Sunday, 25 November 2007

Little Black Dress Books

Early this year I discovered a fantastic new range of chick lit books called The Little Black Dress Books. Set in modern cities such as London, New York and Paris, Little Black Dress Books consist of titles that are about chic and cosmopolitan women who have great jobs and fantastic lives and make an entertaining read. Small and chic, they are the sort of books that you can slip into your handbag while you are on your way to work, a night out or travelling around. Despite only being a relatively young series, Little Black Dress have a very powerful brand, what with clips on youTube, a very dynamic website, funny blog, a great and quirky logo as well as a group on Facebook. It does not take a genius to work out that all the stops have been put out on the marketing side, I caught up with Little Black Dress associate publisher, Catherine Cobain to get the lowdown on the books.

What is the concept behind Little Black Dress?
The concept of Little Black Dress is to provide sassy, entertaining and romantic fiction to the young women’s market. We love books that are modern, page-turning and fun, with clever, sparkling writing, zippy, original plots and of course, great heroines.

What is your role?
I am the Associate Publisher of Little Black Dress.

Little Black Dress reminds me of Mills and Boons – would you say there was any similarity between the two series?
I don’t think that there is a huge similarity between the two. I’m a HUGE fan of Mills & Boon and what they do, but I think the ethos behind Mills & Boons and Little Black Dress is slightly different. They are of course alike in that both are series publishers, focussing more on the brand than on individual titles or authors. But Mills & Boon are I think (if possible) more purely romantic than Little Black Dress. Some of their lines are more traditional than ours, and have more structured themes. Because we are very young and new as an imprint, we have a lot of scope to experiment with our books and in taking on writers – which is how we can publish such great quirky comedies such as
She’ll Take It, a hilarious rom-com about a kleptomaniac in NY.

Where are the Little Black Dress titles sold?
In mainstream bookstores such as Waterstones and Borders in the UK, on Amazon, and in supermarkets like Tesco and Asda. We are also gearing up to start selling direct from our own site in the future, , which will be very exciting as it will make them more accessible to readers who like to shop online. Plus we love our website! It’s a whole lot of fun.

I really like the viral marketing tactic that you took with Step on it, Cupid especially the youTube video. Do you plan anymore marketing activities like that? We didn’t actually do the viral marketing for Step on it, Cupid. We focus all our energies on promoting the Little Black Dress brand rather than individual authors, as we have more impact when we do it like this, and also we want to keep it fair for everyone on the list. However we always think it’s fantastic when our authors, who as you can imagine are all very clever and creative and savvy, create their own campaigns. That’s what happened with Step on it Cupid – the author worked for an advertising agency, who were able to help her in experimenting with a viral campaign in this way. We thought it was great too.

What sort of stories do you look for when signing up titles for Little Black Dress?
We look for original authorial voice, a fantastic story-telling talent, and often a good sense of humour – a lot of our books are romantic comedies. We love how inventive our authors are with their plots – we know that readers want to be entertained and diverted with original spins and angles on traditional themes. We like to keep our options open however – we don’t say ‘This is what we want’ or ‘This is what we don’t want’ as to do so would be to possibly limit our authors creatively, which we never want to do. It’s safe to say that our books are short, fun, very commercial, and usually – but not always! – have a strong love story in them somewhere.

Describe a typical heroine from the series?

We have all kinds. Clever ones, sassy ones, sexy ones, girls who need to discover themselves, women who’ve discovered themselves already and realise their life needs to change. Women looking for love, career girls, ladies who’ve just been dumped, funny girls, shy girls. This imprint is all about entertainment for the modern young woman, so we are always open and ready to receive new, original heroines who strike a chord with readers and who can be taken to the peoples’ hearts. I often think that a good heroine should be like a good friend – not necessarily perfect or saintly – indeed, often not – but the kind of woman you like and you care about and you want to go and have fun with on a Saturday afternoon or Saturday night.

