There are certain figures, from the world of the arts, that naturally have inspired me. In some cases, I am obsessed with them! Not a stalker-ish, hanging around their utility rooms so I can suck the water out of their freshly laundered clothing type of obsession; more of a fantasy dinner party kind of admiration. I am so inspired by their work and what they have done. I work in a job where I have met a lot of well-known people, but the personalities on this list below are the people that would actually star-strike me, if I were to find myself face to face with them. In the case of Jennifer Saunders, this actually happened to me once. I felt like a twat! The rest are on my “must aspire to be like one day” list…
Michael Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park”. Need I actually bother to go on!? Any guy who was born in the 80s and realised what a dinosaur was in the 90s will surely relate to me here. If it wasn’t for this man, I would probably not have had half as much fun as a child. Back in ’93, there was a small worry that “Jurassic Park” the movie would be released in cinemas as a 12 rating. Thank the Lord it wasn’t and Philippa & John Bullock were able to take 9 year old me to see it. Naturally, I demanded the entire toy-line that was released. This included the massive compound that came with electric fences and those famous JP gates. My friend Paul Wingfield is still bitter about the whole thing, despite the fact that he is now a well-respected pianist!! But putting this aside, this film got me reading Crichton’s books – and to this day, his style of writing has massively influenced my own. I adore the way he writes – he has an incredible gift when it comes to entwining biotechnology with pure fantastical entertainment and drama. I remember reading “Airframe” which is a novel about how planes work. Boring? No! I was enthralled with it! This man then went on to write “The Lost World” and created the TV series “ER”. He is a media God and I hate that lymphoma took his life untimely in 2008. Velociraptors are famous, thanks to him.
Ellen DeGeneres has my career – if I were a lesbian comedienne from Louisianna. I’m not. What I have written on my “About” page about wanting my own sitcom is 100% true – and it’s thanks to DeGeneres. Friday nights, back in the day, were TV gold on Channel 4. “Friends” used to be followed by “Cybill” which was followed by “Frasier”. Then “Cybill” ended and another one-word-titled sitcom was inserted into the 9:30-1oPM timelsot – “Ellen”. Well, colour me obsessed! Season 1 of the show was crap, but from season 2 onwards it was amazing. Then she turned TV gay-friendly and came out of the closet, causing television uproar and history all at once. Season 5 was then TOO gay! There were too many preachy episodes about targeted minority groups and not enough of Ellen dressed as a chicken or of her annoying friend Audrey Penney. Forgetting the downfall of the show though, DeGeneres went from stand-up comic, to fronting her own eponymous sitcom, to writing books, landing a second eponymous sitcom (which was cancelled after one season for some shameful reason), then going on to have her own chat show. She is now on the Forbes rich list and was neighbours with the Cox-Arquettes and Megan Mullally. She has my career!
The British version of DeGeneres (sort of) is Jennifer Saunders. Now, as mentioned above, I met her once. Perhaps it was the fact that I couldn’t believe who I was talking to and so acted rather formally, or perhaps it was the fact that Saunders was about to go on set for a “Parkinson” interview, but our little meeting was a tad disappointing. I hear you should never meet your heroes – I would say this was a case in point. Saying that, she didn’t slap me round the face or spit on my loafer, she just didn’t offer me a role on “Absolutely Fabulous” either. Is she mad?? Whatever the case, she has written, in my opinion, one of the best sitcoms ever to come out of the UK. We don’t do it like America, but Saunders, I think, does. And I think it gets better as it ages. Lots disagree, but I became obsessed with the show when it was re-booted in 2001. If you have not seen French & Saunders‘ parody of “Lord of the Rings”, or their piss-take of Madonna & Missy Elliot‘s Gap advert, you need to get on that. And she was the voice of the Fairy Godmother in “Shrek 2”. Amazing!
