Cyber Cinderella


By Christina Hopkinson

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A woman Googles her own name and finds true love in the bargain in this intelligent, funny, and heartwarming debut novel. Discovering a Web site devoted to her and the lifestyle she’s certain she’s not living, she searches for the mysterious admirer.



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Warner Books Edition

Copyright © 2004 by Christina Hopkinson

All rights reserved.

5 Spot, an imprint of Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

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First eBook Edition: October 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54387-3

To Alex and William Carruthers


Huge thanks to my first family: Anthony, Sylvia, Francis, Charlotte, Edward and Marie Hopkinson.

To Arabella Stein of Abner Stein for taking me on and for all her enthusiasm and encouragement, and to Karen Kosztolnyik for her transatlantic editing and cheering e-mails.

Cyber prince Scott Bedford (whose work can be found on designed and I'm grateful, too, to my favorite photographer, Andy Lane, for the portraits.

Gratitude and apologies to Nicola Usborne and Rose Else-Mitchell, New York dwellers from whom I've stolen anecdotes and attitude.

Most of all, thanks to Alex Carruthers for the support without which I would not be able to write.

Chapter One

I was bored the day I Googled myself and found the site devoted to me.

Friday afternoon in the office was dragging and I'd run out of other people to Google. So I put my own name into the Internet search engine and there it was:

Let's get one thing straight: I'm not a celebrity or anything. I'm sure Britney Spears might occasionally Google herself and find the millions of sites devoted to her. If I had inputted the words "Kylie's bottom" or the "meaning of The Matrix," myriad tributes would have spewed back at me. They are worthy of Web interest.

But not me. Far from being a celebrity, I don't even think I'm celebrated enough in my own life. I'm not one of those people whose birthday is commemorated with a vast surprise party and a postman lurching under the weight of good wishes. I remember other people's names more often than they do mine. I was too embarrassed to put an update about myself on Friends Reunited because I've achieved so little in life. I never have exciting invitations in the post or messages on my mobile.

It's not always been this way. I had thought I would be celebrated, feted, adored. I had so much promise in my early years.

If English single-sex grammar school had yearbooks, then I would have been "the girl most likely to succeed." At least I like to think so.

But I'm thirty and I organize publicity for other people and not for myself. I'm not even particularly celebrated in the field of PR. No Institute of Public Relations Excellence or PR Week Awards for me. Thirty: what had I thought I'd be doing at this age? I didn't ever think I'd be like my mother and have two and a half children by this milestone, but I might at least have had a career to speak of instead.

Definitely not a household name. In fact, quite literally, I am nameless in my own home. My boyfriend George always refers to me as sweetheart, poppet or angel-girl, a habit he's developed over the years to avoid ejaculating the wrong name in a moment of passion.

So, I was surprised when my name came up upon Googling myself. That sounds rather obscene, doesn't it, to self-Google: something that is inappropriate office behavior. I suppose it is a bit masturbatory, but if clients are allowed to snort drugs in the toilets of this office I don't see why I shouldn't indulge in some harmless auto-Googling.


I remember the first time I heard the word "Google" used as a verb, about a year before. It was at a dinner to force us all to like Frank's girlfriend Camilla a bit more than we had done first time round. It was significant for another reason—I think it was the first time ever that someone had remembered me and not the reverse. I have a kind of inverted amnesia that means I'm cursed to recall all the names and faces of everyone I meet. This should be to my advantage but instead people look upon me as a sort of stalker and feel an innate superiority that they should be more memorable than I am.

"I always Google prospective boyfriends," said Camilla that night. "I Googled Frank and I liked what I saw."

"You what?" asked my friend Maggie, who preferred to goggle and to ogle. "Sounds absolutely disgusting."

Camilla gave that Mitford-girl laugh of hers. "No, I mean Google. You know, put their name into google dot com, the search engine, to check them out and see what things they've done in their life. Nobody in New York would dream of going on a date before checking out their net status. You can find out so much about someone by what their online appearances are."

"Like what?" said Maggie. "You're more likely to get some American name-alike than anything of any real relevance."

"No, really. Googling is like reading someone's CV before offering them the job. You find out when they've been mentioned in the press, if they've spoken at a conference or written a book. Frank's contributed so many interesting articles to periodicals that I'd never have known about otherwise, would I, darling?" Camilla stroked the brilliant essayist's face. "Clever Frank."

"No, clever you," London's leading academic crumpet replied.

"No, you're the clever one, with all those letters after your name."