The heroines seem to be based in the UK or US are there any plans to expand the countries?

That’s really because that’s where our submissions seem to come from. We’d love heroines from more countries, although unfortunately we don’t have the capacity to translate at the moment, so titles must be submitted in excellent English. Things featuring strong on our wish list right now include an Indian heroine and someone from Australia or New Zealand.

So how does it work? Do authors specifically write a book for the series or do you buy in an all published title that fits the brand?
We do both! If we buy a finished book from an author, we often buy another one or two unwritten titles from them as well, so that their writing career is assured for the next couple of years. However we don’t usually buy first-time authors on partial manuscripts and never on proposals.

What advice do you have for budding authors who fancy the idea of penning a book for Little Black Dress?
The most important think I ever tell an author is that you have to write primarily for yourself in the first instance. If you don’t love, care for, and believe in your heroine yourself, it’s unlikely anyone else will. Also, the publishing world is a tough one (even though we give our authors a lot of tlc) and it’s inevitable that any author anywhere will at some stage have a rejection, or a bad review, or even just meet someone who doesn’t like what they write. In order to have the self-assurance to survive this tough business, you have to be able to believe in yourself and your book.

Other useful pieces of advice are: read a lot! Try to analyse the way your favourite author has put his or her book together. Don’t let too many people critique your work – although it’s helpful, you don’t need to write by committee and you run the risk of entering the ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ scenario. Plot your books meticulously and write synopses, even if you hate doing it! It will help you shape and fix your plot, and highlight any weak spots or bagging areas. Also, many people subscribe to the ‘write every day, no matter how you feel’ school of thought. Although I do agree with this to an extent, there’s also a time to give yourself a break. Sometimes you might need to give yourself a time out, as much to give ideas time to germinate and develop in a natural way as anything else.

Check out Little Black Dress's fantastic blog

They also have a fantastically funny email newsletter which comes out twice a month, you can sign up for at

Check out the brilliant advert for Step On It Cupid written by Lorelei Mathias below.

Branded Beer

Imagine the scenario, you are getting married and you are deciding on the beverages to serve at your wedding reception. The usual suspects are selected such as wine, spirits, champagne and of course beer. I have stumbled across a fantastic little gem called; bottles of beer that can be personalised with any message or image. Yup, you get bottles of beer with your cute mug on them with any message that you wish. I think the idea is amazing, at Nigerian weddings it is traditional for the happy couple to give the guests quirky gifts such as key rings, plates, ladles and bags and some have their picture on them. So the branded beer would be perfect. This ingenious idea was created by two young Scottish Entrepreneurs called Stuart Ebdy and James Watt and the ethos behind it was to provide men with the ultimate gift for Xmas. For those of you who cannot wait to place an order this is how it works:

  1. You go to and pick the kind of beer you want.
  2. You upload a photo of the person the beer is for, (or anything else for that matter).
  3. Add a funny personalised message to the front and back labels.
  4. You can view a 3d visualisation of your beer bottle before you buy.
  5. Complete your order.
  6. Wait a day or two for it to arrive Then give it to someone or glug the lot yourself.

Psst, a little beer tells me that soon you will be able to order champagne, wine, lager and whiskey as well as water. Talk about living large.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes: From the Frontline of Flatsharing

Face it, house sharing can be a right pain, queues for the bathroom, that rotten bugger pinching your milk, arguing over whose turn it is to do the cleaning and don’t even get me started on the washing up. For some people house or flat sharing can be a fate worse than death. So how do you deal with this? You shout and scream abuse or maybe resort to violence or you could take the other route of leaving notes. Designer and fashion lecturer, Oonagh O’Hagan’s book, I Lick My Cheese and other notes from the frontline of flatsharing, depicts the trauma that goes with sharing a home with friends or strangers. Over the years she has collected notes from numerous house sharers and they are all on show in this witty and hilarious book. I caught up with her to discuss whether she licks her cheese.

