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  • Family Sold Separately
  • Written by Kate Long
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  • Family Sold Separately
  • Written by Kate Long
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780345509765
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A Novel

Written by Kate LongAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kate Long

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: August 26, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-50976-5
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From internationally bestselling author Kate Long, a perceptive, vivid, and painfully funny novel about family ties and growing up

On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Katherine wants only three things: a smidge of social grace, the body of Courteney Cox, and two parents. What she has instead is an almost complete lack of friends, a pudgy figure, and one extremely eccentric, nearly blind grandmother named Poll. Since Katherine’s father died and her mother disappeared, Poll is her only family. And not only does Poll buy all of Katherine’s clothes, but she forbids her to leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary. Would a chance to go to Oxford count? But the bigger question is: How can she abandon her grandma?

Just when Katherine has resigned herself to a lifetime of watching daytime television, sparring with Poll, and visiting the town library for “fun,” along comes a handsome, magnetic young man named Collum, who claims to be Katherine’s long-lost cousin. But as Katherine is about to learn, when it comes to family, things aren’t always as they seem.


Praise for Kate Long’s The Bad Mother’s Handbook

“Kate Long manages to brilliantly balance equal parts heartbreak and hilarity in a novel that you will love unconditionally.”
–Sarah Bird, author of The Flamenco Academy

“There is a lovely sweetness to this heartbreaking/heartwarming story.”
–The Seattle Times

“Funny, touching and utterly winning.”
–Publishers Weekly

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Dogman turned up on our doorstep at nine o’clock sharp, wolfhound in tow.

“You’ll love me,” he said. “I’ve brought you a crevice tool.”

“Let him in!” yelled Poll from the kitchen.

He rustled past in his grubby raincoat and I pressed my back to the wall in case he brushed against me. The dog sniffed my crotch, then trotted on.

“Here you are,” he said, rooting in one of his plastic bags and pulling out the crevice tool for me to admire. It’s true, I had been wanting one for about six months. Ours had disappeared; probably Poll threw it out by accident, we lose a lot of stuff that way.

Poll marched in and snatched it out of Dogman’s hand. She felt it carefully all over, then took it over to the floor lamp to peer at it in the light. “Well, aren’t you lucky, Katherine Millar? She’s always moaning about dog hairs. Winston sheds all summer and all winter, it’s a wonder he in’t bald. Say thank you. Where did you get it, Dickie? Car boot?”

Dogman grinned. “I found it.”

Nicked it, more like.

Poll handed it over to me and I squinted at the maker’s mark. “But it’s the wrong brand,” I said. “This is off a Dyson, we have a Lervia. It won’t fit.”

“Get away,” said Dogman. “Bit of duct tape on the end of your tube, it’ll be fine.”

I could have inserted the tool into his mouth, Tom and Jerry style.

“Are you seriously expecting me to start mauling with duct tape every time I want to use the thing? Putting it on and taking it off? I’m not going through that performance.” I dropped the tool onto the settee. If Poll wanted to claim it, she could do the hoovering herself.

Poll tutted and Dogman shook his head sorrowfully.

“Young people today,” said Poll, “they want life gift-wrapped, they do. Tek no notice of her, Dickie. She’s on t’ crest of a rebellion all t’ time. I think it’s hormones. At least, I hope that’s all it is.” She raised her eyebrows at him.

Piss off, I nearly said.

•••

“One day I’ll die,” Poll’s always going, “and then you’ll be sorry, my girl.”

No I won’t. I’ll put the bloody flags out. I’ll tie a red satin bow around Winston’s neck, dance stark naked up and down Mesnes Park, and put an ad in the “Celebrations” column of the Wigan Observer.

She always had a lot to say

She had a tongue sharp as a knife

But now my grandma’s passed away

I’m off to start a whole new life.

In remembrance of Pollyanna Millar,evil-minded shrew and dog-botherer

That night, after Poll had groped her way along the landing from the bathroom, I wrote in my diary:

New Year’s Resolutions

1.Stop eating (lose 10 kg by Valentine’s Day)

2.Get everyone at school to call me Kat, not Katherine, as sounds cooler

3.Try to make friends with Donna French X X X lush lush

4.Decide what to do about My Future

Then I lay down on the bed, under Dad’s old posters of Blondie, and tried to block out the bad thoughts that always gather about this time by doing A-level essay plans in my head. Finally I turned out the light and blew Dad a kiss, like I always do. It might be mad, but it helps.

