Books, Fiction, News & Commentary

Toni Jordan: How a novelist glams up for the publicity machine

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Novelist Toni Jordan says that the old adage ‘politics is showbiz for ugly people’ doesn’t necessarily apply to writers. “I know some wildly stunning writers of all orientations and a slew of others who become as sexy hell as soon as I read their words or hear their voices,” she says. But having said that, there’s nothing some false eyelashes and flattering lighting can’t improve.

Jordan, who is in publicity overdrive for her new book, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts, a comedic novel about love and marriage published this week by Text, undergoes a makeover treatment in pursuit of writerly glory.

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‘Wide eyes,’ the photographer says.

I widen. ‘Wider,’ he says.

I raise my upper lids further, with muscles I didn’t know I had.

‘Bigger,’ he says. ‘Big, big eyes.’

I force, I stretch, I bulge my eyes as wide as humanly possible, given the imposing weight of my false eyelashes. If Marty Feldman had fallen in love with a blow-waved Pekinese and their love was so powerful that it overcame all natural and moral laws, I would look like their love child.

‘Perfect,’ he says, clicking madly. ‘Just hold it there. Except bend forward from the waist. No, forward. Forward is toward me. To the front. That’s it. And with your chin out. Really poke that chin. Pokier.’

No probs.

This isn’t going to be one of those articles where a self-deprecating woman ironically belittles her own appearance. I hate those because a) I think everyone should be kind toward themselves, unless they’ve actually done something to deserve a kicking, and b) it’s just another way of focusing on the stuff that doesn’t matter, bringing attention to the physical, extraneous irrelevancies. So I won’t be doing that. Actually, given my advanced age, extreme laziness, bread addiction and peasant-stock genes, I think I look foxy.

I do not, however, photograph well.

Toni web4Jordan ties (James Penlidis)

This is often an advantage. It means that, when I show up to speak at a festival or a library, I’m not always recognised. ‘Wow,’ people say, when they meet me, ‘you look wonderful.’

Under-promise and over-deliver, that’s my motto.

But I have a new novel out this year and I decided that this time the photos would reflect my personality and my work. This time, I’d put a bit of effort into it. That’s why I’m in a groovy studio in Elwood with my best outfits and some silly ones, with a make-up artist Jo Fletcher, my publicist Jane Novak and photographer James Penlidis. It’s why I’m bending forward with my eyes wide and my chin out, wearing fake eyelashes and makeup.

‘Your eyes look fabulous,’ says Jane.

Toni web3Jordan green (James Penlidis)

She’s right. I had no idea that false eyelashes were an actual thing that people did. What are the chances on accidentally running into one or, in fact, both of my ex-husbands on the way home? Slim to zero, frankly. That kind of coincidental collision is reserved for a Sunday morning when I’m hungover and track-suited with a zit on my nose the size of Loy Yang.

I’ve had make-up done by a professional before. The first time I was lucky enough to be a guest on ABCTV’s The Book Club, I sat in a complicated chair while my hair was straightened and my face was evened and my eyes were smokied and I looked more beautiful than I’d ever looked in my entire life. I nearly kissed the make-up artist, when we finished. I couldn’t stop staring at myself in the mirror.

‘I thought you said you were going to be on The Book Club,’ my mother said, when she phoned me the day after it screened.

‘I was,’ I said. ‘That was me.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she said.

Now, in the photography studio, I’m thinking that perhaps this wasn’t my finest idea. There is a white background thingee and silver reflecting umbrellas and a variety of coloured lights; there’s a sweet photographic assistant who puts on music to get me ‘in the zone’.

There’s something incongruous about it, when you consider who I actually am and the work I actually do. Cable networks are not fighting over a new pilot show called Australia’s Next Top Novelist hosted by Liane Moriaty and Richard Flanagan, and there’s a good reason for that.

The old adage ‘Politics is show business for ugly people’ is often assumed to apply to literature also but it simply isn’t true: I know some wildly stunning writers of all orientations and a slew of others who become as sexy hell as soon as I read their words or hear their voices. Somehow, though, standing in front of this camera I feel out of place, which I hardly ever feel, and I can’t stop laughing at the general ludicrousness of it all, which is wasting everybody’s time.

‘Trust me,’ says James. ‘Now look surprised. More surprised. Now look bashful’.

I focus and widen and bend and poke my chin.

Toni web5Jordan mad scientist (James Penlidis)

A few days later, the photos come through and my eyes widen of their own accord. I look better than I’d ever dreamed possible yet I still look like me. What’s more, I look like how I hope readers will think of my new novel: fresh and fun, half glamorous and half absurd and not taking itself too seriously. I look like I was having a great time, which, when I think back on it, I actually was. The people who helped me were very good at their jobs. I was right to put myself in their hands.

Later that week I was early for a flight and, on the counter of the pharmacy at Sydney Airport were boxed sets of false eyelashes, and eyelash glue (which is a thing). I bought them. I haven’t used them yet, and I might never use them, but you never know.

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is published by Text Publishing

You can buy the book here

All photos by James Penlidis

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