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India Knight

India KnightDescribed by the Times as ‘the funniest novel about the female midlife crisis’, author and columnist, India Knight, joins GN to talk about our August book club choice, Mutton. Clara Hutt, 46, is a single mother and writer who believes she is in her prime, thank you very much. That is, until her plastic surgery-loving friend Gaby moves in…

Fresh from sun-kissed California and living on a diet of yoga and kale, Gaby is pushing 50 but looks 15 years younger. What with her son’s lithe new girlfriend wafting around the house in her underwear, Clara begins to think that perhaps she’s got this ageing business all wrong. Would a little Botox or filler be so wrong? Even a nip and tuck? Or is there another way of growing old gracefully – and how far is she prepared to go to find out? 

Q. What made you write Mutton? Flopsybunny

A. I wanted to write it because (as with all of my books) that particular subject was whirling round in my head, what with being forty seven! I'd thought for decades that Botox, 'procedures' and so on were the devil's work, and then I woke up one morning and thought, 'Really, though? Are they really? What about when they work and look really great?'. So it went from there.


Q. Very light reading, but funny - especially some of the historic references eg. you hardly seem old enough to remember Hamble, India! Do you spend all your time scribbling down ideas from what you hear around you? It seems like you must, to keep it coming at such a pace. katesheilaskate

A. It's funny with "light" writing - I always think about that brilliant Dolly Parton line, "it takes a lot of money to look this cheap", in that it also takes quite a lot of effort to make it look breezy.

Yes, I make notes all the time, using ingenious abbreviations, and then in the morning I have no idea of what I meant. I tried speaking the notes into my phone at one point, but then I felt like an arse. The notes thing is a work in progress.

Q. Re-reading Idiot-Proof Diet for the nth time as an inspiring nudge... It's just as engaging every time, thank you - and Neris - so much. Did you manage to keep the weight off? Brahaspatinda

"I'd thought for decades that Botox, 'procedures' and so on were the devil's work, and then I woke up one morning and thought, 'Really, though? Are they really?'"

A. I'm still (as is Neris) so proud of that book and I'm delighted you like it. Weight - it varies. I like to pad out a bit for winter, which is why I am eating a healthful slice of Battenburg as I type. But I try and abide by the principles of it as much as I can, and if there's a terrible fatness emergency then I go back into it. I do think one's relationship with weight changes with age, though - it kind of seems to matter less.

Q. When you were talking to women who have had Botox and other "work" on their face, did you find that they were pleased with the result, or have they any regrets? gardener

A. It entirely depends on the person and on who they went to. Actually that's not true - it also entirely depends on their frame of mind. As I never get bored of saying, none of this stuff is magic - it can't change the way you feel on the inside. If you're feeling pretty cheery and contented with your lot but don't like your big frown line, you're going to be delighted with the results (provided you go to somebody proper, very important). But if you're pissed off with your life or circumstances and/or with yourself, nothing cosmetic you have done has the power to change that. You know-the frown line's gone but your life is still there.

Q. I would love to know how you go about your writing. Is there a strict timetable? (I'm thinking of those accounts you read in the Sunday mags, I wake at 5, write until noon, have a small dish of watercress salad and then write until midnight). Penguinpaperback

A. Yes, I'm always getting up at dawn, doing a special dance with the animals and then sitting down to a wholesome algae juice. No - I sort of work upside down, often late at night (house is quiet, can hear myself think), but also in the daytime at the kitchen table (wrong height, have carpal tunnel as a result), constantly interrupted, with the radio on, which is a disaster as I have a pathetic attention span. But I think that since I write about domestic things, it wouldn't make much sense to remove myself from domestic things while I write. Also, kitchen=snacks.

Q. Did you base the any of the characters in the book on how you feel in your forties? NannyPam

A. I did, although it's the least autobiographical of my books. I wanted to explore that feeling you suddenly get of "Bloody hell, what happened? How am I this age?"

Q. Have you had botox? And if not would you? Zipwire 

A. Yes. I wrote about it recently in the Sunday Times. It can be brilliant, it can be awful (I've had both sorts). It's absolutely essential to go to someone who really, really knows what they're doing. waggles eyebrows

Q. Are there any more books about these characters or do you always write about different people? Mumtotwins

A. There are two other novels featuring Clara Hutt, of which the first is called My Life On A Plate and the second Comfort and Joy.

"I do make myself laugh, which is really the pits. It's why I don't do readings in public-I get nervous, and the nervousness makes me laugh at anything, in this case my own work, so I look like I'm howling with laughter at my own brilliance."

Q. I liked the book very much, especially the bit set in Muck, Scotland. India please tell me you actually did this journey to research it? It made me laugh out loud (I have been in a similar situation so the laughing was part empathy part hilarity). limpet

A. Yes, I went to several, in fact, so it's an amalgam. You can't even begin to imagine the hilarity. Lovely, though-I'm very keen on the old Isles. But there may have been an element of crying with laughter at the absurdity of me transported there.

