Image source: womensagenda.com.au
Justine's new book 'Semi-gloss' was published in May this year and we had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about it.
Click here to see our reviews.
This is not a self-help book or a memoir. It's definitely not the Australian Devil Wears Prada.
In her collection of autobiographical essays, fashion magazine editor Justine Cullen takes us on a hilariously candid exploration of her life so far - and all the mistakes she's made along the way.
Semi-Gloss is an intimate, sharp and witty look at growing up and growing older from the kind of woman who seems like she has it all together - the glamorous job, the perfect family, the killer wardrobe. But, chipping away at that shiny, sparkly surface, Justine reveals the beautiful mess that lies beneath.
A wildly entertaining and sometimes bumpy ride through a life well-lived, by one of Australia's most respected female voices.
Your honesty in recalling the industry as you knew it for 20 years, was shocking but at times also not surprising. Was it important to you to keep it real for us readers?
I don’t think I ever made a concerted effort to try to include anecdotes that might shock anyone. They were just things that happened that, for whatever reason, stuck with me. I definitely never wanted the book to be a magazine industry shake-down of any kind. I love magazines! I worked in them for over 25 years and the industry thankfully evolved a lot in that time, which I hopefully acknowledge in the book. In some ways it’s a time capsule of a world that no longer exists, for better and for worse.
When you decided to write ‘Semi-gloss’, why was it important for you to lead with ‘this is not a self – help book or a memoir’?
I originally intended to write a book of pop culture essays from a first person perspective - I never had any intention of writing anything quite so personal. But I signed the book deal when I was pregnant with my fourth child and starting a new job, and quite honestly, I just didn’t have the brain capacity for the research and planning required for that book. When I did manage to find the energy and time to sit down and write, because I was contractually obliged to, what came out was much more intimate - I think because of a combination of that being my natural writing voice and the fact that I was personally going through a lot of change at the time. But I couldn’t let go - even now - of my insistence that I didn’t want to write a memoir. I just can’t admit to being that self-indulgent (even if I secretly am). Similarly, I thought it was important to acknowledge that I should in no way ever be considered the kind of person who anyone should take any kind of life advice from, as anyone who reads the book comes to learn. I just wanted to manage the reader’s expectations right from the get-go.
For people who don’t work in the industry or may not be mothers, you still managed to create this feeling of relatability which drew us in. Why do you think this is? Was there intention behind it?
It’s not intentional but I think in some ways that has always been my schtick. I know that in many ways I have been lucky enough to live an interesting life in a rarified world, but I have very normal roots, I didn’t grow up privileged (far from it) and I think I’ve always been able to observe fashion from, maybe not a complete outsider’s perspective, but definitely a more grounded one than most. In terms of motherhood…. Look, I adore my kids, but there is nothing more boring than people talking about the wonder of motherhood. Hearing about other people’s kids is only not tedious when it’s funny or gross. I have heaps of kids so I have heaps of funny and gross. It’s pretty much all I have, to be honest. That and lots of gorgeous shoes that I no longer wear.
One of the things we adored was that you did not shy away from exploring and sharing the “mistakes” and lessons along the way. Did you always plan on revealing as much as you did once the book was finished? Were those parts as hard to write about as you had expected?
That was probably the one element of the book that I was purposeful about. Once I understood the book I was writing, I realised that I couldn’t talk about the things I was talking about without being brutally honest, even with myself. I couldn’t let myself gloss over anything. If I was going to go there, I had to go all the way - including showing the bits that weren’t always so pretty, that at times were a bit ugly, in fact, and that I wasn’t always proud of. That was the only way that this could be more than a self-obsessed reminisce and be something that other women could relate to and see themselves in.
I’m pretty self-deprecative by nature so it wasn’t hard to write. The challenges came later, just before the book was going to be published when I realised people I actually knew would read it, and not just ’the reader’ I’d made up in my head. That was scary.
What has surprised you the most through this process? From deciding to write ‘Semi-gloss’, to the response it’s received?
There have been a few surprises. The first was how hard I found the process. I thought once I had a book deal the words would just flow, but writing is a muscle and as an editor-in-chief, I hadn’t written more than an editor’s letter or a cover feature in a long time. I watched that word count slowly rise like a hawk. The second was the reaction. Before the book came out, if asked about it I would say to people ‘please don’t read it’. I was mortified by it. Even when I sent off the manuscript to the publisher, the subject line was ‘what is the point of this book?’. And then I finally let one of my best friends, an author, read it, and she convinced me that it wasn’t the disaster I thought it was, that in fact she loved it and thought other women would too. And since then I’ve received so many messages from women telling me how much the book touched them and sharing their own stories, secrets and ‘mistakes’. It’s been deeply moving and gratifying in so many ways that I never, ever expected. It’s really proved to me that our experiences as girls, as women, as mothers… they’re all unique but there’s so much that’s also universal. It’s made me feel connected to womenkind, more than ever before.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending us an advanced review copy of this book.
You can find more information about the book and purchase a copy here.