Not updated as regularly or as thoroughly as it should be
“Self-flagellation feels great. I guess its my kink!”
From where I sit, the life of Andrew Sean Greer doesn’t look so bad. The Pulitzer prize winning author is currently on a worldwide victory lap for Less, his fifth novel, and first mainstream commercial success. We meet for breakfast at a Mayfair hotel. Greer has just come from India, where he was treated with reverence in Jaipur and Calcutta.
“For them, it was like meeting a celebrity,” he says, amazed.
But you are a celebrity, I say. You’ve written a best selling novel. You’ve won the most prestigious literary prize in the world, and you’re only 48. And, on top of that, you’re a gay man, therefore in a class of author who usually have to be dead or closeted to be appreciated.
“Meanwhile,” he replies. “My hotel room…”
“First I started off with a blank wall with a curtain in front of it. And I thought: Am I the kind of writer who is going to call down and complain because I don’t have a window? Or am I the kind of writer who finds it funny that they don’t have a window, and it forces them to go outside and experience more? Or am I the kind of writer who moves the lamp behind the curtains and turns it on the morning so it seems like there’s sunlight?”
Which one were you?
OPERATION TRANSFORMATION: INTERVIEW WITH CANDY WARHOL
It is 9.30pm on a wet Monday evening in early March, and I am a living doll. To specify: I am not the Barbie doll that I so often see upside-down in my niece’s toy chest, who is generally naked, covered in magic marker, and sporting a homemade haircut that felt like a good idea at the time but now she deeply regrets. I am the kind of doll made for careful, polite children. My head is bowed from trying to stay steady under my huge black wig. My eyes are half-closed from the weight of my 401 lashes. My limbs are articulated with great care as I watch the world from the inner folds of this costume, watching as three men put the finishing touches on three hours of work. They are Candy Warhol, Mia Gold and Victoria Lodge. Sisters from Cork’s very first drag family, Mockie Ah.
“Oh my god,” Mia says, stepping back from the finished product. “Candy, she looks just like you.”
Mia then pauses for a second.
The four of us scream laughing, Candy whacking Mia with the heel of her fan in mock-horror.
To be clear, I am Candy’s creation. Her drag daughter, to use official parlance. Candy Warhol is the “mother” of the House of Mockie Ah, a title which means that she essentially is responsible for everything the “family” requires. From organising shows, to managing new recruits, to ensuring peace and harmony among the queens, the buck stops with Candy. Mockie Ah is unique in that it is Cork’s premier drag family: one that, for the sake of this article, I am temporarily initiated into.
“I like being a Mom,” Candy says playfully, drawing on my eyebrows, which start two inches above where my original ones sit. “Ish.”
Richard E. Grant Is the Ideal Celebrity Dinner Party Guest
VICE: When I heard you were nominated for Best Supporting Actor, I thought of this bit from your book, where you’re filming Withnail’s last scene. You write: "For some reason I have an overwhelming wish for my father to be alive, to see that I am not tearing tickets at Waterloo station as he predicted one dark night." I can imagine you’ve been feeling that a lot, these last few days.
Richard E. Grant: Yes. Totally. At any moment of great triumph or tragedy, the person that is gone… my father died so young, at 53, so he never got to see that I made a really decent living out of being an actor. He was so worried that I’d be destitute, or that I’d be tearing tickets at Waterloo station. There’s always that longing, that kid thing that you have in you that makes you say, "Watch me, mum! Watch me, dad!" Watch me do this. It doesn’t really go away, no matter what age you are.
Did you ever think there’s a parallel universe where you are tearing tickets at Waterloo station?
I know it. I know that if Daniel Day Lewis had done the part of Withnail when he was offered it in 1986, I would never have got to meet Mary, the casting director, and I would never have met Bruce Robinson. It changed my life. I see so many actors that are brilliantly talented and out of work, and they just never had the lucky break of Daniel Day Lewis turning their role down. It turns on a coin, stuff like that. I’m never not aware of how lucky that is.
Do you think being an actor, in a weird way, makes you inherently sort of spiritual? Aware of karma and luck and chance?
I don’t think of myself as spiritual in any shape or form. I don’t even know what that means. Genuinely. I was brought up without any faith whatsoever. I was brought up to read the Bible and things, and went to Sunday school as a boy, but after my mother left when I was 11 – left my father – I prayed. And I got no answer. So I gave up on it. That was the very last time I had any kind of spiritual life.
