Kate Fenton

 

Books
The Colours of Snow
Dancing to the Pipers
Lions & Liquorice/
(US) Vanity and Vexation

Balancing on Air
Too Many Godmothers
Picking Up

Buy the book
Buy the book

Available on tape

TOO MANY GODMOTHERS

TOO MANY GODMOTHERSA Modern Pantomime

Kate Fenton creates feisty heroines who'll take on the world while burning the fish fingers… and doesn't assume that if you enjoy romance, you haven't got a brain.
Maeve Haran in The Daily Express
A work of ripe imagination, brilliant command of writing, and a liberal topping of the feel good factor.
The Chronicle

Once upon a time, Miss Theodora Dunstan proposed marriage. More specifically, she proposed that the MP for Tadstone West should stop piddling around and do the decent thing by herself.

Readers of the tabloid press may recall what happened next. Teddy prefers not to - although she wishes to make clear she did not supply those Union Jack boxer shorts, and was strongly tempted to raise the matter of the banana with the Press Complaints Commission.

Two years on, she lives in North Yorkshire, rather too close to the ancestral home for comfort, but that's the least of her worries. Chief amongst them, at 37, is the urgent need to get herself hitched. Forget romance. Two sprogs, two dogs, four beds and six acres (negotiable) will do fine. However, while this daughter of a hard-up baronet, sadly deceased, and his sweetly sulphuric wife, sadly un-deceased, may toil night and day in a steamy kitchen, Teddy is no Cinderella. She just happens to run a catering business. And if she were bird-brained enough to expect rescue from chinless Princes or wand-waving menopausal matrons, she wouldn't be consulting section H (for husbands) in her filing cabinet before despatching invitations to the ball.

As for how she comes to be organizing this ludicrously extravagant orgy for her barmy sister-in-law, well, that's another story…

TOO MANY GODMOTHERS

 


Excerpts
 

footnote: AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FAIRYTALE

I'm often asked how long it takes me to write a book. The truthful answer is anything from nineteen days (my all time speed record, see The Colours of Snow) to forever. But with those books that have been a long time in gestation, I wasn't, of course, writing continuously. Might not even have been putting words on paper for months on end, just thinking. (Some people might call it slobbing around, but there you go).

Take this book. By the time I actually completed it, I'd been toying with the idea for a good six or seven years. Actually, not with the story so much as with the character of Miss Theodora Dunstan. This was between writing other books, naturally, but there are little bundles of abandoned plots, sketches and scenes scattered all round the attic labelled 'Teddy'. Over time, she became so real, I almost found myself talking to her. (Only 'almost'. I haven't quite gone over the edge yet). I was certainly aware that someone like her would have precious little sympathy for a writer's travails. For while disclaiming the remotest understanding of the creative process, or any other such high-falutin' twaddle, she would undoubtedly suggest that most problems, in her experience, responded to a combination of common sense and good old fashioned elbow grease. And if, after pulling up my socks and stiffening the jolly old sinews, I was still floundering, she'd be inclined to ask whether I'd ever considered an alternative career? Perhaps a nice steady day job that paid nice steady money? Not that it was any concern of hers, she would hastily add, because, sorry and all that, but she never touches fiction. No time. Cook books and the obits page, that's her notion of a good read.

Teddy is a certain sort of Englishwoman. No, let's be more specific and less mealy-mouthed, a certain sort of (very) upper middle class Englishwoman. You still find her kind widely distributed round the English countryside. She is, quintessentially, a rural animal, although her species also thrives - like foxes - in the better parts of London. I don't recall encountering many Teddies when I was a child. They were to be sighted round Oxford, though, at the beginnings and ends of terms: those long-nosed, schoolgirl-complexioned mothers at the wheels of hearse-like navy-blue Volvo estates, with a double string of alarmingly hefty beads worn over an open-necked shirt, and Labrador hairs all over their skirts, as they dumped or collected the one of their brood who had (to the bewilderment of the family) turned out to be rather brainy. But, when you're that age, parents are parents and you barely spare them a thought.

Of course, the breed was much in evidence at the House of Commons, during my brief tenure of employment for a Tory MP. Poor man. All his colleagues were kept in rigorous A-Z filed order by one of these gorgons ('heart of oak, vowels of glass, handbag of granite') in their navy tights, gold-tipped courts, pie-crust frills, puffa jackets and pearls. He had me. I hope that isn't why, twenty-whatever years on, he languishes still on the back benches. Dippy, dizzy, in laddered tights with a head stuffed full of musicals I was going to compose, frocks I actually was making, and sexy novels I was surreptitiously reading under the desk, I was frankly terrified of the Theodora Dunstans of this world. They sized me up at a glance and assessed (quite accurately) I wasn't up to the job. With characteristic bluntness, and in accents that reminded me uncannily of HM the Queen, they even told my hapless employer so. Although several felt duty-bound to give this little slacker a helping hand. One, albeit not a wholly typical model, went so far as to invite me round to supper in her Battersea flat. Only recently, with a jolt, did I recognize that this one-time secretary, after marrying a promising young MP, had gone on to become none other than Christine Hamilton. Which makes for a good conversation stopper at dinner parties.