From Google to gag, I thought, as I struggled to keep my food down in the face of the banquet of banality. "I'm not sure," I said at the time. "I think it's a bit creepy. It's judging someone on superficial criteria. It's all about their media profile, isn't it, or what level of fame they've achieved. It's like saying that someone evicted from Big Brother matters more than a cure for cancer, just because more people might be Googling Jezza or Ped or whatever they're called. It's all about a very shallow definition of worth and about ephemeral profile."

"Hark at her, the PR girl," sneered Frank. "Haven't you just described the very essence of your job?"

I ignored him and continued addressing my remarks to his girlfriend. "What happens if you're not a celebrity, if you have none of this sort of fame? Are you devalued? Can your worth be measured by how many sites a search engine can throw back about you?"

"But everyone does feature," insisted Camilla.

"Yeah, yeah, fifteen minutes and all that," said Maggie.

"No, not that sort of fame," she corrected. "But everyone has a place on the Net, don't they? Every one of us must appear somewhere or somehow. It's terribly democratic. You could always make your own site if you didn't, just so you could be there. And it gives us bits of information that you wouldn't know otherwise. Like…" She paused and looked at me. "The fact that you and I were at school together."

"Were we?" I was shocked, not just by the revelation that this alien girl with the Received Pronunciation could have hailed from the same provinces that I had, but that she had remembered me, and not the other way round. "Did you find that out online? Wow, I'm sorry, but I don't remember you."

"Well, you wouldn't, would you? You were three years older. You always remember the older girls from school and not the younger ones. You were, like, so old."

"Strange times," said Maggie, "when the older you were, the more desirable you were."

"And anyway," continued Camilla, "I'm just using it as an example of the sort of information you could find on the Net. I'm afraid I didn't remember you, actually, nor did I find you online, just that girl in your year, the one who became a porn star."

"Astrid Tickell. Or Anne as she was then."

"I was with the old gang last week, you know, the St. Tree's Tasties as we were referred to by the boys' school. Anyway, they remembered you."


"Becksy, Kitty, you know, the gang. Amazing that they should have remembered you, your name and everything. Like I said, you always remember the old ones, don't you? They thought you were quite cool. Of that time. They said you were kind of punky. Fancied yourself to be the girl from The Breakfast Club. Good look."

Tinkle, tinkle, tinkly laugh, joined by Frank's guffaw, the one that could project through academic amphitheaters.

"I'm afraid I don't think I remember the St. Tree's Tasties. Did you wear, like, baseball jackets with that emblazoned on the back?" I said.

I'm glad I didn't remember them, because they sounded like a bunch of evil little pixies in their bottle-green uniforms, no doubt hiked up to reveal perfect skinny legs. At the same time, I felt grateful to them for knowing who I was all these years on. I was somebody then.


After that night, I'd Google everyone I met and even those I hadn't. I could whittle away whole afternoons in the office in this activity. I Googled George and I Googled his potential replacements. I even Googled myself intermittently and would usually get the unrelated names—the American genealogy sites and conference roll-calls. The search engine would presume that I had spelled my own name wrong and would ask me, "Do you mean Isabel Brannigan?" No, Izobel, I-Z-O-B, as I was already used to saying.

Until the day I Googled myself and there it was: www.izobel And, for good measure, I know I'm not unique, but the way of spelling my Christian name is. My father insisted on naming me after his dead mother; my own mother insisted on making it differently dyslexic. She had aspirations for me even then.

"Under construction." That's what the page said, and I felt then that it must be about me and my life. "Under construction," ill-formed, incomplete, chaotic, that's me. I'm thirty and I still don't know what sort of woman I will become. A bad-tempered and bored one, certainly, but am I going to be a mother? A career woman? Career woman with children? Or just another woman with a boring job and a good-time boyfriend?


"Hi," I called out to George above the stereo that blared out to the visual accompaniment of the news on mute.

"Hello honey, how was your day? Mine was a shocker. I was forced to go out for lunch to taste revolting peanut-butter-flavored martinis. Nuts are not the new gin, I'm telling you; I had to have a couple of classics just to wash the taste away. And a few sneaky lines with John. I tell you, the peanut butter got right up my nose."


"Still don't feel tickety-boo to be honest. I think you and I ought to go out and wash away the taste with some good Italian," George continued in that 1940s voice of his.

"Something happened to me today."

"Really, sweetheart? Why don't you tell me over some supper at Ravioli? And if there are any big launches you think I should be attending. We haven't had a big old launch party for ages. What good is it, a journalist going out with a PR girl, if there are no parties to go to? We haven't had a really good evening at somebody else's expense since that vodka thing."

