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  • Written by Mil Millington
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  • Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About
  • Written by Mil Millington
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Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

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A Novel

Written by Mil MillingtonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Mil Millington

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: January 14, 2003
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-281-0
Published by : Villard Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About concerns a guy named Pel who lives with his German girlfriend, Ursula. Pel leads an uneventful life—quietly bluffing his way through his job and discovering new things to argue about with Ursula. But when his boss mysteriously disappears, Pel steps innocently into his shoes and his life spirals out of control in a chaotic whirl of stolen money, missing colleagues, and Chinese mafiosi.

Its fractured thriller plot punctuated by blazingly hilarious set-piece arguments between the hapless Pel and the unflappable Ursula, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About is a brilliant comic novel examining the unique warfare in long-term relationships.

Excerpt

A THIN BEAM OF RED LIGHT

Where the hell are the car keys?”

I’m now late. Ten minutes ago I was early. I was wandering about in a too-early limbo, in fact; scratching out a succession of ludicrously trivial and unsatisfying things to do, struggling against the finger-drumming effort of burning away sections of the too-earliness. The children, quick to sense I was briefly doomed to wander the earth without reason or rest, had attached themselves, one to each of my legs. I clumped around the house like a man in magnetic boots while they laughed themselves breathless and shot at each other with wagging fingers and spit-gargling mouth noises from the cover of opposite knees.

Now, however, I’m in a fury of lateness. The responsibility for this rests wholly with the car keys and thereby with their immediate superior—my girlfriend, Ursula.

“Where—where the hell—are the car keys?” I shout down the stairs. Again.

Reason has long since fled. I’ve looked in places where I know there is no possible chance of the car keys lurking. Then I’ve rechecked all those places again. Just in case, you know, I suffered transitory hysterical blindness the first time I looked. Then I’ve looked down, gasping with exhaustion, begged the children to please get off my legs now, and looked a third time. I’m a single degree of enraged frustration away from continuing the search along the only remaining path, which is slashing open the cushion covers, pulling up the floorboards and pickaxing through the plasterboard false wall in the attic.

I do a semi-controlled fall down the stairs to the kitchen, where Ursula is making herself a cup of coffee in a protective bubble of her own, non-late, serene indifference.

“Well?” I’m so clenched I have to shake the word from my head.

“Well what?”

“What do you mean ‘Well what’? I’ve just asked you twice.”

“I didn’t hear you, Pel. I had the radio on.” Ursula nods towards the pocket-sized transistor radio on the shelf. Which is off.

“On what? On stun? Where are the damn car keys?”

“Where they always are.”

“I will kill you.”

“Not, I imagine . . .” Ursula presents a small theater of stirring milk into her coffee. “. . . with exhaust fumes.”

“Arrrrgggh!” Then, again, to emphasize the point, “Arrrrgggh!” That out of my system, I return again to measured debate. “Well, obviously, I didn’t think to look where they always are. Good Lord—how banal would I have to be to go there? However, My Precious, just so we can share a smile at the laughable, prosaic obviousness of it all, WHERE ARE THE CAR KEYS? ALWAYS?”

“They are in the front room. On the shelf. Behind the Lava Lamp.”

“And that’s where they always are, is it? You don’t see any contradiction at all in their always-are place being somewhere they have never been before this morning?”

“It’s where I put them every day.”

I snatch up the keys and hurl myself towards the door, jerking on my jacket as I move; one arm thrust into the air, waggling itself urgently up the sleeve as if it’s attached to a primary school pupil who knows the answer. “That’s a foul and shameless lie.”

As my trailing arm hooks the front door shut behind me, Ursula shouts over the top of her coffee cup, “Bring back some bread—we’re out of bread.” It’s 9:17 a.m.

The story in whose misleadingly calm shallows you’re standing right now is not a tragedy. How do I know? Because a tragedy is the tale of a person who holds the seeds of his own destruction within him. This is entirely contrary to my situation—everyone else holds the seeds of my destruction within them; I just wanted to keep my head down and hope my lottery numbers came up, thanks very much. This story is therefore not a tragedy, for technical rea- sons.

