Tark And Mara Do Fashion… And Scottish Independence

Mara's ThistleMara was spitting fire.

“Please stop spraying lighter fluid on that naked flame, my little pyronymphomaniac,” said Tark, lounging against the Baby Grand in the open-plan concert kitchen of their Dublin penthouse, a post-flight gin and tonic in his hand. He had been expecting his wife to explode ever since their private jet had touched down.  “If a second Damien Hirst goes up, we’ll never be able to claim on the insurance.”

“I’m angry,” said Mara.

“I know, my darling. I knew that the moment you picked up the banana.”

Mara’s brow furrowed; at least, her eyes turned steely with the determination of her brows to meet in the middle, despite the fact that they could not, and indeed had not, since 1997.

“They didn’t feature me at all,” she said. “Not one picture on Instagram. Facebook, niente. Even Pinterest has shunned me. How can someone making a unique statement in vintage M&S not get pictured at London Fashion Week?”

“But really, did you want to be mixed in with the Great Unwashed?”

“They’re supposed to be unwashed, Tark. Unwashed is the new clean.”

“You don’t say.”

“You shouldn’t be saying anything, Tark! You promised me that wearing actual granny dresses, from actual grannies, would get me the cover of Tatler. And where am I now? Borderline Hello! Magazine. I remember the days when we refused to take their call. How could you bring me so low?”

Tark leapt away from the piano in a surprisingly agile move for such a short, squat man. His wife’s words hit him like weapons-grade botox needles.

Grand Piano for a kitchen

He had been so sure. Perhaps that was the problem: a life-long inability to get anything wrong whatsoever had resulted in him becoming complacent.

He fingered the heavy orange frames of his 0% magnification glasses and thought back to their conquest of the Global Retro Vintage Hipster Shabby Chic Ironic Cool Symposium the previous August. Before the arrival of Tark, it had been unheard of for a hairless man to climb to the dizzying heights of such ubiquitously bearded style.

And Mara had been stupendous. Never before had a woman over the age of 25 managed to viciously put down so many former trendsetters. The trail of destruction she left in her wake had coined the moniker for the latest trailblazers on the block – The Scoffingtons – and made her an icon of ageing billionaires everywhere.

He had to rescue their image. He had miscalculated badly with the 70’s florals: he could see that now that the mist had cleared from the two hundred Vapers in the fashion show audience.

It was the shampoo-and-set which had brought it too far.

 

“Rubber band of my mangled heart, I have done you wrong,” he said, taking her skeletal hands in his. “I am so sorry, my destructive cherub. Can you ever forgive me? I had thought that yet another new royal baby for the crowd over in London, combined with uncertainty over whether or not the Scots wanted to be English anymore, made the resurgence of pro-monarchist Granny Chic a certainty.”

He swallowed. “That lilac wig was a mistake, I see it now, and I have catastrophized your trust in me.” Here Tark’s voice broke with concrete emotion.

Mara’s face softened (in that her eyelids dropped half-way, and her teeth stopped grinding).

“We had to take a risk, Tark,” she said. “I knew that when you handed me the Maggie Thatcher handbag. And I didn’t have to bring the Zimmer frame to the afterparty. Besides, I don’t think you were that wide of the mark. It would probably have gone down a storm in Dublin. It’s just that London wasn’t ready for it.”

“Perhaps Europe isn’t ready for full-on Granny Chic just yet, my fledgling senior citizen,” said Tark. “But I will fix it. I have a plan already.”

Mara shivered. “Ooh, Tark. That was masterfully swift.”

“Yes, because we have no time to lose before tonight’s Save The Foxhounds benefit. Quickly, now. We’re going to use the same dress. Go and put it on. Then I’ll tell you.”

 

Mara fled straight to Dressing Room No. 7 of their Dublin 2 penthouse without further question. She wanted to savour the anticipation. She felt moderately bad for accusing her husband out loud of the Fashion Week faux pas (they had an unspoken agreement to only ever apportion blame in their heads), but as usual, her fleeting moment of guilt was, well – fleeting.

She threw the offending poly blend frock over her head, and fixed its pussy bow in the prescribed lopsided manner. Within two minutes, she was back in front of Tark, who was now lying on his side atop the Steinway.

