All About Mia was a difficult book to write. It was also a really fun book to write. How can something be difficult and fun at the same time? I’ll try to explain. As many second-time authors do, I fell foul of the dreaded ‘second book syndrome’ and had lots of false starts before committing to writing about Mia and her sisters. Even then I kept worrying it wasn’t important enough a story. Unlike my first novel, The Art of Being Normal, there is no issue at the core of All About Mia. It is simply a story about a teenage girl who feels outshone by her uber talented sisters and deals with it by behaving quite badly! However, the more I wrote and the more I got to know Mia and her family and friends, the more fun I started to have. Mia is confident, chaotic and popular. She acts before she thinks, drinks far too much and blunders into trouble on an almost daily basis. Some of my very favourite chapters to write were the ones where I was almost hiding behind my fingers because Mia was making such a mess of everything! But there’s a lot more to Mia than drunken antics, big hair and a fiery attitude, as you will hopefully find out…
The book is full of favourite moments. Mia and her best friend Stella’s eventful outing to a nightclub, a disastrous babysitting assignment and the chapters set at Mia’s parent’s wedding are just a few of the sections of the book I loved writing. The extract I’m going to share today is from chapter three and kind of kick-starts Mia’s spiral. Her perfect older sister Grace has just arrived home early from her gap year travels with her new boyfriend in tow, and Mia is about to find out why…
In the kitchen, Mum and Dad are snogging up against the fridge.
They’ve always been pretty hot on PDAs but ever since they set a date for the wedding, they’re all over each other any moment they get.
People are always surprised when they find out my mum and dad aren’t married. They met when they were teenagers, in a dodgy Rushton nightclub called Rumours that no longer exists. Within six months Mum was pregnant with Grace. Dad proposed the day Mum found out (in the loo at Grandma Jules’s house apparently), but they’ve never actually got round to saying ‘I do’. Then on Christmas Day last year, with Grace on Skype in Greece, Dad got down on one knee amongst the discarded wrapping paper and re-proposed to Mum with a brand-new diamond ring to replace her crappy twenty-year-old Argos one.
They’re getting married at the end of July with Grace, Audrey and I as bridesmaids. There are only two real down- sides to any of this:
1) The wedding preparations are making Mum and Dad super-frisky, and;
2) They’re being even tighter than usual, because even though they’re apparently on ‘a strict budget’, Dad is determined to give Mum ‘the wedding of her dreams’, which is all very cute and everything, but means I haven’t had a new pair of going-out shoes in ages and keep having to borrow Stella’s like a total pleb (not to the mention the fact she’s a full size bigger than me).
‘Get a room, guys,’ I say, squeezing past my parents to fill up the kettle.
They separate reluctantly, grinning, Dad holding a tea towel over his crotch. Double ew.
I turn away, grabbing a teaspoon from the cutlery drawer and heaping coffee granules into an oversized mug. If I’m going to make it through a full-on family lunch, I definitely need more caffeine.
‘I thought you were supposed to be in bed,’ I say over my shoulder.
‘I couldn’t sleep,’ Dad replies. ‘Too excited about having all three of my girls back under the same roof.’
I roll my eyes. Dad can be a proper sap sometimes.
He gives Mum a kiss on the cheek and scampers out of the kitchen to sort himself out.
‘Another coffee?’ Mum says, eyeing the jar of Nescafe in my hand. ‘All that caffeine isn’t good for you, you know, Mia.’
‘Well, if I hadn’t had to get out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning, I probably wouldn’t need it,’ I say, adding hot water to my mug and watching the liquid turn inky black as I stir.
‘Oh, don’t be such a drama queen,’ Mum says, fiddling with the temperature on the oven. I take a slurp of coffee. It burns the back of my tongue.
‘Ooh,’ she says, turning round. ‘I forgot to ask, how’d you do on that English essay?’
‘Oh. OK. I got a B.’ I don’t even know where my lie comes from. Only that I’m too hung over to deal with Mum’s disappointed face today. I’m unprepared for how thrilled she is, smiling and hugging me tightly.
‘See, I told you you’d start to see results if you put the effort in.’
I look at my feet. There’s a dirty tidemark across my toes from the pair of shoes I wore last night.
Mum lets me go and opens the cutlery drawer. ‘Here you go,’ she says, thrusting a bunch of knives and forks at me.
I frown. As usual the kitchen table is covered with bits of newspaper, unopened post and change from Dad’s pockets. ‘Not there, we’re going to eat outside,’ Mum explains.
‘Oh, and remember to set an extra place for Sam.’
‘About Sam,’ I say. ‘How long exactly is he staying for?’
‘I don’t know,’ Mum admits. ‘The weekend at least, I imagine, maybe longer. ‘Why?’
‘No reason,’ I say, sighing and slumping against the fridge.
‘Come on, chop, chop,’ Mum says, clapping her hands together and motioning towards the patio doors. ‘The table isn’t going to set itself.’
‘Tell me about it.’
I groan and head outside. The garden is a proper suntrap, the hot paving slabs beneath my bare feet forcing me onto my tiptoes.
