Books Ode to joy A complicated family life has India Knight purring about the redemptive qualities of Christmas. She tells Yasmin Sulaiman how this has made its way into her new novel



✽✽ Lennoxlove Book Festival The second LBF features a plethora of quality bookish names including Quintin Jardine, Peter Snow, Simon Hoggart, Iain M Banks, Mary Contini, Alastair Campbell, Sarah Dunant, Julia Donaldson and Maggie O’Farrell (pictured). Not bad, eh? Lennoxlove House, Haddington, Fri 19–Sun 21 Nov. ✽✽ Ryan Van Winkle The Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library launches his new collection, Tomorrow, We Will Live Here. Blackwell, Edinburgh, Thu 18 Nov. ✽✽ Scott-land: The Man Who Invented a Nation Scotland on Sunday lit ed Stuart Kelly explores Walter Scott’s legacy and discusses the way in which it affected him. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Wed 24 Nov. ✽✽ Des Dillon Stand-up meets storytelling as the author of Me and Ma Gal and Six Black Candles chats about a wide variety of topics including religion, household pets and washing machines. See caption, page 34. Ramshorn Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 25 Nov. ✽✽ Armistead Maupin The iconic Tales of the City series continues with the now 57- year-old Mary Ann Singleton returning to San Francisco as she tries to reconnect with her past. The author shows up for a signing session. Waterstone’s, Edinburgh, Thu 25 Nov. ✽✽ India Knight See preview, left. Fig Tree. ✽✽ Steve Bell The country’s foremost political cartoonist has his devastatingly witty and penetratingly insightful strips from 2006 to this year’s general election cobbled together in If . . . Bursts Out. See page 33. Jonathan Cape.

Upon the release of her lauded first novel My Life on a Plate in 2000, India Knight was hailed by critics as the natural heir to Helen Fielding in the still relatively new genre of chick-lit. Ten years later, the sequel to her debut is being released into an altogether more crowded market. However, the resurrection of Knight’s semi- autobiographical protagonist Clara in Comfort and Joy rejects many of the trappings of this much- maligned marketing label. Crucially, Clara and Sam her original love interest split up, thereby busting the happily-ever-after myth that plagues much romantic fiction.

For the author, this was a central, if unconscious, aim in writing the novel. ‘The aftermath of romance is always more interesting to me than the beginning,’ she says. ‘The lead-up to a relationship is always exciting and seemingly promises happiness forever but I’m much more interested in what happens two, five or ten years down the line and how people then manage the expectations they had initially, once that romantic period has elapsed.’

Knight is as well-known for her journalistic work as her several novels and non-fiction tomes. In addition to her regular columns in The Sunday Times, she made headlines last year as the first person to interview and reveal the true identity of controversial call-girl and author, Belle de Jour. But it’s her personal life that dominates her fiction and despite a vehement disclaimer in the opening pages of Comfort and Joy, Clara’s two-novel journey distinctly echoes the pattern of Knight’s own marriage to former Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, and subsequent 32 THE LIST 18 Nov–2 Dec 2010

(now ended) relationship with Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan. ‘The basis of the book is 70% real,’ Knight admits, ‘but the stuff that actually happens is completely invented. Luckily, my family have been fantastic; they’ve all really liked it and been very supportive.’

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festive setting This sense of unity is a fundamental part of the book, in which the action spans across three years of elaborate family Christmases. According to Knight, this the most autobiographical element of the novel. ‘I am obsessed with Christmas. I’m not big on tradition or ritual generally in my life but I make a massive exception for Christmas. I think if you come from a complicated or fractured family like mine, Christmas is the one time of year that you can have your whole family trapped in one room and entertain the fantasy that it’s all going to be fine. In the book, I describe it as redemptive.’

Knight manages to convey this festive redemption entertainingly well in Comfort and Joy, which alternates silly humour with semi- philosophical musings on marriage and relationships. However, it’s the latter that concerns her most. ‘I think a lot about the expectations society has and how inflexible those expectations are. I’m constantly baffled by how women are supposed to deal with it all and, as an adult middle-aged woman, those questions are swirling around all the time. Or they are for me, anyway.’ Comfort and Joy is published by Fig Tree on Thu 25 Nov.