Posts tagged ‘novel about fashion’
March 30, 2017
This Friday, March 31st, the 2017 Franco-Irish Literary Festival begins and will continue right through the weekend. Organised by Alliance Française and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Ireland, this annual festival celebrates the unique relationship between Ireland, France and other francophone nations through highlighting the work of their writers.
With fashion as the theme of this year’s festival, Betimes Books’ own Jackie Mallon had her first novel, Silk for the Feed Dogs, selected to be included.
Silk for the Feed Dogs follows Kat Connolly’s first steps as a fashion designer after she leaves Central St Martin’s School in London. Kat’s career brings her from one major fashion capital to another and, as an Irish girl trying to make her way in the international fashion industry, Kat not only encounters plenty of culture shock, but also finds herself having to compete for a spot with people who aren’t afraid to cut down those in their path. Based on her own experiences as a globetrotting fashion designer, Mallon humorously shares with us what it was like to work in this industry as an Irishwoman from Co. Tyrone.
As part of the Franco-Irish Literary Festival, Mallon will be speaking at a panel discussion on Saturday, April 1st at 12.15pm in Dublin Castle. We would love to see you there on Saturday to hear Mallon discuss fashion and writing with French writer, critic and film director Frédéric Beigbeder and Irish journalist Deirdre McQuillan, as well as her experience writing Silk for the Feed Dogs.
But for now, to celebrate this wonderful achievement, we would like to (re-)introduce you, to some of the colourful characters from Mallon’s debut novel.
Ever since she was a little girl, Kat has never followed the rest of the crowd. As a child growing up on a farm in rural Ireland, Kat was just as content feeding cows as crafting tiaras out of sweets and colouring pencils.
“…my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort.”
The same individualistic spirit follows her to London and Milan when she begins her career as a fashion designer. Tired of copying other people’s designs in her first job in London, Kat makes a sudden decision to follow her friend, Edward, to Milan. Kat finds Italy’s fashion capital to be teeming with artists and fashionistas – but which are friend and which are foe? In the highly competitive fashion world, will Kat be able to distinguish between who she can and cannot trust?
Edward and Kat did not get off to the best start. When they first met at Central St Martin’s School, Edward made sure to demarcate a boundary line on their shared desk, with none of Kat’s fly-away sketches or rolling pencils permitted to trespass.
Despite the chilliness of this first encounter, the pair strike up an enduring friendship, built on their dry sense of humour, taste for the eclectic, and determination to succeed in spite of the naysayers.
“He sparkled from wherever he was in the room. The sequined head of Debbie Harry — actual size — emblazoned the left boob and shoulder of his t-shirt, silver discs flashing like a smashed heart of glass.”
As their careers progress in Europe’s fashion capitals and they grapple with shrewd landlords, exploitative bosses, and the might of the continental male, their friendship means they always have each other to fall back on.
“She was one of those women: the ones that intimidated me just passing them in the street, a lioness.”
Lioness – this is Kat’s word for the beautiful, confident women she sees every day in Milan. Ginevra, her Italian roommate, is just such a creature; her dainty frame may lead you to believe she’s a delicate flower, but in fact she’s a no-nonsense woman with her eye on the prize. Her prize? A strong Italian husband.
“With her tumbling tresses and prominently displayed bosom, she called to mind a saloon madam stepping between two cowboys who were brawling over one of her ‘girls’.”
With experience searching high and low for the ideal man, and having met one too many bambinos and Lotharios, Ginevra is well-trained to be Kat’s cultural advisor on the Italian male. Cocky or passionate? Or both? Kat’s at a loss. But Ginevra can help with that.
“They seemed to dance with a fire just behind the pupil. His black hair spiked every which way and his wide smile looked almost sinister outlined by a thick goatee like the ones people draw on posters at bus stops.”
The barman from Atomic who stares at Kat every time she’s there. Massimiliano looks like a cross between a wild pirate and a mysterious rock star, and it doesn’t take him long to grab Kat’s attention. But how will this Irish girl deal with his advances? With Ginevra’s vast wisdom at the back of her mind, can Kat work out whether Massimiliano is someone she can trust, or whether he is just another Lothario in it for the thrill?
“She was addressing a blond, middle-aged woman in a long coat and green gloves. It was an expensive coat that had led the life of an inexpensive one.”
Having missed out on featuring her designs in the graduate fashion show, Kat doesn’t feel very confident about her job prospects after college. While roaming through a clothes market in London, Kat comes across Lynda, her first boss. At first, Lynda and her design business look like the image of success, but not long into her job at Lynda Winter Designs, Kat begins to wonder what exactly she has gotten herself into. How long can she put up with Lynda’s ever-changing mood and love of pitting employees against each other?
A visionary. A shining beacon of fashion. One of the most renowned designers in the world – and Kat managed to get a job with him.
No one, including Kat, can understand how she stumbled across a position at the illustrious House of Adriani. Rude and unreasonable, Adriani does not warm to Kat at first; in actual fact, he treats her exactly the way he treats the rest of his employees.
“He’s like a child responding to a tone of voice but paying no attention to the words. You see, he’s so removed from the real world, he has no idea what’s going on.”
The difference though is that Kat has never been one to fall at the feet of another. Stubbornly refusing to become another one of his submissive “Adroids”, Kat has to find a way of keeping true to herself while keeping her job at the same time.
“The Adroids clucked approval at Signor Adriani’s every decision: if he said ‘white’, it was met with enthusiastic nods; if he abruptly changed to ‘black’, they chorused anew in the affirmative. When he talked down to them, they agreed wholeheartedly”.
Arturo and Paola
In Kat’s eyes, Arturo, the Creative Director of the House of Adriani, and Paola, his co-conspirator, closely resemble phantoms.
“Arturo and Paola floated silently by like two characters from a Japanese horror movie, pale faces gazing alertly through the glass. Both wore black, their bottom halves billowing.”
It seems to her that they lurk ominously around every corner, intent on proving to Adriani that she is an imposter undeserving of sharing their workplace. Arturo and Paola are Adroids through and through; they shower Adriani with praise and are hostile to anyone else’s ideas. But a fresh insight was exactly why Kat was hired. How is she going to be effective at her job while fending off Arturo’s and Paola’s repeated attacks?
December 3, 2016
Blue and Unassuming Under the Christmas Star is a seasonal spin-off from Jackie Mallon’s book, Silk for the Feed Dogs. The story returns to the problems of the loveable but habitually disaster-prone Kat as she tries to find some Christmas spirit in the hearts of the famously grumpy New Yorkers.
Jackie Mallon manages to capture what it is that is so terrifying and exhilarating about the city. So for anyone longing for a proper winter and a proper Christmas, this is the perfect story to help you pretend that you’re in the city that can never be beaten for festive excess.
Blue and Unassuming under the Christmas Star
Kat, a farmer’s daughter from rural Ireland, and Edward, a preppy Economist-reading builder’s son from Birmingham, met five years ago in London at an illustrious school for fashion design. Forced to collaborate on a project, they became unlikely friends and upon graduation, embarked upon an exploration of the “Bella Vita” in Milan, Italy.
My debut novel, Silk for the Feed Dogs, follows the agreeable pair through the ruthless and hierarchical fashion system, as they design the course of their careers, talk Italian, and practice in the fine art of seduction, Italian-style.
