{read} Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross…and an interview with her!

hippy dinners

There’s something very intriguing about a book being written about the village you live in and possibly with people you may know.  So when I was given the book to read, along with a few pointers as to who’s who in the book {diolch Gwen!}, I couldn’t wait to start it.  I decided it was going to be my ‘holiday read’ while we spent a week down in Pembrokeshire.  Thank God the bois bach enjoyed their lie in’s that week and we proper kicked back, as this meant I got to fully engross myself in the book with a coffee every morning, which was pure bliss.

‘Hippy Dinners: A memoir of a rural childhood’ is what it says on the cover…a brilliantly funny memoir about a family who moved from a town house in Islington to a rural house on top of a hill in Llandrillo, North Wales in the 1970’s.  {For those of you who don’t know, the village I grew up in and still live in}.  I’m not sure whether it was knowing all the places that Abbie mentions in the book or the people, but I found it irresistible and laugh out loud funny!  It tells the story about Abbie and her family moving to rural Wales and how all she wants to do is just “fit in” with everyone, despite her Dad being into yoga and her Mother not interested in wearing a bra…and let’s not forget about the boy next door who wouldn’t eat anything but orange food!  Trust me when I say it’s a great book!

After contacting Abbie on Twitter {even if it was just to clarify who Philip was in the book as I thought he was hilarious!}, she kindly agreed to answer some questions for the blog!

Firstly Abbie, tell us a bit about yourself?

Hmm, where to start? Well you know all about my childhood I guess, so after North Wales I went to school in Monmouth, Gwent, and then on to Cardiff University and after a stint in a sales job in London I settled in Bristol, where my sister was at Uni. I got a job at at Aardman Animations for several years producing animated commercials and some of the series Creature Comforts. I married a director there and after we started a family I realised that producing commercials (mainly American ones ) and bringing up kids just wouldn’t work for me: too many long hours and too much time away, and so I didn’t go back and spent I spent a few happy years bringing up the children. When they were both at nursery I started to get a yearning to work again and as I’d always wanted to write I decided it was now or never!

How did the book come about?  Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

I have a lovely family friend called Julia Gregson; she’s a novelist, and she’s always encouraged me to write. I started wanting to write when I was about fourteen, all thanks to her encouragement.  She kept telling me I should write about what I know, and pointed out that my childhood in North Wales had a rich seam of colourful interesting characters, so it was Julia who suggested that I write about that.

Yes I have always wanted to write. I started with a  Mills and Boon romance, again when I was about fourteen and utterly clueless and naive when it came to boys, so I have no idea why I thought I could tackle that! My mum read the first chapter and suggested that I needed some more ‘life experience’ which I remember feeling really offended by!

Your memory must be so good {I can just about remember what happened last year!}, how do you remember it all so well?

Ha! No, my memory is rubbish! Really truly awful, but it’s amazing what you can recollect if you just think of a certain incident, and how that made you feel,  and suddenly you can remember what someone was wearing, what something smelled like, and who said what and why.  Hippy Dinner was a linear story and each chapter was based around an incident pretty much, so that made it much easier to remember.

I laughed a lot reading the book, was it as good to write as it was to read?

I remember my childhood as being full of laughs, but you know when you try and explain a joke, it suddenly stops being funny? So no, in all honestly it wasn’t always that fun to write!  I was too concerned about whether it scanned ok and if it made sense or was boring.

I think my favourite character {and she’s still around today!} is Sara, I always looked forward to reading how she was going to react or behave to whatever was going on in the book…have you got a favourite?

Yes, I do love Sara and she was a huge part of my childhood, so she is definitely one of my favourites, but my absolute favourite has to be ‘Phillip Brown’ who just made me laugh so much, he was proper eccentric, a completely unique child, the like of which I have never met before or since. I still can’t believe that he only wanted to eat orange food and hated wearing trousers and pants! It’s so funny that he’s grown up to be a sorted, together grown up in every way, I’m not sure I could have written about him if he hadn’t.

Have your kids had a similar upbringing?

No, and it makes me feel sad sometimes. We live in Bristol, so if you love the countryside, as I do, then I guess Bristol, with its green spaces and proximity to Devon and Cornwall is the best kind of city to live in. My parents still live in the country – in the Forest of Dean, so not far away, and we stay there often, I’m here right now  – so my my children get a fix of country living at least.

I was informed by a very good source {the mother in law!} who was who in the book, are you still in touch with anyone and do they know about the book?

Yes I am and I was so worried about what they would think. ‘Olive’ the mother of ‘Phillip Brown’ is a good friend and we are  still in touch with her and I sent her a letter when I started writing the book, telling her what I was doing and that a character, loosely based on her was in it. I was dreading her response but she loved it, she even turned up at a book reading I was doing in the Wrexham Waterstones and outed herself and her son, giving everyone their real names and telling everyone the name of the village and the local town – all the names that the publisher’s lawyers had advised we leave out! I’m also in touch with ‘Matthew Martin’ – the boy whose nickname was ‘Hippy Dinners,’ and after living in Soho for many years he’s just moved back to North Wales to very near where we all used to live.

Obviously, living in Llandrillo myself, I can relate to the book, but i didn’t expect to get as emotional as I did, when the book ended with you leaving Wales, please tell me you’ve been back since?!

Yes, many times. While my maternal grandparents were still alive we would go and visit them in the Wirral, so we would always drop in to our friends in Corwen and Llandrillo en route. My parents friends who ran the ‘Happy Pear’ health food shop, actually ended up buying our old house, which is so nice, and they still go and stay with them there.

If so, has it changed much?

Really not much at all, I don’t think; do you? The primary school has closed down though, which is so sad,

Did you learn to speak Welsh fluently?  Can you remember any of it?

Semi fluently, I definitely wrote some essays in Welsh and I can remember the odd word and some songs which I love to warble to my kids once in a while just to wind them up.

Got any favourite bits in the book?  Is that also your favourite memory of living in Wales?

I think it would have to be the spud gun incident, but I can say it was my favourite memory as Olive was so furious so it ended up being pretty traumatic.

What’s next?  Are you writing another book?

Hippy Dinners is in the process of being optioned for a television series which is really exciting, so fingers crossed. (My mum says she’d like Scarlett Johansson to play her as she’s not shy of taking her top off ).

Yes I am just about coming to the end of the first draft of my next book – fiction this time. Its working title is ‘Fortune,’ and it’s set on the Isles of Scilly, where my sister lived for a few years. It’s told through the eyes of a ten year old girl, who goes to spend the summer there with her mother, after a difficult chapter in their lives. It’s also through diary of a local teenage boy who is a selective mute, and it’s a story about their unlikely friendship. The mother has gone there to escape people, but the irony is that it’s more difficult to avoid people on a small island than it is in a big city, and ultimately humanity will push its way in.

Hippy Dinners was my holiday read this year, what type of books do you like to read on your holiday?  Have you got a favourite book of your own?  and Why?

That’s so nice to hear, thank you! I do love a childhood memoir actually, and so many have really gripped me. David Sedaris writes stories about his childhood that make me howl with laughter – he is a comic genius, and as far as favourite memoirs go I loved Running with Scissors by Augusen Burroughs, and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, both of which are beautiful, funny stories about quirky disfunctional family set ups and told with such humour and warmth.

Get your copy here!

A television series!!  I’ll be watching that, definitely!!  Thanks so much for your time, Abbie! X

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