I read somewhere that there’s been a dramatic increase in the sale of eye make-up since Covid, and a decrease in sales of lipstick. I wear both and haven’t changed much, though I wear less lipstick. Reusing a lip stick-smudged mask tends to produce the cold-sore-effect, Not a good look.
Most of us probably make at least some attempt to look as easy on the eye as we can, given natural disadvantages and maybe a tiny tendency to get mascara up your nostrils. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that (being easier on the eye not mascara-nose). But I do find it intriguing how quickly society can try to add pressure at a moment’s notice, if we let it. Not that novelty face masks aren’t the best fun.
In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with trying to look good unless it becomes an obsession. Also, if we spend too much time looking the part on every occasion, we can miss the occasion itself.
This is partly what attracted me to Ruth Leigh’s debut novel, The Diary of Isabella M Smugge. The protagonist is not only someone who invests boundless energy in presenting a perfect face to the world, but makes her living from it. A lifestyle blogger, Issy makes good money from posting aspirational content about her stunning home, handsome family and designer lifestyle. It’s all about the hashtags, don’t you know? However, all is not as it seems at the Grade 2 listed Georgian house in Suffolk, with its indoor gym, pool and tennis courts.
Fascinated by the world she had created, I caught up with Ruth Leigh earlier this week to ask her about her characters and what they would think about things like Lockdown, ageing and the true meaning of friendship.
Me: Ruth, thanks for guest posting on my blog today! I have some questions for you about some of your characters. Trust that’s OK?
Ruth: Of course! I love that idea. Fire away!
How would Isabella have coped with Lockdown?
Very well! She would see it as an opportunity to extend her reach and I’m sure would come up with a whole new batch of hashtags. #winningatlockdown #rockinghomeschooling #lockdownstyle. Sofija, her au pair, would be doing the day-to-day home-schooling support and all the hard work so that Isabella could flood her feed with perfect images of exercise, fashion, family life and interiors. That said, I think she would have to be careful as there could be a backlash from those who don’t have help and don’t live in large Georgian houses.
How would Isabella cope with ageing and what kind of old lady would she be?
She’d fight it every step of the way. Some of her tips for staying young are revealed in book two, but she’s a big believer in high quality skincare, a good diet and the right clothes and make-up, so I think she’d age well. She will be far nicer than Mummy and be a doting grandmother. Isabella will have mellowed considerably by the time she reaches the autumn years, but there will still be touches of the old Issy Smugge.
What would Isabella wear to a village fete on a muddy day?
She would select a glamorous outfit from Country Pillock, purveyors of quality outdoor clothing to the smart set. She would stand out like a sore, yet stylish thumb.
If someone asked Sofija (Issy’s au pair and good friend) why she came to the UK to be an au pair, what would she would say?
Sofija is very good at what she does, so I think she’d say that she’s ambitious and wants to broaden her horizons. She fell on her feet working with Isabella and that has given her a broad range of skills and improved her English. Sofija likes the English sense of humour and is a big fan of sitcoms. Her favourites are Miranda, Outnumbered and Gavin and Stacey (although she struggles a bit with the dialect).
Suze, Isabella’s sister lives abroad and she and Issy are not as close as they were then they were children. If Suze was asked to describe her sister at the beginning of the book, what would she say?
She would say that she’s very proud of her sister and what she’s achieved. She would tell you how much she loves Finn, Chloe and Elsie and talk about them quite a lot, hoping that you hadn’t noticed she’d changed the subject. If pressed, she would tell you all about the fun times she and Isabella used to have in the garden at home with their best friends Minty and Penny Pryke-Darby, about their lovely Nanny and the days at the beach the two of them spent with their father. However, she would stay strangely silent about the present and would change the subject if you asked her when they last met.
Johnnie, Issy’s husband, is devastatingly good looking, rich, and resourceful, a real highflyer. How would he cope at a pub quiz among local ‘yokels’ to raise money for charity?
Not very well. He would get hammered on craft ale and forget himself. He’d spend a lot of the time on his phone, would be accused of cheating by another team and the night would end with an embarrassing stand-off by the pump on the village green.
Issy’s new friend Claire is a vicar’s wife but I get the impression she is much more than that! How would Claire behave at a hen party, for example? Sour faced and disapproving?
Certainly not! She would be the life and soul of the party. Claire doesn’t drink, but she doesn’t need to. She would join in with the games with gusto and her laugh would ring out above the sound of wind-up toys and glasses clinking. The girls who didn’t know her would be astounded to learn that she’s married to a vicar.
Lauren is another new friend. How does she contrast with the kinds of friends Issy used to have, in London?
Issy has never, ever met anyone like Lauren before. When she first encounters her at Messy Church, she only notices her purple hair and the fact that she smokes roll-ups. However, Lauren’s kindness soon proves to be exactly what Issy needs, along with her encyclopaedic knowledge of village families and dynamics. Everyone likes Lauren, she’s plain-speaking and honest, but also very kind. She and Isabella are one of those strange friendship combinations which shouldn’t work but do! Lauren says it like it is – she would never behave like two-faced Meredith and the gang from Freudian Sip.
I’m intrigued by the character of the teacher Mrs. Jenkins with her stylish tops and jewellery! What does she get up to in her spare time?
Mrs Jenkins is a very experienced teacher who has a harmonious home life. Her husband took early retirement and loves cooking and housework (especially hoovering). When she comes home after a hard day’s work, he is there with a nice, chilled glass of white wine and dinner in the oven. Mrs Jenkins is a naturally stylish woman who loves reading, water ski-ing and gardening. An elderly aunt left Mr Jenkins a large and unexpected inheritance, so Mrs Jenkins can indulge her taste for on-trend tops and jewellery to her heart’s content. (NB. This character is one of my favourites)
Finally, the name of this blog is stillwonderinghere.com where I like to explore the things I’m still wondering about. Tell me some of the things Isabella is still wondering about.
Isabella is wondering what happened to her life. Everything was perfect and she knew exactly where she was until the rug was pulled out from under her feet. She is wondering how she’s going to cope with all the changes in her life and whether she will ever able be get things back to the way they should be. Her relationship with her mother is fractious, and she often wonders if that’s her fault. Isabella has also explored faith (a little) and while she’s still mystified by the way it works, she isn’t averse to finding out a bit more.
Thank you so much Ruth!
You are so welcome. I really enjoyed answering them 🙂
This is an immensely enjoyable read. Played out against the backdrop of village life, the story unfolds in an entirely vivid and believable way. I loved the descriptions of local friends, the school and its staff, even the gardener. Ruth has a way of making the smallest interactions a joy to behold. She is an immensely articulate and clever writer with that rare ability to turn laughter to tears in the space of a sentence. I would highly recommend the Diary of Isabella M Smugge and am looking forward to many more from you Ruth! #IssyrulesandsodoesRuthLeigh
Buy Ruth’s book here