In Blue and Unassuming under a Christmas Star, we find Kat a year later, landing in New York from Paris, where she and Edward have been living since leaving Milan. She is to meet Edward, who is arriving in town on the tail end of a work trip, at their hotel. Kat anticipates the kickoff of a glamorous holiday sojourn enjoying their friendship, the world-famous sights and revelling in the Big Apple’s gung-ho conjuring of the Christmas spirit. But one mishap threatens to throw a damper on it…
“She realizes she has left her phone on the AirTrain. A sign on the back of the cab driver’s seat informs her the airport is fifteen miles from Midtown Manhattan. Therefore she is about seven and a half miles away from her phone, and light years away from Edward. He’s stuck in Shanghai with no idea when he will board a flight. This she found out after landing at JFK. In a hurried voicemail message, he recounted a story about a lorry load of knit samples being stolen en route from the factory, leaving them with only thirty-five percent of the Spring collection. He would have to scramble to put everything into work again, and it was the night before he was supposed to leave, the night before he was supposed to join her for their glamorous Manhattan Christmas.
We couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, thinks Kat, looking out at the light snow flurrying between one lane of traffic and the next.
From the hotel she will call him. What if it’s night-time there? She’ll write him an email briefly explaining the loss of her phone and describe a hastily composed itinerary for the day. Then she’ll make her way back to the hotel and call him again around lunchtime. Otherwise she’ll just see him whenever he checks in. Whatever day he arrives. She looks down at her lap. She has been picking the skin on her thumb which she does when she is anxious. The distant Manhattan skyline stretches out alongside the cab like a misty hedgerow.
“Do you know the cross street, Miss?”
“Um, no, just the address, 204 West 29th?” The driver doesn’t look too impressed with her organizational skills either.
Why isn’t the street address enough here? And why isn’t the price advertised the price you end up paying? She is already fretting about what tip to give him.
The hotel lobby is medieval dark, dotted with untreated wood and hunks of dulled metal slabs edged with rivets posing as furniture. The soft lighting is mostly provided by the rows of laptops on low tables. She waits for a well-shaven man in a narrow cut suit to finish with another guest. He approaches beaming a wide, white-toothed welcome.
“Hello. My name’s Kat Connelly. I’m checking in.”
He studies the computer screen. “I don’t seem to have anything by that name.”
“Oh, of course not! It’ll be under Edward Brandreth. He made the reservation. Two single rooms.”
Wide, white-toothed understanding. He hits several keys. “No, I’m sorry, we have nothing under that name either. Are you sure you’re in the right hotel?”
The piece of paper in her right hand shows the name and address of this hotel, her handwriting. “It is––I mean, it should be. It was booked weeks ago. Are you sure? Can you just check again?”
No white teeth this time. “Do you have a confirmation or booking number?”
She hadn’t thought to print it out. “My friend Edward booked.”
He taps repeatedly the same key. “Wait up. I have a Brandreth for tomorrow night. Two single rooms. Ten days.”
“Oh, thank God! You had me there! I knew he couldn’t be that dizzy—I mean, dizzy enough, obviously, as the booking should include tonight, but at least all’s not lost. Phew!” With no effort she matches the width of his smile. “That’s a relief. Can I have a room for tonight, please?”
His smile goes again and the lobby darkens. She watches him shake his head. “I’m sorry, miss, it’s the week before Christmas, we’re full up.”
“I’ll take a double, whatever you’ve got. I don’t mind paying more.”
His demeanour softens and he leans in, his elbows on the counter. “Girl, you’re going to have trouble getting in anywhere no matter how much money you got.” His accent had eased down-home. “I mean, maybe a Holiday Inn in the boroughs but, seriously, come on, a room tonight? New York is busier than a one-legged dog with fleas.”
There it is: the calamity she feels has been looming since leaving the airport. Alone in New York City with nowhere to sleep. She and Edward should have figured out alternative arrangements in case something went wrong, because with their track record something always goes wrong. It seems inconceivable she didn’t get a copy of the confirmation email. Instead of discussing the details of the booking, they had spent most of their last phone conversation giddily quoting Christmas movies:
“If it’s Serendipity, I’ll get in two hours after you. I’ll meet you just left of Miracle on 34th Street.”
“Can you believe it, Jack Skellington? Next stop, shopping in Christmastown!”
“‘What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.’”
“‘I’ll take it. Then what?’”
“‘Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair!’”
Weighing the pointlessness of sitting in a hotel where she is not a guest versus the aimlessness of wandering the city alone, Kat chooses the latter. She’ll be able to think as she walks; neurons will wake up, band together, and storm her cranium to arrive a solution. She curses the people of Shanghai as a bunch of Scrooges trying to spoil their holiday merriment, all over a few sweaters.
If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!
The desk clerk agrees to hold her luggage until the evening. “It’s against hotel policy if you’re not a guest but, geez, far be it from me to contribute to your troubles, child. Quick, leave it there, I’ll pretend I don’t see.” Theatrically he turns away. “I see nothing!”
Taking a deep breath, she steps out into the circular currents of snow and asks someone directions for Fifth Avenue. Considering herself well-travelled, she is surprised how much New York intimidates her with its size and noise and brashness. What becomes immediately clear is she’s not wearing the right shoes. Her toes are clenching in retreat from the damp that’s seeping through the seams of her vintage leather. She studies the feet that pass; even the lower legs of the women wearing dainty pencil skirts culminate in one of two ways: a quilted nylon blob, somewhere in the vicinity of a ski boot gathered by drawstring at the calf, or a garishly patterned rubber boot resembling children’s footwear that waggles about the leg. Both serve to annihilate the line of calf to ankle. Parisians would opt for being born with a cloven hoof rather than have that happen, regardless of the weather, she thinks, then reminds herself that this is the land where chic lags behind comfort. In every company she has ever worked, jersey knit, the ultimate leisure fabric, sold best in the US market. In her line of business, she can’t help but compare how people dress from place to place and what they tote, forming opinions, reaching conclusions.
She catches a glimpse of herself in a window. Hands clasped before her, she looks like she’s praying. She resolves to be less of a blip moving erratically across a grid and more attuned to her surroundings.
She wonders how she ever found her way about or did anything before smartphones, and then gives a grunt. Smartphones render their owners idiots.
Even as her thinking desperately turns to public pay phones, she notices how many people are bearing down on her at speed, heads bent over their own personal screens and keypads. Pate first, they charge; a herd of headlong bovines branded with Apple or Samsung. A telephone booth, there has to be one or two left. The words telephone booth sound so cozy as she trudges on, the prospect of curling up in intimate seclusion for a chat with a friend so appealing. It suddenly sounds as archaic a term as hat box, penny farthing, and powder puff. Still, there just has to be one or two left.
A massive stone building, beautiful, opens up on her left with sculptures of robed men lining the ledges against the sky, four sets of twin columns flanking tall arched entrances, and two stone lions on podiums. The brave pair wear wreathes around their necks and matching jaunty red satin bows tied at the throat. Carved into the stone in large capitals are the words New York Public Library. A library is for the people, she reasons, a bricks and mortar font of information left over from the pre-Information Age, immobile, uninvolved with satellite signals, and from what she can see, open. Hurrah for the old world! She climbs the steps, past the lions surely guarding the last of the city’s public telephones, heartened by the sight of the gold and red Christmas tree twinkling warmly just inside the central archway. A security guard steps forward, asks to search her bag. He peeks inside and taps the leather reassuringly to move her on.
“Can you tell me where the public telephones are, please?”
“Payphones, you mean?” He smiles. “Huh, now, there’s a question. Do we still have them even?” He looks around, purses his lips. Without warning he calls out, his voice echoing through archways, up stairways and crashing off ceilings “Hey… Hey Curtis! Yo, we got any payphones up in here?”
When those echoes subside, new ones ripple in from a hidden Curtis. “Yeah, bro. Saw them the other day. By the children’s section.”
The security guard points over his shoulder to the right. “Just through there, the second room.”
Her eyes glisten with unspoken thanks as Curtis’s voice soars in again. “They all broken though. Somebody needs to make it their business to call a repair guy.”
