate that movie,’ interjected Meredith. ‘Stupid, ungrateful heifer.’

‘I know!’ Imogen nodded. ‘You could definitely have fitted two people onto that big bit of wood at the end.’

‘Oh, yeah, that. Plus leaving the fiancé was super unbelievable,’ sighed Meredith.  

‘And how cold was the water where this boat sank in only seven hours, Cameron? As cold as a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body?’

‘Kerry, I don’t know. It was in the Arctic. I assume it was very cold, yes.’

‘And what if there are big bad-assed fishes?’ she said dangerously, digging her nails into his arms.

‘Well, you’d either be in a lifeboat or in a rescue ship,’ Cameron said, trying to pull his flesh away from her talons. ‘I doubt you’d know what fish were near you.’

‘But what if, in my panic, I’m running around on the deck crying so hard that I accidentally run off the side of the ship and there’s a big m’a-fucka’a of an octopus waiting down there for me? Or! What if someone pushes me?’ she said, shooting daggers across the table accusingly at Meredith and Imogen.

‘Why would an octopus be waiting for you?’ asked a baffled Cameron.

‘Because they are the snakes of the sea,’ Kerry whined, ‘and you know how I feel about snakes. If I even see a snake on TV, I can’t breathe and I feel sick. So what happens if I plummet into the Atlantic, land next to an octopus and have a panic attack? I will definitely drown.’

‘OK!’ said Meredith, loudly. ‘Let’s just forget the idea of a cruise.’

A teary-eyed Kerry nodded and returned to her drink, breaking the silence ten seconds later by muttering: ‘Scary, eight-legged m’a-fucka’as.’

Monday, 10 September 2012

Never have I ever...

"Blake, who had a relatively low alcohol tolerance, had now sunk into a maudlin, faux 'deep and meaningful' drunkenness and did what all people like that do to a game of 'Never have I ever' - he dragged it down. "Never have I ever contemplated suicide," he said slowly. Meredith rolled here eyes. No one except Blake drank, which was staggeringly uncomfortable for everyone else involved."

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day and something designed to raise awareness of suicide, self-harm and depression. I received a few questions from Robyn, asking about it and talking about a scene in Popular, from chapter XII. I thought I'd answer her questions here and thanks to Robyn for getting in contact. I hope I've been able to clear a few things up and to talk a bit more about this issue.

R: There's a scene in Popular where Blake mentions having contemplated suicide before. But none of the characters react sympathetically and even the book seems to judge him for this. Don't you think it's a bit dangerous to present a scene like that?

G: Well, Robyn, I read back on that scene now and I actually do wish that I had written it differently. I wouldn't have changed how the other characters reacted, because I think an essential part of Blake's story in Popular is the tragedy that he has really no close friends that he can talk to. And even if he did, he'd cut them all out the moment they implied that he might be gay. I do, though, regret implying that he was lying when he'd said it and the way it reads, now, is certainly as if he was doing it solely for attention. What I meant by that scene was to show Blake's mental isolation and the fact that he doesn't really know what he's doing anymore. On the one hand, he's openly admitting to a group of people that he's apparently contemplated ending his life, but at the same time - when he's sober - he's gamely acting as if everything in his life is perfect and he's having the time of his life being separated from Cameron.

R: I did think that the book was a lot more sympathetic to Cameron's mental health issues and very harsh with Blake's. Was that deliberate?

G: It was deliberate that it would show Cameron's in more depth, yes. In the first book, Blake is supposed to be much more of an enigma and it was always intended that readers would finally see and hear it from his point of view at a later date. I have to say, though, that I was quite surprised when people took so strongly against Blake, but then for some people what he does is truly unforgivable. One reader told me a few months ago when I was in Waterstones that the pain Blake puts himself through in those few months after Cameron's birthday are awful and that they deserve sympathy, but what made her stop feeling sympathy for him was that he wasn't just prepared to make himself feel that pain but that he also inflicted it totally on Cameron. After all the work Blake had done to become the closest person in Cameron's life, to treat him that way by just cutting-off all contact was both spineless and unforgivably vindictive.