But never mind that now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just stick a pin in the calendar, shrug “Why not?” and begin on a routine Sunday just after my triumphant car-key offensive. Nothing but the tiniest whiffs of what is to come are about my nostrils. My life is uncluttered with incident and all is tranquil.

Dad, can we go to Laser Wars?”

“It’s six-thirty a.m., Jonathan, Laser Wars isn’t open yet.”

“Dad will take you to Laser Wars after he’s mowed the lawn, Jonathan.”

It appears I’m mowing the lawn today, then.

“Mow the lawn! Mow the lawn!” Peter jumps up and down on the bed, each time landing ever closer to my groin.

“Dad—mow the lawn. Come on, quickly,” instructs Jonathan.

There’s very little chance of my mowing the lawn quickly as we have a sweat-powered mower, rather than an electric- or petrol-driven one. Ursula was insistent—not that she’s ever non-insistent—that we get an ancient, heavy iron affair (clearly built to instill Christian values into the inmates of a Dickensian debtors’ prison) because it is more friendly to the environment than a mower that uses fossil fuels to protect one’s rupturing stomach muscles. Almost without exception, things that are friendly to the environment are the sworn enemies of Pel.

Still, out there grunting my way up and down the grass, my children laughing at the threat of traumatic amputation as they circle around me, girlfriend calling out from the kitchen, “Cup of tea? Can you make me a cup of tea when you’re finished?”—it’s a little picture of domestic heaven, isn’t it? You never realize the value of wearying matter-of-factness until it’s gone.

•  •  •

Have you finished?” Ursula has watched through the window as I’ve returned from the lawn heaving the mower behind me, placed it by the fence, made to come into the house, caught her eye, gone back to it and wearily removed all the matted grass from the blades and cogs, made to come into the house, caught her eye, returned to sweep all the removed matted grass from the yard and clear it away into the bin, and—staring resolutely ahead—come into the house.

“Yes, I’ve finished.”

“You’re not going to go round the edges with the clippers, then?”

“That’s right. Precisely that meaning of finished.”

“I really can’t understand you. You always do this kind of thing—why do a job badly?”

“Because it’s easier. Duh.”

Ursula is saved the embarrassment of not being able to dispute the solidity of this argument because the phone rings and she darts away to answer it. In a frankly shocking turn of events, the kind of thing that makes you call into question all you thought you knew, the phone call is actually for me. The phone has never rung in this house before and not been for Ursula. She must be gutted.

“It’s Terry,” says Ursula, handing me the receiver with the kind of poor attempt at nonchalance you might display when nodding a casual “hi” to the person who dumped you the previous night. Terry Steven Russell, by the way, is my boss.

“Hi, Terry—it’s Sunday.”

“A detail I didn’t need. Listen, have you got some time to talk today?”

“I suppose so. Apart from going to Laser Wars in an hour or so, I don’t think I’m doing anything all day.” (Across the kitchen I note Ursula raise her eyebrows in an “Oh, that’s what you think, is it?” kind of way.)

“Laser Wars? Great. That’s perfect, in fact. I’ll see you there. ’Bye.”

“Yeah, ’b . . .” But he’s already hung up.

What are you thinking?”

“Nothing.”

“Liar.”

Ursula appears to have an, in my opinion, unhealthy obsession with what I’m thinking. It can’t be normal to ask a person, as often as she asks me, “What are you thinking?” In fact, I know it’s not normal. Because I’m normal, and I virtually never ask her what she’s thinking.

I’m apparently not allowed, ever, to be thinking “nothing.” Odd, really, when you consider the number of times—during an argument over something or other I’ve done—I’ll have “I don’t believe it! What was going through your head? Nothing?” thrown over me. The fact is, I find thinking “nothing” enormously easy. It’s not something I’ve had to work at, either. For me, achieving a sort of Zen state is practically effortless. Perhaps “Zen” is even my natural state. Sit me in a chair and do nothing more than leave me alone and—dink!—there I am: Zenned.