The sight of her downcast face touches the security guard, compels him to offer what he thinks is a serviceable solution. “Miss, we have Wi-Fi though. On every floor, in every reading room and even in the grounds outside.” With a nod and smile, his duty done, he beckons the next visitor forward. Kat heads back down the steps to be reclaimed by the Fifth Avenue throng.
The ground is laced with white now. As she walks she imagines herself at the centre of a Christmas movie scene, the city’s noises, already dulled by snowfall, overtaken by some soaring Henry Mancini soundtrack with added jingle bells, the cameras panning out to focus on her lone black figure growing smaller on the city’s grand grid, progressing uptown, yes, uptown because now she is at 49th Street. She finds the architecture miniaturizing, yet when she manages to forget for a second her predicament, it’s uplifting too. She could be protagonist or extra in any story here, feel like a star or be extra anonymous. On impulse she reaches out and touches the expensive plaid sleeve of a passing woman’s coat.
“I’m terribly sorry, would I be able to use your cell phone briefly to make a call? I’m alone in the city and––” The woman flicks Kat’s fingers from the plaid without stopping. Kat tries this with three more strangers. An older woman steps back alarmed which makes Kat fade embarrassed into the crowd, her heart pounding. A teenager tells her to get lost. Finally a man pauses and listens to her tale with his head cocked to one side. At first it might be a business pitch he’s hearing but presently Kat detects in his eyes a glimmer of compassion. Then at the mention of Shanghai, he splutters “Yeah, right!” and bolts with a flap of his topcoat. Bolstered, however, Kat fishes ten dollars from her purse and holds it in both hands as she approaches another man in a suit, tie and topcoat. These corporate types seem to be the most amenable to her intrusion, and she ignores her uneasiness when she thinks how it must look: young female approaching older businessman leading to a sidewalk exchange of money.
“Listen, I’ll help you out, but if my wife calls, I need to answer it, you got that? She’s been chasing me all day and I’ve sent her to voicemail four times.” He looks down the street, both ways, turns his lapel up. “She is not happy.” He waves away her money and hands her earbuds. “Use these. I’ll keep hold of the phone.” Glancing up gratefully and with clumsy fingers, she inserts them in her ears, pulls the same piece of paper that contains the hotel address from her pocket and punches in Edward’s cell phone number. Her forefinger picks a shard of skin from around her thumbnail and she barely registers the sting of it as she listens to the dial tone. Curse him to Almighty for not answering. She can picture him squinting at the screen, lifting it up to study the number, pursing his contrary little lips, then replacing it on a desk with a sniff and turning back to what he was doing. It goes to voicemail and she feels like hurling the stranger’s phone into the traffic.
“Hey, it’s Edward. Why are you disturbing me with a phone call? Nowadays it’s much less invasive to text. Oh, while you’re here, go on then, leave a message. If you must.”
BEEP. Barely managing to keep from shrieking, she launches breathlessly into her message, “Bloody hell, Edward! You booked the hotel for tomorrow night, not tonight. I’m stranded in New York with no place to sleep! I’ve lost my phone and––” There is a noise, not a promising one. The phone gulps and she realizes the man has shot off in the other direction with the phone to his ear, the chord of his earbuds dangling between her fingers. “Hey! Wait, please! I was in the middle of talking! WAIT please, I’m begging you!” She runs after him and pulls at his coat, his sleeve, his flapping scarf; he jerks away. “No it’s no one, honey. I promise. Don’t be silly, it’s just some crazy person on Fifth Avenue. Tis the season, after all. Look, I’ll be home early; we’ll go to our place.” He turns, mouths sorry and hurries off.
She drops onto the steps of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Mentally exhausted and with nowhere to sleep, she now recognizes the lumbering juggernaut of jetlag encroaching from the peripheries. The dusting of snow on the step turns to water under her rear, no doubt marking her best coat in an unfortunate, truly homeless-looking way. Over her shoulder a long queue snakes from the door of the neo-Gothic cathedral around the block, a mixture of prayer book and guidebook believers anticipating the exalted stained glass, the Tiffany-designed altar, the lofty marble columns fanning out like palm leaves to the ceiling, and the pietà that’s three times the size of Michelangelo’s Pietà. She thinks about joining them and curling up just inside under the holy water fountain till morning. She could light a candle and leave it to the heavens to seal her fate. If Edward were here he would say, “You don’t come to New York to go to church, Kat, you can do that anytime. I personally don’t do religion unless I have drink in me. See? I’m more Irish than you think.”
She picks herself up and crosses the street alongside a trio of singing Santas bearing a Salvation Army donation bucket. Their accelerated harmonies of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” make shoppers dance and sway.
She fights to extract herself from behind a group of Italians who have halted smack dab in the middle of the pavement. They are all dressed in the same quilted jacket but in different colours and resemble a little barricade of activated airbags. She attempts unsuccessfully to go around them and the old irritation arises in her even though it has been over a year since she left. Loitering with lack of intent she called it. You can take the Italian out of the piazza but you can’t take the piazza out of the Italian.
“Permesso?” She sighs dramatically. “Mi fate passare?”
Looks of surprise. The airbags are deactivated. “Prego, Signorina!” Just like that, she has removed the look of the tourist from each of their faces by generously placing them on familiar territory. Sure enough, she feels their eyes work their way down the length of her and make the return journey.
“Mille grazie,” she says haughtily, passing through their centre. A few steps later, she, like them, stops short, infuriating those behind her.
Of course, there is its stature, but she is already used to the bigness of big here. That isn’t what makes it special. It is the inch-by-inch attention to detail on such a scale. The Rockefeller Christmas tree. There isn’t a pine needle that doesn’t sparkle against the fuchsia-lit facade of the skyscraper behind it. It is the Taylor-Burton diamond of Christmas trees. It symbolizes ambition, hope, confidence.
Kat has to believe this energizing trio must surge through the city all year round but at Christmas they really come into their own, accompanied by French horns, gussied up with flashing lights and tied with bows. Quiet confidence is an oxymoron here, quiet hope akin to hopelessness, quiet ambition no ambition at all. That must be the New York way from what she has observed. Just four hours since landing and she marvels at the unapologetic volume of people’s voices. Everyone’s an announcer. Italians yell at each other in the street, a barrage of obscenities or the same predictable Ciao Bellissima, but New Yorkers make you privy to the full-throated details of divorce settlements, bank accounts, therapy sessions, troubled childhoods, this verbal release ushering them on to greater things. All the neuroses of a Woody Allen film seem to sputter from the city’s orifices like natural waste, better out than in. Beside her, with the Rockefeller spectacle as his backdrop, a man on his cell phone describes being audited by the tax authorities, having his screenplay rejected by a famous director and getting hit by a yellow cab––and no health insurance!––all in the same week. Then he turns and offers her a toothpaste commercial grin. Built on the smoldering remains of trauma and dysfunction rises the city of eternal hope; white teeth in the face of adversity.
She decides she would do well to learn a thing or two from them and quit being such a defeatist. All she needs is a room for the night. There are infinite possibilities that could yet unfold. A brass band bursts buoyantly into “Good King Wenceslas” and she feels grateful she didn’t leave her wallet behind instead of the phone. She drinks in one last view of the tree and adjusts her thinking. I am in control of my own destiny. Look around! Here I am in the heart of Manhattan despite less than ideal circumstances but how can I complain if I am at the centre of the world? This isn’t called the Empire State for nothing.
The corner of Fifty-Fourth and Fifth offers prime people-watching opportunities. New Yorkers have a possessiveness to their stride; every purpose-filled step is a flag planted in the patch of cement they have landed on. Even though their foot abandons it immediately in search of pastures new, for that fleeting moment, that square meter of the city is all theirs, a successful mini takeover bid. Kat tries to mimic this and with renewed resolve, enters two nearby hotels and requests a room. Both times the hotel staff wear the same looks of worried confusion that the previous hotel clerk wore.