“You are a vision in brown and purple and red,” said her husband. “But it’s missing a little green.”

With one hand supporting his head, Tark held up his secret weapons in the other. His wife gasped.

“Utter genius,” she said, covering her head with the thistle-print Hermès scarf and tying it under her chin. With a flourish, she then stepped into the bottle-green waders, tucking in any excess polyester (quite tidily, thanks to the frock’s pleated skirt) and hoisting the braces over her shoulders.

“How do I look?” she asked, breathless with excitement.

Tark took a moment to answer, because of the lump in his throat. “Like the Queen at Balmoral,” he said eventually.

Mara would have blushed, if blood hadn’t stopped funding her face some time ago. “Thank you, Tark,” she said, without a trace of her customary sarcasm.

Tark smiled with satisfaction. “Now, all you have to do is write waders into your next erotic smash, and we’re in clover.”

5 People From Real Life Who Really Should Be Fictional Characters

Continuing on in an apparent series of Lists of 5  Random Things In My Head in a shoddy Blogging 101 exercise I didn’t know I was doing, and certainly wasn’t doing on purpose, here is a list of 5 people who exist in real life, who perhaps would be better off existing only in fiction (either for their benefit, or for ours).

Off we go, then. Hopefully, this series is going to end quite soon.

1.    Modern-Day Royals

Be they English, Dutch, Japanese or Spanish; young, middle-aged, disappointingly childless or thanklessly fertile; staggeringly well-dressed, elaborately coiffed or resolutely spendthrift; of ancient lineage, common as muck, faded of grandeur or suspiciously rich – the chances of a happy ending, these days, even with their very best behaviour, are terrible.

However, if the Duchess of Cambridge or the Somethings of Monaco were in a book, we could at least ogle their couture and their headlines in peace, without that uncomfortable and voyeuristic foreboding of scandals to come. It might also make for better reading in general.

 

2.    The Smiley But Smelly Woman On My Bus Home

Phewy Lady On My BusSome people look ordinary. Some people, on the other hand, scream STORY. The septuagenarian who is frequently on my bus home from work is one such person. She has a sleek bob, a slim figure, a broad smile and one of the most singularly unpleasant odours of anyone I have ever come across.

When not immediately within her olfactory dance space, it can be fun to watch the conflicting emotions cross the faces of her fellow commuters. They are torn between revulsion and an acute self-loathing, that they could abhor someone as seemingly vulnerable and sweet as the little old lady who smells as if her clothes haven’t been washed since 1978.

But, when safely out of the way, my mind becomes preoccupied with the story of her life. Some days, she is a former concert pianist. On others, she is a fallen heiress who is not only aware of the way she smells, but actively cultivates it, enjoying people’s reactions. Sometimes, she is an embittered ex-headmistress who retired in a scandal involving the young French teacher and the young French teacher’s husband. The prospects are endless.

3.    American Reality TV Stars

When did it become acceptable to be more ridiculous in real life than in fiction? If I were to make up any of these cretinous excuses for humanity for a book, I would be ridiculed and rejected for my inability to construct a believable narrative. And yet. There you are.

 

4.    Taxi Drivers

Anyone who has ever passed through Dublin will tell you who really runs the country.

Not only do they have a better economic strategy than successive Ministers for Finance, they also fulfil the roles of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Health, Sport, Arts, Culture, Tourism, and Justice. They also control the media and the country’s PR.

A recent senior ranking deity from the head office of my financial institution was given a rundown of everything wrong with this country, and why it is permanently fecked, in one unnecessarily long journey from the airport to the board meeting of the Irish branch.

And yet, there are still conspiracy theorists out there writing reams about the world domination plans of the Illuminati, Bilderbergers, the entire Middle East and the feminist movement, when all along they should have been writing about TAXI DRIVERS. Talk about misguided.

Minister For Taxi Drivers 5.    Tom Cruise

Think about it. You know what I mean.

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That’s it. I’m off to get lists of 5 things surgically removed from my fingers. They’re becoming a dirty habit.

