Zen Cho on her Lancôme partnership

22 February 2017

By Rob Cox

Zen Cho is the winner of the '2016 British Fantasy Society Award for Best Newcomer' for her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown. Today, she is proud to announce her involvement in a new project with Lancôme. To coincide with the launch of a 40 shade range of foundation, Teint Idole, Lancôme are celebrating female empowerment and diversity. 

Here, Zen Cho describes entering the fantasy world of a photoshoot...

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Every aspiring writer dreams of what they'd like to achieve with their writing one day. Being paid for something they made up in their head. Having a book with their name on it on shelves in bookshops and libraries. Having readers come up to them to say, "You improved my day" or even "You changed my life".

I had all those dreams. But I have to say, not in my wildest fantasies did I contemplate being featured in a global luxury makeup brand campaign.

I've always figured the main advantage of being a writer is that you don't have to look good to do it. No reader cares whether you have glowing skin or anime eyes or the flowing locks of the main character of a pony book for girls aged 8-12. Once your words have got a grip on their brains, you can look like a total troll. It literally doesn't matter.

Of course, there are still writers who not only do magic with words, but have great faces – the Zadie Smiths and Jhumpa Lahiris of this world. There is no point in envying such people. In their past lives they must have been great sages who healed illnesses and saved many lives. You and I, on the other hand, were unfulfilled middle managers who always forgot to put the office milk back in the fridge.

So I was very flattered when Lancôme approached me about being part of their Teint Idole campaign, all the more as the approach was due to my brains rather than my looks. I trotted along to their offices, where I joined a production line of women from different backgrounds, with different impressive skills, having their appearances enhanced by beauty professionals and then being photographed.

I don't do makeup very often. At some point in their lives – say, between 7.45 and 8.15 am every day – everyone is faced with a choice between an additional five minutes of sleep and putting their face on. Since I already have a face but always lack sleep, I invariably go for the former.

But I do love having makeup done to me or watching it being done to other people. And it was so interesting chatting with the hairdresser Ben Hards and makeup artist Natasha Buchanan – I'm fascinated by people's jobs and what they choose to do with their lives, and what Ben and Natasha had chosen was a lot more glamorous than most people I get to talk to!

Once I'd been made to look significantly better than my usual "my hair is attached to my head and my eyes are open, whaddya want from me", it was time to be photographed. Like most writers I'm far from being my happiest before a camera lens. Fortunately I have a natural advantage: I am an East Asian woman and have many friends who are the same. This has meant that over the years I have been subjected to so many selfies, wefies, group photos at dim sum restaurants and "jumping on the beach" shots that I have lost most of my camera-shyness.

Still, there's a difference between being herded in front of someone's uplifted iPhone and striking attitudes before a team of professionals who spend their entire careers dealing with people who look more like the elves off The Lord of the Rings than anyone you and I might know.

Luckily everyone was very nice. They crowded on a sofa, shouting, "You're SO PHOTOGENIC!" in encouraging tones. You couldn't really believe them, but you appreciated the effort.

I'm definitely of the camp that believes it is the job of the writer to create, to imagine, to question and to challenge – and it's fine if writers want to look good while they're doing it, but it's not required. That said, it's cool that the elf-handlers of the world are starting to include elves from the maligned other parts of Middle-earth in their campaigns – and even the occasional hobbit in disguise like me. Surely our visual landscape can only benefit from that diversity. After all, it was the hobbits that got the Ring where it needed to be.

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Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown

THE FATE OF ENGLISH MAGIC LIES IN THEIR HANDS...

In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England's first African Sorcerer Royal. He leads the eminent Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but a malicious faction seeks to remove him by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, the Society is failing its vital duty - to keep stable the levels of magic within His Majesty's lands. 

Ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman is desperate to escape the school where she's drudged all her life, and a visit by the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal seems the perfect opportunity. At his wits' end, the last thing Zachariah needs is a female magical prodigy! But together, they might just change the nature of sorcery, in Britain and beyond.

Read extract