Then Kat sees it, blue and unassuming under a Christmas star of neon fixed to a lamp post: a public telephone. It’s clear it’s working because a man is talking into it, and quite animatedly at that. The brass band plays on and Kat blesses their merry souls. She almost tingles with the certainty that this time she will get through, that Edward will have listened to her truncated message and will be on alert for her to call again. Dare she hope it?
As she draws near, there is a new noise discernible above all the rest, a sound like the animalistic grunt boxers make when they suffer repeated blows to the head. The telephone user’s voice. “Look behind me, he says. Behind me, motherfucker? I ain’t no fool. Put your head back in your Facebook. Tell me, does this train run express? Huh, does it? Holy shit, this carriage stinks.” His head, wrapped in a purple bandanna that’s tucked under an orange baseball cap embellished with badges, jerks back with the delivery of every short sentence as if with the force of a punch. He pokes the air for emphasis. “It’s the Uptown train I need, motherfucker. Get out my way!”
He removes the phone from his ear and stares the mouthpiece down. With his lips pulled into two taut slivers, he mutters between clenched teeth and strikes the corner of the payphone with the receiver, a gut-wrenching noise, simultaneously slamming his fist against the numbers, once, twice, three times. Kat is beside him. “No-no, please, no don’t do that, no…” She seizes the receiver, prizing his fingers off it one by one. His hand falls limp. Puzzlement knits his features. He frees the telephone receiver and runs off, turning to look back at her as he cuts through the crowd.
Close to tears, Kat hangs up the receiver. She can feel the pulse at her wrist stampeding. She lifts the phone again, her body slack with pessimism, and holds it to her ear. Not a sound. Probably wasn’t even working in the first place.
The bobbing and curtsying sound of the brass band can be heard from several blocks away, mocking her.
And the Grinch said, “Blast this Christmas music… it’s joyful AND triumphant.”
Up ahead, a sign propped against a homeless man’s knees catches her eye, and its gallows humour manages to draw from her the vaguest smile: “I always wanted to be someone but I see now I should have been more specific.”
“I love your sign,” she tells him, yearning for conversation. “Profound.”
“Could you spare some change please, Miss?”
She can’t resist asking his name. Sean. Sean Donnelly. He is a down-on-his-luck corn-fed All-American boy with an all-round good Irish name. His sign informs her he needs bus fare back to Kansas. She empties her purse.
Sean counts the different sized coins she has poured into his hand and looks up at her. “Sixty-four cents? You’re giving me sixty-four cents?”
“Is that all that’s there?” Back in her purse, nothing; she fishes in her pockets, nothing. “I’m sorry, that’s all I have. I haven’t been to an ATM machine yet.”
“Man, I cannot believe it. What the fuck am I supposed to do with that?”
In Sean Kat recognizes not a point of conversation anymore but the repository for all her frustrations. “Give that money back, you little shit. Go on, hand it over.” She holds out her hand and several shoppers gasp. “Come on, it’s Christmas, let it go,” says one, “you won’t miss it.” “You mind your own business,” she hisses, bracing herself menacingly at the passers-by who walk on, shaking their heads and muttering, “Some people have no sense of charity, and at this time of year…” When Kat turns back to Sean, he wears a look somewhere between amusement and challenge.
“You’re disrespecting me. You don’t deserve my money. I didn’t have to give you anything, I could have walked on by like everyone else. This is not a place for pennies, I can see that. Well, fair enough, give it back, come on. Hold out for some of those great big dollar bills you’re waiting for. And good luck to you!” She looks at the yoghurt pot he uses to collect money, gives it a light kick. It contains silver and copper but only two notes. “It looks like they’re harder to come by than you think.”
“You’re a feisty wee one, aren’t ye?” His accent evokes less of the Kansas cornfields and more of the Wicklow Mountains. “If you want your money back you’ll have to come in here and take it.” He puts the hand holding the coins down deep into his sleeping bag.
“You’re not even American. You and your transatlantic false accent.”
“Who broke your train set? Don’t you have no Christmas spirit? You’re in the wrongest place on earth then, aren’t you?”
She hunkers down and leaning against the wall of a men’s luxury tie store, she breathes in deep, falls silent. She secretly enjoyed that outburst, probably because Sean is the first company she’s had since she left Charles de Gaulle. She eases up and finds him to be a decent listener as she confides in him her run of poor luck.
“There’s a YMCA on Forty-Seventh that might have vacancies if you don’t mind the bedbugs, cockroaches and constant smell of marijuana, as well as the long walk down The Shining corridor to get to the shared bathroom. It’s where I go when I’m feeling flush after a win on the horses, it being a smidgen closer than the Waldorf Astoria.” He smiles wryly and produces from his sleeping bag the latest iPhone which with a swipe of his finger casts a festive glow onto his features. He hands it over. “Call them.”
“You got the newest one. How? There’s even a waiting list.”
“I took my sleeping bag and camped outside the Apple store overnight. I got the second last one.”
The Hispanic lady who answers the phone tells Kat there are no vacancies but sometimes there are no-shows and she should stop by that evening around seven when they give out unused beds on a first come, first serve basis. It’s the most encouraging news she’s had since she landed. She visits an ATM machine and drops twenty dollars into Sean’s yoghurt pot. Then adds another ten in exchange for making a second call to Edward.
This time she expects no response and isn’t disappointed. She leaves a message stating that she will be at the YMCA Vanderbilt at seven and will hopefully stay there that night. “Otherwise I’ll be temporarily residing in a cardboard box on Fifth Avenue––cross street?––Fifty-Sixth beside a nice Irishman called Sean whose phone I’m using to make this call that you can’t be bothered to answer. But the cardboard box will be Bergdorf Goodman’s largest because this was supposed to be a glamorous holiday after all, and it will have oodles of tinsel draped over it because, God forbid, I lose the Christmas spirit. Hope you’re warm and cosy toasty with a dirty martini at arm’s length. Ciao.”
“Ah, sarcasm. I do miss me ma.”
While Sean slides his iPhone into the depths of his sleeping bag, Kat rises and hops about to warm up. “I can only imagine what else you’ve got down there.”
He flashes a crooked smile. “It’s not the most subtle of advances I’ve heard but what the hell, cease imagining immediately, woman, and hop on in.” He lowers the zipper and holds open the mouth of the sleeping bag. “I’ll show you mine if––”
“Oh, God, I didn’t mean that! I mean, I wasn’t, God, total embarrassment.”
“Ach, I’m only messin’ with ye.”
She smiles. “Right. Well, I’m going to have to keep moving or I’ll catch pneumonia. Although of sturdy stock, today I’m being sorely tested. Care for a walk?”
“Can’t, doll. Guy’s gotta make a living.” Sean’s American accent is back. He spirits the bills from the yoghurt pot, shakes the coins up and looks expectantly into the faces that pass. She wishes him merry Christmas and melds with the crowd.
Soon she is in the thick of Manhattan’s fanciest shops, passing Prada, Henri Bendel, Gucci, Tiffany, Dolce & Gabbana. Street carts sell roasted chestnuts and hotdogs but she can’t account for the smell of cinnamon everywhere. It hangs under her running nose. Eartha Kitt purrs from every doorway, “Santa cutie, fill my stocking with a duplex and checks. Sign your X on the line…” She should feel right at home; it’s the New York equivalent of strolling along Via Montenapoleone or rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré as she and Edward had done so often in the past. She wishes he was beside her, the sight of luxury goods making her feel surprisingly melancholy. The window displays are like spreads from her favourite fashion magazines, opulent optical feasts curated with an eye for theatre, and yet, she can reduce them to towers of expensive white-frosted clutter in a second.