5 Terrifyingly Awful Books I Might Have Written In My 20s

Bookshop ShelvesThere are very few writers who make it in their 20s. The few who do are endangered creatures; to be lauded, protected, and possibly locked up in a laboratory for serious scientific inquiry.

Many people believe that nobody should be writing about life until they’ve at least lived some. And indeed, many writers in their 20s encounter nothing but rejection, locked doors, and a tendency to gaze in the mirror a little too long as they wonder why the world doesn’t understand them.

However, a few others succeed. And I take my hat off to them (I am not feeling very well today, and am therefore wearing grotty clothing which does not bear description: however, I will say that there is inexplicable comfort in sometimes wearing a hat indoors), because I would never have been one of them.

Instead, I am one of those long-time scribblers who spent their single-digit years writing cutesy stories, their teens writing terrible poetry, and their 20s writing nothing. And I thank the powers that be for that. Because I have supreme confidence that anything I wrote in my 20s would have been a steaming pile of self-indulgent effluent. I found my 20s exhausting, quite frankly. And let me say that I have no desire to take that trip again.

With that in mind, here are 5 terrifyingly awful books I would have written in my 20s:

 1. The (Post-Colonial) Fan Fiction

The adage “write what you know” is often sadly too close for comfort – in the pain being close to pleasure stakes – to: “write a badly imitated collage of what you’ve been reading”. And I went through a massive binge of post-colonial fiction in my 20s, such as the 20th century literature coming out of places like Africa and the West Indies, along with some of the stuff written by the descendants of early 1900s emigrants. I shudder to think of what might have happened, should I have attempted to apply my own experience to it.

Ching-Hua Abubu was not a large man. But he was like Doctor Who’s Tardis; bigger on the inside, crammed as he was with the suffering of his people. He wept, but walked on.

2. The Thinly Disguised Travelogue

Many writers in their 20s are guilty of this, but it is is not their fault. It’s hard to separate yourself from your experiences, when every experience you’ve ever had is the most incredibly amazing experience ever.

Mary-Joe O’Skeffington trembled as she set her heavy suitcase down upon the clean, flush-cobbled street outside Berlin Train Station. She was tired from her going-away party, singing all the old songs well into the small hours of her German wake. She noticed a bus arriving at its stop, bang on time. This would never have happened at home in Ireland. She really was in a new world now.

3. The Spectacularly Unaware Exploration of Self-Awareness

You know what it’s like in your 20s, right? When you’re like, learning so much, you know? About yourself? For years? Until you realise that you might have been a hell of a lot better learning about, you know, other people?

Mary felt like she was slipping into a murky layer of herself; the deeper she went, the more distant she felt from her friend Patty’s worries about men, careers and money. Mary couldn’t understand why nobody understood how alone she felt; how much she thought about thinking. She felt like weeping, but instead reapplied her eyeliner and stormed the bar, downing 16 shots in the first hour and scoring with three of Patty’s ex-boyfriends.

4. The ‘Life You’d Rather Have’ Novel

Patty was confused; the letter offering her the position of CEO of the Internet was like hot coal in her hands. How on earth was she going to choose? She had to tell Brad and Angelina if she’d take up the offer to be their PA by Thursday, and there were two voicemails on her phone urging her to get back to the IRFU about that Masseuse to the Irish Men’s Rugby Team job.

Sam grasped her hand. ‘I know you’re under pressure right now, Patty,’ he said gently. ‘But you have to tell me. Did Phil, that obscenely rich bastard, ask you to marry him? Because you know he can’t give you what I could.’

Patty gasped. Life was so hard.

3 women reading books as envisaged by chick lit marketeer 5. The Unknowledgeable Novel

Yeah, we’ve all been there. You have a great idea for a novel. You know it. Everyone else is going to know it. Sure, you have some research to do, but it can’t be that hard, right? I mean, where does science fiction come from? And fiction is supposed to be made up, right?

Stanley stared down at the columns of numbers in front of him. Debit on the left, credit on the right. He didn’t hate being an accountant, but he wished his job was something more than just adding up numbers all day. His friend Dave had a much better job, being a lawyer, wearing his wig to court just to make ground-breaking speeches.

