Remember the late 1990s when we were immersed in Cool Britannia fever? When rock stars were invited to glitzy receptions at Downing Street, we seemed to be obsessed with the wedding of Posh and Becks and we loved hearing about the latest bust-up between Noel and Liam.
This was dawn of the celebrity culture as we know it. So when I was approached to be on the blog tour of Supernova Hangover, the debut novel from showbiz journalist and former Smash Hits editor Emma Jones, I jumped at the chance. Let’s face it, Supernova Hangover is a brilliant name for a book, which I think after reading, definitely has a deeper meaning. Especially as, as well as having 90s connotations (think Champagne Supernova by Oasis) according to the Oxford English dictionary, Supernova means “a star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass.”
Supernova Hangover is the story of Toots Silver, a young features writer from the North West who decides to try her luck in London. Landing her dream job on a new celebrity magazine, Toots soon finds herself being positioned as the new It girl, having an affair with a Hollywood film star and being privy to an enormous secret which could give her the showbiz story of the generation.
This is a novel that definitely gives us the real and gritty insight into celebrity culture. I was so intrigued by this that I approached Emma Jones with a few questions, which resulted in some brilliant and thought-provoking answers. Thanks so much Emma!
Q. Essentially Supernova Hangover is a novel about celebrity culture and moral integrity. Do you feel that celebrity culture of the late 90s is very different to the celebrity culture of today, and if so, how?
A. I think that the late nineties was really the dawn of celebrity culture as we know it now. I worked on a Sunday newspaper and the change was tangible. The paper went from hard hitting investigations to concentrating on the Beckhams. It was a deliberate tactic, I believe for two reasons. 1) It cost less money to write this stuff, investigations are expensive and fraught with problems, by their nature. 2) It meant that newspapers and PR’s could work closely together to manipulate fame or celebrity for clients. A win win if you like.
There were other reasons too. I think it was part of a general dumbing down. Papers and magazines would say they were giving people what they wanted, but I’m not sure that’s true. It definitely helps people keep distracted if they are fed a daily diet of celebrity. It also keeps them spending money.
The nineties saw the first Big Brother, the beginning of Reality TV culture, it was huge.
I think it was the first time the public started thinking of fame as a goal in itself, that might be possible without a specific talent as such. The idea we might ‘become our own brands’ follows from this, which I would argue, thanks to social media people willingly do today.
The selfie social media insta-whore generation we are living in now began with this. It’s very clever stuff, the commodification of the population. It also de-politicises people. I think we are living through worrying times.
Q. There’s a big secret in Supernova Hangover that tests Toots journalistic integrity. As journalist/editor, did you come across big secrets often?
A. Aha! Yes there is, that goes to the heart of the story. I am not going to give it away but essentially Toots has to choose between the story, and her relationships/integrity.
Some people who have read the book have found Toots’ ambition and ruthlessness quite hard going. I think its important to understand the context in which she made her decisions. She was young, thrust into an intoxicating world where you lived or died by your ability to get a story. There was no time to think about integrity in the environment she worked in. It was seen as a weakness to question such things.
I think its interesting to consider whether the fact she is an ambitious woman rather than an ambitious man plays into it too. We are much more forgiving as readers of men in similar circumstances where such traits are less questionable. I wanted to examine this in the book, specifically how we view women and the choices they make and why they are often saddled with the moral responsibility when men are more free, especially in a work environment to pursue their dreams carefree.
As far as my own journalistic career, yes I did and that was in a sense my job to uncover and reveal things about people they didn’t want the public to know. There have been times when I have chosen not to tell a story too. But it’s important to remember that the rapacious appetite for gossip in the nineties meant that other people’s secrets were the lifeblood of many publications. The pressure for reporters was huge and in my experience there was very little time to consider the rights and wrongs. The idea of approaching. a news desk with such ideas would be laughable and a reporter would be fired on the spot.
I do remember one instance when Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones revealed a little too much information to me and I wrote about it in the papers. A few weeks later I went to a party where his wife came gunning for me. Quite scary. So often these things did catch up with you.
On the other hand I remember a story I wrote about a woman who worked for a very famous celebrity, she had been cast out through no-fault of her own and suffered terrible mental and physical health issues as a result. She ended up alone with only her former celebrity boss’s pets for company, which she had been landed with. I was always rather more fascinated by this side of fame, the side no one sees, the bit behind the glitz.
Fame is a fairytale, a false construct, based on the idea of putting people on a pedestal for adoration. It raises interesting psychological questions.
Now I’m older I know lots of interesting secrets about celebrities and would never dream of putting them in the public eye. Although I do sometimes laugh about what great stories they would make mostly with the people who tell me them!
Q. In today’s world of social media and the internet, do you feel that such a big secret would remain a secret?
A. Yes I think there are lots of big secrets that people keep out the public eye. I know some great ones. Remember even the worst kind of hacks have to be able to stand stories up, so even if they think they have a great secret about a person they need evidence which can be hard to find.