I suppose I could see her point and I do think what Blake does is horrific. But, to me, he's still a good guy who happened to do a bad thing. And good guys do that, sometimes. In Blake's defense, what he does to Cameron (and to himself) is one massive, unbelievable, mother of all mess-ups. But, it'll be the first and only one Blake will make. He will learn from this and he will grow up. You start to see that at the end of Popular. Even though he does a very unattractive thing and runs away again, only sending Cameron a letter, rather than calling him or seeing him in person, I wanted readers to see, at the end of the novel, a sliver of hope that Blake will one day come back as a better man because of all this. I still think his character is essentially that of a good guy.

R: Was Blake ever actually a suicide risk?

G: I don't think he was, Robyn, to be honest. I think there's actually quite a big gap between contemplating suicide and being a real risk; it's up to people around each other, family and friends, to keep an eye on their loved ones and to know when to seek professional help, if they can. Sometimes though, tragically, there are no warning signs. In Popular, Blake is such a master of repression that his family don't know that anything's wrong and he's axed all of his close friends in Belfast in his desperate attempt to run as far and fast away from the possibility that he might be gay. Which, when you think about it, is utterly heartbreaking. I think in his darkest moments, he's thought about it and I do think there were many days, after he left Cameron, when he hated waking up. But no, I don't think it ever quite progressed to self-harm or anything like that. Deep in his heart, I think Blake either thought that he'd run so far and so fast that he would be able to crush his self-doubts about his sexuality or that, one day, he'd be able to get Cameron back. Poor Blake's mind, between December and May, was just a vortex of contradictions. But, no, he was never intended to be openly a clear suicide risk and, if he had been, I'd have written his story very, very differently.

R: Was Cameron?

G: No, absolutely not. I think Cameron had something close to a nervous breakdown, when, all of a sudden, he just fell totally to pieces. For Cameron, it's not just a case of heartbreak and sexual confusion, it's also the shattering of his trust. You have to remember that, as far as Cameron was concerned, Blake was close to a superhero. He absolutely idealised him and, in his own way, deeply respected Blake's moral code. To all of a sudden realise that the guy he thought was near-perfect was capable of inflicting such pain on him is gut-wrenching. The shattering of our romantic hopes, trusts and illusions is never an easy thing to endure. 

But Cameron felt a lot of pain in a short period of time; Blake felt it, then repressed it, in less depth but over a much longer period of time. I think there were days when Blake thought everything was fine and actually managed to convince himself that he was happy - but if you have to convince yourself that you're happy, then chances are that you're really not.

Cameron, above all, had good friends around him and, in the end, that's what made the difference and helped him get better. Whether it was Imogen's smothering affection or Meredith's tough love! Maybe a combination of both. Cameron was heartbroken, yes, but that was the extent of it. 

R: People in Cameron and Blake's age group though are a big suicide risk. Were you not tempted to include that as a storyline in your book?

G: I really wasn't, Robyn. The suicide risk to young men between the ages of sixteen to twenty-four is something I feel particularly strongly about, because it's a big issue, especially in Northern Ireland. And obviously, people dealing with their sexuality can be especially at risk. That's why things like the Trevor Project's It gets better campaign was so amazing. 

However, I tend to think that it's often long-repressed unhappiness and depression that leads to the high levels of suicide in that age group/gender. That's why the World Suicide Prevention Day is so important, because it draws attention to the fact that there doesn't actually have to be something "wrong" with you to make you a risk of suicide and self-harm. It can be a deep settling of unhappiness and isolation from the world that you just can't shake and you don't know entirely what's wrong or why you feel this way. But it's there and you can't get rid of it. Days like this encourage people to seek help - because when one in four of the population suffer from mental health issues or depression at some stage in their life, there can't be, and there isn't, any shame in seeking help. I love the characters of Blake and Cameron; I really do. But let me make one thing clear, the fact they get through their issues without asking anyone for help doesn't make them strong. It's make them the exact opposite: both of them are essentially weak. And that comes in part from the fact that they're sixteen and too young to fully appreciate that the sign of a strong person is someone who can ask for help when they need it. Do I think that Blake and Cameron would behave this way at the age of twenty? Good God, I hope not! 

If you have anything - either in the specific or just generically - that makes you feel as if life is not worth living, then talk to someone and use the resources that days like World Suicide Prevention Day highlight. Remember - you are not alone, even if you feel that way. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Happy birthday, Robbie

Today, one of my best friends and favourite drinking buddies, Robbie Dagher, turns twenty and in honour of that, here are twenty of his best moments. They are heavily, heavily  censored.