I sat down and turned the stereo off. George was a decade to the day older than me, but insisted on playing music at loud levels of teenage noise. I could think only in silence and I needed to think now. He poured me a glass of wine. It's one of his domestic fortes.

He was half-bagged but his suit was well cut, ensuring that he retained an ill-deserved elegance. He looked smarter after a hard day's office drinking than most men in their interview suit. With his slicked-back, mildly receding hair and handmade Lobb's shoes, he resembled a Second World War spiv. George has the look of a man who is either upgraded to first class or thoroughly strip-searched by airport customs, never anything in between.

"Something weird happened to me today," I told him.

"Weirder than peanut-butter martinis?"

"I think so, yes." The wine warmed me, as did George's hand stroking my hair.

"I'm agog, poppet," he said, moving his hand across my chest and undoing my shirt buttons.

"I Googled myself."

"Well, hello…"

"I put my name into a search engine and a site came up."

"Hmmm." He had graduated to thigh-fondling.

"Don't you think that's weird? There's a site devoted to me. To me."

"I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about."

"A Web site. I put my name into an Internet search engine—you know, it's like a directory of the Web—and there's a Web site about me."

"Sexy girl that you are, was it a porn site?" he asked while pushing my bra up so I achieved that attractive four-breasted effect, with the real ones squashed by the empty cups of my north-migrating lingerie.

"Seriously, George." I wriggled away. "It's freaking me out. It's a site. For me, about me, done by someone for me, and I've no idea who or why."

He looked bored. We had the symbiotic relationship of a PR person and a journalist so that when I demanded rather than gave attention, it transcended the rules of our professional lives. "What did it say, then? What did it say about you?"

"It said 'under construction.' " That means it hasn't been built yet, but it's going to be. Someone's bought the address of my name and everything."

George laughed. "Silly sausage, it's probably not about you at all. What a delightful little idiot you are."

"But it is, it must be. Why would there be a site registered with my name, with the funny spelling and everything, as the URL?"

"You what?"

"The URL, the address of a Web site."

"You mean its e-mail number?"

"Don't be disingenuous, George, it doesn't suit you. Do you have to be such a Luddite? Or should I say 'laddite,' given that you're happy to indulge in most things that lads do, pubs and women and the like?"

"Laddite, I like it. Masculine men who rather than going for gadgets and all things electronic are maintaining a stand against the tide of technology. You are clever; I can feel an article coming on." He scribbled the word "laddite" across a gas bill that was my responsibility to pay.

"You're not answering my question," I whined. "Why on earth would there be a site with my name as the address?"

"And you're not answering mine. Why on earth would anyone create a site dedicated to you?"

Why indeed?


George was right, of course, it had to be a coincidence. There must be someone who did spell their name the same as I did and who had the same surname. I had heard there was a trend in America for giving your children normal names with abnormal spellings, Emalee, Aleksandra, Rayshelle, that type of thing. Maybe Izobel was now one of them and the site was just something whipped up by some expectant parents in the Midwest. It was a more logical conclusion.

"Phew," I said to George. "What a relief. I was really spooked. I thought I might have a stalker or something."

"My poor angel-girl, you're a bit upset that there's no site about you."

"No, of course not. I was really freaked. It would have been terrible, having someone think so much of you as to create a site all about you. God no. Like getting an anonymous Valentine card, should be flattering but it's just annoying and weird. I'd hate it, really I would."

"Well, my darling, you may not have some stupid little site," he said. "But I can give you something so much better." Here we go, I thought, sex as the answer to all, but he surprised me. "Instead of a site, a spa!"

"A what?"

"A spa weekend at Britain's finest luxury hotel, courtesy of yours truly. With a Michelin-starred restaurant attached."

"You can't afford that, surely?" I said clapping my hands together with excitement. "When? How are you paying?"

"Aha, there's the rub. I'm doing a piece on it for the travel section. Well, I might do, if I can be bothered." He looked at me proudly.

Aha, I thought, courtesy of some poor sap of a PR girl like me who will have proudly announced her coup to her clients. He'd get all this for free and I'd pay for the extras like the bar bill, which would come to as much as I'd ever spent on a mini-break anyway.

"Great. Thanks, George. Much better than a creepy stalky site thing."