She joins the little assembly of fashion devotees paying homage outside the first window of Bergdorf Goodman. The window is as large as a room, with all the pomp and ceremony of a Broadway stage. Kat’s eyes gorge on human-sized marionettes brandishing trumpets, frilled candy-striped lampshades resembling the petticoat skirts of Toulouse-Lautrec’s dancers, crystal-flecked Venetian masks and studded pink suede shoes, little caped drummer girls, bunches of swollen grapes tumbling from goblets and confetti-flecked doughnuts as big as wreathes suspended above vintage cars; velvet purses under icicles and whipped cream pies arranged in a still-life with jellyfish, tapestries and reptiles; Audrey Hepburn’s pearls are strewn across the leather and chrome of a Harley Davison parked in a glacially lit grotto next to a stuffed peacock; giant slices of cake with chocolate dipped strawberries may have been made of papier-mâché, but Kat would eat them all anyway. This glorious lack of cohesion makes her want to lick every window. She craves all of it, her nose to the glass in the hope of at least smelling it. She hadn’t known this ravenous consumer was rushing about inside her, clamouring to get out.
A liveried horseman in a frosted, duck-egg blue carriage pulled by a horse sprouting feathers from his forehead and a lei around his neck passes close to the sidewalk. Kat turns around just as the lascivious clap of manure hitting Manhattan’s tarmac rings out. A voice at her shoulder says, “Kat, how is it possible that livestock still know just where to find you, all these years after leaving the farm?”
“Edward!” The heads of the Bergdorf Goodman pilgrims swivel in unison. She squeezes him so tightly he yelps.
“You’re throttling me, you daft apeth! It hasn’t been that long. I just saw you a couple of weeks ago!”
“Are you joking? Did you get my messages? I’ve been worrying all day. How did you know where to find me?”
He winks. “As Cary Grant says to Deborah Kerr, “‘If you can paint, I can walk––’” She joins in, “‘––anything can happen!’ An Affair to Remember!” She squeezes his arm. “Yep, you’re real.”
“As real as Christmas, and twice as camp.”
“But still, how did you know in all of New York I’d be here?”
“It required no great calculation. I know you too well. I knew you’d stare moony-eyed for hours at these windows. Of course I did. What else would you do on your first day, the zoo? I’m not saying you’re predictable or anything. So I sat in the Plaza Hotel by the window and waited with a piping hot toddy for my trouble. I was getting worried. Would I be able to see you when it got dark? Lo and behold, I stepped outside to smoke a ciggie and saw you turn the corner right at the window that has the perfume bottles sliding down the mini ski slope. What a relief. I’ve picked up the cargo, crisis averted, now, let’s go. I’ve wangled a night at the Plaza for us from a rather charming gentleman I met. You’ll meet him too. Incidentally, do you know how much those suites cost? Cripes, try our whole holiday budget and then some! See, turns out I made a little mistakeroo with our hotel booking but don’t worry about it. They serve the best sidecars in the upstairs bar here and we can dine on truffle-flavoured popcorn––what are you looking at me like that for?”
“But I was planning on staying with the cockroaches at the YMCA, dining on the lingering smell of marijuana?”
“Suit yourself but it’s really rather nice over here. Aren’t you cold? You look a wreck. Why is the arse of your coat all black? You look like you’ve slept on a park bench. This is the Plaza we’re talking about!”
“Did you see the Valentino shoes in that third window?”
The bar upstairs at the Plaza is doused in crimson light. Everything dances and flickers, down below the magnificent chandeliers sparkle in the art deco foyer, its domed ceiling of sepia stained glass florals trellised with black shedding a benign serenity over the heads below. The Christmas tree is trimmed with ropes of crystals and shimmering glass balls and at the heart of all these lights, beams, sparkles and glimmers, Kat and Edward’s eyes dance as their conversation meanders.
Outside, the white-gloved doormen welcome guests from town cars. The horse drawn carriages have bottlenecked at the entrance to Central Park. Yellow cabs circle the Pulitzer fountain arriving and departing the hotel’s red carpeted front steps in steady numbers. At the centre of it, Pomona, the goddess of abundance, with her basket of fruit raised, looks off contentedly, to the right of Kat and Edward, beyond the trees into Central Park, past the ice rink and the Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis reservoir and to the dark empty grassless greens of Strawberry Fields and Sheep Meadow, now completely white.”
June 18, 2015
EARLY TRENDS IN FARMING
From Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon
I heard the engine of the old red Massey Ferguson fart into life and I emerged running, scrambling to get my wellies on. We were on a rescue mission, Da and me. A cow was refusing to feed her calf. I’d seen it born that morning before I went to school, my bottom numb from being perched so long on top of the barred gate. But it was the animal’s back end that bothered me, or what protruded from it: two spindly legs cut off at the knees, hooves pointed in the launch position. Uncomfortable as the cow had looked, she didn’t seem inclined to finish what she’d started. I couldn’t blame her – it looked exhausting. But she finally summoned the strength, gave two or three great heaves, and the contents of her belly slapped onto the ground. The calf lay sprawled and shivering. The noises he made, after a few moments of silent outrage, were more like those of a curious cat. As his eyes rolled slowly over this new, harsher environment, all the aloof heifers kept their distance, swishing their tails. I held my breath, willing them to be kind, but they seemed to want nothing to do with him. I couldn’t leave him like that, crashlanded and splattered. It was only when I saw one or two cows join the reluctant mother in licking him clean that I jumped down and headed to school.
But throughout the day, he had stayed in my thoughts. As soon as I got home, I hurried to find Da. He said the calf had grown weak. The mother had disowned it. I had ten minutes to wolf down my tea, and we were off, soon turning onto our lane. It was pulpy from the rain and sported a shiny green mohawk that brushed the undercarriage. The hedges were higher than our heads, rampant with hawthorn, gooseberries, and whin. Sometimes Da let me drive on the lane and, as I let go of the clutch and we started to move, I felt the engine’s gentle exhalation, its big and biddable strength. But today we talked little and he remained in his seat, his lips set in a tight line. The Massey didn’t have a cab so the distant drone of silage spreaders, the flapping wind, the muted barking of a dog were our company.
From the dual carriageway people would see the Massey disappearing between the hedges and comment: “That’ll be Dan Connelly and at his shoulder there’ll be wee Kathleen, the great farmer. She’ll run that place one day.” That’s what they’d been saying since I was old enough to understand. I always concealed my pride, never letting slip even a smile.
The Massey represented freedom, the open land. Every time Da raised his boot to the footplate, threw his leg over and lowered himself into the calloused seat with the threadbare cushion, I could see the silhouette of our Sunday afternoon hero, John Wayne. My position was beside him up on the mudguard of the back wheel. Unless for funerals, Da only ever wore a shirt opened at the neck, rolled up to the elbows, and chestnut coloured trousers with the shape of his knees wedged in the cloth. At six, I wore smaller versions of the same. I had his farmer’s tan. My forearms, throat, and face were thick-skinned and freckled, my hair like tangled mélange yarn, often with a briar snarled in it.
We stopped in front of the cobbled-together cluster of byres with corrugated roofs, their numbers added to since granda’s time. Da led me around the back to a clearing where the cows congregated before milking.
“Mind the nettles,” he called.
I aimed to tread in his footsteps, but they were too far apart and my wellies sank, slivers of ground rippling at my heels like big wet tongues. I kept my toes clenched so the boots stayed on. While I’d been at school, Da had built a pen for the calf, using four iron gates tied together at the corners with twine, and scattered it with straw. That was where we found him, skinny limbs tucked underneath him, sleepy eyes trained on our approach.
“You stay outside, Kathleen. Right where you are is grand,” said Da as he climbed in. “Now, lift that plastic bottle with the teat and hold onto it. You’re going to feed him when I get him still.”
With Da’s help, the calf wobbled to his feet.
“Show him the bottle, Kathleen.”