My experience is that it’s based on being opportunistic, and having the guts, pig-headedness or blind ambition to grab something when it comes and make the best out of it as you can. It’s pragmatic. When you go to an awards ceremony and you’re surrounded by actors, and you see actors schmoozing directors and writers and other actors… everybody’s kind of on the make. That’s schmoozing.
Are you a good schmoozer?
Ha! No. I’m trying to learn the art of being in a crowd, at an awards event or something, and talking to someone for three to five minutes, and then just get out of that conversation and go speak to someone else. I’m usually the muggins who sits and talks to someone, even if they’re boring me to paralysis, I’ll carry on out of politeness. I’ll be going, "Oh yes? And where did you go on your summer holiday?" when what I really want to be doing is talking to Steven Spielberg over their shoulder.
And then in Hollywood – and certainly at the BAFTAs – you get people who just say "excuse me" and bugger off. Or they don’t even say excuse me! They just go and talk to someone who they deem to be more useful.
Meanwhile, you’re talking to someone’s aunt who’s a dental nurse.
I know! Sometimes I wish I wasn’t constrained by the middle class upbringing and the urge to actually complete a conversation. That’s when you need a publicist to come up to you and say, "You need to speak to this person."
Haha! "Needed." Imagine.
Your career is full of a lot of paradoxes, isn’t it? You play drunks and you don’t drink; you play English gentlemen when you’re from Swaziland; you play sexual deviants when you’ve been married to the same woman for years and years.
I know! I’m waiting to be in The Daily Shame for some terrible scandal.
Maybe I’m projecting on you too much, because I’ve been living in England for almost ten years as an Irish writer, but when you’re from the colonies…
Which we are!
Which we are. I find you’re in a better place to observe people because you’ll never be one of them.
Bullseye. Completely accurate.
So you’ve just been doing that your whole life, really.
My whole life. Yes. The English, as a tribe, are very adept at letting you know that you’re not one of them. As I’m sure you know. They say: "Oh, you’re fromSwaziland." And there’s this whiff in the air that you’re not quite one of us.
Do women have a specific reaction to you?
I just feel like you’re our friend, you know? We got you for Spice World. We got you for Girls. Now you’re teaming up with Melissa McCarthy. There’s just a sense that you like hanging out with women. And you don’t always get that with actors.
[Laughing, bemused] Well, my best friend’s a woman. I’ve always loved women, my wife’s a woman, my daughter’s a woman! I don’t know! I’m delighted and flattered, though. I’ve learned almost everything from them, and the people I admire most are women. I mean, you’re still a complete mystery to me, but that’s how I feel. And if that transmits, then that’s all part of the same thing.
Because all this comes so naturally to you, I don’t think you quite understand the effect that you have in this film. The role you play as Jack in this film is almost the exact same role as a Bond girl does in a Bond film.
Bear with me. You saunter into this film like a cat…
Ha! Now this is a first. This is the Irish logic that I have always identified with, right from the beginning, because I absolutely get what you’re talking about – but of course, it’s completely insane. Right, go on, I come in like a Bond girl.
You slink in like a cat, and you sort of saunter around Melissa McCarthy. Your job in the heist is to go into all these book shops, and flirt your arse off. You work the room because she’s unable to do so.
Ha! Wow. Yeah! You’re absolutely right! I am a Bond girl! And how funny, because I live in Richmond, and three doors up from me lives a woman who was a Bond girl in Doctor No. She’s in her eighties now. The bus stop is right outside her house, and when I see her coming out to get her post, I think: 'Oh my god, you're a Bond girl. You’ll be one forever.'
But I don’t think every man in Hollywood would be comfortable playing the Bond girl to Melissa McCarthy’s Bond.
You can’t be a heavily testosterised Bruce Willis and play Jack Hock. You have to willingly know that Melissa McCarthy is going to be earning much more money than you, and that she is the lead, and that the director’s a woman. You’re in the position that most women are generally in, really, in movies. With most women, it’s a male director and a male lead.
I’m Melissa’s bitch, is what I’m saying. Ooh, that’s a good title? I’m Melissa’s Bitch. Willingly! Gleefully! I’m going to join the MeToo movement and say, "I have to be paid the same as Melissa McCarthy for my next movie! Sort it out!"
I’m going to turn up to the Oscars with a shirt that says, "I’m Melissa’s Bitch."