I had thought a site dedicated to me might make George reappraise me. We'd been together for both too long and too short a time to make grand gestures. I was even almost tempted to hire a Web geek to make up a site for me so that I could pretend someone worshipped me, that I had one fan, and to show this to George, to prove him wrong and to whip up his ardor. This being, I suppose, the twenty-first-century version of sending flowers to yourself to make the boyfriend jealous.

"George," I asked one evening soon after. "Am I your num ber one? The most important person in your life?"

"Naturally, darling, my number one grown-up girl anyway. Of course, Grace is my number one number one. I'd be a monster if it were any other way."

Grace. The divine Grace. Beauty, intelligence and saintliness in a pert six-year-old package accessorized by Gap Kids. He'd once said he'd kill himself if anything were to happen to her. "I'd get over you dying," he had said to me, "but one never gets over the death of a child."

That's the trouble with going out with a man with offspring by another woman. The one person who should put you above all others has the most horribly valid excuse not to. And even to question this principle is to be the wickedest common-law stepmother in the history of fairy tales. Stepmothers are very much maligned, generally, I would think, as I'd read another bloody boring story to a demanding child who was not only not mine, but belonged to Catherine, the woman I most resented in the world.

I phoned Maggie.

"Do you think you're number one in Mick's life?"

"I suppose so, though I don't know for how much longer. When the baby's born, I'm sure he or she will be my number one. And Mick's. Are you asking who you'd pull out of a burning building first or who you like best?"

"I don't know. It would just be nice to feel like you're number one in somebody's life."

"It's not the charts, you know. It's not that simple. And this week's number one in Mick's life, pop pickers, is Maggie, closely followed by Mick's mum, but with the six-month-old fetus poised to make the highest new entry."

"I know, I just don't think I'm anybody's."

"Could be a good thing," she said. "Christ, I'm my mother's and I'd give anything not to be. The top of her hit parade should be my father. More like the top of her hit list. It's horrible being her number one best friend, daughter, quasi-lover, receptacle for all her hopes and dreams. Every morning she phones me. I told her not to use my work number as that was for work calls so now she phones me on my mobile, or 'portable telephone' as she calls it. I told her only to use that for emergencies, so now she prefaces every message with 'It's nothing important' in this really sad and passive-aggressive way."

I couldn't see Maggie's mother creating a Web site devoted to her daughter. She was of the generation that still talked to answer-phones in the third person: "This is a message for Maggie, tell her that her mother rang and that I miss her very much."

"At least you've got two people who put you top, and a third on the way," I retorted.

"Izobel, we are all the protagonists in the movie of our own lives." Maggie was a TV drama script editor both professionally and emotionally. "In everyone else's you're just a bit part—the wisecracking best pal, the mother figure, the girlfriend, the nemesis, doesn't really matter. You're only your own number one."

"But shouldn't I be surrounded by best supporting actors?"

"Yes, but supporting, secondary. There's only one star in your life and that's you. Don't rely on anybody else to give you applause."

"But as I'm going out with someone, though," I asked, "shouldn't I expect George to have me played by Julia Roberts in the biopic of his life? At least, have almost equal billing?" I decided not to tell her about the Web site. Not yet anyway.

"Yes, but would she be in a cameo? Or do you really think that George thinks as much about you as you think about yourself? We're all pretty solipsistic in the end, aren't we? In George's film would the actress playing you get nominated in the best actress or best actress in a supporting role category?"

"I'd be below the barmaid in the credits."

Maggie laughed, though I wasn't actually trying to be funny.


I felt that my life was far from being an epic. It was a low-budget short, made by students and lacking real plot or narrative arc; one of those ones where amateur actors shuffle around bemoaning the state of the world without anything really happening. All the audience would be talking through it just waiting for the arrival of the main attraction.

Chapter Two

I checked the under-constructed intermittently, but then I checked a lot of sites at work. I saw The Apartment recently and I wondered what work there had been to do in an office before the advent of computers and e-mail.

One day, though, was different. It was there. My site had flickered into life, dormant but now animated, a fairy-tale princess awoken with a kiss marked "Put Live."

And it was my site. There was no doubt anymore. It was my site and it was all about me. In the center of the screen in Arial 24pt bold, a couple of paragraphs about my life. Or at least my life as imagined by a Hello! features writer crossed with an adulatory adolescent boy.

"This site is dedicated to the life of Izobel Brannigan, who rocks her own world and that of those around her. Born 1973 (she's a Pisces), she went to St. Teresa's Grammar and then to the University of Sussex, where she read European Studies and Good Times. She's now cutting a swath through the glamorous world of the capital's public relations industry."

