Monday, April 02, 2007

Who Needs Talent?

When I was sixteen-and-a-half years old, a 16-year-old girl got her own column in the Sunday Times. Until that point I hadn’t really thought too much about who wrote what - I devoured the lot with an uncritical eye.

But I loathed Emma Forrest straightaway.

Partly, I suppose, it was down to her age. Mind you, I had no hatred of the equally precocious Caitlin Moran. In fact I rather liked her and still do. But mainly I wondered how Emma scored such an incredible break?

(Now, of course, I know that her mother is a writer who has done a lot of work for British television and her dad is president of the British Law Society…strange, really, that such opportunities are never offered to girls whose mothers are canteen cooks. Back them I didn’t even know about the existence of private schools with fees twice what I earned last year, nor could I imagine that someone my own age would be acquainted with the fairly well-connected Nigella Lawson, who would just gift you a Sunday Times writing gig.)

Mainly though, I hated Emma Forrest because her writing was so irredeemably dreadful. Even as a wet-behind-the-ears adolescent I could see that. I still remember her wittering on about the Manic Street Preachers. Jesus. It was bad.

Then I left home and happily she dropped off the radar.

There were still dark days though. Her name would crop up every now and again in a magazine or newspaper and I would think, "How in the name of Jesus is she still working? She must be 22/28/whatever by now and she still can’t write for shit!"

Even the fact that she had gotten really quite fat* didn’t give me any pleasure. Oh, OK, maybe a little bit.

Then I read an article in the Guardian Travel Section that shook me to the core. Emma Forrest and her ‘best friend’ Barbara Ellen had gone on holiday together.


My favourite and least favourite writers – best mates? How could that happen?

(The article must have appeared before the Grauniad went on the internets so I can’t link, but I'll surmise.)

Emma and Barbara, best friends (I still can’t think about that), go on holiday together. I can’t remember where, but somewhere laid-back and beachy with sea-front bars serving beer till dawn. Lovely. Except Emma doesn’t drink. (What sort of a cunting journalist, by the way, doesn’t fucking drink?)

Fair enough, not everybody likes boozing. But Emma insists on spending the entire holiday in the apartment, curtains drawn, reading. Barbara wants to go to the pub but doesn’t want to abandon Emma. And Emma stays in during the day too. During one poignant passage Barbara escapes and self-consciously goes for a walk on the beach by herself.

The article was written by both women – she says/she says - as a sort of ‘the perils of going on holiday with your best mate’ piece.

If I could have been arsed I would have written a letter along the lines of:

Dear Miss Ellen,

What a delicious method of exacting revenge on Emma Forrest after she ruined your holiday - juxtaposing your own fabulous prose with her barely-coherent sixth-form shite. Terribly harsh, but well done – that should be the last we hear of her for a while, eh?

PS – you can be my friend instead. I like red wine and going out and indie-rock music - you’ll love me! I’m free this weekend, next weekend, for holidays - anytime really. Call me! Don’t bring the kids, mind.

Anyhow, in the meantime, Emma Forrest has moved to the US (thank fuck) and had three novels published. Novels. She still churns out the occasional magazine article though, giving us the joy of lines such as: "I have always worn make-up to write: red lipstick for journalism, coloured mascara for novels, bronzer for screenplays."



Have you ever seen such gibberish?

I don’t imagine her sales figures are keeping Sophie Kinsella awake at night, but I guess she must have shifted a few copies here and there. Although just how tremendously fucking awful must your reviews have been to have to resort to using quotes from Amazon readers (and Julie Burchill)?

If you’re thinking of reading one of her books (and perversely, I am now), here’s a fabulous Digested Read.

So what lesson have we learned today children? That it doesn’t matter how fucking useless you are at anything as long as Mummy and Daddy’re rich and well-connected You’ll Be Fine.

Woah - hold the front page – Emma Forrest has a blog! It’s not good kids. Really. This woman, may I remind you, has been a professional writer for 15 years. She's almost as inept as GWABFA, who does at least have the defence of amateurism.