As a designer and former alumni of St Martin's - you are a bit of a fashionista, what were the reasons for writing this book.
I never really think of myself as a fashionista and if you saw me on most days you would agree. The book might seem an odd outcome from my background but I have always been very interested in people, how we live and what we desire and want out of life. I love photography, drawing and having ideas, so fashion was a natural progression for studying. Though latterly after my MA I got more interested in trends and social dynamics. Thus the book was just an extension of my research and interests.

Who is the book aimed at?
Everyone! The most obvious reader is the student but nowadays people are renting for much longer (I think the average age for a first time buyer in London is 33) so the book works well on lots of levels and would appeal to lots of people. Why? Well everyone has to communicate with other human beings. At some time in your life you will have or have already had to share your personal space so hopefully everyone will relate to and laugh at this book.

Tell me about your strangest or funniest house sharing experience.
I have an awful lot as I have lived in many flats. Some are too disgusting, I have several poo/vomit cleaning up stories but I will miss them out. One of my own stories was I used to have to dry my clothes by hanging them out the window (poor students, no tumble driers) I had lost a bra and a couple of weeks later while one of my flatmates was walking past the rear of my flat that looked up at my 3rd floor window to see my bra hanging from a tree. Thankfully they let me know. I also had a flatmate who never ever did his washing up, I always did it and it use to make me very angry. Then one day he came in and mentioned I had done the washing up. I naively thought he was going to say thank you but alas he told me I had stacked it too high on the draining board as he had knocked a glass and smashed it. That was weird as it seemed as though he genuinely thought I was his maid.

The title of the book is very quirky, who came up with it and what was the concept?
It is actually a note in the book, the strangest thing about it is it has appeared more than once. Apparently licking your food is a common trick to stop food thieves doing their stealing. I wish someone had told me some of these clever tricks when I was sharing.

What was the idea of launching the website?
Initially I collected the notes through friends and word of mouth (I am a Lecturer so see lots of students etc) I started collecting in 2002 but recently wanted to see if I would get notes from other places so set up the website. The website also had the function that you can film your own advert to advertise your room or for a flat mate which should be really fun. I have just added this facility, it should make flat hunting a bit more fun.

How did you land your book deal?
It took a very long time and a lot of people saying what a weird idea. I eventually got a fantastic agent which was such a relief to have someone say, “I think this could be great.”

How does writing compare to designing?
It is strange as my first language is a visual language. I would often paint images of the people in my mind and talk out loud about them as I typed. The book has all the notes photographed though as I thought it was important not just to read them but see the handwriting and the weird things they were written on.

Which authors do you admire and why?
Martin Amis. His books always evoke such clear images and characters. He taps into the parts of your brain that you never talk about or realised that everyone has. Frighteningly good and frighteningly clever. Never a light read.

What advice would you give to budding authors out there?
Only listen to the people who you know, know what they are talking about. Lots of people simply didn’t get what I was talking about but then it might not have been their field. For instance, friends and family might not be the people to take advice from. I eventually realised that talking to some people was totally destructive to my confidence because they couldn’t think conceptually. Interestingly when these people have seen the finished book they often say “Aaaah, I see what you mean. Oh it’s really good.”

The life of an author must be a busy one; can you describe a typical day?
No day is typical and that is a difficult thing to get used to. The one bit of continuity in my life is lecturing, which I do at St Martins and UCCA. If I am not teaching I am working on future ideas such as Flatmates Anonymous which is now a whole brand with future projects. I also do a bit of consulting, trend watching and art direction. I have a major amount of ‘To do lists.’

Where do you do most of your writing? Desk, garden, coffee shop?
I have my ideas when I am out and about at shops, exhibitions and talking to people. I write always in my flat with the TV on. If I am struggling I will book a train journey to see friends or family and take my computer with so I have a few hours where I can’t escape getting on with writing.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?
Hopefully there will be a follow up to I Lick My Cheese, I would love to give people the opportunity through the website to have their notes published. I am also working on some more ‘straight’ design books. One on photography and portraiture and one on contemporary jewellery. Fingers, toes and eyes crossed.