It went on: "Enough of the past. But what next for Izobel and We want to make a site that's every bit as crazy and dynamic as the woman herself. Over the coming months, we'll keep you informed of all her antics and her ever-changing world. And we'll be throwing in a few secrets that maybe she wouldn't want out there! Keep logging on!"

Nobody described me as "cutting a swath" through anywhere these days. Not even me in the third-person commentary about my life I'd run through my head to a John Barry soundtrack when trying to cheer myself up.

The site was nice-looking; the stalker knew his stuff when it came to the Web. It was only a one-pager, but professionally exe-cuted. The background was an attractive shade of blue and the logo "Izobel" in large squashy letters, like comfy sofas, ran across the top of the page. That was nice of them, I thought, to have taken the trouble to fashion a logo out of my name. It looked like it was underlined in navy, but on closer inspection I made out the words "her site her world" in an angular script, like the border on an Egyptian tomb.

Eliminating all doubt about which Izobel the site was devoted to, there were a couple of photos set at jaunty angles and with fake crinkled edges, as if this was not the Internet but a page from an old-fashioned scrapbook or photo album. The text was in a yellow box, to look as though a Post-it note had been randomly affixed to this commonplace book.

One photo was of me from school, a blurred thumbnail from a group shot. My face was so fat in those days. When people try to flatter women by saying they've the body of a sixteen-year-old, they're clearly not referring to mine at that age. And the hair. Why did I ever think it was cool to have a bleached spiky fringe? I remember how I used to tie it up in a sausage of elastic bands each night, like a unicorn's horn, and then release the vertical plumage in the morning.

Then there was another photo, a more recent one. I couldn't work it out at first; eventually, by looking at the clothes I was wearing and the background, illuminated by a flash, I realized that it was taken at a party to celebrate somebody's thirtieth I'd been to about six months before, held in a club. I was wearing a one-shouldered top and a pair of satin combats with heels in an effort to practice what PR people and magazine editors were encouraging mortals to sport. I like to think I'm quite street: High or Bond, depending on the mood. You could see my nipples. I'm sure you couldn't on the day, so at a guess they had been digitally enhanced.

It was a typical party picture: I had my arms around two friends and was doing that glowing overarching smile of the mildly tipsy while my eyes had been flashed up into a demonic red. My chin was tipped downward, as it was in all photos taken since I had realized as a teenager that if I didn't do that, it looked like I had a goiter. Of course, the flip side was that it meant that the dark rings around my eyes were more prominent, but this was the lesser of two evils.

Dark rings around the eyes were not something that Maggie and Frank, the friends I was embracing and learning on, had to worry about in this photo, for they had little black strips across their eyes to protect their anonymity. The effect was sinister, as if they were MPs partaking in an orgy splashed across a tabloid newspaper, or the innocent victims of a kiddie porn ring, while I was the leering perv they'd been taught to call "Uncle Tommy." Stalker–Web site maker clearly didn't see why my anonymity should be protected in such a way. Instead the bare facts of my life were broadcast across the whole wide world.

Whose party had it been? Some friend of Frank's? Must ask Maggie, I thought, not that she'd be able to remember any better than me. I'm sure if her eyes had been visible they'd have had the enlarged pupils of the totally boxed, her irises like the glow of the sun being eclipsed by the full moon of her pupils. It must have been before she was pregnant. Or at least before she knew she was.

There was a ticker running along the bottom of the site. "Coming soon: a message board where you can talk about what Izobel means to you. Live chat too." I waited for the next installment to shuffle across the screen, very slowly, for it was an arthritic ticker. "Sections on her family and friends." All with blacked-across eyes, no doubt. "E-mail alerts for her birthday and breaking news." It continued to meander. "Future attractions: Izobel-themed ring tones and faceplates. Comps and prizes galore!"

I rang Maggie. "Whose party was it, you know the one where you wore a boob tube thing that kept on slipping down? The thirtieth. Some bloke."

"That narrows it down," she replied. "I no longer go to many thirtieths anymore. Do you know, I've been invited to a fortieth. A fortieth! Can you imagine? I can't believe we're entering the age of Big Chill and no longer St. Elmo's Fire. This year marks the specific point at which we become nearer to forty than our teens."

"I suppose so."



On Sale
Aug 21, 2006
Page Count
288 pages
5 Spot

Christina Hopkinson

About the Author

Christina Hopkinson is a recognized journalist in the UK, where she has written articles for publications including the Times, Guardian, and Daily Telegraph. She lives in London with her family.

Learn more about this author