Robbie actually played Cameron in the first ever theatre adaptation of Popular (there he is below on stage with Lucy Williams, Claire Handley, Catherine McAteer and Emma Taylor as Catherine, Kerry, Meredith and Imogen.)

1. Bacon. 

2. "Dude." 
The moment a text, WhatsApp, Facebook message or Twitter starts with that word, shit is about to go down.

3. WhatsApp: "Robbie Dagher was last seen at 10:24 p.m."
"Robbie Dagher is probably ..."

4. Your sense of direction is so unbelievably bad that you once got lost on the way to my house, after being there about 1800 times. The only thing you know your way to anywhere in Belfast is from the Subway's at Commons Brae to the Belvoir Studio. And yet, somehow, drunk off your ass, you still managed to stumble one night from the Odyssey to find the McDonald's at Connswater. Your stomach is yo' satnav.

5. The time we'd scheduled a 7-hour, 2-man rehearsal for Popular but were both so hungover we lay down in the green room for a six and a half hour nap.

6. "Gareth, fuck, I think I've pulled literally everyone in this room."

7. "It could be worse."

8. The time Claire tried to persuade us that she could handle lad banter. "See, I think you see me in all my pink beret splendour and think, Oh, she's just a delightful girly-girl. She's such a girl that she could never handle one of our lad chats. But you're wrong, guys, I seriously could. Like seriously, just talk normally, like you would if I wasn't here and I promise I'll be able to handle it." 
10 seconds later. "No, I'm sorry, this is vile. I definitely can't handle this. I'm going to get a drink. Don't ever do this to me again."

9. "You two would  make an adorable gay couple."
"I know, but we'd just be at the ride all the time."
"How lovely."

10. Complimenting you on your beaut new Ted Baker belt before realising you'd stolen it from my room four months earlier.

11. "Gareth, I am never going to wear Jack Wills." "Gareth, as if I'd be caught dead in a pair of chinos."

12. The night we had no plans and suggested going for a quiet pint. Then woke-up £150 poorer each the next morning, after going through every cocktail bar, pub and club in Belfast. 

13. You, me, Claire and Lauren up in PBT playing the hard hitting drinking game of "What are each other's best features?" And indulging in a 7-hour mutual compliment binge. "You kind of get worshipped, you know. You can make people worship you." "You're almost too much banter, you know?" "I think people are intimidated by how good-looking you are, to be honest." "You're almost so amazing that people are afraid to love you." "You have amazing hair." "Your arms are like a total feast, babes." "You tell a story better than anyone I've ever met, ever." "But you actually are too sexy for your shirt, though."

14. "I mean, I think everyone lives in fear of being out with Robbie in case anyone upset you, Gareth. Because he'd end up in jail for GBH... Or murder." Cheers, lad.

15. "I'm a huge Anisa fan. I think she may be my new favourite Dagher."
"Eh, what?"
"Oh, yeah!"

16. "Never have I ever." 

17. "Dude, d'you fancy a cry?"

18. "Remember you said you'd get me to wear Jack Wills again and like it? Well, you definitely did."

19. First time we ever properly met was in a pub. After four hours of drinking, you mentioned your girlfriend had been waiting somewhere around the general city centre for you. 
Me: "What? You should invite her here!"
You: "Eh... yeah. Actually. I don't even really know what she's been doing all this time, to be honest." #caring

20. "I don't know how you ended up getting so drunk last night, Robbie."
"You dared me to down a ten glass!"
"I regret nothing." 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Bozzy's coming out

A really awesome and inspiring video is up on Youtube from an eighteen year-old Welsh rugby player called Thomas Boswell, or "Bozzy." Tom is starting university in September, but he recently came out to his friends, team-mates and family members. He'd already come out, privately, to his mum, but it was a set of rumours started while he was on holiday that forced him to come out earlier than planned to everybody else.

Tom speaks so clearly and honestly in this video and it's really refreshing to see someone trying to inspire other people who are active in sports to come out and to be honest about their sexuality. (Perhaps one of my favourite bits of the whole video is the bit where, in the midst of his gut-wrenching coming-out-story, Tom still manages to point out that his rugby team were robbed of victory on the day he came out to his mum. Now, that is a true rugby lad's priorities. I salute you, sir.)