Not until I moved up to North Yorkshire, though, did I encounter the well-bred Englishwoman in her native habitat. Lot of 'em about up here. In fact, it began to seem to me that the entire tattered tapestry of rural life would split asunder if it weren't for these energetic, foghorn-voiced matrons running jumble sales, arranging flowers, adopting dogs, making jam, visiting hospitals, breeding fancy chickens, rebuilding church towers, founding hat-making businesses in defunct cow byres, letting the stately spare beds to American tourists, and so on and on - and on. Organising is what they're good at - other people's lives, as well as Safari suppers. Aunt Constance, in Dancing to the Pipers, is definitely one of their number. But while they're wonderfully wacky in what you might call the smaller character roles, they're hardly natural casting as romantic lead. We're talking love stories here - hearts, minds relationships. And there's something daunting about a heroine who pooh-poohs all such juvenile tomfoolery, and would no more analyse her emotional health than operate on her own appendix. Teddy was very real to me, but she remained a bit of a comedian.

Then came the night the late Princess of Wales fixed her beautiful khol-ringed, tear-spangled eyes on us, as she confided her marital troubles on BBC television. My own eyes were wet, too. Only I was weeping from writhing, spine-curdling embarrassment as I buried my head under the sofa cushions. 'How can you do it?' I wailed at the telly. 'This is excruciating.'

'Have you no heart?' said my spouse sternly.

Because, here's an odd thing. The lad may be a generation older than I. He fought in the last war (and I don't mean the Gulf), wears an MCC tie, and calls people 'old chap' without a trace of irony. But there's no question he's quite at home in this touchy-feely, caring-sharing Diana world. Mind, he's an actor. Enough said. Me, though, I'm one of the baby boomers for whom, supposedly, 'it's good to talk' isn't an advertising slogan so much as a way of life, a self-evident truth, a veritable credo. My self-centred generation have been verbalizing our emotions for forty years. None of that unhealthy old bottling-up for us, thank you very much. We let it all hang out. Except…

Was it only me who, after watching Panorama with a prune-face worthy of Hattie Jacques playing matron, began to wonder whether the much-mocked stiff British upper lip was quite such a joke after all? Whether discretion, if not the better part of valour precisely, was No Bad Thing? Maybe there was something to be said for a heroine who would no more bare her soul than her breasts. Better still, suppose this female had already done the latter, in the pages of a tabloid newspaper? The plot began to take shape…

What made it fun for me, though, was coming up with the pantomime element. Not just did it give me enormous pleasure playing complicated plot games with the Cinderella story, the whole tradition of pantomime is so entirely and appropriately British. What other institution more perfectly encapsulates the eccentricities of the national character? It might have been designed to confirm all Johnny Foreigner's darkest suspicions about our national love life.

Oh no it doesn't…

Oh yes it jolly well does. Come on, let's be honest: we Brits just don't get high romance, do we? Consider Cinderella. A Frenchman, Charles Perrault, sets down this charming, rags-to-riches fairy story; Rossini, being Italian, naturally transforms it into a glittering opera while the likes of Prokofiev compose the grandest of grand Russian ballets. And what's our Great British cultural take? Smutty jokes, custard pies and rampant transvestitism. Men in tights? Men in balloon-stuffed bras and corsets, more like. With the girls in spike-heeled, thigh-high boots. Kinky or what? Sure, sure, there's a love story in there somewhere. But we all know that while Cinders and Prince Charming (in fishnets) are warbling the obligatory soppy duet, little Thomas will be climbing under his seat and Emma demanding to go to the toilet, as we grown-ups yawn and pass round the Liquorice Allsorts. We're all waiting for the Ugly Sisters to reappear and return us to the serious business of the evening: having a good laugh.

So it's in the light of this interesting insight to the British psyche, I saw the plot of Too Many Godmothers: an equal opportunities fairytale, with all roles fairly redistributed across the sexes. Teddy, of course, informed me that the whole idea was totally potty, and washed her hands of me while she hurried away to resume running her business, bullying her family, arranging the church flowers and plotting how to get her thug of a neighbour dislodged from next door…