White Lies- Jo Gatford (and author interview)

whitelies

Before I begin this review, I’m going to issue a disclaimer: Jo is a friend of mine and I’m both immensely proud and insanely jealous that she’s written such a cracking debut novel as White Lies. Having a friend who’s a writer is beneficial though, as I get to interview her for the blog…

So, what’s the novel about? Well, it tells the story of Matt, a man haunted by the past and also the inconvenient fact that his brother has just died on his birthday. While this is bad enough, there’s also the fact that his dad has Alzheimer’s that’s getting worse, meaning that Matt has to keep telling his father that his favourite son is dead. There’s also a range of messy family relationships and deep secrets to keep you hooked.

I really enjoyed the book- I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I found it engrossing and the descriptions of Peter’s descent into himself was heartbreaking, funny and infuriating. The book also includes one of my favourite descriptive sentences of all time: part of the old people’s home is described as smelling of ‘chips and disappointment’. There were times when I wanted to strangle characters, others when I laughed and again when I felt deeply upset. There’s a lot here for a debut novel. You can buy it here.

I asked Jo a few questions- if you’re a budding novelist (or just nosy), read on…

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1)       How did you manage to write a novel while being a mum to two small boys?
<Unhinged laughter> Slowly! I started writing the first draft just after my first son was born and he turned six in July just before the launch date, so it took its sweet time. It was very much a stop-start operation wedged in between work, having babies, and surviving sleep deprivation. There is no spare time, is there? I managed to carve out a few hours here and there to write, whether it was a Saturday afternoon in a café or late at night when I really should have been catching up on sleep. All very much facilitated by my wonderful husband who always makes sure I prioritise creativity over pointless stressing about work or doing the washing up. I actually go a little bit insane if I haven’t written for a while so the compulsive nature of it helps me to keep going, even if it does take me six years to finish a project.
2)       How did you make notes/research?
It’s been a long and slightly random accumulation of ideas and scribbles, really. For notes, I have lots of different notebooks which inevitably get lost around the house or stolen by the children for drawing on. Occasionally, just as I’m falling asleep, I’ll think of a perfect phrase or an important plot point and write myself a text message so that I’ll remember it in the morning. Although, sometimes I’ll read it back the next day and wonder what the hell I was talking about…
Research-wise it was a case of finding a balance between anecdotal stories (which are obviously very personal) and medical information (which can be quite dry and detached). A checklist of dementia symptoms doesn’t tell you what it’s actually like to experience the condition, or the effect it can have on relationships. For the emotional side of the story I spent a long time reading through diaries, blogs and articles written by people who are living with dementia, along with the perspectives of their carers and families. Hopefully the book brings together both sides of the situation; the sometimes innocuous day-to-day experiences, and the deep psychological impact.
3)       Which authors/books/films inspired your novel writing?
I tend to get inspired by whatever I happen to be reading/watching at the time, to be honest. In the last few years I’ve become much more influenced by short stories and flash fiction – I really admire the ability to create a fully-formed fictional world within a few hundred words. I think the skills needed to tie together a short story are extremely useful when applied to novel writing as you’re forced to make each chapter or scene as succinct as possible. My favourite author in all of time and space is Kurt Vonnegut, so in general he’s probably been the biggest influence on the way I’d like to get my thoughts out on paper.
4)       What are your three desert island books?
Arg. That’s not a fair question! Can I cheat and just bring a Kindle?
I could (and do) read Catch-22 over and over again to infinity, so that’s definitely number one – it makes me laugh and cry and would be excellent company when I inevitably found myself naked in a tree like Yossarian. Next would be Amy Hempel’s short story collection, The Dog of the Marriage, because it’s one of those books that does strange, wonderful things to your head and leaves you thinking about the stories for days afterwards. Third would probably be a big book of mythology or world history – it’s another sneaky cheat, really – so many stories and lifetimes contained within in one book.
5)       What are your ideal writing conditions?
 There’s a writing retreat in Devon called Retreats for You that is my idea of literary heaven. It’s set in a beautiful thatched cottage on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, and you get thoroughly looked after by a fantastic couple who ply you with food and wine and tea and cake while you spend your days writing/sleeping. Back in the real world my writing conditions usually involve at least one small child asking me for something, the looming threat of day-job deadlines, and excessive procrastination via social media, so having space, silence and time to write is a wonderful luxury.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum

I was really lucky this weekend to get to go see the biggest exhibition this year (unless you’re a fan of David Bowie. Then I guess that’s the biggest exhibition of the year for you.) My sister Em and I went to see Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum in London.

One of the most famous paintings to have survived Pompeii; this shows a baker and his wife
Image: British Museum

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been swotting up in preparation for the weekend; if I read about an exhibition afterwards, I always get cross if I realise I’ve missed something, so I decided to go prepared. I even asked well-known classicist Mary Beard what we should try and see (her advice: see whatever is comfortable to get to.)