Part of Tom's story did really remind me of Blake's in Popular, which was probably one of the storylines I cared most about when I was writing the book. I was very, very surprised by how negatively some people reacted to Blake in the novel, compared to how positively they reacted to Cameron. Yes, okay, Cameron, like Tom, is certainly much braver than Blake in the end, but Tom's video highlights how difficult the situation can be for people in Blake's position. Like Tom, Blake doesn't have any mannerisms which conform to the gay stereotype and like Tom, who lives in the Welsh valleys "where everybody knows everybody else," Blake originally lived in the small but beautiful town of New Canaan in Connecticut and then in Northern Ireland. Where, I can assure you, everybody knows (or likes to know) everybody else's business. Like Blake, Tom's coming out was ultimately forced by circumstances beyond his control (in both cases, through rumours); but unlike Blake, Tom had the tenacity and the bravery to follow it through. And also unlike Blake, he had friends and family who had his back. Not to give too much away either, but Tom's friend Luke sounds a bit like how Peter reacts in Popular's sequel. (Which I promise I will try to give you a release date for soon - thanks so much for all your wonderful comments and e-mails asking about it!)

Anyway, I love this video. Tom's done it in the way that felt most natural for him. Maybe that's one of the things I like most about it, actually. It's really about doing things on your own terms, rather than the way everyone expects you to. Tom's personality hasn't changed because he's come out; he's just been able to remove a huge weight from himself. Being gay shouldn't be somebody's personality, but being honest about yourself should be. Removing the burden of having to lie about yourself and having the guts to do what Tom's done gives you the ability to live your life properly, to be honest to friends and family and to fall in love like the rest of the world. And Tom's teammates sound like a fantastic group of lads.

Tom is going to be interviewed on Scott De Buitléir's radio show Cosmo for RTÉ Plus this Wednesday evening. Tune in!

A short story on the blog from Blake's point of view is here. Check it out.

Monday, 2 July 2012

First look at new Princess Diana movie

A new movie is being made about the last years of Princess Diana's life, before she was killed in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997. The movie is called Caught in Flight and it's being directed by German director, Oliver Hirschbiegel who also directed Downfall, the biopic about Hitler's final few weeks alive, and part of the new medieval drama series, Borgia

The photo above is the first photo showing English actress Naomi Watts as Princess Diana. She def looks very like the princess, but some people close to Diana and Dr. Kahn, who is still alive, are apparently not very happy that it's being made. The movie focuses on  Princess Diana's life after her divorce and her romance with a Pakistani surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Kahn, who is played by Lost actor Naveen Andrews. Naomi Watts has also acted in King Kong and J. Edgar. Obviously, there's already been a movie about the Royal Family's reaction to Diana's death - The Queen, which Helen Mirren won the Oscar for. But, what are your thoughts about Caught in Flight? Are you excited to see it or do you think it's too soon for a Hollywood movie? 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Duchess of Cambridge dazzles at the Diamond

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Britain's newest princess and favourite style icon, once again chose some seriously beau numbers for this weekend's celebration of Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee. A jubilee is to mark the anniversary of the monarch coming to the throne; not their birthday, as some performers at the Buckingham Palace Conference seemed to think... The awkward moment when...

For the river pageant, the Duchess chose to wear a red number from Alexander McQueen (top), the iconic British fashion house that also designed her wedding dress last year. For the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey and the Royal Family's appearance on the balcony, Catherine also went for Alexander McQueen, proving he's something of a favourite (above). However, for the Jubilee Concert, the Duchess opted to wear a dress from Whistles, a high-end high street brand (below.)

Which is your favourite dress from the Jubilee Weekend? A lot of people have said they think the Duchess has a very similar sense of dress as Meredith Harper in Popular. Thoughts?

Thursday, 17 May 2012


For the International Day against Homophobia, this short story is based on the events that take place in Gareth Russell's novel, Popular. To read more, Popular can be ordered from HERE

For those of you who have read the book, this extract takes place somewhere around chapter 4, Pray for us sinners.


Kerry Davison stared languidly at her own reflection in the bathroom mirrors of the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club in Cultra and sighed. "Imogen, what do you call those people who hate gay people?"


Kerry paused for a minute, considering her friend's answer. "No, no... that's not it."

"It is. Look at Eastenders. Chryed didn't have a very easy time of it there, did they?"

"Who's Chryed?"