I share my room with two dead people. As well as Dad, in his jar on the windowsill, there’s Great-grandma Florence, who was Poll’s mother, in the bottom of the wardrobe inside a black and gold tin. I never think about her, to be honest, except when I’m hunting for shoes.

The rest of Poll’s family are buried in Bank Top cemetery, a sloping field down which the gravestones are moving imperceptibly, along with the wall that’s supposed to keep them in. If you climb up on the war memorial in the middle you get a good view, a clear view anyway, of the dirty brick town of Harrop below, with its derelict paper mill and defunct locomotive works. Surely this can’t be where the occupants of the cemetery are headed? I can’t see the attraction myself.

My big dream is to be normal. I need to ditch the socks and frocks and be more like other girls, but it’s not easy with a grandma like mine.

“Makeup? What do you want to wear makeup for? You’ll ruin your skin. You’ll end up looking like a clown or a prostitute, one or t’ other. Smear some Vaseline on your face, that’s all you need at your age. I were a married woman before I owned a lipstick.”

We have this bollocks continually.

It’s dawning on me, now I’m reaching my eighteenth birthday, that actually a lot of things Poll says are rubbish, e.g. that mending your socks while you’re still wearing them brings on terrible bad luck. “It’s sewing sorrow to your heart,” she always moans. “You’ll rue.” She also reckons that washing your hair while you’re having a period sends you mad, and that sleeping with a potato prevents cramps.

When I was younger I believed her, so therefore all the other kids assumed I was mad too and wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I couldn’t catch a ball either, and I wore a hand-knitted school cardigan instead of a bought one from Littlewoods. I pretended I didn’t care.

“Not everyone has a mother and a father,” I would recite when they cornered me on the rec. “Me and my grandma are a family too.”

“Piss off, Fatso,” they’d say. “You don’t even call her grandma. How weird is that?”

“She doesn’t like it.”

“She doesn’t like you. You’re mental. Your mum killed your dad and then ran off. Weirdy-weirdo.” Then they’d run away screaming and screwing their index fingers into their temples. Weirdy-weirdo would skulk by the trash bins for a bit and then go and stand by the teacher till the bell went.

The trouble with Bank Top is that everyone knows everyone else’s history.

•••

Poll doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her—which is lucky, because in general they don’t. She’s as blind as she wants to be: some days, you’d hardly know she had a problem; others, she’s all but bed-ridden. “It’s like having a black spot pasted on the front of your eyeball,” she says. “If I look at your head, now, all I can see is an empty space.” She’s got peripheral vision, though, so you’d be unwise to try anything sneaky.

The Rehab Officer likes to stay upbeat. “Here, we prefer the term partially sighted,” she says when Poll goes to be assessed for extras, e.g. hand-rails, magnifiers, large-button phones. Not that she bothers with most of these aids; after all, it’s what I’m there for. I’m just a two-legged guide dog.

When she first began to lose her sight she was given this handy booklet, Coping with Age-Related Macular Degenera-tion. It’s full of top tips for someone with a reasonable take on life:

•Use strong lighting throughout the house, particularly on stairs.

Poll says, “If you think I’m getting an electrician in you’ve another think coming. Pass us that flashlight.” Our sockets are loaded to buggery and we have nine table lamps in the living room alone.

•Tell others clearly what you need.

No problems with this one. It’s all I get, all day and every day. I shop, cook, clean, wash, iron after a fashion, lay her clothes out for her every night and put her eye drops in. She doesn’t need the eye drops, she just likes the idea. She needs the ICaps dietary supplement pills, but she won’t take them, of course.

•Use your cane as a signal that you need help.

Or a weapon. She may only have limited vision but she can always locate an ankle bone from a good height.

•Don’t dwell on your difficulties. Treat your visual impairment as a challenge to be overcome.

To be fair, she isn’t much into self-pity. Anger, petty-mindedness, pig-headedness; now those she does a treat.

•Get to know your neighbors; build up a community around you.

