Over New Year I gave myself a short break from fiction because my concentration was poor and I couldn’t take in long, involved storytelling. This was due to a combination of events: I was affected by a mistake with my prescription medication; I was getting ready for Christmas with plans constantly changing; I had two chatty and excited stepdaughters in the house; we’d cancelled our wedding; and we’re mid – moving house. There were days that felt like nothing went right and I simply had no room in my brain or energy in my body. It felt like the ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances. This is the position that writer and broadcaster Dawn O’Porter found herself in last spring – only on a much more devastating scale. Just before the country went into lockdown Dawn received the news that her best friend, the super-talented and funny Caroline Flack, had taken her own life. She received this news out in LA where she now lives with her husband Chris O’Dowd and their two small boys. Shortly afterwards LA went into lockdown, followed by riots protesting the killing of George Floyd. Through all of this she was finding it difficult to write and like many of us decided to write a small blog each week – in Dawn’s case for Patreon subscribers. This book is the result of those blogs.
I love books like this, because they give me short sections to read that don’t require a lot of brain power. Reading like a diary, Dawn goes through the mundane, funny and terribly painful aspects of each day. Determined to keep her grief from her children, and unable to travel until the funeral date was definite, meant having to find ways of coping. Of crying in private, but being able to be mummy at a moment’s notice. She withdrew from social media and, once the funeral had taken place, the home became her whole world. It wasn’t that she could put the loss to one side, she felt Caroline in her head every moment every day. Having been very critical of celebrities who shared Caroline’s last messages after her death, the author manages to tread a fine line by joyfully reminiscing about her friend while not talking about her death and the circumstances surrounding it. This is not a book about Caroline, it is very firmly a book about Dawn and her own experience of the past year. It isn’t just about grief either, it’s about suddenly being a full-time Mum while trying to find space to create, how it feels to be British living in LA, and the huge social upheaval on their doorstep during the riots. Each section is the equivalent of a Polaroid snapshot of this extraordinary time.
Dawn has a such a definite and accessible narrative voice – she is brutally honest about her experiences whether they be physical or whether she’s relaying her complex interior monologue. I had the feeling nothing was censored and I could identify with those chaotic ‘family in lockdown’ moments even if the children in my house are more teenage than toddler. Those dilemmas of whether we bother to dress and groom or not, do we keep a set routine or do as we please, keeping up with exercise and eating well or just eating like it’s Christmas. Sadly, I think I largely failed in these challenges! I understood Dawn’s sense of only dealing with what’s in front of us – even if what’s in front of us is a shitstorm of tearful children, shitting animals, followed by puking animals and the inability to find a food delivery slot anywhere! These are common to everyone’s experience of the year. We’ve spent time with the same people every day, potentially doing the same things over and over. This heightens everything – tensions, emotions, worries. If we’re struggling with difficult emotions it forces us to face them, there’s no escape.
Between stories of disasters with the boys, food adventures and concerns about lockdown drinking, come global concerns. Dawn talks about her wardrobe and since we share a love of vintage this is something I really enjoyed, but it was interesting to think about in terms of the environmental impact of fashion – something I’ve been concerned about for a few years now. Her exploration of the riots in her neighbourhood stood out particularly to me. Again, her worries are at family level. Rioters are directly outside their home, the bins are set alight and she talks of keeping an emergency bag in case they have to leave in a hurry. Yet she is hugely sympathetic to the cause, profoundly moved by the terrible footage of a man begging for his life, and both she and Chris join the protests where they can. She writes eloquently about our white privilege, and how her black friends keep her on track when she’s not understanding something – if more of us admitted not knowing, a better dialogue would emerge. I went from laughing about a household mishap to grab a pen and note down some reading she recommended about white fragility. I think this is what I enjoy most about being in Dawn’s company – there’s room for silliness, raw honesty and emotion, then profound reflections on the bigger problems our society faces. It’s like a long evening with your best friends. My favourite anecdote involved a very famous red haired actress and our British humour about ‘gingers’ really not translating! This was a great read and I was sorry when it ended.
Meet The Author
DAWN O’PORTER lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris, her two boys Art and Valentine, and her cat Lilu and dog Potato.
Dawn started out in TV production but quickly landed in front of the camera, making numerous documentaries that included immersive investigations of Polygamy, Size Zero, Childbirth, Free Love, Breast Cancer and the movie Dirty Dancing. Further TV work included This Old Thing, a prime-time Channel 4 show celebrating the wonders of vintage clothing.
Dawn’s journalism has appeared in multiple publications and she was the monthly columnist for Glamour magazine. She is now a full-time writer of six books – although she would probably have written sixteen if it weren’t for her addiction to Instagram Stories.
Most recently, Dawn has written the script for Especially for You, a jukebox musical using the infamous Stock Aitken and Waterman back catalogue. The show will open with a national tour in early 2020.