I stuck the bottle through the bars and, with his nobbly knees quivering and hind legs crooked like elbows, he pushed off towards me. “Booley-legged’ was how Da described him, the same expression he used for neighbours he saw leaving The Farmer’s Rest some afternoons. The animal sent his tongue to examine the offering, then stretched his neck and grasped the rubber nozzle in his mouth. For all the size of him, there was remarkable force behind the cute sucking sounds. Ears pinned back, eyes wide and unblinking, he headbutted my hand to alert me when I wasn’t tilting the bottle enough. With my other hand I stroked the flat white forehead, imagined gliding a comb through those slinky albino eyelashes.
When he had finished, his tongue shot out again, but less suspiciously this time. Baby pink, as long as my forearm, the underside was a loofah exfoliating my damp knuckles. He went on to explore my shoulder and chew inquisitively on my collar. I squeezed my eyes shut as he discharged a gust of warm air in my face. The loofah worked its way over my nose and curled lazily across my forehead, finally inspecting what rested on my head: my ‘rainbow tiara’, constructed of three tiers of Caran d’Ache pencils adorned with clusters of M&Ms and trailing ribbons. Da laughed as the calf lapped contentedly at the candy, the ribbons tickling his nose, making him snort. When I opened my eyes, I noticed all the other cattle had gathered at the open gate and were looking on. The calf’s mother had separated herself from the herd and was sauntering towards us.
“There you are, you see, Kathleen?” said Da. “Your creative side might not always be appreciated by your classmates, but here they’re lapping it up. You just need to hang with the right crowd!”
Beloved though Da’s tractor was, it was another industrial machine that forced its way in to dominate my childhood: mum’s Singer sewing machine. Black and spiky, it towered over our kitchen like the arthritic nun that watched over school assembly. While the Massey pulled the plough that churned up the land, scattering new potatoes, Da proudly erect at its helm, mum sat hunched over the Singer, pressing the footpedal, easing the fabric to the needle, a crushed velvet waterfall tumbling over the side. She made curtains, or rather, window treatments, great bustled affairs with fancy names like ‘swags and tails’, ‘tie-backs’, and ‘pelmets’, garnished with rosettes, and little braided ropes, and tassels. People came from far and wide; she did a roaring trade making twitching net curtains for the parish to peer around.
I remember the day it arrived. I was doing geography homework in front of the fire when two neighbour men carried it in and wordlessly set it on the tiles. And that’s where it stayed. There was only room for one of us in the kitchen, and it soon became clear which one. I went to open the fridge door, and a bolt of fabric fell against me. At the doorstep, I kicked off my mucky wellies and trailed threads through the house instead. I swept the floor, but had to leave the sweepings so mum could pick the pins out. By the time she got round to it, it was all over the floor again. Da built an annex onto the kitchen, and we called it The Sewing Room. Mum stacked it to the ceiling with spools, thread, and cloth, crammed in a second-hand overlocking machine which drove her and the Singer back into the kitchen and me back out in the yard.
Cow dung was normal; thread balls were not. The loose gurgle of the tractor engine was music in comparison to the whirr of the Singer, which was neurotic, and monotonous, and drowned out the theme tune to “The Dukes of Hazzard”. I hated to invite what few friends I had home because I knew our kitchen didn’t look like theirs. They’d say mean things about mum and Da, and I couldn’t have that; we’d be known as gypsies like Fiona Harkin’s family who lived in a caravan. So on the afternoon my new friend, Siobhan Devlin, was due over, I asked if tea could be served in the hay shed; in fact it occurred to me that all my future entertaining could take place there.
An almighty row kicked off. Mum wouldn’t hear of it. What were we, tinkers? She started to cry. Da came in and at the sight of her tears ordered me to my room until I learnt some respect. I didn’t budge. He raised his voice, pointing to the door I was to disappear through. Just as he was about to go for me, he impaled the tender, paler underside of his arm on the Singer’s spindle. We spent the rest of the day in the hospital getting Da checked for tetanus and his arm stitched up.
Still, mum thought I would go into business with her when I finished school.
“Sit down in front of it,” she tried. “Don’t be scared. I’ll teach you the basics. There’ll always be money to be made in curtains. People never get tired of their privacy.”
But that beast had turned on Da. I thought of the old fable in which the King gives orders for every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be burnt because his daughter, cursed by an old maid, would prick her finger on one and die. Then to mum I responded, “I’ll be staying well clear of it. In fact, if I never go near a sewing machine again, or thread, or needles, or fabric, I’ll live happily ever after.”
June 5, 2015
Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs
A barman accepted the fifty, distracted during the aperitivo rush, so we had a little money until new funds arrived. We figured it would stretch farther away from the city, and the next morning we headed for Capri. I expected to see descendants of Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, hopping off sailboats, flitting along bougainvillea-lined walks in striped tops and wide-brimmed hats. Instead, I saw grotesque subjects of an embalmment process that had stepped out of the formaldehyde early, painted their faces, and donned teenagers’ clothing.
“Dietro, liceo. Davanti, museo,” commented Edward.
The women of Capri, suntanned, slim, with their golden hair rippling in the sun, exuded youth from afar. Up close, they were relics clutching with sheer desperation onto the last vestiges of the bella vita. From the back: high school. From the front: museum.
So we boarded a northbound ferryboat and alighted at Procida. Sleepy, wild, and full of adventure, we found we had much in common with the island. We ate catch of the day with spaghetti, local bread, and oil, washed down with cheap wine in squat little cups. We asked about room rates there but were told there were no vacancies and received a worried look. Undaunted, we strolled on, and then sunbathed where we fell on a patch of faded grass. In my mind’s eye, I was the fiery village girl played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta in Il Postino, despite my sunburned shoulders and outfit of Edward’s short shorts, beaded boob tube, and green turban set off with brooch.
It was only towards evening, when the last Bed & Breakfast door was closed on us, its sign that read Ospitalità della Natura swinging in our faces, that we confronted our plight.
“It looks like l’ospitalità della natura is exactly what we’ll be at the mercy of tonight,” I said.
“Who knew this poky little island would be such a popular destination,” said Edward. “Are you sure we’ve been to all the hotels?”
“Procida’s the size of my flat. We saw it all by our second lap.” I shrugged off my rucksack and dropped onto the sand dunes, burrowing my legs into the warm sand to reach the cooler layers underneath. “Ah, that feels nice.”
“Good. Tuck yourself in. I’ll be back.”
He raced off, leaving me trickling handfuls of sand onto my knees. I lay back and stared at the sky. It was the same blue as the robes of the Virgin Mary statue that welcomed (and turned away) guests at the corner leading to the last guesthouse. I would have had no trouble staying right where I was, just breathing in and out, tasting the robust air until I fell asleep. There was silence, except for muted communications between fishermen along the beach and some seagulls. It brought back memories of tramping about alongside Da, out in all weathers, bits of the earth lodged deep under my fingernails and the fresh air clinging to my hair and clothes.
Edward came panting through the dunes. “I know where we can sleep!”
I sat up, straightened my turban, and repositioned my shades.
“Come on!” He flew off again kicking up sand and I had no choice but to follow. I found him by an old upturned boat, one side propped up on four stones. “What do you think?”
“It’s almost a little hut.”
I surveyed the flakey blue paint, the damp, exposed wooden slats, the tendrils of seaweed hanging over the ‘doorway’ like wind chimes on a front porch.
“I’m game if you are,” I said. “But remember how you roared the place down when Ginevra trapped that mouse? Who knows what beasties the night will unleash? I say, it calls for some hard liquor. You make yourself at home. I’ll go see.”
“What do you mean, beasties? Where are you going?”
“Be right back!”
