There’s a show you might not have noticed on Netflix. It didn’t explode onto the screen like 13 Reasons Why or Orange is the New Black – it was released with only a small buzz. You’ve probably scrolled passed it a million times while you’re bored on a Friday night and looking for something new to watch.

It’s called The Get Down, a Netflix original series about the rise of disco and hip-hop in New York in the 70s. But on top of being an incredibly fascinating story, it deserved more hype since it was directed by one of the world’s most celebrated directors: Baz Luhrmann.

The Get Down

But who even is Baz Luhrmann and why should we care?

The business of Baz…

Known for his theatrical, slightly surreal style, Baz Luhrmann was propelled to fame in the 90s and 00s with his ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’ of films, made up of kooky rom-com Strictly Ballroom, Shakespearean tragedy Romeo + Juliet and the musical Moulin Rouge – all of which are completely delightful (and feature red curtains on the poster, hence the name), and feature his signature moves: bangin’ soundtracks, cartoon-like characters and totally dreamy sets.

Moulin Rouge

Baz Luhrmann is also known for his extravagance. Despite never having met him, I imagine he’s the type of man who would have peacocks in his garden and if he couldn’t choose between two enormous chandeliers, would just shrug and say “Oh, I guess I’ll just take both.” He’s the type of man who might sleep in velvet bed sheets and put on a fireworks display for his children’s half birthdays, because why the hell not?

It’s this decadence and opulence that makes his films so iconic. They look so beautiful that you find yourself completely incapable of looking away.

Wherefore art thou?

Most people first come across Baz Luhrmann at school, when an English teacher tries to tempt a confused classroom into understanding what Shakespeare was on about by popping on the dvd of Romeo + Juliet.

With Luhrmann’s direction and taste, this remarkable retelling of the world’s most iconic love story became even more dramatic and breathtaking.

Hand on heart, his adaptation is the only reason I like this play. Like, I’m sorry, these kids are objectively idiots and the plot is so absurd that when I read it at school for the first time, I didn’t understand why everyone always made a big deal of it being, like, the epitome of romance. But then I saw Baz Luhrman’s version of Romeo and Juliet and I got it. There are loads of films that adapt Shakespeare plays for modern times, (She’s the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc.) but few are able to make the story work in a modern setting and keep the original dialogue without it even once getting boring. That’s the genius of Baz Luhrmann.

The ultimate film FOMO

In his glitzy 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio, Baz Luhrmann transformed the classic book by F Scott Fitzgerald into another quirky masterpiece full of colour and decadence.

But like so many great artists, he also has an amazing squad around him – especially his wife Catherine, nicknamed CM, his creative partner, who won two Oscars for the set and costume design of The Great Gatsby. It has now become my life’s mission to be invited to one of the Luhrmann family parties. I mean, look at this party scene from Great Gatsby. I don’t even like parties that much and yet I would give my left arm to be able to go to this one.

The Marmite of movies

Watched Moulin Rouge and just didn’t ‘get’ it the first time? You’re not the only one. Baz Luhrmann’s films divide option like basically nothing else. And they often receive lacklustre reviews when they’re first released, but then go on to become legendary cult classics a few years later. Which is a kind of reassuring reason to shake off the haters, isn’t it?

Moulin Rouge

[NOTE: The one exception to this is 2008’s Australia. Do not see Australia (I’m Australian, so I can say this). Soz Baz, but it is the worst film ever made. What was meant to be a tribute to your homeland became the longest three hours of my life. And it took me a long time to forgive you for almost ruining Hugh Jackman for me. Like honest to god, I can’t even watch the whole trailer without getting bored.]

But anyway! Despite the odd fail, Baz has cemented himself in Hollywood as a director that people are desperate to work with – and with a style that’s all his own. And with a stage musical of Moulin Rouge currently in the works (woop!), this definitely won’t be the last you hear of him.

Here’s to many majestic, over-the-top, lavish films in the future. Oh, and Baz, if you’re reading this, can I please come round for dinner some time?

@LilyPesch

I have a phone call with Veronica Roth scheduled for 4pm that I have been looking forward to for weeks. Predictably, at 3:50, I discover that the room that has a phone with a proper speaker is being used for a meeting. Gahhh. I manically download Skype, put some money on my account and plant myself in a corridor, glaring at anyone who dares come in my direction.

When technology finally starts cooperating and I get through to Veronica, I immediately relax. She’s not the incredibly intimidating person I imagined in my head, instead she talks to me as though we’re friends, rather than strangers chatting to each other through a kind of crappy Skype connection. She’s incredibly friendly and quick to laugh, the polar opposite of the female characters she writes about.

