This one has been a long time coming. I’ve been writing for children and young adults for seventeen years. But for various reasons I’d shied away from grown-ups. Partly because I had so much to say about teenage years – it’s a time when it feels like the volume and contrast on the world have been turned up. Partly I didn’t feel grown-up. As if my own development had been arrested somewhere around 1988 so how could I write about grown-up matters?
But a few years ago, I began to realise my growing fascination between the teenagers we once were – and try to shuck off – and the adults we become. I studied adolescent identity in philosophical and neuroscientific terms for a doctorate. And from the PhD, a story began to emerge. About a girl who, like so many of us did, desperately wants to be someone else, and starts trying on new lives for size – especially that of her best friend who lives in the big house at the bottom of the garden.
This is the story.
And this is how it begins…
So how shall I begin? With Once upon a time, maybe. The tropes of fairytale are here after all – a locked door, a widower, a wicked stepmother, or a twisted version of one at least. But those words are loaded, tied; they demand a happily ever after to close our story, and I’m not sure there is one, not yet.
Besides, Cinderella was never your scene: “Don’t bank on a handsome prince, Dido,” you would sneer through the cigarette smoke that trailed permanently in your wake; that cloaked you, tracked you, like a cartoon cloud in Bugs Bunny. Like Pigpen’s flies. “If they do bother to show up it’ll be late, and then they’ll only beg or borrow. Or worse.” And the twelve-year-old me would roll her eyes, like the girls in books did, and think, “Those are your princes, mother, not mine. And I’m not you.”
But I am, aren’t I? Though it’s taken me four decades – half a lifetime – to admit it.
I used to rail against my inheritance, the pieces of genetic jigsaw puzzle that make up half of me. I thought I could overwhelm them, drown them, if I found him – the man who’d given me his pale skin, his plumpness, his pathetic hope in one true love. When he failed to show up on the doorstep or in any of the faces I followed in town, I turned to friends to fill the gap – stole their habits, their hair colour, their hatred of soul music. I turned too to characters I borrowed from books in the hope I could carry off their courage, their capability, or at least their slick, smart one-liners. But acting was your forte, not mine, and one you failed to parcel up and pass along, offering me instead small ears, an extended second toe, and a lifelong dislike of marzipan. Amongst other things.
But back to the story. I know how it begins now. And where. This, the first words will spell out in black and white Times New Roman, is the story of us, of you and me. And how we got here – to this striplit room on the fourteenth floor of a hospital in Cambridge. Some parts of the tale you will not know at all, or even be able to spot yourself in the cast. But, as Pied Piper, that is my prerogative – I can dance a merry dance to other houses and other cities to show you scenes that shaped our path. And, though you might not take a starring role, you are ever-present, your influence reaching across years and oceans. I know that now.
Some parts you will recognise, though they will appear distorted, skew, as if seen in a fairground mirror, or through time-thickened glass, told as they are from the haze of memory and my myopic gaze. If you asked Tom, or Harry, they’d give you a different version: a shrunken picture, like a view through a wrong-ended telescope; or rose-tinted, perhaps, embellished with sequins and a glitterball that dapples the scene with some kind of magic.
But this story – our story – has no enchantment. There is no fairy godmother, no genie, no amulet or grail.
There is just us. Me and you. And a tangle of secrets and lies, of second guesses, of half-formed hunches Chinese-whispered into tangibility; of poorly-timed honesty, and misplaced blame.
But I am getting too far ahead of myself again.
Let’s go back to the start, to the seed of it all.
Are you listening carefully, Edie? Then I’ll begin.
You can order the book here. And read on for the first reviews.
- The Independent ‘Best 10 new novels for 2018’.
- Red magazine ‘Best 10 of 2018’.
The book expertly follows funny and chubby six-year-old Dido into adulthood, swinging from gentle comedy towards something sadder, and wiser… a must-read. (The Independent)
This heartfelt coming of age novel is a wonderful example of Spangles Lit, books recalling seventies childhoods in all their polyester glory. (The Daily Mail)
A bittersweet coming of age novel, The Queen Of Bloody Everything perfectly captures the pangs of adolescence, first love and growing up in a small town. You’re in for a treat with this one. (Red magazine)
A bittersweet delight. Perfectly captures the awkwardness and longing of those who don’t quite fit in. (Sarra Manning, author of After the Last Dance and House of Secrets)
I bloody adored this perceptive, funny, unflinching novel about growing up, love, sex, mothers and everything. (Kate Eberlen, author of Miss You)
So good… more than lives up to its outstanding title. (Rosie Walsh, author of The Man Who Didn’t Call.)