"Christian and Syed," Imogen answered, incredulously. "The openly working-class gay love story?"

Kerry nodded. "Oh... Oh, yes. But there's definitely a word for it. A real word."

Meredith swept into the bathroom and took her place at the sink next to Imogen. 

"Meredith, what's the real word for people who hate gay people?" Kerry asked, earning her a filthy look from Imogen.


"That's sectarian," Kerry snapped.

"Homophobes," answered Meredith, applying a light sheen of gloss to her lips. "The correct word is homophobes."

Kerry nodded triumphantly. "Yes! That's the one. Homophobes. Why?"

"Because -phobic means fear of and homo is the first syllable of homosexual."

"No, but, I mean, why?" asked Kerry, silently congratulating herself on having curls that looked as if little angels had knitted them from liquid beams of pure sunshine. "Why?"

"Bitches be crazy," explained Imogen, in a very serious voice. "It's like when people were racist. Anti-banter times."

"We were never allowed to be homophobic," Kerry announced piously, carefully pronouncing her new favourite word, homophobic. "Never. Il Padre would have been livid if we had been so prejudiced. I do have a gay uncle in Toronto after all."

"Do you?" asked Meredith, in surprise.

Kerry placed her hand on her chest in faux mortification. "You're right, that is very politically incorrect of me. I have an uncle, who happens to be gay."

"I think homophobia's disgusting," said Imogen. "And fucking stupid. I mean, imagine what it does to you when you hear that kind of thing? Imagine what it's like to grow up and never be able to have all the kissing and flirting and boyfriend banter we have. Well, not you, Meredith. You'd miss out on your whole teenage years and, frankly, I cannot think of anything more horrific, given how sensationally delightful my own have been." She flicked her blonde hair over her shoulders and gazed into the mirror. "People are just so fucking stupid."


Years later, if you had asked Cameron Matthews what had caused the horrendous, gut-wrenching mess of his first year of knowing Blake Hartman, he would have sworn up and down on a stack of Bibles that the reason had been that Blake's father was a pastor. As far as Cameron was concerned, it was quite clear that the whole root and branch of Blake's problem had lain in the plastic evangelicalism of the Shepherd of Judea Baptist Church in Carryduff. Added to this was the fact that Meredith's loyal Catholicism kept up a steady stream of emotional propaganda insisting that this was living proof that priests should never have children. Imogen had taken the whole thing far too far by launching into a rant that blamed the entirety of Protestantism, arguing that without the Virgin Mary no-one could be happy. Ever. Blake, however, was insistent that initially it had nothing to do with his father's job. It was only once the whole issue of his sexuality moved from his unconscious into his conscious that Blake began to consider what kind of impact it would have on his family. Before that, from as far back as he could remember, there had been a lingering uncertain fear, deep in his gut; there had been a sense of personal unease, as if something did not quite "fit". 

If you had asked Blake in the years before he met Cameron if he had a problem with homosexuality, he would honestly and instinctively have answered, no. No, he did not. But had anyone ever implied or assumed that he himself was gay, Blake would have felt a rising flush of panic as he rushed to correct them. Why he felt this way was anybody's guess. On paper, there was absolutely no reason why he should feel this way. He had come from a loving family in one of the most liberal states in America and he could never, ever remember a time when his father had preached a sermon on homosexuality. Or even mentioned it, at all, come to think of it. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity, Blake would later realise that it was maybe something about his deep need to be respected by his peers; respect was fundamentally important to Blake and it was something he unconsciously assumed he could not have if he was gay. If gay was the punchline of every joke, it was clear to Blake that whilst it was something that could be tolerated, it wasn't something that could be respected. In conclusion, it was banter, far more than the Bible, which had done the real damage to Blake Hartman, long before he even reached the age of seventeen.

On the same Saturday in November as Meredith, Imogen, Cameron and Kerry had been enjoying lunch with Cameron's mother in the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club, Blake sat idly in the pretty, seaside grounds of Belmont Grammar School, three miles away, with the Mount Olivet football team. Soccer was not exactly Blake's forte and he had been stunned to the point of devastation to realise that lacrosse wasn't really played in British schools. Worse, he would apparently have to wait until after Easter to get involved in track and tennis, which were, by far, his best sports. That left swimming and soccer for the winter semester, since he hadn't played American football back in New Canaan and was therefore extremely reluctant to go anywhere near what looked like the bone-crunching, face-bruising psychosis of rugby. Soccer would have suffice in the meantime and today was a Saturday away game, with the Mount Olivet squad currently winning 2-1. Blake had yet to play.