You can check out Oonagh's website here.
I Lick My Cheese is out now!

Monday, 19 November 2007

This Christmas

Christmas is a season when all the cheesy films are put upon us, duds like Jingle All The Way, Home Alone and various sequels of sequels all come out for an airing. Frankly Christmas is a time when I avoid the cinema like the plague. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel due to the release of a film called This Christmas. Before you turn your nose up, hear me out. This Christmas is a warm film about the Whitfield family who for the first time in four years are set to spend Xmas together in their LA family home. The Whitfields are a large clan and like most big families they come with their dramas. The head of the family is Shirley 'Ma'Dere' played by Loretta Devine who awaits the emotional gathering of her beloved three daughters and three sons. Eldest of the clan is Lisa played by Regina King is an unfulfilled housewife who has sacrificed her own happiness for her family. She is married to an ambitious businessman who is pressuring her to persuade her family to sell the dry cleaning business that their mother runs. Eldest son, Quentin played by Idris Elba is a talented jazz musician who is on the run from gambling debts so seeks refuge at the family home. Kelli played by Sharon Leal is a hard nosed business women who comes to blows with Lisa and her husband. Claude played by Columbus Short is an active duty Marine who is harbouring a dark secret while younger brother Baby played by R&B singer, Chris Brown longs to break out of the family nest and pursue a musical career of his own. Youngest daughter Mel played by Lauren London is an unfocused college student who brings home her boyfriend, Devean played by Keith Robinson. Then there is Joseph played by Delroy Lindo - Ma'Dere' long time partner who clashes with Quentin on several ocassions. With the secrets and tensions at bay you wonder if the Whitfields will ever sit down and enjoy a Merry Christmas.

This film is extremely heart warming and really portrays what Christmas is like for Black families in the US and UK. The main elements are drama, food, laughter, music, dancing and more food. The film is written and directed by Preston A. Whitmore who also has a short part in the film. ER star, Mekhi Phifer is an Executive Producer here and plays a love interest to Lisa. This Christmas is very enjoyable and if you are a Tyler Perry fan or like classics such as Soul Food and Love Jones then you will adore this film.

This Christmas is released on 30th November.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Raw Gaia

Every girl needs some chocolate in her life. The delight of the smooth brown stuff melting in your mouth is too addictive for words. Well now you can wear chocolate as well as eat it. The first raw chocolate face pack hits the shops this month and leaves you with a smooth and toned complexion. The product is created by Raw Gaia, an organic skin care company who are based in Brighton. The face pack is made from natural ingredients such as red clay, organic tumeric, organic fruit powder and raw chocolate powder. The pack will nourish and beautify your skin and draw out toxics.

Raw Gaia was set up by Lisa Lennon through her frustration of finding good quality natural products for her dry skin. She started off making her Daughters Living moisturiser which was made with cold-pressed butters and essential oils. Now Raw Gaia boast a portfolio of quality products such as facial cleanser, face toners, massage bars, lip balms, body butters, eye oils, cold-pressed oils, floral waters as well as a range for babies. They are also the only company in the world to produce hand made products using only organic, vegan and unheated ingredients. Well I tried it and I found the texture to be great quality, the pack is like a facial scrub so really cleanses your pours. The only downside is that it smells so yummy that I had to stop myself from tasting it.

You can buy the Raw Chocolate Face pack directly from Raw Gaia as well as selected health food shops and online stores in the UK and abroad.