I have a thousand ideas for slasher franchises, supernatural TV series and even the odd teen drama. So did Kevin Williamson, who not only brought his ideas to fruition, but somehow managed to re-define all of these genres whilst at it. The “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” films made slasher films cool again – they were as freshly devised as “Halloween” was back in the 70s. These movies were the reason I forced my friends, at age 18, to spend 2 summers on a farm, producing cult cinematic classics (!) “The Reaper” and “The Reaper 2”! His TV endevours include “Dawson’s Creek” and most recently “The Vampire Diaries”. These shows are very much for teenage girls, but they are seriously well-structured. Urgh, I am just going to stop there, as my potential readership begins rolling their eyes. But this man was, and continues to be responsible for exciting, glossy, Hollywood entertainment, and deserves a place on this page!
On the subject of “Scream”, this next pedestal-placing is not Courtney Cox but Gale Weathers. I can’t get enough of her as a ficticious character. Appearing throughout “Scream” 1-4, she gets grittier, moodier, more cut-throat and more ambitious. Her career sees her rise to fame on the exploitation of her direct involvement with a run of annual serial killings. She writes books about it, and when art stops imitating life, she continues the “Stab” story on regardless – eventually, leading to life imitating art. Just look at that pout!
Like her or loathe her, Victoria Beckham has done incredibly well for herself. She has not ridden on the coat-tails of David, she was famous before he was. She gained success in a pop group, went on to give solo singing (and rapping) a bash and then, with the position she had gained she used her time and money to launch a fashion label. Why not? It was always what she loved. She really has no place on this list, other than that I think she’s incredible; but forgetting film, television and literature for a minute, she has simply climbed the fame ladder to super-stardom and is now a respected designer with millions in the bank and a beautiful family. She hasn’t forgotten her roots, either. Hello London 2012 closing ceremony – she was loving it on top of that speeding taxi! And as for the no smiling – makes good sense to me! That hard exterior is what’s got her through, I say grit those teeth, grind that jaw and spend your evenings gurning in front of the mirror VB!
These two created “Glee”. That’s NOT why they’re on this page. Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk are more importantly the co-creators of “American Horror Story”. “Glee” was their springboard as far as I’m concerned – “AHS” is where it’s at! They have taken a nastily themed premise, that one only really sees at the movies, and made a whole series for television around it. This show is phenomenal. In it, you’ll find sex, drugs, adultery and inappropriate fantasy merged with deformed children locked in attics, people buried under pergolas, psychotics, gimp suits, half-ghost impregnations and Jessica Lange. The script is slick, crisp and quick. Each episode is extraordinarily produced. Go on – get hooked!
If you haven’t seen “The Woman In Black”, you’re an idiot. I’m talking the stage production. Designed by Stephen Mallatratt, who gets a lot of praise from me also, the whole WIB concept was dreamt up by the superb novelist Susan Hill. I just think that someone who could come up with such a unique and genuinely scary ghost story is incredible. In this age of people being tied to rotating merry-go-rounds, each one being shot point-blank by their rifle-holding boss, under the strict instructions of a deranged psychopath, it’s easy to remain rather numb to the good old-fashioned macabre. Hill’s novel is a creepy read, but what is no mean feat is having a work transferred to stage and then screen successfully. I know she had input on both adaptations. The play is nerve-shredding. For the skeptics out there, imagine sitting in a tiny theatre off Covent Garden and watching a spectre, literally infront of you, in the same room, as she singlehandedly devastates a grown man. What’s wonderful is, like any ghost worth it’s salt, you barely ever see her! Thank Jesus that this idea of is-she-there-or-is-that-a-shadow was translated to the screen in the 2012 adaptation. Elements of the story were altered but only for the better. Children aren’t mysteriously dropping down dead any longer – they’re being INSTRUCTED to KILL THEMSELVES by the dark lady. This film is apparently the most complained about in 2012, due to its 12A rating. Hundreds of kids were taken to see it and consequently cried themselves to sleep in a state of mortification that Harry Potter now battles ghosts as well as resurrected soulless wizards.