This is the only film I’ve seen with a HIV positive character who doesn’t die on screen, and who’s a hero. How do you go into that role, knowing that this terrible disease has killed so many people, and still bring that energy?
HIs hedonism is the very thing that wrote his death warrant, because there was no cure, at that point in time, and he was very promiscuous. But at the same time, you know that if somebody… I had a friend and an actor that I worked with, a man called Ian Charleston, who was Scottish and in Chariots of Fire. He died of AIDS at the age of 40, in 1990. And he lived for the day, in the day, to the maximum of that day.
And that is what Jack essentially does. If he’s got 20 bucks in his pocket, he’s not saving it for a rainy day, because he knows there isn’t going to be one. He spends. I think it’s a great way of living. I wish I lived like that. I’m too worried, too paranoid. But that’s not him. For him, life’s a party until you can’t dance anymore.
‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’ is out on the 1st of February.
About a year ago, and after almost forgetting the term entirely, I started hearing the term “chick-lit” a lot. I had just written my first novel, Promising Young Women, and people seemed to be taking their time deciding whether or not the term suited it. The book starred some young women (some of whom could arguably be described as “sassy”), had an urban setting and had a romance as its central plot point.
“It’s not… it’s not chick-lit though, is it?”
They said it as though it were an outdated slur that they would rather not use. And for a while, I played along. I spent a lot of time hyping up what I thought to be the more “literary” aspects of the novel – the magical realism, the body horror, the downbeat ending – as a way of communicating that my book was not like those books. Eventually, I got really, really tired of doing this. That happens when you’re promoting a book. People ask you what it’s about and you eventually pare down your explanation to its finest point, its neatest soundbite. That’s when you find out what kind of book it really is. “It’s about a girl who fucks her boss,” I started saying. And then, a few months after that, I shortened it to three words: “Girl fucks boss.”
This week I had a doctor’s appointment to remove the contraceptive implant in my arm. Despite knowing that this had been on the horizon for years, I was still quaking with dread at the thought of it.
About three years after I left Ireland, I came to a stunning realisation about my new-found London friend group, and it was this: they were all Protestants. It was the kind of stunning revelation that turned out to be fairly obvious all along — like Soylent Green being people, or mayonnaise being the best pizza condiment, but it was thrilling to me nonetheless.
When we tell women that they are pulling a Marie Antoinette, we phrase it like a caution, but we mean it as a threat. We are not talking about the joys of her life, or the struggles of her existence – we are talking about how spending too much and living too much as a woman are transgressions that are punishable by death. It’s a rap on the knuckles, a Grimm’s fairytale we tell to girls and then keep telling to grown women. And that, perhaps, is why Marie Antoinette works so well. Her powdered hair, her opulent gowns, her excessively cartoon-able image, make it seem that she was born a cautionary tale and was never really a human at all.
INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE FLACK AND TOM CHAMBERS
“Hey, that’s a backstage secret,” says Tom. Now they’re both making pig snorts.
“It’s one of my favourite parts of the show.”
Musical theatre is not for the glory-hunter: the schedule is gruelling, the workload is intense, and you need to take your little pig-faced joys where you can get them. Especially with this type of musical theatre.
Seven doors down from me, opposite the Chinese supermarket, live two very old and somewhat-famous gangsters. I won’t name them now, because they are very easily Google-able, and having been in and out of prison for so much of their 80-odd years (“I’ve had more porridge than the three bears, luv”), I think they have probably earned a bit of peace and quiet now.
I am sitting opposite Karl Ove Knausgaard, the best-selling Norwegian novelist, and he has just told me that toast – as in, lightly grilled breakfast bread – reminds him of Jesus. Then he’s talking about a brain surgery he once witnessed (an experience he describes as “absolutely fantastic”) and then we’re back on toast.
I am alone on a country road, and I am trying to free a sheep.
(A ram, I should say. Maybe if I specify “ram” rather than sheep, you’ll be more understanding about how I merely tried to free him, rather than successfully completing the act.)
I am alone on a country road, and I am trying to free a ram.
David Sedaris writing your name into his notebook isn’t just seeing how the sausage gets made: you’re left with the curious sensation that you are the sausage.
