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INTERVIEW: Parties, Death and London with Suzette Field

Parties devoid of concept are a rarity these days and Suzette Field, who arrived to the UK from USA almost 20 years ago, is one of the promoters to ‘blame’. Her party-throwing days started as a cherry on top of film screenings (read more about it below); today she has a wealth of events of all kinds under her belt and heads A Curious Invitation, the company currently wrapping up the London Month of the Dead and prepping for some classy Halloween celebrations. A Curious Invitation is also the name of Suzette’s book: it's a collection of the best literary parties by the party-maker herself.

So – whether it's throwing a party, writing a party or reading a party, we clearly have a lot of party-talking to go through. We better get a move on.

Suzette Field: When I moved to London from Los Angeles in 1996 I took over a warehouse on the Kingsland Road and converted it into a drive-in cinema with 1930s sofas and classic cars for seating. The word spread and the Great Eastern Hotel on Liverpool Street invited me to host similar events. So I started screening classic films for them, followed by an after-party. It didn’t take long for me to notice that many people were skipping the movie and just showing up for the party. So I dropped the films and focused on parties.

Run Riot: What was the research process behind A Curious Invitation? Did you look for parties in your favourite books, or go after books that featured crème de la crèmeparties?

Suzette Field: I did much of my research in one of my favourite places in London – the London Library on St James’s Square. I tried to make the parties I selected as eclectic as possible, so that a variety of different literary genres, nationalities, periods and styles were represented.  It would have been easy to compile a whole book featuring just 19th century society balls, but I preferred to have Plato rubbing shoulders with Charles Pooter and Proust with Winnie the Pooh.

Run Riot: What is it that fascinates you about parties in fiction? What makes them central to classic books?

Suzette Field: From a literary perspective, parties can be a useful dramatic device for the writer: an occasion where characters can meet, fall in love, fall out or even get murdered, as well as providing a vehicle for social comment or satire. From a practical standpoint, literary parties are a wonderful reference tool for creating my own events, giving me access to some of the greatest creative minds of all time from whom to source unusual entertainment ideas. 

Run Riot: Events and parties that come with a twist and a concept are hard to miss these days, but you were one of the people involved in building the idea from the ground up. What’s your take on today’s ‘scene’?

Suzette Field: Unusually for the commercial world, almost all of London’s promoters know each other and are on friendly terms. In fact we often collaborate on events.  I’ve been running parties for about 14 years now, under the auspices of the Modern Times Club, the Last Tuesday Society and latterly my own brand, A Curious Invitation. My view on any bandwagon-jumpers is that there’s plenty of room for their ideas.  The more parties the merrier as far as I’m concerned.

Run Riot: We catch you in the midst of the London Month of the Dead. What have the events brought up so far, and what can we look forward to in the days to come?

Suzette Field: We’ve covered just about every aspect of the hereafter, from bodysnatching to the city’s forgotten burial grounds to past life recall and reincarnation and even raised the spirits of a few dead Londoners in our séances.  Our final weekend of events is on November 1st/2nd but I’m afraid all ticketed events are sold out. However we’ll soon be launching a fundraising campaign to open for the first time in 150 years the Courtoy Mausoleum at Brompton Cemetery, which is rumoured to house a time machine. 

Run Riot: The London Month of the Dead takes place in two of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries. Can you tell us about their allure, their past and present?

Suzette Field: The Magnificent Seven were originally built to alleviate overcrowding in the old churchyards of the city. It took a couple of 19th century royal burials to kick-start their popularity, but soon they became the fashionable burial option and customers flocked to created their own tombs in these elegant settings. Today space is at a premium in London and so almost 75% of those who die are cremated. This has led to the Magnificent Seven falling into neglect. We’re hoping to re-kindle Londoners’ interest in these unusual items of the city’s cultural heritage.

Run Riot: What makes London and death a good pair to investigate? 

Suzette Field: The English don’t talk about death and the inevitable end is something of a taboo in the capital. We’re hoping that our month of talks, workshops and tours will get the subject back on the agenda and will help prepare Londoners both emotionally, practically and spiritually for the end of their finite lives: from the importance of making a will and handling bereavement to examining paranormal experiences and the investigating the possibility of immortality and of course what happens to your social media account after you shuffle off your mortal coil.

Run Riot: Finally, how about some expert advice? What makes a good party? What makes a good party guest?

Suzette Field: I like to hold my parties in venues that have multiple rooms, each themed differently so there is something for different moods and different people. For example at Satan’s Rout this Halloween, I have a dance floor in a dark wood, a menagerie of wild beasts, a recreation of the Titty Twister bar from the film Dusk till Dawn, a life drawing room with Art Macabre, sea shanties in an upturned ship and an immersive funeral experience. After all not everyone wants to do the same thing, or the same thing at the same time.

And a good party guest is someone who looks to branch out, enjoy new experiences and interact with new people rather than hang with the group of friends they arrived with.

London Month of the Dead runs until 2nd November.

A Curious Invitation is out now.

Check out the upcoming Halloween Parties: Satan’s Rout and Grimm’s Halloween.