Image: Telegraph.co.uk

The exhibition itself is laid out as if a Roman house- in this case, it’s based on the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. Visitors are guided through each room, looking at the paintings and furniture (which has mainly survived from Herculaneum, which did not suffer the same level of carbonisation as Pompeii, meaning that wooden furniture was well preserved when it was discovered.)

Image: British Museum

Although there were some exhibits I knew I wanted to see, such as the preserved cradle (which, when found, was discovered to have its tiny occupant still inside, swaddled in blankets), there were some major surprises. One fresco of birds is more than reminiscent of William Morris’ designs in the 19th century- even the colours are similar.  When wandering around the exhibition, I was struck by how the colours of the paintings really gave them an immediacy. It was almost bizarre to think that these paintings and objects were two thousand years old.

Image: Guardian.co.uk

One thing I knew about, but which still prompted me to giggle like a schoolboy, was the Pompeiian obsession with matters of the flesh. Apparently in the city itself there are, ahem, more male bits on display than have been drawn a Year 9 Science textbook. And you find them in some mind-boggling places in the exhibition. I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to visit, but there was a particular statue which raised eyebrows and a rather odd wind-chime that my sister offered to buy a copy of for me. Also, there’s a very famous bust of a man on display- and his face is not the only thing on display. It’s just… weird the way it’s been put together.

One of the most famous casts from Pompeii- a dog trying to escape its chain
Image: British Museum

Of course, this wouldn’t be an exhibition about the hell wreaked by Vesuvius if there weren’t casts. There is one particularly gobsmacking group of casts which is actually both moving and upsetting.  But what brings these people to life is the display of the items they chose to take with them: a set of medical tools, precious jewellery, a statue of the goddess Fortuna. It’s very sad and human.

The exhibition runs until September 29th. You can buy tickets here.

Red lipstick for beginners

Earlier this year, I decided I was going to start wearing red lipstick. I’d decided that , in my 28th year, I was going to develop the confidence to wear such an iconic shade. I did my research, started at the bottom of the intensity scale and worked my way up to the top. It does take a certain mindset to be confident enough to wear it (mine is always, “How do my teeth look?!”), but it’s possible for anyone to wear the colour of starlets and glamourpusses. I’ve decided to show you some of my favourite shades, in the hope of inspiring you to take the plunge!

Left to right: Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, Rockalily in Roulette Red, MUA in Shade 1, Accessorize in Infatuation, Poppy King for No 7 in History.

Swatches from bottom to top: Black Honey, Roulette Red, Shade 1, Infatuation, History

Your introduction to red lipstick: Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey (£16- Clinique concessions)

This is a very sheer lipstick that is nowhere near as scary as it looks in the tube! It’s almost like a balm that gives a sheer wash of colour and it’s my go-to for when I don’t fancy too much lipstick, or if I’m at work. It’s one of Clinique’s most popular products and is something of a cult favourite. It was a good introduction to having something on my lips, without being totally scary.

Best for vintage belles: Rockalily in Roulette Red (discontinued, similar shade would be MAC’s Russian Red, £14)

It’s a real shame that the Rockalily lipsticks have been discontinued- they have a really nice texture and vanilla smell, which I love. This shade of red is what I wear if I’m feeling a bit daring (or if that’s how I wish I felt!) However, a good match is MAC’s Russian Red, a similar bluish red that’s popular with Hollywood actresses, my favourite style icon Gwen Stefani and the ultimate vintage vixen, Dita Von Teese. It’s a glamorous colour that gives confidence- as long as you can get your head round the colour!

The budget favourite: MUA Shade 1 (£1, Superdrug or MUA Store)

This looks more brown in the pictures than it does in person- it’s a really nice wine red (that has more than a passing resemblance to Anne Hathaway’s lipstick in The Dark Knight Rises!) I was a bit sceptical, as a lot of the budget lipsticks are quite drying. However, this one has a really nice creamy texture and is not drying at all, which is quite surprising. It’s also got a lot of pigment and lasts a good couple of hours before fading- not bad for a super cheap lipstick! If you were wanting to start to build up to wearing lipstick, you could do worse than starting with MUA.

The sophisticated shade: Accessorize Infatuation (£4.99, Superdrug)

This looks more like a purple in the tube, but it’s an almost mulled-wine shade that’s really flattering (I first saw this shade on Cityscape Bliss– we have totally different colouring, but it works differently on both of us!) Also, the packaging is so cute. It’s a long lasting colour too- it faded after four hours! One word of warning about this one though: I found it really drying. I combat this by putting lipbalm underneath and blotting like mad.

The classic beginner’s shade: Poppy King for No7 in History (£12 Boots)

I’ve raved about this a lot on here, but it really is the best basic red I’ve found. It’s classy and invokes memories of starlets of the 1940s. It’s long-lasting, smooth-textured and the tube size is perfect for your handbag. If you buy one shade to start with, I think this should be it!

What are your favourite lipstick shades? Are you tempted to try any of these?