samedi 31 août 2013

Memory Map: Istanbul

I have only been to Istanbul once (so far) and it was only a few months ago, so I am not remotely qualified to talk about it.  However, it left an indelible impression and I have seldom, if ever, loved a place more on first visit.

I went with my best friend and we were apprehensive – we got off the plane tired and wary, managed to screw up our visas at the airport.  We had come on a whim, inspired by things we wanted to leave behind.  We felt meek, worried…

Two hours later I was speaking Turkish and we both felt more at home than we have felt anywhere else.  Istanbul is a kind city, despite it all.

Snapshots: a secret sun-drenched courtyard off the Grand Bazaar; lying naked on a hot stone at night, staring up at the stars cut into the roof of the Cemberlitas hammam, bathing in hot water and the history of thousands of women; surrounded by cats in an alleyway; sitting on the hotel roof terrace as the city wakes up around me, call to prayer ringing in my ears…

I will write about Istanbul more and I will go there again.

jeudi 29 août 2013

Poo is a personal issue.

When I was 18, and very blasé about the ways of the world, my friends and I liked to say that willingness to talk about female masturbation was ‘what separated the women from the girls’.  This was in a world *just* before Sex and the City, when most girls we knew would actually claim not to.  One of my good friends even once said that she tried it but didn’t like it, so decided never to do it again.  (Also, I should probably mention that I went to an all-girls' Catholic school.)

Now I genuinely believe the same theory applies to pooing in a public toilet.  It’s (um, obviously) less sexy so way more telling.  Why should you be embarrassed about someone hearing or smelling what you are doing, in a room that has been designed for that very purpose?

That’s what I’m thinking today.  That is all.  I never claimed to be, like, a Nora Ephron-standard essayist.

lundi 26 août 2013

Abandoning hope can be a good thing.

So, for the last few months I’ve been working on (and off, mostly) a new manuscript.  I wrote most of it in one manic burst during a sleepless fortnight or so in February; since then I’ve been mucking about with it, tinkering, changing, adding little, debating the ending/the whole format, getting nowhere fast; a couple of weeks ago I went through it and changed the tense of the entire bloody thing.

I emailed my agent in the first wave of excitement saying that I’d send it over to her soon.  Then many emails followed saying ‘it’s not ready yet/I’m not actually sure about this/I think it might be the most boring book in the world’.  Reading them back now, they become progressively more disheartened every time.

Today I decided to stop working on it and do something else.  Maybe for good.  Maybe I’ll come back to it; I think probably not.  I’ve spent today working on a new project instead and made more progress than I have in the past three months.

I’m actually excited about this decision.  It’s like dumping a useless but really pretty boyfriend.  This manuscript had some personal stuff in and also a genius title, so I stuck with it for probably longer than I should have.  (I shan’t tell you the title because odds are good that I will shoehorn it into something else just so that I can use it at some point.)

I’ve abandoned ideas before.  Sometimes after months and years of working on them; sometimes when they haven’t really made it off the ground at all.  I generally feel good about this, rather than the opposite – that’s what having loads of ideas is all about, which is after all our job.  There was a whole historical novel that ended up being scrapped.  A convoluted thriller that would have barely filled a short story in the end.  One that made me sad because I loved it dearly but I just couldn’t make it work – but that was a few years ago now and I am thinking of rewriting it as a teen novel.

I have learned in the last few years that strong ideas are probably more important than atmosphere and pretty phrases – something that I have had to learn the hard way because this way of working does not come naturally to me.  I have honestly written entire full-length manuscripts inspired by the feeling a particular song gives me, the name of a perfume, or the peculiar melancholy of one foreign hotel room – and they haven’t contained much more meat than that in the end.

The best ideas are the ones that leap out and aren’t held back by their beautiful frailty, the ones that you just can’t get rid of – rather than the ones you desperately want to keep like water cupped in your hands.

This one may go to the graveyard with the others, while I try to figure out at least something I’ve learned from the whole thing.  And, most of all, start the next one.

jeudi 22 août 2013

Results Day

Oh, GCSE results day.  I remember it not like it was yesterday, but as if it were about two years ago rather than (eek) sixteen.

