Glasgow based writer Gill Sims is the best-selling author of Why Mummy Drinks and Why Mummy Swears, both Sunday Times bestsellers. The books are based on her hilarious (if rather sweary) parenting blog Peter and Jane. The mum of two was an engineerining consultant before being approached by HarperCollins to publish her musings on family life. She now writes full-time.
Gill thanks for taking time out to catch up with Westender magazine. I have to put in a bit of a disclaimer here – I am a mum of three and your descriptions of family life have me in stitches. Take us back to why you started up the Facebook blog – was it a way of sharing your experiences with friends or did you think at the time it could be something much bigger?
It just really started as a joke with a friend. I was a chronic oversharer on Facebook anyway and friends kept telling me I should start a blog. Maybe they were just bored with my long rambling status updates and thought I should take it somewhere else!
I was always quite sweary and one day a friend sent me an article, I think it was about why women shouldn’t swear, and she said ‘You really should do that blog!’ I had a bit of spare time so I threw something together, mainly to make her laugh. I started the public Facebook page because friends wanted to share it, and posting in there saved me having to change my privacy settings all the time.
Do you remember your first post? What was it about?
I think it was about a Mummy who tries very hard to make everything #soblessed but who is constantly thwarted by her children – by their inability to find their shoes, by their illicit consumption of Haribo leading to them bouncing off the walls, by the eleventy billion letters from the school that she can’t keep track of, or she is only handed twenty minutes before leaving the house that tell her that her precious moppets are to go into school today dressed as French mimes, or spacemen, or trees…
I think I am that mum! But you have clearly struck a chord with several thousand of us. There are around 400,000 followers on your Facebook page. When did you realise the enormity of what you were doing?
I don’t think it really has sunk in yet. It’s a bit mind boggling really! I’m always amazed and so grateful that so many people do take the time to read my ramblings.
The most popular post is still the one that first went viral, about a long day in the summer holidays when everything goes wrong despite Mummy’s best intentions, but when her husband comes home from work, because she hasn’t been at her actual paying job that day, he assumes she must have spent the day with her feet up enjoying her ‘day off’. When in reality she had spent her ‘relaxing day off’ doing endless loads of laundry and taking kids to the doctors and playdates and refereeing fights and trying to juggle endless balls and hadn’t actually sat down all day, and so she did not take such comments well. I think a lot of other people must have had similar experiences.
Is everything you write based on true life experience?
The books are fiction. I’m not Ellen, my husband isn’t Simon and my kids aren’t Peter and Jane, though Judgy Dog in the books is based very closely on my own Border Terrier. The blog and some of the situations in the book are about the general everyday experiences most of us go through as parents – lost shoes, aversions to vegetables, forgetting how to read. Mummy is a fictionalised mum to, she gets to say out loud what we are all shouting inside our heads.
Your tongue-in-cheek take on family life is the polar opposite to the picture-perfect images we are often fed on social media. I am sure most commend you for your honesty but do you ever get any criticism?
I’ve been really lucky and most people realise it is hugely exaggerated for comic value. There is the odd person who doesn’t realise it is meant to be humorous and takes umbrage. There are others who get that it is supposed to be funny, but don’t think that it is funny, which is entirely their right to do so, humour is very subjective.
When you hear about the hideous things some people get sent, or the threats made to them, I’ve really been very lucky and the criticism is mild in the grand scheme of things. When everything first took off, it wouldn’t matter how many nice comments there were, if there was one negative one that would be what I would focus on. But you learn to shrug it off and grow a thicker skin. You have to really.
Your writing is very sweary – would it be the same without the cursing?
Personally, I am a big fan of swearing! I was sent a book recently called Swearing Is Good For You, about the therapeutic effects of swearing which I would definitely agree with. Sometimes ‘Oh fudge!’ just doesn’t cut it. I think my writing would lose a certain something without the swearing, though others disagree. Someone did leave a one star review on Amazon for Why Mummy Swears because she felt there was too much swearing in it. Though I would argue that if you don’t like swearing, the clue is somewhat in the title, and I’m not entirely sure what she was expecting from it.
‘Daddy’ works away a lot and thinks he is very important. How do you all get along in real life?
‘Daddy’, like ‘Mummy’ is a fictional character, of course. I don’t think Daddy comes across terribly sympathetically because the books and the blogs are written from Mummy’s point of view. We see her frustration that Daddy gets to swan off being Busy and Important while she holds the fort at home.
If it was written from Daddy and Simon’s side, it would probably look quite different, as they come home exhausted after a long journey on top of a hard week, happy to see their wife and kids only to be greeted with resentment and a refusal to make a ‘nice simple lasagne’ for dinner. In real life, we get along like most people – we have been married long enough that we know exactly how to annoy each other, but at the same time, we probably wouldn’t want to be annoyed by anyone else.
Can you share a little of your background with us? Are you from Glasgow? What do you like about the West End?
I’ve lived in Glasgow since I was 11. Before that we lived in Kenya and Tanzania. I went to school in the West End, so it has lots of happy memories. From hiding from our teachers in the old Underground Gallery, using dodgy fake ID to buy vodka and cokes in Curlers, and trips to the Grosvenor Cinema long before it was posh and had nice sofas and sold wine. I love how much is always going on in the West End and am a great fan of charity shops, so I love a good mooch around them.
Your story is very much one of forging a successful writing career in the social media age – you were approached by HarpersCollins to publish your blog. Both books subsequently went on the best seller list and you have just published a Why Mummy Drinks journal. Had you any notion when you started out that you would end up becoming an internet celebrity and a full-time writer?
I’m not sure I would call myself an internet celebrity. I am a very small fish in an enormous and ever expanding pond in internet terms. I think Celeste Barber put it best when she said that being famous on the internet is like being rich in Monopoly. I had no idea at all that any of this would happen, especially not to write a book published by HarperCollins, let alone more than one. I certainly never thought they would end up on the bestseller lists like they did. When my editor at HarperCollins called to tell me Why Mummy Swears was number one on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list I burst into very loud, unattractive sobbing. Which was unfortunate as I hadn’t realised I was on speaker phone with the rest of the office and I was making snorting noises.
I believe your background is in engineering – have you left your other job?
I was working for an engineering consultancy but I’m now writing full-time. There were not enough hours in the day if my children were to ever eat anything other than frozen pizza. So in the interests of them not getting scurvy something had to give!
What kind of demands are on you now as a full-time writer?
Mainly managing my time and not wasting the day on procrastination. The internet is a great tool but it is also a black hole down which hours can vanish as you pretend you are just quickly going to google something and then find you have spent two hours watching videos about otters. I do love videos about otters but I can’t really claim it is a constructive use of my time. So I’m not very good at the whole structuring my day thing and tend to end up in a bit of a panic as deadlines approach – and I’m still watching otter videos…
What next for you Gill? Do you ever think you will run out of material as the children get older? Would you like to tackle any other kind of writing?
I’d love for there to be some more books, but all of this has been so unexpected and amazing, that if this is all there is, then it has still been an astonishing thing to happen and I am delighted. A few people have asked if I have ever considered writing children’s books or young adult books, which I haven’t really, there couldn’t be any swearing!
I think whatever I wrote it would still have a humorous edge as life is short and we might as well laugh while we can.