However, this—I think you’ll agree—incandescently impressive reasoning would ching off Ursula into the sightless horizon like a bullet off a tank. “Nothing” is simply not a thing I can possibly be thinking. For a while I did try having something prepared. You know, a standby. A list of things I could fall back on when caught with my synapses down. Thus:
Mil Millington|Author Q&A

About Mil Millington

Mil Millington - Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Photo © Mil Millington

Mil Millington has written for various magazines, radio, and The Guardian (he also had a weekly column in the Guardian Weekend magazine). His website (www.milmillington.com) has achieved cult status, and he is also a co-founder and co-writer of the online magazine The Weekly (www.theweekly.co.uk). He is currently working on the screenplay for Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About for Working Title films. He lives in England's West Midlands with his girlfriend and their two children. And everything, ever, is his fault, apparently.

Author Q&A

An Email Chat with Mil Millington



1.)You first gained fame with your website www.milmillington.com. What made you decide to air your dirty laundry on the World Wide Web?
Gosh - I'd never do that. I simply can't fathom what makes people does those online diaries or - argh! - even have webcams of their living rooms. I write the page so it feels intimate and personal, but it's not 'Here I am! Naked!' at all, really. That's half the point of it. It's the trivial, ludicrous and, crucially, funny things that people - normal people, in normal, long term relationships - argue about. I wouldn't dream of putting serious arguments or angst or trauma up there. It's simply funny stuff with a serious underlying point. People who put their CVs online, in fact, deliberately give away more personal info than I'd ever want to. I just write about eating Kit-Kats or tipping some gravy over.

2.)Was the web site instantly popular?
Nope: no one knew it was there. I was doing it simply to teach myself how to make a web page - I didn't even submit the page to any search engines. Though I was always careful what I put up because I was aware people might see it, I never for a moment imagined hundreds of thousands of people would visit (for years, I didn't even know that they were). It grew steadily, purely by 'word of mouth': one person happens upon the page accidentally, she emails the link to her friends, they all mail it to their friends, and so on.

3.)Everyone dreams that their web page will gain a mass readership. How did yours go from the internet, to a column in The Guardian, to a novel?
Well, to the first part of that, 'Do they?' I've often had people telling me they could 'BOOST MY TRAFFIC!!!!!' or individuals chiding that I shouldn't say something or other because it will (in their opinion) not encourage visitors. But, well, that's never been a goal for me at all. I've never had banner ads or click-throughs or charged people to read the site or anything like that. And I've always written simply what I thought was funny. If a million people turn up, good for them: if only five do, that's fine too. For ages I didn't even bother having a counter on the site.

But, anyway. Briefly, what happened was this: I was working, minding my own business, in IT at a university in England. One day I got an email saying, more or less, 'Read your page. Laughed my sinuses out. You should write a book.' I used to get a fair amount of emails like this - I'd reply to them with, 'Glad you enjoyed it,' and then go back to formatting hard drives. However, when I got to the bottom of this one, it turned out to be from the commissioning editor of a big UK publisher and she wanted to seriously pursue it. I wondered how I should reply to this offer. While I was still wondering, a very similar letter came in from the commissioning editor of anther big UK publisher, and she wanted to seriously pursue it too. This was how things progressed, with other publishers making enquiries, and so, after much discussion, I picked one - Hodder - signed to them, left my job (tears of laughter streaming down my face) and began writing the book. A couple of months into my doing this, the Guardian was preparing to launch a new section and was looking for a columnist for its Relationship pages. Someone suggested me to the editor; she remembered having seen the web page and thought it would be good idea. We met, had a pizza, talked about Tomb Raider, and that was that: I was a Guardian columnist. Everything I do, I just kind of fall into while I'm walking somewhere else. It's quite embarrassing, really.

4.)Speaking of the novel, how much of your book is fiction, and how much is autobiographical?
It's all fiction. Or rather, all the bits that matter - the scenes, the incidents, the dialogue, etc. - are completely made up. I actually take it as quite flattering (it shows the writing feels very real and honest and strikes a personal chord with the reader) that many people refuse to believe this. And I mean 'refuse' - I was talking to a woman the other day who simply would not believe that I'd made one particular scene up, absolutely would not believe me, because it was so close to an argument she and her husband had had. If it's a choice between research and indolence, though, then indolence always wins. So, for example, the point I wanted to make was: normal couples argue about silly things - it goes hand in hand with intimacy - so, as a polemic, I'll take the most arguey couple in the world, ever, and show how deep and bullet-proof their love actually is, underneath the bickering, by having the world around them get more and more insane while they remain unshakably together. To do this, I could have had the male character work in government offices, or a large corporation, or any number of places. But, I had him work in a university, so I didn't have to research the career structure and administration policies in local government offices, or wherever. There's that kind of stuff - it would have been perfectly logical, and you'd keep the culture-cross comedy, if the female character were a 'fiery Latin woman': but I don't speak, say, Italian or know about Italy. So, Ursula is German. Pure idleness. TMGAIHAA = Fiction + Idleness.