I’ll take Calista Flockhart as an actress, as Ally McBeal or as Kitty Walker-McCallister. I think McBeal is another piece of fictional gold! She was ridiculous, fantastical, childish, brooding and insane. I have always related to her. It’s not easy to get ahead in life – career, romance, family, friends – it can all be a challenging journey. And if you need to get through it by playing a theme song in your head while you cross the street, then why not?! If, by way of avoiding ones mortification about a particular situation, one needs to imagine their circle of friends performing Al Green‘s “Let’s Stay Together”, then go for it! Only, mine is more likely to be a medly of Lindsay Lohan songs.
Walker-McCallister is Flockhart’s portrayal of a totally different personality. Together, career-driven, focused, stoic and passionately educated, there is something seriously attractive about her. I like that she doesn’t let her guard down easily – she can often be cold, until SHE warms up to YOU. I don’t know what it is about her – she fascinates me as a work of fiction.
Not only does Philippa Gregory churn out a book a year (each as painstakingly and precisely researched as the next), she has “created” characters in her works of historical fiction that were in some cases real people. Take Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn – two of Henry VIIIs queens, both executed, both exceptional. The way Gregory writes these women with pure determination and ambition is genious. The difference is that although they are both borderline evil, one knows it, the other doesn’t. One calculates, the other hasn’t a clue. Because of Gregory’s portrayals, this is how I imagine these actual women. She has been criticised for representing them inaccurately. I wonder which of these critics actually had the pleasure of meeting these queens. Gregory’s masterpiece has got to be Beatrice Lacey of “Wideacre”. Totally fictional, this is a woman who will do the unthinkable to get what she wants. And this has been a heavy influence in the creation of the narrator in my own novel…
“Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E” means YOU ARE! “Y-O-U-R” means YOUR!! Courtney Cox once said “I am Monica Geller“. I have been told that “I am Ross Geller“. Well, if that’s true, I’m the version of Ross after saying the wrong name at the altar. Or, rather, Crazy Ross. Everyone of my generation loved “Friends”, but it was the characters that made the show – and Ross was the most developmentally interesting, as far as I’m concerned. He went from being the sensible “adult” of the group to being as much of a neurotic, emotionally unstable characature as the rest of them. Ross strived to do everything right – job, wife, child. Yet, his wife left him for a woman, his child was born out of a broken marriage and he lost his job over a sandwich. His fantasy of his boyhood obsession, Rachel Green, turned out to be a bitter disappointment (until the very last episode), his love life was a shambles, he found himself on dates with women who were wearing the same shirt as him and his hair was a mess. Throw in his issues with anger and his coping mechanisms of making margaritas to deal with awkward situations and you quite possibly have one of the best comedy characters of the nineties and naughties. “Don’t worry about me falling asleep — I STILL HAVE YOUR LETTER!!!!!”
Forget Will & Grace; forget Jack & Karen. Its all about Grace & Karen! These two were such an unlikely comedy duo that it made perfect sense that they ended up as one. The dynamics between Grace Adler and Karen Walker was perfection. Here we have two women, very opposite to one another, and yet perfectly synced within their working environment. What began in “Will & Grace” as a running gag (one did no work, the other kept her employed for the hell of it) soon became a perfect fit. Karen was simply present at Grace Adler Designs to insult her boss, abuse her maid over the phone and paint her nails. But she became part of the furniture and Grace would not have been able to cope without her. I miss “Will & Grace” more than I miss other US sitcoms that we have said goodbye to, purely because it stretched the boundaries of the absurd and outrageous. These two characters complimented each other more than any other. Grace taught Karen how to shop on a budget and locked her in an elevator, while Karen coaxed Grace away from the evils of alcoholics anonymous and protected her from an bitter Iranian. As individual characters, they were genius, and together, they were superb. I wish my office was like theirs.