Suddenly, he thought of his girlfriend Kelly, a real East-Ender from London, who always said ‘wotcha’ and ‘a’wight?’ He didn’t know how to tell her he was going to the Middle East, to meditate for six months. Stanley couldn’t wait to see the Steppes and the Fjords of Mongolia.

 

And there you have it, folks. Can we all just take a moment to be thankful that I didn’t start writing in earnest until my 30s? …Thank you.

How about you? Is there anything you’re glad you haven’t written? Or – more juicily – is there anything you have written you wish you hadn’t (and might be willing to talk about)?

5 Vaguely Booky Things I Learned On My Holidays

Now that it’s September, and the schools are back, I want to tell you what I learned on my holidays this year.

Not least that having a holiday from the Internet was harder than I thought it would be.

Even the desert has Internet

No people and no books here, but there was Internet

I had some fish in the sun, then some steak in the rain, and then some music in a field.

(I didn’t eat the music. The music rather ate me – or my brain at any rate – but it was great, so I’m not complaining.)

Here are ten sort-of bookish or writerly things I know now, but didn’t know in the middle of August.

1.  I have been shortlisted in 2 categories in the Blog Awards Ireland 2014: Best Newcomer, and Best Humour Blog.

I was away for this happy news, but my inability to gloat and self-promote on social media did not diminish the feeling one jot. It made me think perhaps I should not be on social media at all. Then I got confused, because blogging is technically social media, which would make me ineligible for the Blog Awards, should I remove myself from social media. Then my head hurt. So I had a mojito. Then I had a gin and tonic. I felt better. Then I felt much better. So I had 6 more gin-and-mojitos to celebrate.

2.  I  apparently need a holiday nowadays to have the time to read a book properly.

This made me sad. However, my dismay was tempered somewhat by the fact that I read 6 books while I was away, and all of them were superb.

3.  Some of the books floating about on a sun holiday are quite surprising.

None more so than the topless lady sunbathing beside me, who must have built up extraordinary muscle by holding that hardback textbook over her head all day. The textbook concerned either acupuncture or anatomy (her hand was over most of the title). Her bohemian torso suggested one more so to me than the other, although I suppose it depends on who you’re talking to.

4.  I had an ego I didn’t know I had, but it’s gone now, so that’s ok.

No matter where I parked myself by the swimming pool in the sunny part of the trip, I was followed by a lithe German couple. They were already a gorgeous shade of deep honey at the beginning of their holiday. Their disgustingly beautiful bodies were further enhanced with terribly tasteful tattoos. Just as I attempted to remove my pale pudginess from their immediate vicinity, I realised that the paperbacks they were reading were also in English, rather than German, suggesting that they were also linguistically fit. They were therefore bad for both my aesthetic and intellectual vanity. I hated them.

5.  It’s easier to get Internet access off the coast of Africa than in the midlands of Ireland.

Accessing your e-mail under a blazing sun in the middle of the Atlantic? No bother. Trying to use satellite navigation or check the weather forecast in Co. Laois? You can feck off. But on the other hand, it’s easier to read without distractions.

Every tree needs a chandelier

In the midlands, the trees have chandeliers, but the air has no Internet

And so we come to the end of my holiday learnings. (I left out the fact that going on holidays meant that 93% of my writing ambitions have now been delayed by approximately 2 years, but that’s ok, because my brain hasn’t come back yet. When it does, I plan to give it a welcome home party, with some balloons, and some nice blog posts about interesting things. More on that in time.)

 

Tark And Mara Visit The Irish Riviera

* Tara is off on her jollidays for a couple of weeks. Fictional Guest Bloggers, Tark and Mara, have climbed down from their pedestal to leave you with this post.

Tark And Mara Beach Holiday

“Ugh.”

“Another one?”

“And again! Tark!”

“Just lift your feet, darling, and watch where you’re going.”

Mara made a noise deep in her throat. She had just about had enough.

Had she complained when Tark had driven them south, instead of north (where the airport was located)? Indeed, she had not.

Had she demurred, when he was hopping about their obscenely large penthouse like a skittish goat kid, childishly delighted with his mysterious holiday preparations? No: she had been the very picture of acquiescence.

Had she made a fuss when she found – to her horror – that Tark’s insistence on keeping their destination secret, meant that she couldn’t even issue guidelines, let alone strict instructions, to their personal packing consultant?

