Thank you for inviting me to contribute a guest post.
A lot of people have asked me whether Mike Kenton’s daughters, Millie and Katia, are based on my daughters Molly and Kate. Ridiculous! Where would anyone get that idea? Ok, I confess, maybe a bit. My two are now 18 and 16 whereas Millie and Katia are 7 and 8, so I had to think back to what they were like a few years ago. I should point out that Molly is the studious, older child while Kate is rather more relaxed and intuitive, so I have taken the trouble to vaguely swap my kids’ essential characteristics around in the book.
I absolutely loathe precocity in young children and while I was keen to give Millie and Katia distinctive voices, I hope I have steered clear of making them obnoxious. My wife wasn’t too happy about Millie’s repeated use of the word ‘shit’ because neither of our kids swore until they were well into their teens (‘yeah, right’ as both of them would now say.) At least, they never swore anywhere near us at that age, which is almost the same thing. Maybe they do a bit now and, if so, I blame the mother. But Millie remains innocent in so many other ways; her swearing is partly about trying to sound grown up and partly about having overheard adults saying ‘shit’ and thinking it’s ok. I think a lot of kids are like that and I would argue that it’s basically harmless as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Doubtless some use far more profane vocabulary.
Mike talks about Katia reading a Jacqueline Wilson book he’d have found too racy at 18 let alone 8. This is a sign of the times, I think. In my day, girls read Bunty and, when they turned 12, Jackie. It was jolly hockey sticks followed by anodyne, non-sexual pop star worship. Kids are more sassy now, more clued up, more attuned to the internet age where everything is available. My two were teenagers before their time in many respects, though still little kids when it came to cuddles or…money. I hope I’ve imbued Millie and Katia with appropriate and authentic quantities of little-girlishness and pre-teen smartness.
Anyway, the following excerpt is an example of the way kids of that age lack guile and understanding. Mike has just come home carrying his guitar having performed a gig the previous night which he doesn’t want his wife Lisa to know about. Bea, the kids’ prissy, buttoned-up nanny, uncharacteristically queries Mike about it, before Millie joins in:
‘Hello Mr Kenton,’ prissed Bea when I walked into the kitchen. She wasn’t wearing her glasses and her mousey hair hung loose, released from its tight bun and, for a split second, I mentally ran that age-old scene in which plain Jane shakes her head, undoes her top button and metamorphoses into a ravishing beauty. Bea didn’t actually look that bad, I thought, but I was in a buoyant mood and it was as fleeting a thought as fleeting thoughts get. I’d had no sex for weeks and it was obviously making me bonkers.
‘Mike, please Bea.’
‘Ok,’ she said knowing full well she would never utter the word ‘Mike’ in my presence.
Our conversation had reached the end of its natural life. Except Bea suddenly, unbelievably, said, ‘Is that your guitar?’ as she eyed the soft case hooked around my shoulder. I don’t recall Bea ever proffering a remark unbidden. Bea merely responds, miserly with her monosyllables. Maybe she was now wearing contact lenses and her whole life was suddenly bathed in brilliant light, bestowing on the world a whole new Bea, a Bea endowed with colour and personality. I’d dumped the guitar off at the office after the gig in case Lisa was up when I came home, thinking I could bring it home with impunity the following night if I made it before seven. Except Bea had seen it. I had to believe she would revert to type and fail to volunteer the information to Lisa, unless Lisa came up with a question to which the specific answer was: Mr Kenton walked in with his guitar over his shoulder.
‘Yeah. Just had it reconditioned.’ Might as well embellish the lie I’d told Millie. The guitar thing was going to come out one way or the other so no harm in seeing what it sounded like. Not bad, actually. I climbed the first couple of stairs.
‘Oh,’ said Bea with an animation never previously in evidence. ‘’Cos I’ve seen it in the study but I didn’t realise it was yours.’ Her beady eyes widened. Oh shit, surely not. ‘Can you play something?’
What?! Who was this alien? No glasses, hair down, not entirely plain and apparently now inhabited by a particularly playful sprite; or maybe she’d eaten some of the kids’ processed dinner and accidentally overdosed on artificial additives. ‘Oh, I don’t really play any more. I’m selling it, actually,’ I twittered, trying to escape.
‘Oh go on, Mr Kenton. Please.’
I couldn’t throw her off the scent. And it was about to get worse. Millie thundered through the hallway, a flaccid polythene tube of fluorescent blackberry yogurt hanging from her teeth. ‘Dad’s really good on the guitar, aren’t you Dad?’
‘No I’m not.’
‘He is Bea, he’s really good. And he sings as well, don’t you Dad? although his voice is a bit rubbish.’
I was desperate now. ‘Actually I’m shit.’
Millie gasped with utter delight, her hand over her mouth. ‘Dad! That’s the ‘s’ word! You always tell me not to say it.’
‘You’re seven,’ I said, although I couldn’t help smiling. ‘Sorry, Bea, that was inappropriate. It just slipped out.’
Bea’s already pallid face blanched. The ‘s’ word had done the trick. Phew. She retreated into her shell and scurried away mumbling, ‘I’ve got to tidy up anyway.’
I’m sure her hair was back in its bun before she reached the kitchen.
Simon Lipson Bio:
Simon Lipson was born in London and took a law degree at the LSE. After a spell as a lawyer, he co-founded legal recruitment company Lipson Lloyd-Jones in 1987. In 1993, Simon took his first tentative steps onto the comedy circuit and has since become an in-demand stand-up and impressionist across the UK, as well as a regular TV and radio performer/writer. His broadcasting credits include Week Ending, Dead Ringers, Loose Ends and Fordham & Lipson (co-wrote and performed own 4 part sketch series) on Radio 4; Interesting…Very Interesting and Simon Lipson’s Xmas Box on Radio 5 and And This Is Them on Radio 2. He is also an experienced voice artiste who has voiced hundreds of advertisements as well as cartoons and documentaries. His first novel, Losing It, a thriller, was published by Matador in 2008. Simon is a columnist for Gridlock Magazine (www.gridlockmagazine.com).His next novel, Standing Up, will be published by Lane & Hart in Autumn 2012.
Mr. Lipson’s show, The Accidental Impressionist, is on at the Camden Fringe 20 – 23 August @ 8pm. Everyone welcome! Details and tickets here: http://j.mp/JDPBnu
Title: Song in the Wrong Key by Simon Lipson
Publisher: Lane & Hart Ltd
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 310 pages
Michael Kenton is a middle-aged man living in middle-class comfort with wife Lisa and daughters Millie and Katia. Drifting complacently towards retirement, Mike’s world is turned upside-down when he is thrown unexpectedly onto the career scrapheap.
While Lisa’s career sky-rockets, Mike slobs around in his track suit playing guitar, rekindling his teenage love affair with pop music. Knowing Lisa wouldn’t approve, he plots a secret ‘comeback’ at a grimy Crouch End bistro where music executive Ben, desperate and out of time, asks if he can enter one of Mike’s songs into the Eurovision Song Contest. With nothing to lose, Mike focuses on Eurovision but quickly finds himself staring down the barrel of low level fame. His crumbling marriage now page five news, he must choose between his musical dream and mending his broken family, a task complicated by the re-appearance of ex-love of his life Faye.
A laugh-out-loud comedy about love, family, friendship and Euro- tack by acclaimed stand-up and comedy writer Simon Lipson.
Read my review of Song in the Wrong Key HERE.