Check out the Raw Gaia website

Monday, 12 November 2007

The New York Look Book

What do you get when you put together a gypsy, a park ranger, an opera lover, a hedge fund manager and a real estate broker? The answer is the New York Look Book: A Gallery of Street Fashion. Published by New York magazine, this opulent book captures some of the city's finest dressers. The celebration of style in NYC is something that has been celebrated since 2004 in the iconic New York magazine in it's weekly feature, The New York Look Book. This consisted of contributing editor, Amy Larocca and photographer, Jake Chessum setting up an impromptu studio on street corners in hip areas in Manhattan like Soho, Nolita, Lower East Side, East Village, west Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea and Union Square. Brooklyn is no longer seen as a no go area as places like Carroll Gardens, Boeum Hill, Cobble Hill and Williamsburg get their props.

My first impression of this title was that it was a great looking style book to flick over while chilling out on the sofa. However after a few pages it becomes clear that this is no coffee table book. The New York Look Book has hidden depths in terms of its photography and its witty observations by residents of the Big Apple. It is not just a book, it is a window into people's lives and voyeurism at its finest.

Written by Sylvia Ade

Lipstick Jungle vrs Cashmere Mafia

I finally got to watch a sneak preview of Lipstick Jungle last night. Don’t ask me how but I managed to find the whole pilot episode on a website and it is just as good as I envisioned it to be. Lipstick Jungle is based on the fourth book by Sex and the City author, Candace Bushnell. The glossy drama features the lives of three 40 something women who more or less run Manhattan. The stars of the show are Brooke Shields as Wendy Healy, a hot movie exec who is succeeding everywhere apart from her marriage, Lindsay Price as Victory Ford who is an independent and sassy fashion designer who gets embroiled with a powerful millionaire and Kim Raver as Nico Neilly, the lethal editor of a top glossy magazine who embarks on a dangerous extra-marital affair with a younger man. I read the book a couple of years ago and I was surprised by how good it was and I fell in love with all three female protagonists. The TV series captured the warmth that the women hold towards each other and each character oozes of charm.

Coincidentally or not – there is another show hopping about called Cashmere Mafia that has been produced by Darren Star (good buddies with Candace Bushnell for 20 years both pictured above) who is infamous for bringing S&TC to life on the small screen. The series stars Lucy Liu and is based on four successful NYC ladies who happen to be best mates. Of course it has been dubbed the thinking woman’s S&TC. Now let me give you the lowdown here. According to The New York Times, Bushnell had written parts of the book in Star’s house in East Hampton. Star put in a bid to secure the rights for Lipstick Jungle only to lose out to NBC. Jubilant about the impending thought of having another hit series on her hands, Bushnell threw a mini celebratory drinks party while receiving congratulatory phone calls from family and close friends. Everyone apart from Star. She was perplexed and confused, why hadn’t her close buddy and TV spar, Darren called her? So she put in a call to him. It turns out that Star had news of his own; he also had a show that had been picked up. It was called Cashmere Mafia and very similar to Lipstick Jungle. Needless to say Bushnell was shocked – she knew that Star had tried to buy the rights to Lipstick Jungle but she had no idea that he was working on a show of his own. Oh yeah, the two of them are no longer so tight.

Coincidence or total plagiarism? Read the whole article in The New York Times and tell me what you think?

Feast your eyes on clips from Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia and see how they measure up.

Lipstick Jungle

Stars: Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan), Kim Raver (24), Lindsay Price (Beverly Hills 90210)
Location: New York
Writer: Candace Bushnell (Sex and the City)
Producer: Lisa Melamed (Party of Five)

Cashmere Mafia

Stars: Lucy Liu (Ally McBeal), Frances O’Connor (The Importance of Being Earnest), Miranda Otto (The War of the Worlds), Bonnie Somerville (The OC)
Location: New York
Writer: Kevin Wade (Maid in Manhattan, Working Girl)
Producer: Darren Star (Sex and the City, Beverley Hills 90120, Melrose Place)