A groan went up from his teammates on the bench when a kid from Belmont scored an equalising goal. The kid was good and Mount Olivet's goalkeeper, Andrew Henton-Worley, looked pissed. Looking over at Mount Olivet's coach, Mr Cavan, Blake could see that the feeling was mutual.

"Who's that?" asked a Mount Olivet sub, whose name Blake was struggling to remember.

"Edward Hanna," answered another. "He's Rory Hanna's cousin. He's really good. Like, an amazing player."

The nameless sub nodded. "Yeah. Henton-Worley looks pissed."

A few of the guys laughed; others muttered angry things under their breath implying that Andrew should be pissed. Blake squinted into the Sun, the ultimate rarity in mid-November Belfast. It was unlikely that he'd be called to play now; unless someone got injured. Settling back, he began absent-mindedly tapping out a rhythm with his right foot. Snippets of conversation bounced around him. None of them very interesting; most of them about people he did not know or places he'd never been. There was a small beep from inside his sports bag. Reaching in to extract his phone, a little smile danced across his face when he saw that it was a text from Cameron.

Cameron: How's the match going? Shanter?

Blake: Hey! Yeah, it's going okay, I guess. We're tied. Haven't played yet. What's shanter?

C: "Shit banter." :)

B: Hahahahaha! Lame. How was lunch?

C: Really nice. Mummy and Kerry got caught up in an epic convo about how much they love kittens. What are your plans for the rest of the day? PS - I am not lame. I am awesome. I am anti-shanter.x

B: Kitten convo? Sounds shanterous, Cameron ;) Getting a lift back on the school bus to Malone, then probably going to walk to the Europa and get the bus back to C'duff. PS- You are still lame.

C: Do you want to come up to mine to hang? For anti-shanter purposes, obv. We should be done in like an hour?

B: Where'd my x go?

C: Same place mine went.

B: I didn't send one in the first place.

C: Exactly.x

B: :) Haha. Well played, C-Dog.x

C: Sorry to hear you haven't played yet.x

B:"Hi, my name is Cameron Matthews, and my friend Blake Hartman just accidentally forgot to respond to my very kind invitation to hangout at my house this evening. But rather than repeat the question like a big boy, I'm going to send a pointless text about something else and hope that reminds him." See you at your house at 4? Can't wait. B-Dog in da house (literally) x

C: I hate you. See you at 4 x

B: "Lame - the new fragrance from Cameron Matthews." :) x

Blake bit the bottom of his lip in a smile and tossed the phone back in his bag. The referee's whistle blew and Blake refocused on the game. Edward Hanna had just scored a second goal, bringing the score to 2-3 in Belmont's favour. Mr Cavan looked like he was about to punch a wall.

"Is Edward Hanna Rory's cousin?" asked Titus Pitt, a sixth year popular boy, famous for his epic house parties.

"Gay Rory? Yeah," answered another. A tiny, faint twinge gripped Blake's oesophagus. He widened his feet slightly on the ground and gripped his hands a little harder. He looked more masculine this way.

Titus nodded. "I like Rory. He's good banter." As far as North Down boys went, it was hard to think of a higher form of compliment.

"Yeah," said Titus's friend. "I don't agree with the whole gay thing, but I like Rory. He's a good lad. He's not annoying about the whole thing, either."

Titus agreed. "Yeah, absolutely. Blake?"

Blake looked up and the weight on his chest was back. The weight he knew by instinct, but could not name. Why had they turned to talk to him at this point in the conversation? "Yeah?"

"Mr Cavan says you're amazing at tennis?"

The weight lightened. "I played it back in the States."

"Cool. You should come to our tennis club sometime, if you want to keep it up? The facilities are sweet."

"Oh, thanks, Titus. Yeah, I'll look into it. Thank you."

"You enjoyed tennis, then?" asked Titus's friend. "Back in America?"