How hashtags are changing the world
“The internet isn’t some shallow bird bath,” says Sarah Maria Griffin (@sarahgriffski), author and online activist involved in Ireland’s #RepealThe8th campaign to abolish the abortion-banning Eighth Amendment. “It runs deeper every year. It allows breathing room for pieces of art, writing and media that couldn’t make it through ‘traditional’ mediums because they’re too radical. Or, in Ireland’s case, because it rubs against the church in a way they don’t like.”
Why Don't We Hear More About Women's Sport?
The Women’s Cricket World Cup started on Saturday, but you knew that already, didn’t you? You were watching on a big screen, through your fingers, as England lost by a whopping 35 runs to India in Derby. You looked up the match calendar on BBC Sports, you read up about your favourite players, yeah?
No, me neither.
Girl on The Train’s Paula Hawkins: ‘People think terrible things’
“And older women who don’t keep up with appearances are laughed at or pointed at. Isn’t that ridiculous? And that’s just one example. There are all these different ways that we tell women to be quiet, or to sit down, or to not take up so much space.”
They say that horror movies are always popular in times of upheaval because it gives people a safe space to work out their most private fears. During the Cold War the “Red scare” was replicated by a stream of “strangers from another planet” movies. During the 1960s, zombie movies reflected a generation of men who feared becoming mindless killing machines in the Vietnam war.
Romy, Michele and why women should be allowed to be mediocre, too
It’s easy to write a hard-as-nails female detective or a brilliant woman surgeon into your story, but the mark of true equality isn’t about celebrating female exceptionalism – it’s the acceptance of female mediocrity. Feminism is supposed to mean equality for everyone – and that “everyone” applies across boundaries of race, class, age and wits. I’m glad we have Sheryl Sandbergs, Michelle Obamas and Emma Watsons to inspire us, but I think we need Romys and Micheles to keep us sane.
I learnt how to deal with life by learning how to deal with Scrabble
I have a friend who recently found out she was dyspraxic.
As she listed the many symptoms – bad balance, poor hand-eye coordination, difficulty in telling left from right – I found myself becoming uncomfortable.
“But, surely,” I said, with my cynical gosh-they-have-a-word-for-everything-now-don’t-they hat on.
“That’s not a disorder. That’s just being a bit…”
I thought back to my childhood of finding everything physical so horribly difficult.
“That’s just being a bit useless.”
She shook her head. “The thing is, it’s massively under-diagnosed in women, because girls find coping mechanisms so early on. Girls learn to find ways to blend in.”
I went home and read about it. Is there a reason I found so many things difficult in childhood? Is there a reason why, when I turned about eight, my speech became mumbled and slurred out of nowhere? Why I was the last one to learn to tie my shoes? Why I couldn’t knit a snowman, or memorise my times tables, like every single other girl in my class could? Suddenly, the questions I had been asking my whole life – why can everyone else do this, and why can’t you? – made brutal sense to me. Because maybe, Caroline, maybe your brain legitimately is a little different to other people's.
I don’t know whether or not I have dyspraxia, but I do know that I struggled. I don't know if my parents ever worried about me. It was the 90s, it was Ireland and my parents didn't necessarily have the tools to deal with a kid who may have been just a little more awkward than was strictly normal. They didn’t have the language. They didn’t have the resources. But what they did have was Scrabble.
I Am Not Your Negro, a film that shows history repeats itself
Raoul Peck knows that you’re uncomfortable with the name of his film. In fact, he’s not always comfortable about it himself.
“When I went through the immigration borders, the guy is like “what are you here for?” says Peck, incredibly perky for someone who has been promoting his film – scripted entirely from the work of writer James Baldwin – for three months. “I said “I’m promoting my film.” And he asked me – big smile on his face – “what’s the name of your film?”
Raoul Peck puts his hands to his face at the memory. “I Am Not Your Negro. And he gives me this big double take.”
We laugh. Not least because, as a white journalist, I found it uncomfortable to even ask where the screening room for his film was, a fact which he finds hilarious.
“I know that journalists have a problem even saying the word. But let’s have a true, true conversation. Why are we afraid of words? Because they’re loaded. But why are they loaded? Because there’s so much misunderstanding between everybody. It’s like being in a family: there are certain things you won’t say, because if you do, everything will come crashing down. But at what point do you have that necessary conversation?”
The problem with being a secret Richard Curtis fan
As published on The Pool 22/03/2017
If you want to start a fist fight at The Pool, all you need to do is bring up Richard Curtis.
