So, tomorrow will mark exactly one week until Souper Mum gets published. How do I feel?
I feel like this most days.
Occasionally I feel a little like this.
Monday was a high; copies of the book arrived in a big box and I got to hold an actual book written by me in my actual hands.
And do you know what that felt like? It felt like the time two and a half years ago when I was on all fours over the side of my bed (oi, oi…get your head out of the gutter…) giving birth to Daenerys. My waters hadn’t broken yet but I felt the overwhelming urge to push. So I did. Whoosh. Then a head. And out she tumbled on to the bedroom floor that we had covered with a Tesco Value shower curtain. Ned had been holding my hands from the other side of the bed so he thought I was still in labour. The midwife, the lovely Linda, told me to reach down and pick up my baby. What? Shit, would you look at that. It's a fucking baby. So I bent down and picked her up from between my knees. Ned’s face was a picture. Crikey, they just fall out of you now, eh? I told him to hand me a towel. For some reason for which I’ll never understand he grabbed a bright yellow one. I know I’d done it three times before but there is still that magic you feel from holding a baby for the first time. Bonjour bonjour number four. I know the yellow towel helps but seriously, that little girl was just pure sunshine.
So, holding Souper Mum for the first time, that’s the only feeling I can align it with, holding a baby for the first time. Because I did that. Me. And it took all the blood, all the sweat, all the tears and I worked like a bastard so I could hold it in my hands. To my shame, when I broke that first copy of Souper Mum out of the box, I did all the same things one does with a newborn baby. I stroked and admired it, I had a little smell, I cried a few tears, I took some photos, I phoned a few people, I smiled at it lots. There are things I didn’t do. I didn’t hold it to my naked bosom trying to wave my nipples in its face. But the feeling was just the same; that same overwhelming mixture of pride, fear and relief. It’s here. It’s really here.
So, how did Souper Mum come to be? Who the hell is she? Well, let me start by telling you, she had a gestation period of six ruddy years. I can’t imagine carrying a child for that long? Can you imagine the piles? The heartburn? The stretch marks? I’d have stabbed Ned by the six year gestation point. I stayed the course with Souper Mum though. It all started with an idea. I remember it quite clearly. I was a hormonal, pregnant expat at the time and I can tell you right now why Singapore has a low birth rate. It’s because being pregnant in that place is downright horrific. How does one carry around a small human in 99% humidity? Not without a shit load of air-conditioning, I tell you. I used to walk through my front door and strip down to my maternity bra and granny pants and lie around like a sweaty basking seal. Attractive.
Anyways, the evening of the grand idea, I was really craving a McFlurry. And some Haribo. And five Mars bars. The troops were hungry, dinner time was upon us. I thought about the lone carrot in the fridge and how I was going to eke out that out to serve four. I was lain in front of a fan and I remember there was a TV chef on in the background who had just accosted a woman in a supermarket, rifled through her trolley and had invited himself into her life to teach her how to cook. And I thought about what I’d say/do if a similar TV chef did that to me? If he rooted through my shopping trolley with shades of judgement about my life and culinary skills? In my current mood? I think I’d tell him to fuck right off. I think I’d tell him to do one. That evening, I sat down at my computer and wrote that rant down. I named my ranter, Jools after one of my gorgeous expat Aussie friends. I named her husband Matt as that was the name Ned was nearly given when he was born. I named her youngest, Millie after a little girl I used to au-pair for who had the reddest, curliest hair ever. Over the next weeks, I decided little things: all the characters’ surnames would be food branded and I wanted fish fingers to feature highly. I love fish fingers. I really do. My foodie family have taken me to some swish old eateries in the past but there is something to be said about a perfect fish finger sandwich made with cheap white bread, lashings of butter, iceberg lettuce and bit of Hellman’s. Serve me that on a date and I know you mean business.
I wrote Souper Mum over the course of that year and finished it just before The Hound was born. I think. Do I dare remember what happened over that time? I remember I yodelled through The Hound's birth, he was a greedy little thing and used to guzzle milk like a beast. I also remember now being in possession of three little minions. I slept very little. Drafts of Souper Mum were written and went back and forth to agents and editors in between teething, Ned getting a new job and practically sleeping at the office. Jools was now Jools Campbell, like the soup. Her nemesis was Tommy McCoy and he had kids with foodie names like Basil and Ginger. Editors were kind and offered lots of advice but progress was static. I remember after the breakdown in communication with yet another agency, I developed an addiction to online Scrabble. Ned used to find me sat at a computer playing against grannies in Perth and fist-pumping like some crazed saddo in the twilight when I’d land a seven letter word on a triple word score. Bazinga, bitch! In an attempt to save my soul, Ned put passwords on the Wifi.
Then one day, Ned said he’d quit his job. We’re going back to the UK. We had two months to pack our shit up. I panicked, I hated Ned for a little bit. Singapore was ruddy hot but it’s a beautiful country. It’s green and clean and I could walk over the road and feed my family for less than a tenner on five gazillion sticks of freshly grilled satay. Two of my babies were born there. It will always be very special to us. But still, we left. Souper Mum tagged along too.
I put on a stone when I returned mainly through stress and the eating of scotch eggs, Jammy Dodgers and quality cheese which had previously been unavailable to me (double Gloucester, get in!). We crammed us and three children into a three bedroom semi with a dusky pink bathroom suite. We still live here now. I write in a room surrounded by boxes that I still haven’t unpacked. We got a dog. Souper Mum sat there patiently, waiting. I’ll get to you, love. I will. Then I got pregnant. Again.