There was a little tavern in the central piazza, and I arrived at the same moment as the fishermen. When I explained our circumstances, the barman seemed quite decided and pulled from under the counter an unmarked bottle. “Superalcolico,” he cautioned. The fishermen greeted my query about the likelihood of snakes or scorpions on the beach with laughter.
“Well, if there weren’t any before you drink that, there will be after.”
As the sun was setting, Edward and I crawled inside our little bivouac.
“May the roof above us never fall in, and those gathered below it never fall out,” I said.
We lay on our bellies, looking out at the swaying navy and silver waves, passing the bottle back and forth.
“Well, we wanted to see the other end of Italy. Milan can be kind of one-note. Monothematic: la moda,” slurred Edward, extending his arms wide. “Whereas this is the unseen Italy. The corners that fashion forgot.”
May 12, 2015
“I should mention I have no method to my reading. If I had, I would waste less time on unworthy books (ah yes, The Goldfinch…)
Currently I’ve chosen well. I am revisiting the illicit charms of Lady Chatterley’s Lover which I read in my early teens probably concealed behind a copy of Smash Hits magazine. The language is flowery and a little archaic. Tittering must surely be encouraged when DH Laurence repeatedly describes the Lady orgasming as having “reached her crisis.” As Constance advances in her sexual awakening, all the flowers are in bloom in the woodland where she trysts with the groundsman in his hut.”
Continue reading here: A Blooming Good Read.
Jackie Mallon is the author of SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS
March 26, 2015
A fun look at the fashion world, March 25, 2015
“Silk for the Feed Dogs”, a novel by Jackie Mallon, follows Irish farmer’s daughter Kat Connelly as she works her way through the fashion world from the “fashion” house of a bottom feeder in London to the top of high fashion in Milan, all the while showing glimpses of this world from an insider’s point of view.
I’m sure a lot of people are currently asking why I read a book about the fashion world. A sense of style that I like drew me into this book that had at least a bit to do with the main character’s sense of style. In my case, I fell in love with Ms. Mallon’s illustrations for the book.
The illustrations are stylized in a way that says “fashion designer”, with some parts vague and others highly detailed, usually utilizing a bit of material for a skirt or other piece of clothing making the illustrations mixed media drawings. These drawings had classic vintage mixed with the modern. But that’s not what caught my eye. The drawings all have life and personality. More than that, there is humor and even a little whimsy. Of course the drawings don’t make the book but they made me curious.
By the time I finished the first chapter, which was set on an Irish farm, I decided I could use the same description for Ms. Mallon’s writing as I could her drawing. Classic yet modern, stylish, highly detailed mixed with vagueness at the perfect percentages, full of life and personality, written with humor and maybe a touch of whimsy.
And the main character, Kat, could be described much the same.
I liked the writing style. It made the novel a pleasant read. As the book went on I think the sense of humor actually grew. I’ll admit I truly laughed out loud, not simply lol, but a true laugh, when I read the description of the first time Kat saw the King at work. There were other places that were just as funny.
Although mostly light hearted, there was substance. Kat was portrayed as a real woman with wants and desires, with good points and bad. Many of the people she met on her journey through fashion-dom were purposefully caricatures, but every so often Ms. Mallon would take out her sharp designer’s pen and add detail to the vaguely drawn caricature and create a living, breathing 3-D character. And Kat stayed true to herself as a “real” person throughout.
I’ll admit I know next to nothing about the fashion world. That didn’t hold me back. I knew enough to understand pretty much everything. I’m sure I missed a higher level of what Ms. Mallon was saying in a few places because I don’t know the exact characteristics of this material or that, but even the limited knowledge of this straight male who has never opened a fashion magazine could catch the points and understand the humor. Even when the joke was deep into some detail of fashion I think I still got it. But most of the humor was about people and situation. The “types” that people Kat’s world transcend industry. OK, I’ve been to Italy twice and have read a lot about it. It’s possible I may have a slightly better understanding of some of what she says about that country and its citizens than someone who has never left middle America. Even so, if you know nothing about fashion, Italy, Milan, etc. this book shouldn’t go over your head, you should be able to “get it”.
So, did you get the sense that I liked the book? I’ve read a handful of excellent books this year, but I do have to say that “Silk for the Feed Dogs” was my favorite so far. It was a fun read and highly recommended.
March 9, 2015
From the interview that has just appeared in Marie-Claire Magazine and Atlas Jet Magazine, Turkey:
MC: Everybody sees The Devil Wears Prada as the book that brought the real face of fashion to literature, and many people compare your book to Devil. But actually Silk for the Feed Dogs comes from a deeper corner of fashion, where everything begins. Was it hard to write about the fashion world as an insider? What were the reactions of your fellow designers?
JM: If I was still working full-time in the industry I don’t think I would have written this book. I think a certain distance is required to recognise lunacy! The things you accept as normal when you’re deep inside the system become real head scratchers on the outside. Some designers are still trying to work out if they inspired some of the characters, in particular, the lovely Edward. I tell them all yes! Because it’s probably true. The design world has been particularly receptive to the book and I couldn’t be more grateful. They have appreciated someone lending a voice to the things they see and experience on a daily basis but which they might not have put into words. They have said that they cringed at some of the behaviours described but laughed more. While The Devil Wears Prada was essentially a fashion magazine story, Silk for the Feed Dogs goes right into the design studios and ateliers, to the beast’s lair if you like.
Read the full interview here:
Silk for the Feed Dogs is available here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs
February 10, 2015
“Come with me, little girl,” said Fausto, leading me back inside. “I’ll light your candy cigarette for you.”
The easiness of us surprised me. I had thought a relationship with an Italian man would be fuelled by arguments and accusations, judging by the amount of couples I came upon in the street doing their impression of a Punch and Judy show. I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the old stereotypes until I realized Italians wholly embraced them: women liked to be whistled at because it signified an appreciation of their femininity and the efforts they made with their appearance; men wore the lothario label proudly as a tribute to their manhood; both sexes considered outlandish exhibitions of jealousy a sign of devotion, and any reference to their highly strung personality was amended with the word ‘passionate’ and accepted with a shrug.
However, in Fausto, I had stumbled upon the antitype: reflective and trusting, he was an example of the less-chronicled new model of Italian male. He would come in from a football match and rustle me up a risotto. Next to his slickly presented countrymen, his hair never conceded to his wishes, its colour alone preventing him from ever appearing coordinated.
Among the sprawling herds of Vespas, Aprilias and Piaggios, his scooter, which he named Quasimodo, was the proverbial black sheep, a triumph of individuality. He didn’t own a cell phone carrying instead a battered volume of Italian poetry in the back pocket of his jeans.
I enjoyed his cooking—especially the truffle dishes––preferred his dishevelled manliness to the plucked and tweezed variety, and even developed a grudging respect for Quasimodo which he had assembled with his brother over the course of a summer mostly from scrap parts. The poetry he recited was from the thirteenth-century and had nothing to do with modern Italian established in the seventeenth century, so while I loved how it sounded—scholarly, lyrical, romantic—I didn’t understand a word.
All in all, Fausto and I had the kind of relationship I couldn’t even have dreamt up for myself.
The next day…
The sound of my phone ringing lifted me from my thoughts: it was Edward.
“Oh thank goodness, I am saved,” I said. “I’m on the tram of the damned, miles from civilization, hurtling through the frozen inner circle of hell. Keep me company, Edward. Tell me stories so I don’t fall asleep and end up God knows where.”
“Okay. How’s this for a story? I lent my flat to a friend for an evening, and she burnt the fucking place down.”
— Excerpt from SILK FOR THE FEED DOGS by Jackie Mallon
Available here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs
February 8, 2015
February 6, 2015
…just not in person. Nope. They’re sending Kat and Edward.
You see, Silk for the Feed Dogs is now on Kindle Promotion for a limited period in Australia!
