Fiona Neill, author of The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy, spent some time answering a few of the Huggies Reading Group questions on Thursday, 10th of July 2008 about her book. Below is a transcript of the Q & A session.
Most of the contents are entirely fictional. There are one or two incidents that happened to me (my husband has drunk my contact lenses in the night) and some that happened to friends (losing a hamster in the car) but most are made up, although they have probably happened to a mother somewhere in the world. I have three children (two boys and one girl) so I have plenty of first hand experience of the chaotic nature of parenting, the tricky choices that women face when they become parents, and the sometimes hilarious things that children say and do. Sometimes I wish that I could be as laid back as Lucy Sweeney, but like most mums, I’m not immune from neurosis.
They aren’t based on anyone that I specifically know, but they are recognizeable stereotypes that you find at the school gate in many western countries. The Sexy Domesticated Dad is sort of a fantasy figure that I created to make life on the school run more exciting than it really is. Alpha Mums are those hyper competitive perfectionist types who spend their lives taking their children from one self improving class to another and the Yummy Mummies are the ones with the perfect bodies, big cars and big bank balance to support the lifestyle.
Never say never, but at the moment I’m writing a second novel that is not a sequal. It’s about a group of friends who have known each other since their twenties and the ups and downs of their life as they approach forty. It’s comic but not as slapstick as Slummy Mummy.
I feel really lucky that I have managed to find a job which allows me to work from home and be around for my children. Before I wrote Slummy Mummy I was a features writer for the Times Magazine and that gave me similar flexibility. I’m also really lucky because I love what I do. The escapism sometimes feels a bit self indulgent but it’s the perfect antidote to being a mother. Trying to keep all the balls in the air is still frazzling though but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Definitely a slummy mummy! I never was hyper organised domestically and I think that there is a level of chaos that comes with having children that is difficult to avoid. When I talk about being a Slummy Mummy, what I am describing is a mum who is trying to aim to be good enough, rather than perfect. I think mums are sometimes too hard on ourselves, we all mess up and actually if we laugh at ourselves instead of being self critical it makes parenting easier I think.
Mum of 2
The book originates in a column I write for the Saturday Times Magazine. The idea for the column came during a conversation over a bottle of wine with a girlfriend one evening. We were describing each other’s day to each other (she by the way is a heart doctor) and she told me that the previous evening she was meant to go out for a rare dinner alone with her husband but couldn’t remember where she parked the car so most of the evening was spent trawling the streets to find it. I told her how I’d picked up six girls dressed as fairies from a party, got them all in the car and left all their school bags and my handbag in the middle of the road. We talked about how nothing we saw on television or read in the media reflected the befuddling chaos and often the dark comedy of being a mother. I said that far from being Yummy Mummies we were Slummy Mummies. the next day I got up and had the idea for the characters and wrote four columns.
Always in heels
I think most mothers aim to be organised and have some kind of routine but particularly when children are small, the chances that something will go wrong is very high because toddlers are often completely anarchic. My youngest child is now five and so I feel a bit more on top of things but a few years ago it was far more chaotic. Things still get forgotten but I think we all have so much to remember. Lucy is a fictional character and the world I describe in the book is a sort of hyper reality aimed at entertaining people. Having said that I regularly lose my credit cards and car keys but I did that even before I had children!
This is Lucy’s voice not mine, but I think that we all know as we head for forty that it is going to be a fight against time to remain youthful and attractive. Otherwise why would those A listers invest so much effort and money trying to fight the ravages of time? I think whether we melt in the face of male attention depends on who is giving it!
Hello there. That’s right. There is a weekly Slummy Mummy column in The Times. And although I had never compared myself to Candice Bushnell, I am very flattered by the analogy! There isn’t a book that brings all the columns together although you can read some of them on the Internet.
You are completely correct. That is definitely a side of human nature that I find really interesting. I was also trying to describe how our expectations of happiness are often too high and that we would all be more contented if we accepted the middle of the road is not a bad place to be. Being a good enough mum for example is easier than trying to be perfect.
I didn’t base him on any particular A list actor, he was sort of a composite of various people. I mentioned these films to make his seem credible and real. Where I live in London, there are a few Celebrity Dads on the school run and observing their behaviour has been quite educational. But none of them are as badly behaved as him (in public at least).
Hi Dee, no, I didn’t mean to imply that. It was more that Lucy didn’t want to betray Emma (who she has known for years) and that she felt she didn’t want to be the person to deliver the bad news. There was also the fact that although she saw Yummy Mummy every day on the school run, she didn’t really know her well enough to confront such a difficult issue.
Actually I have just read a novel called “Breath” by a brilliant Australian writer called Time Winton and I have bought a couple of his other novels to take on holiday. He’s a new discovery for me. Otherwise I really love Ian McKewan, American writer Meg Wollitzer (“The Position” is a really funny and compelling read), short stories by British writer Helen Simpson (writes wonderfully about motherhood). I found The Ice Storm by Rick Moody really inspiring because he dissects marriage and relationships with such forensic accuracy.
Great question. I’m not sure. It’s difficult to predict cultural trends. It would be great if there was a sort of mother power movement that gave voice to the concerns that unite mothers rather than things that divide us but that’s probably too idealistic. My next book is more about adult friendship and relationships but of course there are children. At the moment I don’t intend to do a sequal because there are other things that I want to write.
Never, would love to go to Australia, as would my children but I spent most of my twenties living in Latin America and never made it anywhere else.
It’s about women (and men actually) approaching their forties (sort of mid-life crisis territory). It should be out early next year as long as i finish it on time!
It’s always tempting to be judgemental but possibly unhelpful to friends who get themselves into the kind of situation that Emma finds herself. I think we tolerate behaviour in friends that we wouldn’t necessarily in people less known to us. I wouldn’t recommend any friend have an affair with a married man, not from a moral standpoint, but because it’s likely to all go pear shaped and cause a lot of misery all round.
No but I do lose it quite frequently
I have a great mother-in-law otherwise I wouldn’t have dared create a character like Petra! The annoying mother-in-law is sort of a sit com staple and I wanted to create a character who was completely different from Lucy’s own mother.