"Eh, yeah, I loved it. That's where I met my ex-girlfriend," Blake said. Titus and his friend nodded and asked a few more questions. A soothing balm, like an antacid, spread through Blake's body. They knew he wasn't gay. And Blake pushed any attempt to analyse why he'd just said what he'd said right out of his head. His phone beeped from back inside his bag and he reached to get it, smiling when he saw who the text was from.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Exam Panic

Photo: Lucy Williams as Catherine O'Rourke and Hugo Diamond as Mark Kingston from the Autumn 2011 theatre production of Popular, based on the novel by Gareth Russell.

Panicking with your exams? 

Well, you're not the only ones. Here's how the characters in Popular coped with their exams. (An extract from Popular by Gareth Russell.)

‘What’s your timetable like?’ asked Cameron, as they sat around a table in the school library.

‘Sad,’ said Kerry. ‘There are so many exams on it – one after another! And I have to come in on Saturday for English Lit in the morning and History in the afternoon!’

‘My first exam is Physics,’ sighed Cameron. ‘How unfair is that?’

‘No drinking in the library,’ said a prim voice from behind the main desk.

‘Miss, are you joking?’ argued Cameron. ‘Without my Diet Coke, I’ll die!’

‘He’s diabetic!’ roared Kerry.

‘A lie too far, Kerry,’ muttered Meredith. ‘A lie too far.’

‘How are we supposed to revise Biology?’ asked Imogen indignantly. ‘Mr. Corbett’s such a crappy teacher. We don’t have any notes! He so obviously doesn’t care about our education, at all.'

‘We’re screwed for Science in general though,’ said Cameron.

‘What if we cram?’ suggested Catherine.

‘No!’ barked Kerry. ‘You know the rules – if the ship’s sinking, we all go down with it. Secret revisers will be punishèd.’

‘Well, maybe I’ll just do some myself tonight,’ said Catherine. ‘Just to be on the safe side.’

‘No!’ said Kerry, angrily smacking her fist on the table. ‘Didn’t you hear what I just said?’


‘Don’t question her,’ commanded Imogen. ‘Rules are rules.’

‘But, I…’

‘Look, do you want a slap in the face?’ threatened Imogen, raising her hand.

‘No!’ surrendered Catherine. ‘I’ll be fine.’


‘We’ll all be fine,’ shrugged Meredith. ‘Anyway, apparently for Chemistry we don’t even have to take a written test, it’s just a practical.’

‘Oh well, in that case,’ said Imogen, ‘there’s no point even opening the textbook, is there? That would be a complete waste of my time.’

‘Will the table at the back please keep it down?’ asked the librarian.

‘Power-mad bitch,’ muttered Imogen.


Over the next few weeks, the beautiful May sunshine meant that Meredith, Imogen and Cameron spent more of their time at each others’ houses, relaxing outside with their books open on the table next to them – more for show than anything else. Meredith was currently on the sun-lounger reading the Poor Little Rich Girl column in Tatler and nodding at every other sentence. ‘Gosh, it’s so true,’ she sighed. ‘It is so true.’

Lying next to her in a crêpe de Chine dress by Chanel with star-shaped sunglasses, a plethora of rings, bangles and a Marlboro Light for accessories, Imogen was mentally debating whether to go Brazilian or Hollywood for the group’s forthcoming holiday to Mexico and Cameron was drinking a cold Diet Coke and pondering what it might be like to actually want to work on a day like this

‘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.


‘Oh yes. I’ve used him before. He really comes through. He’s very efficient.’

‘What kind of levels of efficiency are we talking about?’ asked Imogen.

Meredith paused to think. ‘Saint Teresa.’

‘Not as good as Saint Anthony?’

‘No, but then, he’s the best, isn’t he?’

‘He’s fabulous,’ said Imogen, lighting another cigarette. ‘I think he’s absolutely tremendous. I love his work. He’s like the Ronseal saint – does exactly what it says on the tin.’

‘Well as long as you both have a plan,’ sighed Cameron lazily.


On the morning of the first exam, Catherine had got so nervous she had rushed to the toilet three times already. Sitting in one of the cubicles, she heard the voices of Anastasia, Natasha and Tangela, as they arrived to re-apply their lip-glosses at the bathroom mirrors. ‘Did you see him?’ asked Natasha.

‘I know, right?’ said Tangela.

‘I told you,’ sighed Anastasia. ‘He’s weird.’

‘He’s just so rude recently and I seriously don’t understand why Catherine’s still with him,’ Tangela said. ‘I mean... she can’t be that desperate.’