I had been on holiday with my dad and stepmum in the south of France – I flew back early, by myself, the first time I had ever flown alone.  My mum took a couple of hours off work and picked up me and my friend Rachael to take us to the school.  It was a sunny day, as they always were in teenage summers.  In those days, she had a bright red convertible; it was 1997 and we would listen to a lot of Lemonheads, Lush and Kenickie in the car.

This fateful Thursday came amid one of those rare golden summers.  I had highlights and a suntan; I dressed like an extra from the Smashing Pumpkins 1979 video.  The boy I had loved since I was 12 had finally, officially asked me to be his girlfriend.  I had spent the summer hanging around in the park with him, sitting in grotty band practice rooms, taking the train to spend days round at his house.

My mind had not been on GCSEs for a while now. Suddenly it hit me that maybe it should have been.  I had spent my ‘study leave’ days in the pub, having a boyfriend, feeling awesome for once.  I thought the exams went OK, but maybe I was deluding myself.  I had instead wasted all of my attention on a boy who was leaving to go to music college in a month’s time.  The fear hit, but I had to admit that if I could go back I probably wouldn’t change it – a catch-22 that rears its head throughout my life.

I felt sick all morning, and I don’t think I have ever been so relieved as when I opened the envelope and saw that it was… OK.  Not amazing, probably not as well as I could have done – but, all things considered, really OK.  (In case you were wondering, I got 6 As, 2 Bs and 2 Cs.)

Rachael was still too scared to open hers.  She got back in the car with her unopened envelope still clutched in her hand.  (When she finally summoned the nerve, days later, she did just fine as well.)

My mum went back to work; the boy walked round to my house, having collected his own results from the boys’ school.  He hadn’t done as OK as I had, but he had a plan and was just glad that school had finished – for him, forever.  I would be going back for sixth form in September.  I don’t think we ever discussed what would happen next – we stayed in touch, but it was never again as perfect as it had been that summer.  (In fact, I would spend the next five or six years, on and off, trying to recapture the summer of 1997, to varying but limited success.)

We lay around in the garden for the afternoon; he smoked cigarettes and I gazed at him adoringly.  We took an early prototype version of The Selfie to commemorate the occasion, on a disposable film camera from Boots.  I can picture it perfectly in my mind – I wish I still had it, but I don’t think I do.

Then he went home and I walked to my friend Nadia’s house, where I met up with all my girlfriends.  We went out for the night and we met a girl called Lou, who was starting sixth form at our school in September, and would become our best friend.  We all slept over at Emma’s, all of us on the floor in the dining room, and it ended up being a great, great day.

When I think about it now, it was so obvious that it was the end of something – but I didn’t realise it at the time.  I suppose you never do.

mercredi 21 août 2013

We Need To Talk About Jessa

OK, it’s been a while since Girls hit.  I’m not going to add to the looming Jenga-tower of words about Lena Dunham, much as I love her – and I do.  I really do.
No.  It’s been long enough now that I have been able to watch my Girls DVDs on a loop until my eyes bleed the tears of an over-privileged white girl who identifies far too much with these over-privileged white characters.
I now have but one thing to say.  We need to talk about Jessa.
My obsession with her has been building to epic proportions and it is not good for me or my life.
Jessa always looks amazing, when she is wearing a bathrobe in the street and red lipstick, or a multitude of feathers.  She comes out with catchphrases like ‘all adventurous women do!’.  She encourages her friends to do stupid things ‘for the story’.  She does stupid things all the time.  She gets married to dudes she neither knows nor likes!
It doesn’t matter that I have known girls like Jessa in real life and they are a bad influence on me – I never realised until it was too late that I was actually the only one who didn’t revise for my exams; everyone else just said they weren’t going to.  (There’s a metaphor for life in there, in case you missed it.)  Plus, those Jessa friends can get kind of annoying after a while.  It doesn’t matter that the actress who plays her, Jemima Kirke, is actually married with two children and a lovely house.
The more I watch, the more I start thinking it’s a good idea to do things ‘for the story’.  The more I start wearing my bathrobe outside the house.
‘What would Jessa do?’ I ask myself, whilst pondering hand tattoos.
It’s even more insidious than all those times I used to ask myself ‘what would Courtney Love do?’.  I don’t understand why I can’t be drawn to the good role models.  But then again: ‘what would Gwyneth Paltrow do?’.  Nothing fun.
I was disappointed in myself when I read Lena Dunham saying on Twitter that nobody’s really a Jessa.  According to her creator, we all like to think we are, but we’re not – ‘that is the sick power of the Jessa’.
It can’t be true.  I am totally a Jessa.*