Veronica Roth is the author of the New York Times best selling Divergent trilogy. At 28, she’s sold millions of copies of her books, seen her work turned into a successful film franchise starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, and has now gone ahead and written a new, highly addictive book, Carve the Mark.

Also, totally NBD or anything, but she wrote Divergent during her final year at University and sold the publishing rights before she graduated. So that’s cool.

Did she ever struggle with people underestimating her because she was so young? “Not in book publishing. I’m not the youngest author to publish a book and they mainly just care about the story, so they’re not all that concerned about your age. Your work has to speak for itself. The only time I encountered it was when the book became a movie.”

Roth sold the rights to Summit Entertainment in 2011, when she was a year out of university. “People would talk down to me… and I couldn’t tell why; is it because I’m young, is it because I’m a woman or because of my demeanour? …At the end of the day, you just keep doing the best work you can and not paying too much attention to people who don’t respect that,” she says.

I ask her about how it felt getting her story made into a film and she laughs, “I didn’t believe it was actually going to happen… it wasn’t until they cast Kate Winslet that I was like ‘Oh! This is really happening!’ I totally lost my mind.” I mean, to be fair, it’s Kate Winslet, who wouldn’t lose their mind? “The idea that so many people have taken something you’ve imagined and they’ve made it their work for however many days or weeks? There’s something really amazing and flattering about that.” she continues. “There were all these grown men building this fake train car? It’s amazing!”

To me, the thing about Roth that makes her talent so unique is that she’s not just creating stories about regular, everyday things, she’s creating entire societies. In her new book, Carve the Mark, she took it one step further and created a whole frickin’ galaxy.

Carve The Mark is set in a galaxy that has a current running through it which gives everyone a unique ‘currentgift’. The two main characters, Akos and Cyra, come from two different countries; Akos’ home is one of peace, while Cyra’s is full of violence. When Akos is taken from his family home on Cyra’s brother’s orders, the two of them form a special bond, discovering they can either survive together or destroy one another.

Cyra is a powerhouse of a character. Her currentgift forces her to live in constant pain, but also means she causes agony to those who touch her. She has spent most of her life in isolation until her brother decides to use her as a weapon against his enemies.

“What’s important is for readers to see characters that feel real and interesting and complicated too,” Roth explains. “One of the most important things to me is to make sure the characters are flawed. There’s a lot of pressure on young women to be perfect and so when you read about a character who makes mistakes and has to deal with the repercussions of them and feels normal and feels human, I think that’s important for young women.”

It takes everything in me to not just openly start applauding at this point. Even down the Skype line, I’m nodding my head so much that I think I crick my neck a bit. But the thing I really want to talk to Roth about, the thought I just couldn’t get out of my head while reading Carve The Mark, is how does one person have such a vivid imagination? “I try to cultivate curiosity as much as possible,” she says. “My mum has this quality, where anyone she talks to, she is interested in knowing more about them and I would love to become more like that.”

Well, now I also want to be more like Veronica Roth’s mum. She sounds awesome.

Roth thinks exercising your imagination is incredibly important for young people: “I think you have to have a vision of what your own life can become, what your world can become. There’s this huge imaginative element to that and you have to be able to see possibilities.”

When she was a 21-year-old writing a book in her winter holidays, she ever imagine her life would lead her here? “I don’t think escapism has to be bad,” she tells me, “I think we talk about it like an ‘Oh, you’re just trying to get away from reality, you should be engaging with reality!’ and that’s true, but you can learn a lot from genre fiction, even if it is helping you to escape a little bit.”

At this point, we get completely side-tracked and start talking about how Harry Potter helped define so much of our moral compasses. We’ve been on the phone for almost half an hour, and I know that my time’s almost up so I ask her the question we ask all the people we interview: if you could give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

“I think I needed to hear two things. One, is that you should be kind to the people around you. I was kinda mean as a young person and I definitely grew out of that as I got older. But I wasn’t always kind, especially to my female friends. I kinda fell into that trap of being really competitive with other women and not appreciating how great it can be to have a genuine connection with my female friends. Appreciate the ladies in your life. But then, I sometimes needed to hear that it’s okay to let people go if they’re making you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to be friends with them anymore. Basically, be kind, but you don’t have to let other people make you feel bad.”

Well, s**t. This woman is my new hero.

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth is out now. Buy your copy here.

‘Oh, you poor thing,’ is what most people say when I tell them I don’t celebrate Christmas.