Every time, it splits the room. There have been raised voices over About Time (“He TRICKS his wife into fancying him!”), The Boat That Rocked (“They TRICK a woman into sleeping with someone she doesn’t want to sleep with!”) and, unfailingly, about Love Actually. “Every storyline basically ends up with man-wins-nice-woman-as-a-prize!” the Curtis haters will say. “And can we talk about how creepy the placards scene is?”
Me, I tend to be a Richard Curtis apologist. Like a lot of women, I accept that it is my responsibility to fight for female causes during the day, and my right to take off my bra and watch America’s Next Top Model at night. My brain is like an exotic bird that, every now and then, just needs a blanket thrown over its cage so it can get some sleep.
Do our partners need to accept our flaws – or is it up to us to work on them?
As published on The-Pool.com 09/03/2017
I flip-flop on the word “flaws” a lot. On the one hand, they’re something that we have been taught to embrace in ourselves and in others. The internet’s foremost dating service, match.com, hinges their entire advertising campaign on the idea of “loving” your imperfections, and encourages customers that there is someone out their to appreciate your flaws. A fucked-up pot for every fucked-up lid, so to speak. “Someone out there who loves your dad jokes,” promised one poster. “Someone out there who really digs your Running Man,” said another. But what if your dad jokes are awkward and racist? What if your Running Man isn’t necessarily appropriate at a funeral? Do you deserve a lid for your pot if your pot voted UKIP?
When it comes to sex, why do we love being told what we already know?
As published on The-Pool.com on 07/03/2017
Here are some stray observations about sex that I have picked up over the last decade:
Sex feels good with someone you fancy, and best with someone you love.
Occasionally, you will have sex with someone you don’t love or fancy as a way to pass the time. This will feel less good, but might result in a fun anecdote you can tell your friends later.
There are some things that you will enjoy about sex that will confuse you, and will make you wonder whether you’re a bad feminist for enjoying them. Usually, you are not being a bad feminist if you are enjoying yourself.
Men who won’t give oral sex but expect to receive it are usually as selfish in their daily lives as they are in their sexual ones.
There is nothing – nothing – in this world more mood-breaking than the trumpeting sound of air rapidly leaving your vagina.
But you know all this, don’t you? You know all this and much, much more. Because, ultimately, despite how hard sex articles from the 90s worked to make us think that there were 99 ways to please our lovers, for most people there are fairly few. Even if you showed me the kinkiest, most liberal-minded couple in the world, I’m willing to bet that it almost always ends the same way: with two people sweating, their heads on their pillows, exchanging small, tinkling laughs about the thing they just did. Gay sex, straight sex, sexy sex, good sex, bad sex – it’s all coming from the same buffet table of carnal desire. Desire is the same, regardless of who that desire is pointed at. Orgasming is the same, regardless of who you’re orgasming with.
Ed Sheeran's new song "Galway Girl" is unintentionally hilarious
First published on The-Pool.com 03/03/2017
I have, somehow, managed to go my entire life without forming a solid opinion on Ed Sheeran. I have listened to people passionately defend him, and I have listened to people rant about how he’s destroying the music industry as we know it. And to both these arguments, I have nothing to offer but a hard “meh”. Having a strong feeling about Ed Sheeran is like having a strong feeling about Radox body wash.
Today, however, I have broken my “meh” stance on Ed Sheeran, because I’ve decided that Ed Sheeran has written the greatest comedy song of his generation of songwriters. Because today, Ed Sheeran released his latest song “Galway Girl”.
For those of you with Irish friends and/or an Irish pub near your house, you’ll know the original Galway Girl. Steve Earle recorded it with Irish artist Sharon Shannon in 2008, and it quickly became famous in Ireland after it was featured in a Bulmer’s Cider advert. Ed, clearly inspired by this timeless cultural classic from, errr, 2008, decided to release his own version.
It can’t be overstated enough that Ed Sheeran’s description of meeting an Irish woman is a direct window into the soul of every man who has ever tried to chat up an Irish – or indeed, any non-English person with a recognisable heritage – woman at a bar. Despite the fact that, intellectually, they know that Ireland is a modern country with supermarkets and hospitals, there’s some deeply-rooted scrap of social conditioning that tells them otherwise. That meeting you has transformed their quiet Tuesday night at the pub into that massive party scene that all the passengers in steerage have in Titanic. That he is Rose, and you are one of those jig-dancing, whisky-drinking, devil-may-care peasants ready to give him some folksy advice and a quick handy under your prayer shawl.
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