*btw she’s not fat any more, I should make that clear. Bulimia, of course. ISSUES ISSUES ISSUES

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  • Had a quick look at her blog.
    It is quite poor isn't it?

    I particularly liked the July entry on "how loopy" it was that she hadn't posted since January...

    By Blogger Beth, at 9:49 PM  

  • I've never heard of Emma Forrest, but she sounds loathsome. I'll hate her on your behalf.

    By Blogger Chaucer's Bitch, at 10:03 PM  

  • Oh god - she might have to be the next munter of the week no less! I might have to write to Barbara E too - how could she? I love her. Perhaps they are not friends anymore after that disastrous best friend holiday?

    By Blogger rockmother, at 10:21 PM  

  • Oh my God - I just checked out her blog. She is odious and very bland.

    By Blogger rockmother, at 10:26 PM  

  • Having read her blog, she's supposed to be a professional? These are truly the end days...

    By Blogger Billy, at 10:39 PM  

  • Oh, she really isn't very good. Her subject matter is usually quite dull, and I can forgive that if the writing's good, but it ain't. The picture of her stretching to close a blind in her bra is perhaps the most ludicrous of all the blatantly and unrealistically posed pictures in her 'day in the life' on flickr. "Wittering about the manics" too - what a loser... ~cough cough~

    Love Barbara Ellen though, only good thing about the Observer magazine.

    By Blogger violetforthemoment, at 10:46 PM  

  • I used to feel the same way about Victoria Coren but she actually can write. This woman's blog is appalling. So satisfying...

    By Blogger GreatSheElephant, at 10:56 PM  

  • I thought I hadn't heard of her, but your recounting of the disastrous holiday article rang a bell. I remember reading that and thinking "why?"

    I loved the Digested Read.

    On a similar theme, I was musing the other day on how I know some seriously talented people and wondering on where they would have ended up if they'd been born in another area/gone to Oxbridge/had moneyed parents.

    By Blogger Doris, at 11:09 PM  

  • Didn't Julie Burchill (who is preposterous but quite fun to have around) once call her the second best writer in Britain at one point?

    By Blogger Tim Footman, at 1:43 AM  

  • Well I see she found a home amongst her equally empty-headed kindred spirits here in LA.

    Shall I stalk her for you? Key her car? I'm from East LA, I got it in me!

    By Blogger yezenia, at 5:27 AM  

  • I just want to send respect to you. There have been a couple of times I have hated a figure in pop culture as much as you hate me - when you know you're being sort of irrational but they just make your teeth itch. I guess I am to you as Gwyneth is to me. It hurts - a lot - when you're just trying to live your life, do your work and be kind to the world around you. But I will take it as a badge of honour. If you love Barbara Ellen, you will enjoy the story she wrote for my new book, 'Damage Control', up on amazon for pre-order, all proceeds to a wonderful charity I work with: 'Woman For Women International'.



    By Blogger Emma, at 5:44 AM  

  • Whoa, Emma posted her "smackdown" on her blog as well.

    Damn you, Spinny, look what you provoked: she'd been blissfully quiet for three whole months...

    Anyway, pick a charity (what's appropriate? A sex-positive one like The Terrence Higgins Trust?).

    We're behind you.

    By Blogger Amanda Castleman, at 6:31 AM  

  • oh my goodness.
    have you been there recently? she posted up a little answer to your post.
    by which she is 'hoist by her own petard', sadly.

    By Blogger First Nations, at 9:22 AM  

  • ...and i see she already posted it herownself, here.
    oh goodness.

    By Blogger First Nations, at 9:25 AM  

  • Not a smackdown at all. Just trying to find some common ground and common good instead of dwelling on getting upset - and Barbara Ellen's fantastic writing is a good place to start, for a very good cause. Francesca Lia Block's story is also wonderful, as is Helen Oyeyemi's. Night all, and best - EF

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:30 AM  

  • funnily enough - quite a mature response from EF

    By Blogger Kirses, at 10:33 AM  

  • 'It hurts - a lot - when you're just trying to live your life, do your work and be kind to the world around you.'
    I bet that's what Margaret Thatcher said.