Don’t know if Dickie the Dogman counts as community; he certainly hangs around our place enough. Poll thinks he’s marvelous because he’s always posting tat he’s got off the market through our dog-flap; loaves with big holes all through them, unperforated toilet roll, bacon that’s about 90 percent fat. And they have these long gossip sessions in the kitchen while Wolfie lolls about on the flags and tries to chew his own paws off.
Kate Long|Author Q&A

About Kate Long

Kate Long - Family Sold Separately

Photo © Jerry Bauer

KATE LONG lives in Shropshire, England. This is her first novel.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Kate Long

Random House Readers Circle: What made you choose a surly young outcast to be the main character in Family Sold Separately? Did you worry about making her likable to readers? Is there anything of yourself in Kat?

Kate Long: Outsiders make interesting central characters because they’re such good observers of others, and sometimes of themselves, too. And flawed characters are always more interesting; as a reader, I hate it when a hero or heroine is beautiful, accomplished, and perfectly balanced. What’s left for them to learn? How can we cheer them from the sidelines if they always succeed? Give me an underdog every time.

Worrying about whether your characters are likable, though, is a bit like worrying whether your child’s going to be popular at school. To an extent, they are who they are and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Your best bet is to accept them as they form, show sympathy where it’s merited, and administer a bracing slap on the back when they need to buck their ideas up. Being an author is similar to being a parent in that you frequently do have to stand back and let your characters make their own mistakes.
Was I ever Kat-ish myself? Well, I did have a shy and plump phase, between about eight and fourteen. And I was always keen on my studies, loved libraries, didn’t really wear makeup or date till I was sixteen. But unlike Kat, I had a terrific time at school. If my teenage years can be compared to a book, I was more like the girls in Louise Rennison’s novels, who find pretty much everything hilarious and lurch from one mad adventure to the next. I do remember often needing to go off and be on my own, though.

RHRC: I sometimes wish I could herd every teenage girl into a large auditorium and tell them that none of them are weird or unlikable, but rather the things that make them different from each other are what make them interesting. If you were Kat’s mother, older sister, or mentor, what would you tell her?

KL: Kat needs to get right away from Bank Top, but in a supported environment; she isn’t strong or mature enough to launch alone into a completely different life. And yet, until she can remove herself from Poll, she won’t get a proper perspective on either herself or other people. I suppose I’d tell her what’s true: that she’s attractive, funny, and decent, and deserves better on almost every front. That Poll’s blindness is not her responsibility. That Dogman needs a swift, hard kick in the nethers. Oh, and I might take her to have her legs professionally waxed!

RHRC: Kat and Donna are archetypal high-school characters. Was there a Kat in your school? A Donna? Would you tell us a funny story about your teen years?

KL: I don’t remember any Kats but there was certainly a Donna–by the end of the lower sixth year, every one of her pals had bleached and permed their hair to match. But actually, the nice thing about my school was that the teachers really did encourage us to be individuals, so even the coolest cliques were fairly fluid and accepting.

As for funny incidents, I was always getting myself into embarrassing scrapes. I still do! The scene in Family Sold Separately where Kat goes for her university interview and gets trapped behind a panel is something that happened to me, asthma attack and all. It was mortifying. Unlike Kat, though, I didn’t win a place at Oxford–the admissions tutors probably marked my card when they saw I was too stupid to negotiate a door unaided.

Mainly, though, I used to get into trouble because my eyesight was so poor. I was dreadfully shortsighted but too vain to admit it, so I was always making a fool of myself. I was forever hailing complete strangers, thinking I knew them, and once I told everyone on the school bus to “look at the squirrel in the field,” when in fact it was a piece of leftover piping. I almost rang the fire brigade to rescue what I thought was a cat from a tree–till someone came along and pointed out it was a plastic bag.

RHRC: How did the plot of Family Sold Separately develop? How did you decide to write from both Kat’s and Ann’s perspectives? Did you write both characters’ sections concurrently? Was it hard to be in both of their heads?