‘And once you’ve done that,’ Mum calls after me, ‘you can go upstairs and change out of those bloody shorts.’
I make my way round the table, chucking the knives and forks down haphazardly. I’m not overly thrilled at the prospect of Sam gate-crashing for the weekend or however long he plans on sticking around for. It means I’m going to have to act all polite and civil. I expect he’s a total dullard too, just like Grace’s ex, Dougie. Grace’s taste in men is boring with a capital ‘B’. They’re always total suck-ups with neat haircuts and good table manners, the sort of boys who offer you their jacket when it’s cold and point out the constellations and ask if they can kiss you. Snooooooooze.
Dad ends up doing the cake delivery for Mum so I manage to sneak upstairs for a quick nap while Audrey helps with lunch. I must be totally out of it when Dad gets back because the next thing I know the doorbell is chiming and Mum’s bellowing, ‘They’re here!’ up the stairs.
I peel myself off the mattress, blood rushing to my head as I slowly become vertical. My nap has had the reverse effect it was supposed to, and somehow I feel even worse than I did before I lay down. I go over to the mirror to survey the damage. I look like shit, my eyes bloodshot, a massive lightning-shaped crease down the left-hand side of my face and a brand-new spot the size of Mount Vesuvius slap bang in the middle of my chin.
I know they’re probably expecting me to go straight down and join the welcoming committee, to be all fake and huggy and say ‘Oh, Grace, I’ve missed you soooooo much!’ but I can’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I creep out onto the landing, ducking into the bathroom quickly and turning on the radio at maximum volume before Mum or Dad have the chance to summon me downstairs.
I take my time in the shower, letting the water pummel against my back and shower cap while I sing along to the radio. By the time I get out, my skin is wrinkly and tender and there are puddles all over the tiles. I chuck a towel down and push it around with my foot, soaking up the excess water, then wrap another round my body and pad over to the mirror. The remnants of last night’s smoky eye makeup are smeared down my cheeks. It’s actually kind of a cool look although I doubt Mum would agree. Reluctantly, I wipe my face clean with a cleansing wipe, quickly turning it a muddy grey before helping myself to a big dollop of Mum’s nice moisturiser, smoothing it on all over.
Clean and creamed, I turn off the radio and step out onto the landing. It’s eerily quiet. Which is weird. Our house is many things but quiet is rarely one of them, and from the way Mum and Dad have been acting about Grace’s prema- ture return, I’d been expecting a carnival atmosphere.
I’m distracted by my stomach rumbling. The last thing I ate was a McDonald’s Happy Meal at about 4 p.m. yesterday. I wonder what’s for lunch. I bet Mum has made a proper effort. Anything for her darling Grace.
Back in my room, I get changed quickly, pulling on a clean pair of shorts and my favourite T-shirt – grey marl with the words ‘It’s All About Mia’ splashed across the front in hot pink lettering. I consider attempting to cover up the volcano on my chin before remembering there’s no one important here – just my parents, Audrey, Grace and her stupid boyfriend. I abandon my makeup bag and head downstairs. About halfway down, I encounter Audrey huddled on one of the steps, her bony knees drawn up under her chin. Again, weird. Why isn’t she in the kitchen with everyone else?
‘What’s going on?’ I ask, peering over the bannister and noting the closed door. ‘Why are you out here?’
‘Mum and Dad are talking to Grace and Sam,’ Audrey replies.
‘But what about lunch? I’m starvacious.’
‘I don’t know.’
I pause and listen. I can hear raised voices, though not quite loud enough for me to make out actual words. They don’t sound happy though, which is even weirder still. Mum and Dad are always happy with Grace. It’s usually me they reserve their shouting for.
I frown and continue past Audrey down the stairs.
‘I don’t think we’re meant to go in there,’ she calls after me.
I throw her a look over my shoulder (so?) and open the door.
Out in the garden, lunch is laid out on the patio table, untouched and attracting flies. Everyone is inside, sitting at the kitchen table. Dad’s mouth is set in a straight line, while Mum’s eyes are glossy with tears. On the other side of the table with their backs to me are Grace and Sam. They’re holding hands.
‘Mia,’ Dad says, noticing me in the doorway. His voice is at and he looks like he’s aged about five years since I saw him this morning.
In unison, Grace and Sam twist round in their seats. It’s strange seeing Grace’s face after so many months. She’s cut her hair into a bob and her skin is noticeably darker.
‘Hey, Mia,’ she says.
‘Hey,’ I reply, shrugging.
She removes Sam’s hand from hers and uses the table to push herself up, before turning to face me head-on. I blink.
OK, I’m seeing things. I have to be seeing things.
Because Grace, my perfect sister, has either got a beach ball shoved up her top or is 100 per cent pregnant.
I look over at Mum and Dad. Mum is staring at the ceiling. Dad is staring into the depths of his mug.
Back to Grace. Her hands are resting on her swollen tummy. She does this little nod, as if to say ‘yes, it’s true’, her eyes wide and doe-like.
That’s when I start to laugh.
All About Mia is out now