    By Blogger KAZ, at 10:39 AM  

  • I'm quite impressed Emma poked her head round the door here.

    By Blogger Billy, at 11:09 AM  

  • lovely display of maturity, but i'm still not impressed by anyone whose career got started, not becuase of what s/he coud do, but purely because of who his/her parents are. i resent priveledge. (for the very obvious reason that i didn't get any.)

    By Blogger Chaucer's Bitch, at 11:40 AM  

  • I've always loathed the smugness of Emma Forrest, the way she used to imply she was having an affair with Rob Newman when she was a teenager.

    And of course, if it was true, I'M JEALOUS.


    Bitter, Unsuccessful Middle-Aged Journo

    By Anonymous minxy, at 12:38 PM  

  • In defence of people who attended public school, some of them are quite normal people whose parents had unremarkable jobs (e.g. teachers) and who didn't pay for their kids to go to the public school in question because the kids got a scholarship, and in any case the kids didn't have a say as to whether they wanted to go to the school in question or not, and in fact were quite happy at their local comprehensive, but their parents, or more specifically, their grandparents, had misguided Social Ambitions for them, ambitions which for the most part backfired, as these kids do not even today have fabulous meeja jobs nor the keys to Nigella's flat nor have they ever been on holiday with Barbara Ellen.

    There are quite a lot of us.

    By Blogger patroclus, at 1:04 PM  

  • They piss me off, these 'celebrity' bloggers who don't read other blogs unless they're mentioned themselves. She's got a blog but the Telegraph doesn't really count as a proper link. You've got to read other blogs and link to them to be part of this. I looked on her blog and watched the tumbleweed roll past.

    And we've got a charity book, too. So ner.

    By Blogger Geoff, at 1:47 PM  

  • The blog: "The gift of being a third-wave feminist is that we got to write searching, funny, initmate essays about our relationship to our looks." Vacuous does not entirely cover the point. Neither infact does vain. To be both vain and vacuous to such a degree is quite a gift.

    Well targetted Spinny but PLEASE stop reading the sodding Guardian it only encourages this type of Middle English (or indeed American) drivel. You'd get more integrity reading Femail.

    By Anonymous Fidel, at 1:48 PM  

  • "In defence of people who attended public school, some of them are quite normal people whose parents had unremarkable jobs (e.g. teachers) and who didn't pay for their kids to go to the public school in question because the kids got a scholarship, and in any case the kids didn't have a say as to whether they wanted to go to the school in question or not, and in fact were quite happy at their local comprehensive, but their parents, or more specifically, their grandparents, had misguided Social Ambitions for them, ambitions which for the most part backfired, as these kids do not even today have fabulous meeja jobs nor the keys to Nigella's flat nor have they ever been on holiday with Barbara Ellen."

    Do they not teach you to use full stops at these privare schools then, P?

    Great post, Spin. Nice to see someone else making the fur fly for a change...

    By Blogger Bob Swipe, at 2:23 PM  

  • have to admit that i never heard of her before now - how ignorant am i? but it does piss me orf tremendously, as a writer (cos i am one, you know - 4th novel out in june), the way people with the right connections just float into the sundays, wafted there on friendly zephyrs, while nonentities like me have to scrabble around for any passing mention we can get.
    (btw - wonder how she knew she'd featured in your blog - maybe, like me, she goggles herself obsessively)

    By Anonymous rivergirlie, at 3:54 PM  

  • er - googles.

    By Anonymous rivergirlie, at 3:56 PM  

  • "You'd get more integrity reading Femail."

    Don't do it, you might end up reading something by Liz Jones.


    By Blogger Billy, at 4:48 PM  

  • Emma's now taken down reference to your blog on her blog...heh heh...

    By Anonymous Minxy, at 5:28 PM  

  • A-hahahahahahahahaha!

    "Head On - it's so fucking punk rock"

    She can't spell either.


    By Blogger Five-Centres, at 5:34 PM  

  • Ooooooh!