KL: The germ of the idea came from something in my own life. Being adopted, I’ve often fantasized about meeting my birth mother accidentally, and getting to know her before I understood who she truly was. And it could happen; one party could track down the other and shadow or befriend them. Then they could either maintain a silence, or tell and risk all. It’s a scenario I’ve conjured with on many occasions.
I always plot my novels out before I start, so I knew the two stories, the mother’s and the daughter’s. I could also hear each voice very clearly. The trick was knowing when to let Ann come in, and how much to let her reveal each time, and there was never any doubt that she had to be the one to tell her story, as Kat has to tell hers. That way the reader gets the overview and is wiser than any of the characters. We’re really the only people who understand the significance of the pink cardigan, for instance–none of the others quite grasp what happened to Roger’s “missing baby daughter.”

RHRC: I was surprised that you didn’t resolve anything about Kat’s and Ann’s respective eating disorders. Was that a conscious choice?

KL: A novel is not a public information film. If it were, every time a character picked up a cigarette, the author would have to show them later dying of a smoking-related illness, and anyone glimpsed taking recreational drugs would have to end up ruined and in the gutter. The truth is, lots of people do live and function with eating disorders, just as they do with other forms of mental illness or destructive behavior patterns. Statistically speaking, Ann is likely to struggle with anorexia for pretty much all her life, whereas there is a good chance Kat will recover from her bulimia completely (though she’ll almost certainly have wrecked her teeth in the process).

RHRC: I loved the irony of Poll’s full name. Tell us about choosing the names of the characters in Family Sold Separately.

KL: Ah yes, cheerful Pollyanna! There used to be a television show in the U.K. that featured a wholly miserable character called Joy Merryweather, and that always made me smile. Names are fun, though always a bit subjective–I see Anns as quiet, unpushy types, whereas you might picture someone who’s the life and soul of the party. But there are several characters in this novel who use their names to hide behind. “Dogman,” for instance, gives nothing at all away about the character’s background, which is just how he likes it–and I hope it also suggests his innate repulsiveness, and the persistent way he hangs around the family. Miss Dragon obviously isn’t a dragon at all, and Miss Mouse turns out to be stronger than anyone anticipated, so both those tags are ironic. Kat got her name because I wanted something she could adapt to show her new identity. I was a Katharine myself (named for the church) who became Kate on day one at university because I was like, “This is a whole new life!”

RHRC: Are you at work on your next project? What will it be? What are your inspirations for writing?

KL: I’m always working on something! My next two novels, Queen Mum, about reality television, and The Daughter Game, the story of a teacher who gets too involved with a pupil, are out in the U.K. And I’m currently writing a book about a grandmother who has to fight her daughter for access to her grandson, following an acrimonious divorce. I’m endlessly fascinated by power struggles within families, and intergenerational conflict. The domestic landscape can be as full of high drama as any wider setting, in my opinion.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. From a young age, Kat was made to take care of her aging grandmother. Who took care of Kat? Do you think Poll would have encouraged Kat more if she weren’t so dependent on her?

2. Were you surprised to discover that Miss Mouse was Kat’s mother? Do you think Ann and Kat have a happy future in store?

3. Is your family nontraditional? How have you sought to create a family out of people who may or may not be related to you? Who is Kat’s family in the beginning of the novel? At the end?

4. There are no heroes or villains in this book. Each character is a complex blend of good qualities and bad ones, good intentions and bad decisions. Do you sympathize with Kat, Poll, and Ann? Do you blame them for their shortcomings? Can you forgive them, and do you think they can forgive each other?

5. Will Kat ever have confidence in her appearance? How does her confidence change throughout the book? Do Callum and Ann help or hinder her ability to see herself as an attractive person?

6. What was the effect of the book’s structural architecture as you read? How did it tell a richer story? Did it evoke more sympathy for one or the other narrator? How might the book have been different if it were written in the third person?

7. Why did Vince rescue the mothers and Roger’s babies? What kind of man was he?

8. Who is Callum? Was he a knight in shining armor, come to rescue Kat, or a liar? Should Kat forgive him?

9. What makes Poll finally let go and move to the new bungalow? How might their relationship evolve now that they no longer live together? Has Poll “learned her lesson”?

10. Were you a Kat, a Donna, or someone in the middle in high school? Why, do you think?


  • Family Sold Separately by Kate Long
  • August 26, 2008
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $14.00
  • 9780345479679

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