Primrose Hill on a beautiful afternoon in May is beguiling. The discreet houses of the rich are camouflaged behind cascades of wisteria and flowering shrubs. The illusion of an English village in the centre of London is maintained. And within one of these multi-million pound Georgian houses, I caught Tarquin Overbite relaxing after a day at school. Concentrated on invading a developing country in the company of elite special forces, Tarquin racked up an impressive body count on his games console, as we spoke.
Tarquin, congratulations on the publication
of ‘They F**** You Up’.
It’s an extraordinary achievement to be published at such an early age. It must have changed your life, tremendously.
It’s no biggy
My mother or Mrs Overbite, as I call her, has been regularly published since she was an undergraduate at Oxford and Mr Overbite is, as you doubtless know, my father and a publisher. What’s more, two of my aunts, three uncles, as well as several grandparents, were apparently published too. So, you could say that in my family, you have to actively resist in order to avoid publication.
I believe you had a rather extraordinary education.
If you mean Mrs Overbite reading me Petrarchan Sonnets ‘in utero’ …
Actually I meant the languages thing.
Oh yes, she only spoke to me in Ancient Greek during the week and my father addressed me in Latin at the weekends.
That must have been a little er, restrictive?
Apparently, it was an experiment, like the non-aligned sexuality thing.
Yes, I read that your parents brought you up to be gender neutral.
When did you find out that you were, in fact, a boy?
I’m sorry, I don’t find that question meaningful.
So you’re not bitter?
It’s no biggy.
I suppose that writing your novel may have expunged some of your …feelings?
It’s entirely fictional.
The fact that the main character is a nine year old boy can be deceptive.
But all authors tend to draw on their life experiences.
Well, it’s true that the household in the book does bear a passing resemblance to ‘Maison Overbite’.
Really? I noticed that the father in the book seems rather er, pre-occupied.
Mostly with young female novelists.
Our house was always full of weirdos, apart from Orlando, I liked him.
He used to hang out in the garden, gave me the odd spliff. He’s a tree-surgeon.
The house was always lousy with female novelists; always in the kitchen, often in the bathroom and occasionally in my father’s bedroom, where they always claimed to be looking for aspirin or borrowing a pillow or something lame – didn’t fool me. During the week it was OK because I was at school, but the weekends were the worst. Endless lunches and dinner parties, during which my mother displayed her total lack of understanding for the basics of cookery and fooled herself that she was one of the wittiest women in London. The litterarti, the clitterati and the zipperarti; lit types, journos and TV people, all reviewing each other’s bloody shows and novels, it was sick. Meanwhile, I was starving to death waiting for the fabulous Mrs Overbite to cook my bloody vegan sausages, watching her gargle down enough Chilean Chardonnay to float Melvyn Bragg, whilst burning a leg of lamb.
Ah yes, the vegan sausages, they figure largely in the book, I took them to be representational of some kind of family dysfunction.
No – they are just bloody tasteless.
You mean, in the food sense?
When did you decide to go vegan?
Never. Mrs Overbite just got it into her head that I was. Consuelo used to smuggle cold meat into my lunchbox.
The vegan thing was good copy for her; everything was good copy for Mrs Overbite. Once I nearly severed my finger whilst chopping up a line of coke for Orlando, in the garden. I ran in, spouting blood everywhere, looking for my mother and all she did was shove my finger under a tap while she tweeted about it to her 50,000 followers. Then, there was her column in the Daily Post. Every week, something amusing, idiotic or misguided that Tarquin did or said. Later the whole thing became a bestseller when my father decided to publish it as a Christmas stocking filler. You probably remember it.
Oh yes, someone bought me a copy for Christmas. ‘Tarquin’s Tarradiddles’
Not a good title IMO.
But very funny. I love that thing you said about Father Christmas.
You have to understand that in context. I’d just come home from my school’s Christmas party, where I’d been traumatized by a weird bearded man in fancy dress who’d promised to pop down my chimney.
And you said, ‘ Mummy, I know Father Christmas is a pernicious capitalist myth used to manipulate the proletariat, as well as a transparent Freudian archetype with worryingly pederastic overtones; but can he bring me an Xbox?’
She never answered my question on that, or any other occasion, but instead ran into her study, cackling and spilling wine all the way to her laptop, in order to write down what I’d said.
It just happened to be my life.
In your book Tarquin, there is a character very much like Mrs Overbite, I mean , your mother.
She comes to a rather nasty end.
Yes, it’s fiction.
But your mother doesn’t live with you anymore.
That’s right, but unlike my plot, she wasn’t pushed by her son, under a pulping machine as it was recycling her remaindered books.
Of course not,but she and your father did get divorced?
You are still in contact with her?
She keeps on calling me. I don’t pick up. She’s on the dole and living in a council flat in Yeovil with Orlando.
And your father? After your book was published by a rival publisher, I believe he lost a lot of clients?
Went flat broke. He’s become a born-again Christian, hands out leaflets at railway stations.
Some critics have said that your novel was a thinly disguised and cruel attack on your parents.
It’s just a novel; a best-selling one.
And now you are living in the family house alone?
With my advance I was able to buy the house from the bank. Les Parents won’t come back. My brief got me a restraining order on them both.
Aren’t you lonely?
I have Consuelo; she is now my legal guardian.
It is at this point that Consuelo , a lovely South American woman with a large smile bustles into the room, carrying a plate laden with kebabs, sausages and chops. She apologises for interrupting the interview, but it’s their time to watch TV. Tarquin immediately puts down his games console, picks up a sausage and snuggles down into the sofa next to Consuelo.
The television drowns out my words of farewell and I let myself out of the house.