    (I don't hate all ex-public-school people btw. Special exceptions are available for my friends (I've actually got several - I guess I'm their token bit-of-rough-mate), people who have given me work (one or two of them), and Bloggers That I Like (er, several of youse)).

    I would start reading the Mail but then you'd get ranty posts like this every day and there'd be no time to tell you all about my hopeless love life. L*z J*n*s I find quite entertaining in a Good-fucking-god kind of way.

    PS - hello Emma.

    Don't be upset - remember that this is only the anonymous blog of a made-up non-existent internet persona.

    Right then kids - I'm off to buy some blue mascara now so I can start my novel...

    By Blogger Spinsterella, at 7:17 PM  

  • "I just want to send respect to you." Oh please. You just want to try to make Spin feel bad by reminding her that you're a real person with real feelings - well I fancy that she knows that, being generally of sound mind, and I also fancy that this really won't make her buy your book. But hey - life's cruel to people who "just try to be kind to the world around them". You delicate flowers. You're "just trying to live your life" - well this blog ain't stopping you! The comment wasn't emailed to you directly or sent to your home scrawled in pig's blood so quit playing the victim cos someone's expressed an opinion about you on their personal site. I'm sure it does hurt but people disagreeing with you, particularly about something as personal as your writing, will do that.

    Sorry, the tone of the response really wound me up there. I don't hate Emma Forrest, I just choose not to read her writing. This short paragraph has dropped her in my estimation a little though. If I was going to retort to a post about myself I'd make sure I'd thought it through first.

    ~gets off soapbox~ Sorry Spin. Got carried away a bit there.

    By Blogger violetforthemoment, at 8:44 PM  

  • I remember feeling this way at first about Victoria Coren and Caitlin Moran but they can both write. I love Barbara E also and can't quite believe that she would choose a best friend who doesn't drink. Poor Babs.

    By Anonymous Tedward's Missing Ear, at 8:47 PM  

  • Awesome. Blitch-fight!

    By Blogger LC, at 11:38 PM  

  • Anyone remember Bidisha?

    By Blogger Tim Footman, at 3:21 AM  

  • Ooh, sorry Spin, I got a bit carried away and unpunctuated. It's safe to say I have a huge complex about the whole 'public school people are evil' and 'posh people are evil' thing, which sometimes gets the better of me.

    Anyway, what I meant to say was, for some reason I was not aware of this Emma Forrest, but she doesn't seem like my cup of tea. I can probably forgive her for having a rubbish blog - after all, a blog doesn't have to be a work of art - but I find the idea of having to wear a certain type of makeup to write a certain type of document a bit strange.

    I mean, I very much like fancy underwear, but I don't get it mixed up with my day job. 'Ooh, today I have to write a white paper about the Banking System of the Future - I'd better wear my slightly gothic green and purple push-up bra'.

    Nope, I can't say I've ever thought anything like that.

    By Blogger patroclus, at 8:05 AM  

  • lifts and SEPA-rates

    sorry - that's a bad banking/underwear joke for Patroclus

    By Blogger GreatSheElephant, at 11:14 AM  

  • incidentally, I should add that public school and Oxbridge in no way guarantees a life of success, publishing deals and task themed makeup. I am living proof of that

    By Blogger GreatSheElephant, at 11:16 AM  

  • Bidisha is now offering ill-informed comment on Radio 4's Front Row arts programme.

    By Anonymous minxy, at 11:23 AM  

  • GSE: Nice work!

    Everyone else: Who or what is Bidisha?

    By Blogger patroclus, at 11:54 AM  

  • From what I remember, Bidisha used to write for the NME during the riot grrl era when she was about seven or something. I think she'd already written a couple of novels while she was in her teens, but don't quote me on it.

    By Blogger Betty, at 12:48 PM  

  • By Blogger Bowleserised, at 1:33 PM  

  • When I said read Femail instead I didn't actually mean read it. Please. Obviously reading the Guardian or Observer Women will do you some minor permanent damage and will introduce you to all sorts of bile inducing smugness. Femail on the other hand will reduce your mind to apple-sauce in seconds and then tell you how to season and cook it. What indeed should the thinking mans internet heroine read of a Sunday ? I do not presume to advise but just ask.