You see I’m Jewish – not just a cultural bagel-eating Jew, but a synagogue-attending (although not as much as I really should) Jew – so for me, Christmas isn’t really a ‘thing.’ I’ve never had a Christmas tree. I’ve hardly ever opened a present on Christmas Day (unless it’s happened to fall within the Jewish present-giving holiday Chanukkah – an eight-day long festival which also takes place in December). And I’ve never gone carolling… although tbf, neither have most of my Christian mates.

So does that mean that I hate the whole Christmas period? That exchanging gifts in December makes me feel deeply uncomfortable? That I feel mortally offended when someone wishes me a ‘Merry Christmas’? Of course not. I may be Jewish, but I’m also British, so while I might not enjoy the full, traditional Christmas experience, it’s almost impossible for me to avoid getting into the festive sprit altogether. And you know what? I wouldn’t want to.

Mince pies, Christmas movies (the cheesier the better IMO) and Christmas parties fill me with as much joy (or, when it comes to work parties, horror) as the next person. And I also have a pretty banging line in Christmas jumpers (three of which – yes, I have more than three – I picked up at a Jewish charity shop). Even at my parent’s house – an otherwise Christmas-free zone – the Christmas spirit sneaks in, in the form of food. We might not have a stack of presents under an elaborately decorated tree, but jam-filled lebkuchen (traditional German Christmas biscuits), H U G E boxes of chocolates and nuts in shells (which inevitably, no one can actually crack), fill the house. In fact, we even have a traditional roast turkey dinner complete with champagne and crackers on Christmas Day, and my mum bakes her own Christmas cake.

But while we may subscribe to a traditional Christmas diet, that’s where my Christmas Day activities stop. While for most people, Christmas Day is filled with joy and excitement, I tend to find the whole thing quite boring. You see, because we don’t really celebrate Christmas, I spend the day with just my immediate family (my mum, dad and two younger sisters).

So while there are inevitably some pretty epic arguments (as per Crimbo tradition), there’s none of the excitement of seeing some long-lost drunken uncle do his annual eggnog-fuelled Elvis impression. Add to that the fact that there’s never anything on TV (but seriously, HOW is there never anything decent on TV? No, really?), and that even if I do, somehow, manage to summon up the energy to actually leave the house, there’s nothing to do because nothing’s actually open. The whole day just tends to drag.

In fact, the best solution I’ve found to beat the Christmas Day boredom is to work. As I’ve got older and realised I’m happy (or at least not massively bothered) about working on Christmas Day, it’s become one of my favourite perks about being Jewish. Seriously. You see, 99.9% of Brits would rather pull out their own toenails than work on Christmas Day. Therefore, when you’re happy to do so – thus allowing them to spend a full day trapped in a house with their entire extended family, stuffing themselves silly and playing endless games of charades – they’re so incredibly grateful, that you can demand all kinds of ‘favours’ in return. For instance I once merrily agreed to work the entire Christmas period up to Boxing Day (which, incidentally I much prefer to actual Christmas Day, because A. shops are open, B. the TV is always better, C. turkey sandwiches), and in return didn’t have to go back into the office till January 7. JANUARY 7! It was glorious!

And talking to other non-Christmas celebrating friends, the consensus is the same. Yes, we enjoy the spirit of the period. Yes, we like the time off. Yes, we’re ALWAYS happy to receive presents/ food/ happy greetings. So while I might not buy into the whole Jesus thing or get the full British Christmas experience, I still look forward to it every year.  Merry Christmas, one and all!

@MissSisiG

Genre: Fantasy/Romance/LGBT

Absorbency rating: Regular

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Okay, I’ll say it. The bar is lower for boys. I know for girl-born-girls this isn’t news. But for us newbies, it is a real awakening to have your hand up in pre-algebra waiting so long to get called on that the blood starts to pool in your neck. Mrs Walsh must have asked every single boy in the room for their answers before she even considering calling on me… Let’s see what else? Ah yes. When a guy makes a joke in class, the girls always laugh. It could be the lamest punch line in the universe, and still, here come the ha-has… Also, girls aren’t allowed to eat. Ever.

Like skinny jeans or Beyonce’s dressing room, this book can be a little hard to get into. But the initial premise is super intriguing – a group of people called ‘Changers’ who, for the last four years of high school, spend each year in a different body. This is the first installment of a four part series, telling the story of Ethan, who wakes up one morning as Drew, a pretty blonde girl with wide eyes.

If you can stick with it, the second half of the book explores ideas of gender and sexuality in a brilliant, creative way that we’ve never seen before. Yay for fluidity! Just remember pay attention.

Changers, Book One: Drew, T Cooper & Allison Glock, £6.99