Non. She had agreed to everything. But this: this was the last straw. She was in her last pair of Prada slippers – the brown ones, which adorably looked like her once-hated school shoes (though anyone who saw them would instantly know that they were Prada) – and now they were ruined.

“But, really, Tark, what’s the point? If you’d brought me to Nice, like we’d planned, there would be a reason to look where I’m going. There would be a reason to look up and take in the architecture; to gaze upon the most stellar of seas – which once, I might remind you, husband, you said mimicked the precise colour of my eyes. I could have the salt tang of perfectly priced oxygen on my tongue. But no! You bring me… to Gorey.”

“I know, my burry limpet. But I’m sure they have dogs in Nice, too. And parts of the continent can be even less particular about faeces than Wexford.”

“I can barely believe you’ve done this,” said Mara, her face suddenly ageing beyond the five years the botox removed last Thursday. “One moment, I’m booking a chemical peel for my bikini line, and taking delivery of all six sets of Urban Bonk beach jewellery; the next, I find myself looking at chain-store flip-flops in a two-room chalet in a working class area of the Irish Sea!”

“I knew you’d like it,” said Tark, confidently. “Nobody else has taken the Retro thing as far as us. You mark my words, my scalded kitten: before six months is out, every newspaper from here to Irkutsk will be extolling the virtues of the Back-To-Your-Childhood Holiday. And you can nod, in that fabulously regal way you have, as they rush to do then, what we are doing RIGHT NOW.”

Mara shuddered. Tark was awfully masterful when he spoke in capitals.

“We were first, Mara,” he continued. “We set the trend. And don’t you forget it.”

Mara sat down hard on a dune, subconsciously grateful that its sandy softness compensated for the relatively unforgiving boniness of her sitting apparatus.

Tark was right.

How could she have doubted her hairless husband? His sure-footed descent of the dune was gathering a crowd of admirers at the finish line. He was a giant in a small man suit. For a fleeting moment, she wished he had, after all, gone to that Game Of Thrones audition.

“I will endure,” she called after him. “For you, Tark. For none other.”

“For our publicist too, darling,” called Tark from the bottom of the dune. “She’s coming at sundown with three photographers from the Indo, the Daily Mail and VIP. They’re fighting over exclusivity, and I’m going to let them all have it.”

Mara gazed at her little husband as he examined various buckets and spades they were to use as props, before lifting her eyes to the horizon. The murky grey sea swirled thickly, an unshaken test tube of clouds and albumen. It was an Irish summer, the shade of a vast number of ordinary childhood memories to which she wished to lay no claim.

A Paleo chef and two butlers awaited them in their twenty-square-foot chalet. The staff one-man tents had been set up ten feet away. It was time to square up: to tackle, with valour, a week at the Irish seaside.

It was a small price to pay for at least three colour spreads, and the inimitable kudos of being so far ahead of the crowd, that she was about to make dog poo the ultimate fashion accessory.

Authors! Your Cover Font Is Killing Your Book

But this is the best book cover ever

Think this looks amateur? You’d be right. I did it in Paint, just messing about for a jokey post earlier this year (click pic for link)

Whilst most of us will judge a book by its cover, I very often judge a book cover by its font.

This might sound odd to some people: perhaps it is – you can let me know if that’s the case. But more often than not, it’s the typography on a book’s cover which tells me whether or not I want to read it.

By this I mean, it’s going to be the reason I sometimes think that the cover, and therefore the book, are an amateur – possibly even sloppy – effort.

I know, I know. I can hear you now.

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Self-Published Authors: Oh, for the love of Blog. It’s her again.

Tara: Hi guys! Wow, hey yeah OMG, it’s like, so good to see you!

Self-Published Authors: Please shut up. Or rather, tell us why you’re bothering us now. What are you giving out about this time?

Tara: Erm, the fonts used on your book covers, actually.

Self-Published Authors: Figures. What next? Our names?

Tara: Well, no. I can’t do much about them.

Self-Published Authors [to each other]: Never stopped her before.

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But bear with me. Have you ever seen a book cover and thought: Right, I bet a besquillion squids that’s self-published…?