Q. Anyone contemplating botox needs to read your novel, India. I remember someone describing a ball, held at the White House in Nancy Regan's day, as a masked ball (so many over-lifted faces!). What would you advise for a cottage-loaf tummy, crinkly thighs and sparse eyebrows? Or should I wear loose clothes and large sunglasses? Oldgraymare

A. Red lipstick and attitude. The stomach is just evidence of children and food (I presume), which means it's evidence of a life well-lived. If the eyebrows are a bother then there are very good tattooists (I know, it sounds hideous, but it's not). 

Q. I really laughed aloud at or with the characters, and I wondered did they develop a "life" of their own as you got more familiar with them? Did you have to rein them in at all? redamanthasmutton

A. Yes, I do have to rein them in slightly, on the basis that they could so easily run away and just become mad!

Q. I especially liked Bernard. Are you into all that fantasy stuff or was this just a mickey take of people who are? bookmad

A. No no, absolutely the opposite of a mickey take - I love that stuff, and I especially love George R.R Martin. Those bits were meant as a loving tribute and I hope they read that way. I have such admiration for people (like Martin) who create entire universes - I can't even keep track of the colours of my characters' kitchens.

Q. India, what sort of grandma is your own mother? Riverwalk

A. Ha, good question. She is very much not the kind of grandma you ring up and ask to babysit, because she's always out (quite rightly). She's brilliant with my kids, and became especially brilliant when they became teenagers, not least because she put herself in charge of their cultural life and started dragging them round exhibitions and so on - worked brilliantly (they'd say "I'm asleep" to me but wouldn't dare say it to her). These days she takes them to restaurants and discusses poetry and tattoos with them. She's great, but she's not what you'd call a traditional granny.

Q. Are you as cool a mother as the ones in your books? Nannye 

A. I don't really know the answer to that. I'm relatively young in relation to my sons (18 and 21) and pretty old in relation to my daughter (9). I'm just myself, really. Seems to work out ok.

Q. I wondered what your writing routine is and where you write-if in public did you end up bursting out laughing at what you were writing? Think I would have. And what are you reading at the moment? ElenaT

A. I don't really have one. As was saying earlier, I tend to write at the kitchen table, and occasionally in my local cafe. Embarrassingly yes, I do make myself laugh, which is really the pits. It's why I don't do readings in public - I get nervous, and the nervousness makes me laugh at anything, in this case my own work, so I look like I'm howling with laughter at my own brilliance, which is just the pits. At the moment, I'm reading detective stories by Louise Penny - set in Quebec, sort of quiet and domestic with lots of food in them. They're great.

Q. What was all the hoo-hah about with MK Hajdin? Ticktock

A. Not a clue. I love social media, but it does throw up some peculiar people!

Q. What are you working on now? fidget

A. I'm working on a sort of real version of Mutton - a manual to getting older, which hopefully will cover everything from fashion to stepfamilies to Botox to putting your parents in a home. I think "ageing" is so not what "ageing" used to be in our mums' generation, let alone our grandmas, that it would be useful to have a kind of guide.

Q. I have a friend who religiously followed your high-protein, low-carb diet books. But what do you think of the 5:2 Diet? It's a bit of a fad recently... SwishySwoshy

A. Yes, I know lots of people on it - haven't tried it personally. The thing about diets is that they all work, pretty much, and I'm sure that applies to 5:2. It's a question of what fits best into your life, really, and for me what fits best is not being starving.

Q. From the title I was expecting more on the whole ageing thing and less on the family relationships. This is absolutely not a criticism - just curious about how you came up with the title (do you choose them or does your publisher?) MrsCake

Other things you might like...

A. I pick the titles. I know what you mean...but I do think it's a good "what it says on the tin" title. It's really hard (I've tried) to convey domesticity and family life in a title without it sounding a bit overly cosy.

Q. You're prolific on Twitter - do you think it can sometimes get you into trouble though? applepie 

A. Twitter's a godsend if you work from home but yes, the odd unguarded tweet does get through. It's kind of the point, though - it's an impossible place to be unguarded on.

Q. Out of all the books you've written, which one is your favourite? ilikecourgettes

A. (I do too) For sentimental reasons, a picture book for toddlers called The Baby. Other than that, the one I'm working on is always my favourite at the time.

Q. Will there be a follow up book to Mutton? Wallygrom 

A. Possibly. I'm doing this non-fiction version of Mutton next.

Q. I'm intrigued about your "relationship" with Liz Jones. I'm not a big fan of her columns. I read somewhere that you worked with her at Mirabella. Has she always been so reckless with her friendships and ready to spill the beans? Woof 

A. She used to be lovely. Really.

She's manipulative - 5-year-old GD

Is it discrimination? - obesity

She invited herself - daughter