    By Anonymous fidel, at 2:23 PM  

  • Fidel: The Economist. Or Wired. Or at a push, the Observer Music Monthly. Who says women have to read 'women's' publications? I'd rather read almost anything else.

    By Blogger patroclus, at 4:19 PM  

  • I missed the Bidesha years, it seems. Or perhaps I've been more successful in blocking the Riot Grrl years out than I'd realised.

    Anyhow, as I've said a billion times MM pissed all over NME.

    Gothic underwear eh? I like the sound of that.

    I must be losing my touch or something but Peaches Geldolf's colums in G2 the other day didn't make steam come out of my ears.

    By Blogger Spinsterella, at 5:54 PM  

  • I bought Bidisha's first novel - I was a bit disappointed - it wasn't very good at all.

    By Blogger rockmother, at 8:25 PM  

  • how long do you have to have gone to public school to become a twat, anyway? I went three years.

    *raises garbage can lid aloft and sighs*

    By Blogger First Nations, at 9:39 PM  

  • Having gone to a comprehensive and gone on to attain an MA, I'm in the strange position of being (and, let's face it, sounding) well-educated and middle-class but able to play the 'less-privileged' card at need.

    Where someone went to school had never seemed as important to me as what they do afterwards.

    In the end, though, sadly it really is Who You Know.

    By Blogger corin, at 1:05 AM  

  • ohmygod - I swear I saw Barbara Ellen in the ICA bar this evening - she was very animated - couldn't see who she was with (if it was her - but I am sure it was).

    By Blogger rockmother, at 1:36 AM  

  • "In the end, sadly, it really is who you know."

    Case study: Bidisha.

    "She was educated at Oxford University (BA, English Literature, spec. Old and Middle English) and the London School of Economics (MSc, Moral and Political Philosophy and Economic History).

    In 1998 and 1999 she worked on various projects in TV and art. Duckworth published her second novel, Too Fast To Live, in spring 2000. From 2000 to 2002 she was an arts critic and broadsheet reviewer for BBC London and has since appeared on various radio and TV shows commenting on the arts and social issues. Bidisha has contributed to the following anthologies: Wild Ways, Typical Girls (both Sceptre), Retro Retro (Serpent's Tail), Between You and Me (The Women's Press) and Annual (Vision On) and given talks and readings at the Royal Festival Hall, The Globe Theatre, The Museum of London and various other venues here and abroad.

    In November 2001 Bidisha published The Stealth Corporation, a compendium of contemporary fiction, journalism and design featuring specially-commissioned writing by Maggie O'Farrell, Scarlett Thomas, Molly Jong-Fast, Alicia Erian and Lana Citron and images by Carolin Kurz, Louise Dignand and Zoe Mendelson. The project garnered favourable media coverage and was sold in London, Tokyo, New York, Paris and Berlin."

    Must have been one *fuck* of a lot of agents, publishers, radio commisioners, gallery curators etc. at her comp.

    Bet hers didn't have pupils who sat at the back, wanking either...*

    L.U.V. on ya,


    *Slyly sneaked in Alan Bennett reference to hint that despite chavish upbringing and lack of public school/Oxbridge, Swipe is capable of more elevated concerns and, occasionally, behaviour that could almost be described as vaguely sentient.

    By Blogger Robert Swipe, at 11:37 AM  

  • Don't know where you get your info, but a very quick Google tells me that her father is hardly "President of the British Law Society" (whatever that is, sounds potentially quite socialist to me) - but, rather, he headed up a local law society. And her mother gets exactly one hit on IMDB, from 1984. So I'm not sure that her 'privileges'/ 'connections' are really anything more than having been schooled somewhere that helped her write, and later making some powerful friends.

    The reason I'm interested is that I went to the same school and know that many pupils were from fairly 'ordinary' - albeit middle class - backgrounds, their attendance funded by the assisted places scheme. It's hardly Eton.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:41 PM  

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