‘Obvo she is,’ said Natasha, as she puckered her lips. ‘Everyone’s talking about how moody and angry and weird he is and how she doesn’t even seem to notice.’

‘Because she is that desperate. Obviously.’

As the three girls walked out, still gossiping about her, Catherine had to put a hand on her chest to try and steady her breathing. What had happened? What had they done that had made the whole school change their mind about them? And why had no-one said anything to her? Maybe it was just Anastasia’s group that felt that way? After all, Anastasia had always thought he was kind of stupid... maybe that’s what they meant? With great difficulty, she put their comments to the back of her mind and tried to ignore what she had just heard – the very same policy she had employed with her relationship for the last three months.

As she returned to wait outside the Assembly Hall before the exam started, Catherine was distracted from her worrying by the sight of panic-stricken students all around her. Kerry was holding an unblemished copy of Macbeth in her right hand and was digging her nails into the arm of a terrified-looking, well-prepared Patsy Harris, hissing: ‘What do you mean she kills herself?  I thought her hands were just dirty!’ In a corner, Imogen’s lips were moving in furious, rhythmic prayer. She had just finished rattling through Saint Thomas’s prayer for a student and she had now embarked on another round of Hail Marys. The only person who seemed calm, of course, was Meredith, who hadn’t even bothered with last-minute revision cards. With twenty minutes still to go before the doors opened, Catherine sat down to have one last read of her Macbeth notes and Cameron wandered off down the corridor to use the bathroom.

When he pushed the swing door open, Cameron was confronted by the sight of Mark Kingston, with his hands placed on either side of the sink, ashen-faced. Turning to see who it was, the relief was palpable on Mark’s face. ‘Cam... Cameron, I’m so worried. I forgot I got like this at exams. I ... I need to do well.’

Cameron went over to him and put one hand on his shoulder and another on his arm, patting it reassuringly. ‘Mark, it’s OK. It’s fine. . You always freak out and you always do well.’

‘Cameron.... I have to do well. Doing well. It’s important to me. I can’t...  I can’t fuck them up.’

‘You won’t.’

‘You don’t know that!’ 

‘Listen, you’ll be fine. You’re smart and you’ll definitively have done enough revision. Mark, if someone like you isn’t going to do well in these exams, then what chance has anyone else got? I promise it’ll be fine. Just like it always is. ’

Mark nodded and took a big gulp of air to steady himself. ‘Thanks, Cameron. Thanks.’

With normalcy more-or-less restored, awkwardness settled over them as they remembered the tensions of the last five months. ‘I should probably get back to the Hall,’ Mark muttered. ‘Thanks and...’

‘Yeah. I’ll see you around,’ said Cameron. ‘Good luck.’

‘Thanks,’ said Mark, walking away. ‘Yeah, thanks and... good luck.’


By and large, the GCSEs passed without any real incident, apart from the frankly horrifying moment when Kerry realised there was coursework for Business Studies that she had never handed in;  Cameron’s total inability to recall how to say anything in his Spanish Oral that wasn’t in the present tense; and, of course,  the unforgettable terrified squeak from Imogen at the beginning of the History exam, when she had opened the first page to see the title The English Civil War before realising that their module – Weimar and Nazi Germany – was actually listed three pages later. For a split second, she had thought that she had paid such poor attention in class that she had revised for the wrong country and wrong century. Her eyes had shot Heavenward, with an accusatory glint in them, but after turning more pages, she breathed a sigh of relief and then looked up again with an apologetic smile.

And so it was on a blisteringly hot summer’s day in the middle of June that the last GCSE exam took place for that year at Mount Olivet Grammar School. Walking out into the sunshine in his school uniform, Cameron breathed a happy sigh of relief and was about to call Meredith to see what the plans for that night were, when Mark walked up behind him. The two hadn’t spoken since the day of Mark’s ritual pre-exam panic in the boys’ bathroom, almost three weeks earlier.

‘Hey. What’d you think of the exam?’

‘It was OK,’ answered Cameron. ‘Although I don’t think they could’ve asked anymore questions on Blood Brothers if they’d tried.’

‘I know!’


To order your copy of Popular and read more about GCSEs, running away from your Physics mock GCSE and life for the GCSE year at Mount Olivet Grammar School, Belfast, click HERE or visit your local book-store!

PS - If you've any hilarious/cringeworthy exam stories, feel free to share them in our comments section!
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