Social media has actually enabled people in the public eye to control what is known about them and the image they portray more. It has to a certain extent cut out the middle man – the papers. Look at the way Lily Allen is able to reveal her own secrets, put them in a book and market the book directly to her fans. In the past newspapers hacked her phones to reveal information about her. Now she tells them what goes and even calls out newspapers for the dark tactics they deployed to abuse her privacy.
Having said that social media manipulation isn’t always that successful. Look at Brand Beckham, the Beckham’s attempt to portray themselves as perfect has come back to haunt them as stories about the couples troubled marriage have filtered through.
Q. Toots Silver is a really unique name. It definitely suits her character. Where did the name and the character come from?
A. Ah that’s nice. I love her name too. Although one reader rather cruelly suggested because she came from the North West she should have a much more boring and unoriginal name!
Toots’s name was actually inspired from a woman I know who is a wonderful artist. I always loved her name and her attitude.
As far as her character goes I wanted her to be a determined and single minded young woman. Certainly myself and many of the women I know are often plagued with insecurities particularly at Toots’ age. I wanted a female character that wasn’t like that, or at least could overcome that. But really her character and personality just evolved on the page as did her relationship with Rachel, which I loved writing.
Q. In Supernova Hangover all the characters are very defined. I don’t want to put you on the spot but are the characters such as Clay and Roddy based on real people you knew that were very famous and/or influential in the late 1990s?
A. Ha ha. I do get asked this a lot. No they are not based on any one particular person but on character traits I witnessed in my career. I got to witness how A list celebrities behave first hand. I would say they are all remarkably similar. Once your ego gets fed and you get put up there, it’s almost expected that you behave in a certain way. I loved having fun with Clay and his behaviour. He also has a lovely playful side but he’s basically been spoilt so much that the temptation to carry on like that is just too great.
As for Roddy, although he is not based on any one person there are people who may recognise aspects of his behaviour in themselves, many characters such as this are still found in the tabloid newspaper world.
Q. I was captivated when the novel refers to how celebrities borrow outfits for an eve, then the next day the outfit is picked up for another celebrity to wear. When we see images in the media of different celebrities wearing the same dress, is there a good chance that it is actually the SAME DRESS? Does this happen all the time in the celebrity world?
A. I don’t know if it still happens. I am no longer party to that sadly! However it certainly used to. I remember borrowing dresses which were swiftly whipped back off me and put on a bike to go back to their rails the next day. If your status is high enough I’m pretty sure you get to keep the dresses.
Q. I loved it when Toots discovered she wore a dress to a launch party that was meant for Kylie. Like Toots, I would love it if I got into a dress that was meant for Kylie! Did that actually happen to you or someone you know?
A. Not quite but nearly. I was offered a dress to wear for an event that I spotted a girl band member in a few days later. I chose not to wear it as it definitely wasn’t my style and would have looked a lot worse on me. When I presented the National TV Awards I did borrow a lovely dress, it was heartbreaking to give it back, although quite when I would have worn it again I don’t know.
The incident you refer to in the story was based on a real story however. I remember in the nineties there was a very distinctive dress, by Gucci I think, it was bright green yellow with tropical leaves and very of its time, sexy. It was worn by J Lo and Geri Halliwell and became quite ubiquitous, the papers took the poor women wearing it apart comparing them like for like meat on a butchers block. That was the dress I imagined Toots to be wearing in the story of Kylie’s dress.
Q. Supernova Hangover is your debut novel? Have you got plans to write a second novel? If so, will it continue Toots story, or would it be a complete new story with new characters?
A. I have actually started writing a second book but it’s not about Toots. Its much more grounded in the real world and is about what it is like when a real life event changes the course of a person’s life suddenly. Then what happens when that event becomes public property and takes on a momentum of its own.
As for Toots, I’ve always thought her story is unfinished. I’d love to go back and don’t feel like I’ve said goodbye yet however I guess I wanted to see whether there was an appetite for that, how people reacted to the book and let that be my guide. After all I have four kids to feed and that’s my priority.
Thank you Emma for such a great interview and also for Supernova Hangover, such an insightful and unique read. Also thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
As highlighted above, I am part of the blog tour to help publicise Supernova Hangover. Please also have a read of the reviews from my fellow bloggers.
Hangover Supernova was published in June 2018 and is available from Amazon to buy now. So go and buy a copy and let me know what you think.
Emma Jones was born in 1975 and is originally from Mold, North Wales. She is a newspaper columnist, and former editor of Smash Hits magazine. Emma has written as a news reporter and opinion writer for the Sun, The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Mirror, the New European and Byline. She was the youngest ever Fleet Street columnist.
Supernova Hangover is her first novel.
She lives in London with her partner, four kids and two cats.