Or    It looks like they did the cover themselves. I wonder whether they got it edited? Probably not.

If it were my book, I wouldn’t want anyone to judge from 1 mere glance at the cover whether it was self-published or not. And yet, one of the most common comments I got during the examination of what makes people buy self-published books - and what turns them off buying same – was a “cheap-looking” or ” amateurish” book cover.

For me, the biggest screaming sign of a poor cover, is the font used for the title and the author’s name. All those little decisions made regarding font type; serif or sans serif; size of title versus size of author’s name; colour; contrast to the background – these are what can make a book fall before even entering the final furlong.

I don’t often post content I haven’t made myself, but this infographic caught my eye some time ago and I was rendered gob-dawed by its most awesome and beautiful brilliance. It’s not specifically about book covers, but it’s useful, and everyone who has any hand at all in the design of their own book cover should look at this:

This is by no means comprehensive (take a look at their website for narky comments from other graphic designers who believe it’s flawed in a hundred different ways). But still, there are very simple rules which book cover designers and other graphic designers know backwards. Those of us who aren’t aware of them might not think that they’re important. After all, we writers are creative people. Why can’t we just play around and put out whatever we think looks good? We’re avid readers, surely we know what we like?

I don’t pretend to know the secret to a good cover. And yet, when typography rules are broken, my brain somehow registers immediately that things don’t look right. I am reminded of local poetry anthologies from the 1980s; those annual circulars Great-Aunt McSmarmy sent at Christmas when she was the only person we knew with a word processor; and that book which was published by the school year above me as a project. It looks, quite simply, unfinished. It looks cheap. And this is before you even get to the blurb.

I’m not going to go into arguments here about how much it costs to get a cover designer, let alone an editor. I know it costs money. But you are also asking people to spend their money on your book. And as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse whatsoever for putting out an unfinished product, in any industry.

Besides, there are very few cases where you’ll get away with cheap packaging and branding. I might not care about the packaging of a plant I buy for the garden, or a cupcake I’ve just sampled. But by Blog, do I care about it on a book!

Authors: do yourselves a favour. If you can’t afford a cover designer and insist on doing it yourself, spend time – hours and hours – looking up an online bookseller. Look at the fonts used on the covers of their top 100 sellers. Look at the fonts you’ve used on your book cover. Look back at the top 100. Look back at your book again.

Now fix it.

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[Sidebar begging letter: if you liked this post – actually, who cares, even if you hated it – would you mind terribly going to this link here, and giving me a tiny little vote in the Irish Blog Awards (thereby helping me to base my whole personal worth on a highly suspect public vote competition)?

You wouldn’t? Great! Just click here, scroll down til you see “Tara Sparling writes”, click the little circle to the left of my name and then click just once more on the “Vote” button at the bottom. Thanks awfully. You are very kind to assist me in this, the shallowest of vanity quests.)

I Have No Pride Or Shame. VOTE FOR ME

Irish Blog Awards 2014This is desperate. I’m about to ask you for votes. So let me apologise in advance for everything I’m about to say.

This blog has been nominated in the “Best Blog Post” category of the Irish Blog Awards, for a post in which I described my limitless talent for self-sabotage when talking about my own work, despite a Greek Chorus of writers in my head trying to motivate me not to be such an irredeemable twit.

And although there are at least 2 other blogs in that list I think really should win, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that many of you reading this will never have heard of them, so you might vote for me instead.

Seriously. I told you. No Pride. No Shame. (And not enough votes.)

So if you have a spare ten seconds lying about the place today – if the kettle boiled just that little bit quicker than you expected; if the queue in the shop suddenly dispersed for no reason, like a reverse flash mob; or if you just feel so sorry for me that you don’t like kicking a woman when she’s down, would you mind terribly popping over to this page here, scrolling down the list or doing a ‘find’ for “Tara Sparling writes”, clicking on the circle to the left of my name and then clicking just one more time on the “Vote” button on the bottom?

Again, this is the link here.  You can vote once a week (the blogs with the least votes get kicked out each week)

And if you look down your nearest drain/toilet/gutter, that’s my self-respect you see. Floating away merrily downstream.

Thank you.