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Audrey Hepburn

She was a complete and utter fashion icon and turned the Tiffany's store into the famous establishment it is now. Few fashion bodies would argue about Audrey Hepburn's place in the history of fashion. Her films, Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Sabrina and the wonderful, Breakfast at Tiffany's are renowned for their wardrobes as well as the storyline. The Movie Icon series have released a photo book that is a visual biography of Hepburn, titled simply A.Hepburn, it captures her career from her teenage years to maturity. The book is A5 sized and is divided into five sections; Audrey Hepburn:Incandescent, Visual Filmography, Chronology, Filmography and Bibliography. Our first introduction of the book is a wonderful image of Audrey looking doe eyed and vulnerable on the cover of the book. Her hair is cut into the elfin cut that she made chic and she is wearing a touch of eyeliner and red lipstick. Open the book and we have a emphatic picture of Audrey as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's lying back in a chair saluting you in THAT black dress.

The first section, Audrey Hepburn:Incandescent consists of an introduction written by screenwriter and critic, F. X. Feeney that has been translated into different languages. The next section is Visual Photography which consists of numerous stills of the petite actress in her films and magazine covers. Visual Photography is sectioned into three sub sections; Girl has pictures of her from her early acting days in films like Laughter in Paradise, Portrait, Young Wives Tale, The Lavender Hill, The Secret People, Gigi and from the delectable Roman Holiday. Growing Pains has more images of Hepburn from films such as Sabrina, War and Peace, Love in the Afternoon and Funny Face, transformation has a selection of images from films like Green Mansions, The Nun's Story, The Unforgiven, The Children's Hour, Charade, Paris When it Sizzles, My Fair Lady and of course Breakfast from Tiffany's. Woman features Hepburn ripe in her 30s in films such as How to Steal a Million, Two for the Road and the thriller, Wait till Dark. There are also footage of her in her later years in the last film she ever made, Always.

This poetic visual section is followed by a chronology of her life on a personal and professional life. There is also a wonderful filmography of her body of work which has the artwork from movie adverts and this is followed by a short bibliography. The book ends rather similar to the way it started with a double page spread of Hepburn as Holly Golightly but this time with her eyes closed. A rather fitting ending I might say.

I am a complete Hepburn fan and have been ever since I saw her sashaying down Fifth Avenue, in Breakfast at Tiffany's wearing those over sized sunglasses and stopping to peer into the windows of Tiffany's. How I love that film, I was enthralled when I saw it for the first time as a 19 year old and I drool when I hear the song, Moon River. If you are Hepburn fan like I am then you really need to get this book.

Audrey is part of The Movie Icon series and is out now!

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Meaning of Sunglasses and a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable

Not content with doing the ghost writing thing for people such as Victoria Beckham, uber fashionista, Hadley Freeman has gone and written her own book. The Meaning of Sunglasses and a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable is a book that covers the humour, eccentricity and joy of fashion. Freeman who is The Guardian’s deputy fashion editor co-wrote Ms Beckham's style book, That Extra Half an Inch, High Heels and Everything in Between. In her own book she goes beneath the mystique of fashion and the cliquey culture and more or less brings it to the masses. However, take note, The Meaning of Sunglasses is not meant to be an A-Z of fashion or a guide to wearing clothes. Its USP is its irreverence. So there you go, another one to add to my long list. Boy is that coffee table is getting heavy. Hadley’s book is expected to hit the stores next February and is published by Viking.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Cover Girl

Nabbing a super hot, A list star for your cover is no longer a big deal for glossy magazines. Check out the women's magazine rack and you will see famous personalities like Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera and Rhianna peering out at you. Publishers are now pushing the boat out and going that one step further. To go with that lavish cover shoot is the cover shoot video where behind the scenes footage of the star is screened. This is viral marketing at its best as this video is plugged in the Editor's letter and posted on the magazine's website as well as YouTube. Practically every magazine worth it's salt has followed suit such as NYLON, Marie Claire, Elle and InStyle. Check out the shoot with Queen of cool, Gwen Stefani during her cover shoot for the November issue of InStyle.