* Aren’t I?  Is this like when suburban dullards all over the land started saying they were ‘a Carrie’?  No.  Please tell me it’s not.

dimanche 18 août 2013

C is for Happiness

I put lipstick on in the same way as one of my great-grandmothers.  I know this to be true because we wear lipsticks down in the same way – to a long, flat point with a groove on either side.  The first time my mum noticed this, she looked as though she’d seen a ghost.  I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

Sometimes beauty isn’t about looks.  My favourite everyday lipstick is a Chanel one called ‘Egerie’.  You can hardly even see it’s there, which is actually good because you can put it on in the back of a cab, or on a moving train, without making a mess.  It doesn’t matter what you can see, because the point is that it makes me feel really Chanel.

jeudi 15 août 2013


So, I recently found a spreadsheet that I made earlier in the year.  It was called ‘Cats’ and I have no recollection whatsoever of creating it.  But I did.

It detailed, only for about a month around February/March, every cat I saw, at what time and what I thought they were trying to tell me.  It also described some cats I had not seen (‘I thought I saw a cat under my seat on the train – there was no cat’ or ‘X mentioned a cat on Twitter’).

I was under A LOT of stress at the time.  (If you haven’t quite gathered – yes, I thought cats were giving me messages.)  Still, it was pretty shocking to see how irrational I actually was – not to mention, how relatively recently

I think I managed to do a pretty good impersonation of a sane person during this time – I managed to go to work, there was no big intervention, etcetera – but, looking at this now, how I ever managed to do so is beyond me.  Scared and grateful in equal measure probably sums it up.

Perhaps it would be best forgotten, but I think this is a good reminder.  There aren’t many – I’ve put back on all the weight I lost, scars are healing for all of us, luckily I managed to stop myself before I cut all my hair off.  I thought about it for a while, then I did not delete the spreadsheet.  I still don’t have a cat; I still want one.

lundi 12 août 2013


So, after putting it off for an unfathomably long time, I finally watched Django Unchained.  I loved it so much I can barely put it into words.  I now can't believe I waited so long due to slightly dodgy-sounding premise combined with the fact that I didn't really love Inglorious Basterds (although now I think maybe I should give it another go; I am terrible for moods affecting my perception/enjoyment of things, which means I often change my mind entirely second time around).

Anyway, I love QT.  I should never have doubted him.  I even love (the, in my opinion, unfairly maligned) Death Proof so much that I rewatch it all the time.

I became obsessed with him long before I was able to watch any of his films - I was a weird kid and for some reason just thought he seemed really cool.  (I was 11 when Reservoir Dogs was released.)  In a total coup, when I was not allowed to go and see True Romance at the cinema a couple of years later, I instead bought a copy of Empire magazine that gave away a copy of the script in book format, so I recited the whole thing into a tape recorder, closed my eyes and just imagined.  I still have that book.  Not the cassette tape, sadly.

Anyway, I loved Django and I guess this is a small lesson in trusting in your heroes, however flawed they may be.  Or something.

jeudi 8 août 2013

Lessons in Liz

Over the past week, I have watched the BBC4 drama 'Burton and Taylor' twice so far.  I have cried uncontrollably at the final scene on both occasions.  I plan to watch it again, maybe tonight.

I adore Helena Bonham-Carter and was intrigued to see her glammed up and admitting her classic beauty for once.  Dominic West is properly good in everything, obviously.  However, I was not an expert on Liz and Dick.  I'm still not, but now I'm learning.

In my cyclical obsessions with film stars and retro glamour pusses, Liz never really featured - through my own ignorance rather than preference.  I had my Bettie Page phase, and my Louise Brooks phase; I tried and failed to channel Audrey and Marilyn; I could cry over a photograph of Natalie Wood all day long.  Weirdly, I had never really explored the treasures of Taylor.  I read up on her a little after she died, and my interest was, naturally, caught.

