• Hajar J Woodland

Why Silver Linings will make you want to be a better person

Jess Impiazzi’s memoir is a tribute to a generation of women who work damn hard for their Silver Linings.

Silver Linings is the new memoir from actor, writer and model Jess Impiazzi. We’re the final stop on her book tour, and I was going to write something quick and non-committal about it. “Five things you’ll love about this book” or “Here’s the summary, listen to our podcast.”

But we’re an honest podcast and I like to make everything about class and feminism, don't I?

So here it goes...

In the UK we have serious ideas about 'culture'. Theatre good, reality TV bad. Arty nudity good, Page 3 bad. Actor's memoir that might as well be titled “How I hurt every woman who ever loved me, but look how I’ve learnt my lessons and miraculously found happiness with my daughter’s best friend” - valuable. Memoir from reality TV star who's worked hard to build a life - laughable.

It's a culture that tells us whose stories are worth reading and whose aren’t. The culture that underpins that episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Remember it? The one where Simon Amstell made cheap digs at Preston’s then-wife Chantelle Houghton? Razor-sharp Amstell only needed to read Chantelle’s sentences to elicit laughs from the audience before Preston, to his absolute credit, stormed off. Name me a pub where that level of twattery wouldn’t have ended in a beating for Amstell. Pubs on the King’s Road don’t count.

We can say what we want about celeb culture and reality TV and trust me, we do. I haven’t watched reality TV since the days of Pop Idol; I don’t understand Love Island or Big Brother. But Curtis and I will happily watch 30 grown men pummel, tackle and molest each other on a field in the name of homoerotic freedom of expression, err, I mean sport. So, who are we to talk?

Credit: Jess Impiazzi

We started this podcast for people like us – people who might feel like they’re always catching up when it comes to literature, or sometimes life in general. Call it state school, low-income, unstable homes, or just low confidence, but whatever the hurdle, these stories come about because our country isn’t adequately equipped to nurture every child – or even most children – into the fulfilled futures they could have. These are the stories we care about.

So what can you do when the system’s rigged against you and life throws you blow after blow?

You can look to the silver linings, of course...

Jess’s story was everything I needed to read at the end of last year when I was wrapped up in a cycle of negativity about how unfair and difficult my life was.

Yes, life is tough, but you have to make the best of it, and it’s this attitude that’s the backbone of Silver Linings.

The memoir is about being positive, sure, but it’s not a fake sort of positive. It’s not a fluffy, vacant or “no-time-for-any-negativity-hun”-type positive. It’s a genuine positivity that shows Jess understands the graft involved in dealing with pain and building your life from the inside out.

Jess’s story spoke to me. At one point we were both two performers from similar backgrounds (“normal, state-school, broken homes”) trying to find our way in London, not quite figuring out who we were until our divorces led us each to small journeys of self-discovery in LA. Hell, we even had a similar experiences as young children when our grandads died and we dreamt of them/spoke to them in their final moments.

Growing up, Jess got her validation through performing. Mine was through gold stars and that ‘good girl’ label.

That blind wish to work hard for appreciation with no long-term reward will resonate with a lot of women - and I do think Jess’s story will speak to a lot of women. As will the fear that your choices when it comes to your body will catch up with you and limit your options down the line.

Jess had all the talent and determination she needed to fulfil her acting dreams at a young age, but not only was she struck by personal trauma, she lacked the full support that would have made the difference. Like many women with similar dreams, she turned to glamour modelling and reality TV, and she writes honestly about the effect that work had on her mental health and self-esteem. She's candid about her discomfort over reality TV producers who'd ply contestants with booze and encourage “Lots of shagging tonight please, girls”.

"‘Reality TV’ is a kind of loose term in my eyes. There is nothing real about being put in a villa with a bunch of strangers, or your exes, and having no communication with anyone else. Automatically people will behave differently anyway.... I knew [it] wasn’t acting... but I was desperate to move forward. I needed to feel I was worth something. Everything collapsed around me when I left school and life hadn’t got much better. MTV felt like a chance to at least be in front of a camera."

She writes that the team at Zoo magazine always made her feel happy and safe - strongly implying there were teams that didn't extend such respect to her and other young women. Still, she navigated what could be a murky world, made a life for herself, and kept learning and growing.

What’s beautiful about Silver Linings is that Jess doesn’t make excuses, despite everything that's been thrown at her. Instead, she treats herself with kindness and love, and holds a real generosity of spirit for others. Now through the whirlwind of her twenties, she’s following her two passions: acting and writing.

Her writing itself is clear and conversational. Touchingly self-effacing with a subtle humour and self-awareness, her voice and personality shine through. She’s currently working on her second book, and if it’s fiction, I think she'll love freeing herself up to play with scene and form as she explores and nurtures her passion. She has the unique perspective, talent and perseverance of a true writer and I hope she keeps on writing and writing because her words belong on the page.

Jess’s memoir is not just her story. It's the story of a generation of women. Women like her who were raised with big dreams and had to take sharp turns to navigate their way through trauma, heartbreak and familial responsibility. Women who've had to compromise their values, safety and comfort because of limited options.

"The problem I faced whilst filming these shows [Ex on the Beach and Love Island] was feeling like I was letting the producers down. So often in your heart you know a certain behaviour isn’t going to serve you well, but you get encouraged by producers to act a certain way because they’re after better TV. You end up doing things you don’t necessarily think are right, but you also feel like you need to live up to the person who booked you on the job. It can leave you in a really low place. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do with your life. You become a different person."

There were laugh-out-loud moments and 'oh my god, that BASTARD did WHAT???' moments, but more than anything I loved her honesty and insight, and the way she analyses situations.

Her memoir is testament to her strength, determination and resilience and it’ll leave you giving yourself a hug and acknowledging your pain before dusting yourself off and working out what’s next.

I was in a good mood for days after speaking to Jess on our podcast. She’s funny, upbeat and authentic - not to mention seriously smart and switched on. I loved learning about her journey, and she honestly left me wanting to try harder – to be more positive and kind, and find the silver linings wherever possible.

You can buy her book here… and if you want a mood-lift in thirty minutes, listen to our podcast!