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Just like Proper Grown Ups - Q and A with author Christina Hopkinson

Best-selling author Christina Hopkinson writes novels about women you'd recognise - the busy mum who is fed up with her untidy husband (The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs), the bored PA who gets a shock when she Googles herself (Izobel, and most recently the carefree single woman who surprises her friends by announcing that she's pregnant (Just like Proper Grown Ups). 

About the Author

Author and journalist Christina Hopkinson was born in London and spent a childhood in a countryside idyll desperately plotting her way back to the capital, where she now lives with her husband and three children. Her work has featured in magazines and newspapers such as The Times, Red, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and Grazia.

Christina took some time out from her writing to talk to us at Contented Baby about her new book

What is your latest book, Just like Proper Grown Ups, about?

Tess is nearing 40 and has always appeared glamorously immune from the pressures to settle down and procreate. So it's a shock to her four closest friends when she gathers them together to tell them that she's pregnant and she wants them to be the godparents.

The pregnancy and the birth of her child forces them all to reevaluate their lives and to question whether they've grown up. Workmate Sierra is racketing through her twenties in a storm of bad sex and low self-esteem. Cousin Michael has been nurturing an unrequited love for Tess since adolescence that is arresting his own romantic development. University friend Owen is amusing himself with boy's toys and young girlfriends to avoid the truth about his own family, while seemingly grown-up Lucy is trying to make sure she looks younger than she feels to keep hold of her youthful partner.

Do you think anyone ever feels really grown up?

I certainly don't! I look around my grown-up house and sometimes feel as if I've been asleep for a couple of decades and have woken up in somebody else's life. I can't be responsible for a family and calling up someone to fix the drains, I'm a child. And yet if you looked at me from the outside, most people would say that I'm unequivocally 40...

I don't think this sense of being out of one's depth is unique to any one generation. I remember my mother saying she didn't feel like adult which horrified me because she was clearly, to my mind back then, ancient.

More and more women are opting to have children by themselves - what made you want to write about this?

I often wonder what I'd have done if I hadn't met my husband when I did. I was 31, so it wasn't as if it was a given that I'd meet someone at the right time especially given the disastrous nature of my previous relationships. I love being a mother, but I also find it difficult so I have every admiration for those that manage to do it alone. It feel so cruel that women who want to have children could be denied the opportunity purely through the random circumstances of when in their lives they meet someone they'd like to settle down with.

The theme of the need for a father - and to know who your father is - recurs throughout the book. Is this something you feel strongly about?

I don't necessarily feel that those that grow up without knowing their fathers are disadvantaged. There are plenty of bad parents, both mothers and fathers, that children would be better off not knowing after all. However, I do think that if it's possible, it's good to at least be able to know something of the cultural, medical and emotional history of both parents. I know this isn't always possible or desirable, but in my hypothetical going-it-alone scenario, I like to think that I'd have opted for the gay-best-friend route. I even know who I'd have chosen, but he may well have thought otherwise.

The picture you present of being a parent can feel rather depressing - do you think we are too often given a rose-tinted image of life with children?

I do love being a parent and as a consequence have done it three times. However, I did find the first six months or so with my first born to be both the best and worst of times. There is such a gulf between the way that parenthood can be portrayed and how we are supposed to 'achieve' within it (be that well-behaved children, regaining our figures, breast-feeding etc) and the reality, at least the one I experienced. All the qualities that had made me feel successful in my previous life, made me a really hopeless parent to begin with.

I'd hate to be negative about it, but at the same time I think nobody is helped by sanitising the process. Everybody's experiences are unique to them, but I hope there's some elements that readers can empathise with. Also, let's face, it harmony and perfection is not particularly interesting to read about it. If the birth of Tess's baby had been a dream birth-plan-made-real scenario, it would have been much less fun to write.

Your novels have been described as 'mum's lit' - chick lit for those who've had children. Is that how you see them yourself?

It's hard to respond to this question without sounding a bit po-faced and self-important. On the one hand, I don't mind what people call my books so long as they read and enjoy them. On the other, both 'chick' and 'mum' in this context can sound pejorative. It's not that either being female or a mother is a bad thing, quite the opposite, but it can seem as though literature written or enjoyed by women can be reduced and belittled by such labels in a way that doesn't seem to happen to men.

Only two of the five main characters in Just Like Proper Grown-ups is a parent so I'd hate for it to be thought of as a book that only mothers can enjoy. It's as much about being in your messy twenties as what comes after.

You are quite harsh on your target audience at times with your descriptions of middle class mothers (the bobbed haircuts, the pushy mums, the obsession with children being bright) - do you think most mothers have a bit of this in them?

Oh gosh, I hope I'm not too harsh! It's a form of self-criticism rather than criticism of anyone else since absolutely all those examples you give apply to me above others. I have a highlighted mum-bob and I feel the teachers at my kis' school groan as I approach with my queries as to why my son wasn't chosen as the lead in the puppet show. There's a line from Matilda the musical about how 'above average is the new average' with regards to children and how there are 'millions of these one in a millions'. I'm just as bad or worse as anyone else in this regard and wish that we could all relax in our desire for achievement (or that everyone else would relax so that I alone could push my children to higher things!). I'm not sure pushing children works at all anyway and yet, I can't quite stop pushing them myself.

Botox and fillers - we have to ask - have you? You certainly give a very convincing description!

Ha, I'll take that as a compliment to my writing rather than as to any photo you may have seen of me! A friend asked me if I'd consider Botox and I said, truthfully, that I thought I'd better start cleansing my face a bit more reliably every evening before I got onto injecting poison. I have seen friends with very good, subtle interventions, but I can't really justify the expense since I'm not in a job that requires me to look youthful. I feel sorry for those that are since they may well feel that they have no choice.

Of course it's everybody's right to do as they please to their own bodies, but I do worry that those of us who don't have Botox or fillers might end up looking relatively raddled if our eyes start adjusting and seeing a smooth forehead as the norm. I was shocked when I saw a literary writer with a big photo in a broadsheet where she might as well have had Botox tattooed across her forehead it was so obvious. I did think, gosh if someone with such a great mind feels the need to improve its casing, what hope for the rest of us? As the mother of two daughters I already worry about the way that aggressive depilation as become the norm and I hope that these other interventions don't too.

Are you already thinking about your next book? What can we look forward to reading from you in the future?

At the moment I'm writing a book about the child of very famous parents. I'm a sucker for those paparazzi pictures of Suri Cruise or Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, but then I thought about what the reality of being born famous might be. Often children are self-conscious and feel that everyone's looking at them, but for these offspring they'd be right in thinking that.

Just like Proper Grown-Ups by Christina Hopkinson is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £17.99

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