Time to let everyone know Kat and Edward have landed. I’m calling all my Aussie blogging friends; poking on Facebook my fashion lovelies who are ahead of the trend by a whole other day; reconnecting with the Adelaide backpacker I met on a train in Austria when I was twenty-one; digging out the address of my old school pal whose family owned the town’s only ice-cream shop but who emigrated to Brisbane and left us ice-cream-less; tracking down the girl from my MA who dropped out and went off to save the Great Barrier Reef ( leaving us all behind to sew in rainy drizzly London)…Basically I’m asking anyone in the sixth largest country on the planet with its awesome displays of mountains, deserts, reefs, forests, beaches and bookstores to look out for the colorfully assorted pair and make sure they don’t get lost.
Read more here: Australia, I’m Coming….
February 5, 2015
“I got into my dress and new Prada shoes, smeared Ravish-Me-Red on my lips, and arranged the netting of my hat
over one eye. I grabbed my coat and couldn’t get out of that draughty warehouse fast enough. Instead of traffic, the streets were now filled with attractive girls and boys striding purposefully in every direction like they were part of a city-wide ad campaign. Confidently, I clipped along as if one of them. I turned the corner off Viale Piave, and the crowd changed. I passed the newsstand that was twice the size of all the others to accommodate its extensive range of porn magazines and DVD’s, vintage and current. I was slightly curious to know why it drew such solid business but not enough to raise my head. I hurried by the ogling men and across the intersecting tram tracks.
Edward waited by an entrance policed by dark-suited bouncers wearing earpieces. Despite the dark, the gleam
from his patent shoes reflected the animation of the city as he paced back and forth, and Debbie Harry twinkled from
underneath his tuxedo jacket. I snuck up behind him as he self-consciously arranged a ruffled evening scarf over his
shoulders like some grand dame waiting to be escorted on board her transatlantic passage.
“God, I thought you’d never get here!” he said. “I’m bloody freezing.”
“Von Dazzlington, I presume?”
C’mon, let’s just get in and get a drink down us. I could be wearing five of these patches, I’d still kill for a smoke.”
A girl consulted a list, the bouncers parted, and we tiptoed through. There was another triad of bouncers and two
more imposingly draped entrances through which the sounds of a DJ flown in from London beckoned from somewhere just beyond. Edward, unable to contain himself, stopped and broke into a shimmy causing me to crash into him.
“Steady. Keep it together,” he cautioned, importantly tossing his scarf and swatting me in the nose with it. “Let’s
not get chucked out before we’re even in.” We stepped through the final curtain and gawped.
“Bloody Nora!” I spluttered.
Edward concealed his first impressions more successfully.
“How entertaining,” he remarked.
Like a pair of boulevardiers, we strolled along a bar that stretched the length of one wall. Its lacquered surface was
laid with rows of cocktails, an invisible line dividing the gin tonics from the vodka tonics, the rum and cokes from the
whisky sours. All the straws faced east like the whole regiment was engaged in a formal salute of welcome. As drinks were snatched up, the infantry of topless barmen swooped in and lowered fresh ones into the gaps.
I selected a gin tonic but Edward hovered indecisively.
“Gin makes me sin.”
I could almost see the film reel of possibilities unspooling in his mind. But after a quick scan of the room, he said,
“What the hell, it looks like I’ll be in good company.”
We withdrew to an observation post, twirling and stabbing our straws in our glasses. What had been a state-ofthe-
art raised catwalk that afternoon had become a pulsating dance floor for a jumble of twiggy, writhing bodies.
They were silhouetted against a grid of lights and the effect was almost pagan, like watching a bonfire’s flames dancing between the tinder. There were low-hanging chandeliers and gold-trimmed cushions of Brobdingnagian dimensions for communal lounging: a tricky proposition as women in skimpy printed dresses tugged at hemlines but continued to reveal too much, and men with slicked back hair and baroquely patterned shirts aimed for a macho, spread-legged nonchalance but resembled toads on lily pads.”
— Excerpt from Silk for the Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon
Get it here: http://viewbook.at/silkforthefeeddogs
January 30, 2015
As a devotee of his runways in the late 90s and early aughts, I was mighty curious to see this exhibition. The press release describes his use of materials “with a certain history, elements with irreplaceable presence and with scars and memories of a former purpose.” Right then. I was all ready for a nostalgia trip, a slideshow of campaigns featuring his favorite model, Kirsten Owen, captured by his favorite photographer Jurgen Teller, washing softly over my eyeballs as I walked to the Bowery.
Inside I was rewarded with an opportunity for contemplation that would last longer than the time I spent in the gallery and it looks like I won’t arrive at any conclusions during this post either: there’s always time for ruminating on the longevity of fashion; the recycling of clothing; the myth of a fashion icon and the destruction of…
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December 17, 2014
Christmas is not always magic but good books always are.
Whether you love or hate Christmas, you might enjoy a good story.
Our collection GIFTS: NINE BITTERSWEET CHRISTMAS STORIES is free on Amazon this week: getBook.at/FREE_GIFTS
December 5, 2014
Jackie Mallon about her story in our Christmas collection GIFTS
When Silk for the Feed Dog was published in September 2013, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. There was the obvious reason: I was setting it free to be read and hopefully enjoyed––or to be ignored or, God forbid, hated––but at least it was getting an opportunity to go off and make something of itself. The other reason for the relief was that I was free too.
Mercy me, I didn’t have to spend any more time with that Kat and Edward pair!
We’d been living in each other’s pockets for four years. We knew each other’s quirks and foibles, bad habits, and could finish each other’s sentences. We badly needed a break from each other.
Se ya, wouldn’t want to be ya! I didn’t even wave.
I rallied the old brain cells and giddily embarked on a new writing project.
Initially the lightness about me was intoxicating. Everything…
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November 29, 2014
From “Blue and Unassuming under a Christmas Star” by Jackie Mallon:
“In Sean Kat recognizes not a point of conversation anymore but the repository for all her frustrations. “Give that money back, you little shit. Go on, hand it over.” She holds out her hand and several shoppers gasp. “Come on, it’s Christmas, let it go,” says one, “you won’t miss it.” “You mind your own business,” she hisses, bracing herself menacingly at the passers-by who walk on, shaking their heads and muttering, “Some people have no sense of charity, and at this time of year…”
November 19, 2014
To accompany the special week-long Kindle promotion of Silk for the Feed Dogs, I thought I’d post together all my drawings of scenes from the novel. I’ve been asked many times if I’d consider doing a graphic novel version of Silk for the Feed Dogs. A chance would be a fine thing, I say! Although graphic novels tend to have less text than regular novels. That would be the challenge. I like words too.
If only illustrated novels like Alice in Wonderland or all the Charles Dickens classics were the fashionable model nowadays. Illustrated plates, as they were known, are just not part of our reading experience anymore. And they would be too expensive to produce in our print-threatened times. Already we don’t like to pay as much for books when digital versions are cheaper and more portable.
But the Sir John Tenniel in me is itching to get…
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November 13, 2014
“Silk for the Feed Dogs is a stellar accomplishment – get it, read it, you won’t regret the indulgence of silk against your skin.” —DisappearingInPlainSight.com
October 18, 2014
This is the question posed by my blogmate, Kate at Maison Bentley Style. It’s part of a blog hop. I could never say no to Kate. She is the big hearted, ever-so-stylish epicenter of my blogging society; our intrepid heroine and our gracious hostess. She is the pre-scandal Lily Bart; the always charismatic Daisy Buchanan; the nobly independent Jo Marsh of my circle.
What am I working on now?
Despite weeks lost to my well-documented home search and the attendant broker, mortgage, co-op application misery, I am about two thirds of the way through my second novel. First draft, mind you. And, full disclosure, it doesn’t have a beginning yet, nor have I any idea of the route to take to arrive at the ending. But it’s still an easier…
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