Now, late in the day, I am mildly obsessed.  Since watching this dramatisation, I have been hungry for the real thing.  I have been reading everything I can get my hands on, and Google-imaging for hours on end.

After I switched off the BBC I-player, I went out that night in a low-cut halterneck dress I hadn't worn for years, black and splashed with giant dark pink roses, lipstick to match, hair up.

As always, my favourite writer Emma Forrest is ten steps ahead of me and puts it better than I can.  Here:

lundi 5 août 2013

We Think Alone

I love Miranda July and I am currently obsessed with this email project – it’s so cool to feel involved with something like this, even if it’s just a flash of excitement when it arrives in your inbox.

This one comes every Monday, which is a particular treat.  If you haven’t done so already, you’ve missed the first ones, but you can still sign up.  Every week, you will receive a selection of old sent emails from interesting people on a particular theme (so far we have had themes such as ‘money’, ‘business’ and ‘Barack Obama’).

To learn more, check out the website:

Also, Alice Vincent wrote a nice article about this in the Telegraph; I was one of the subscribers she spoke to – we had a really interesting email exchange about Miranda July, digital technology, voyeurism and the changing nature of privacy.

samedi 3 août 2013

You Can't Fuck A Shoe

So, friends and regular readers may know that, here at the Mixtape, we live in a tiny, very run-down Victorian cottage in the centre of Brighton - a kind of two-up, one-down.  Bought about six months ago through a rare stroke of pure good luck, we have set about the - to use the technical phrase - fucking massive job of doing it up.

This has been slow going - through money and time and practicalities and all sorts of other boring things.  However, something recently has clicked and progress is still slow, but wildly encouraging.

We need a new sofa, many boring and essential things.  But, this week, I bought my first properly big purchase for the new house.

It is called 'You Can't Fuck A Shoe'.  It is a limited-edition print by Tracey Emin.  Please share in my joy.

vendredi 2 août 2013

Double Trouble: A guest post from Amy Bird

Today, I am very pleased to present a guest blog from Amy Bird!  I know, right?  It's *almost* like this a proper blog or something.  Anyway, Amy and I share a publisher, and her debut - Yours is Mine, a thriller that mixes some very modern elements with time-honoured existential questions - has recently been released.  It's one of those books that is best read with as little prior knowledge as possible, so I'm gonna STFU and hand over to Amy...

In her chilling YA debut, my lovely host Eleanor reminds us just why identical twins are so spooky – Sweet Valley meets The Shining in a noir twist. In my debut, Yours is Mine, I’m exploring double trouble from a different perspective: what if you agreed to exchange identities with someone, masquerading as each other? Rather than Single White Female, think Double White Female with Mutual Consent (you’ll agree Yours is Mine is a catchier title…).

Clearly, twins have a tactical advantage in the whole masquerading as each other stakes. Even though Eleanor’s identical twins have their physical differences – the odd scarred face for one thing – they could probably pass for each other, if they wanted to. But what about exchanging identities with a stranger – how would that work?

In Yours is Mine, Kate Dixon agrees to handover details of her life to Anna Roberts, who purports to be a PhD student doing a psychology experiment. Anna assures Kate that as they are both slim brunettes of the same age, Kate will be able to pass herself off as Anna to casual official acquaintances, such as gym staff and doctors. The rest of the relationships, Kate (as Anna) will be making with people Anna has never met before, or will take place on-line.

The issue for Kate, it turns out, is not how she will pass herself off as Anna, but how Anna will pass herself off as Kate – and what destruction she will wreak in the process. Just as the twins in Gemini Rising find each other’s presence suffocating, Kate finds that having two of yourself is a bad plan, when your other self starts to rebel.

Kate’s idea was to take part in the exchange temporarily to get her old spark back. But with Anna, she has to fight to get anything of her old self back at all. Anna is far from being an identical twin – she has her own ideas of what Kate’s life should be like – and Kate remembers what being an individual is really about. But the question is: will she be able to live her own life again? Or will trouble from doubling haunt her forever?

Yours is Mine is available now from Carina UK, the new digital imprint of Harlequin, at and via Amazon,  Kobo and iBooks. You can follow Amy’s progress at, on twitter at and on facebook at