It’s a lesser known fact that I have a love for 19th Century Russian and Norwegian theatre. Of all the mediums of writing that a scribe can indulge in, play-writing is the one that I haven’t really given a stab – and the one that I’m not sure I could do. Screenwriting is bloody hard – you have to be cut-throat with your style and very editorial. A screenplay is bare-bones – a screenwriter is a dialogist; you’re not allowed to get too carried away with setting, description or even characterisation. But if you write a play, you can be detailed, give direction, and basically leave a lot less for a director to do. So you’d think its an easier medium – but no. All you have is a stage – you can’t write elaborate scenes set in dinosaur theme parks or atop skyscrapers. You have a blank canvas but a small-scale one. And there is just something about the works of Anton Chekhov that has always hooked me. I studied him both in England and California and have read his four most notable works “The Cherry Orchard”, “Uncle Vanya”, “The Seagull” and “Three Sisters” (the latter being my favourite, which I have also seen performed). As plays, they are weird, long-winded, complex, busy and in some cases not much can happen – but this is what “theatre of mood” is about. I find his works to be about lives which are slightly mundane yet full of underwritten drama. He also, bravely, resets his scenery in each Act – which I often find is underdone in theatre. As a dramatist Chekhov was important, and I plan to one day tackle his short stories. He once said that his plays were difficult to read and that his role as an artist was to pose questions, not answer them. Perhaps I’m odd – or just highly educated (!) – but I find his plays flow from page-to-page quite seamlessly. Perhaps this is why he stands out to me above, say, Tolstoy, or indeed Shakespeare. I also love that he felt literature was his “mistress”.
Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen fascinates me equally. “Ghosts” is an atmospheric masterpiece; while “Hedda Gabler” and “A Dolls House” are works of art in terms of female character-writing. Both Hedda and Nora Helmer are strong women, thought to be fragile, immersing themselves in scandal and revolting against the supposed role of women. There is something about the dark, wintry European settings of these plays that add to the tales of these heroines and I adore watching and reading as they manipulate and plot – under a guise of innocence. There is something about manipulative, cold women in literature and art that enthrals me! I saw “Ghosts” on stage years ago and was blown away by the setting of it – in a large glass conservatory, entwined with branches and sticks. This play shocked and appalled its critics back in the day – it was a bitter commentary on 19th Century morality. But I love it! Today, it resonates, and makes me smile. Yet at the time, journalists described it as “an open drain; gross, almost putrid indecorum…nauseating and menacing. As foul and filthy a concoction as has ever been allowed to disgrace the boards of an English theatre…Nastiness and malodorousness laid on thickly as with a trowel. Ninety-seven percent of the people who go to see Ghosts are nasty-minded people who find the discussion of nasty subjects to their taste, in exact proportion to their nastiness”. Fantastic! Imagine causing such a stir!!! Ibsen wrote to deliberately shock. This is something I was criticised for doing recently by a potential book agent – yet look how Ibsen’s works have gone down in literary history.
Charles Dickens’ work is too long, too flowery, too descriptive and not at all easy to read nor simple. The thing is, he is similarly a master of English literature, his imagination is extraordinary and he is an exceptional character-writer. You have got to admire what he has done for the landscape of British storytelling. Admittedly, I have only read a few of his works, but am familiar with most of them, and the tales he tells, along with the people he has created along the way, is incredible. This man’s mind is amazing. I do wish that he got to the point a bit quicker but this is totally something I am guilty of as a writer. I like my description, like Dickens does, and I like my creations to have strange names. I don’t think my opinion of this author is helped by the fact that I was taught “Great Expectations” by a English teacher who, I think, had a homo-erotic obsession with Mr Dickens. Said English teacher, I think, thought he was Pip Pirrip in another life. This teacher’s name was in fact Pip also, and I think he wore pearls under his mustard suit. He wouldn’t let any of the class read “G E” aloud in class, when we would read the book together. He would always have to act it out. There were a lot of sideways glances happening in that classroom. But anyhow – Dickens was his era’s version of a soap opera producer, releasing his novels in instalments, and he has given us some of the best tales ever told. Anyone who was indirectly responsible for “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is a legend to me!
Julie Powell is the reason I have started this website…enough said. Read my first blog-post to see why…then keep visiting the site for more…