5.)How does your girlfriend Margret feel about her new-found “fame”?
Fame? Arf. She's pleased the book's doing very well, but she's keen - we both are - for her to stay away from any silliness. Her job is far more useful and important - and more well-paid, for that matter - than mine, so her attention, quite rightly, is mostly focused on that. She's, um, 'proud of me', though. It's rather endearing - she keeps newspaper clippings and records TV shows I'm on, that kind of thing. Really sweet, actually.

6.)What do you consider Pel and Ursula’s most serious argument?
Well, they never have a 'serious' one. That's the point. Pel might end up in a sulk or Ursula will be fuming yet again at his idiocy, but they never have a real, bitter, destructive row. They don't argue because one of them has been unfaithful - neither of them would ever be unfaithful - or one of them has spent the children's Christmas money on designer shoes or that kind of thing. They never use genuinely hurtful words - they don't call each other 'ugly' or 'boring', say. In fact, half the arguments are affection in disguise. Pel tells Ursula that her boss is just on her back because she's ugly and Ursula isn't - cue small row because Pel's saying, 'Women don't understand their own motivations' and Ursula's not going to let that assertion pass. But, under this, obviously, it's Pel saying he thinks Ursula is beautiful - so beautiful, in fact, that it freaks out her ugly boss. Equally, there's a point where Ursula berates Pel for embarrassing her with something he's done by saying, 'I had to spend the whole day defending you - and you know how I hate doing that.' It's a moan at Pel that really tells us she spent the whole day defending him. They bicker among themselves, but they'll never let anyone else say a word against the other one.

7.)You were named one of “Britian’s Best First Novelists of 2002” by The Guardian and the early reviews in England have been smashing. How does this make you feel?
Ahhh, tragically we have to look where all this started, on the Web. When you've had over a million hits, you're going to encounter your fair share of ranting nutters who entirely miss the point and want to let you know they hate you in sweary capitals. Years ago, I learned to go, 'Pft.' The trouble is, not being bothered by random bile is linked to not taking praise very seriously either. I'm very pleased the reviews have been so great, and I'm happy that people write to me and say how much they've enjoyed the book, but I don't skip about the house. At the end of the day, you can only listen to your own opinion. (But, fortunately, I think the book's hugely funny - so, 'Hurrah!' and 'Phew!', eh?)

8.)What’s next for Mil Millington? And what’s next for Mil and Margret?
For me - the next book. My love and obsession is comedy, rather than 'relationships', but it happens that the second book (I'm just finishing it) is about relationships too. As I say, Ursula and Pel would never have been, or even have considered being, unfaithful to each other. But that left a whole area - infidelity - that I was just itching to write about but couldn't I go anywhere near (from the first-person perspective) in Things. The next book gives me a chance to do that. It's about infidelity (and love generally), it's set in Edinburgh (in Scotland), and it makes me laugh - so, hopefully, it'll make lots of other people laugh too.

There's the movie. Working Title (who, it's traditional to say, "are the people who made 'Four Weeding and a Funeral' and 'Notting Hill' and so on.") optioned the book and asked me to do the screenplay. I've done that and they like it, so now there's only the piffling matter of finding a director, actors, hundreds of technicians and millions of pounds. They tell me they're looking to make a 'big' film (not a 'small English film'), so this could take quite some time.

I still do The Weekly (www.theweekly.co.uk) e-zine with Mr. Nash. It actually has more hits that the TMGAIHAA page, but they're all from nuclear physicists and professors of linguistics. It's that kind of comedy site.

I do various newspaper/magazine articles, of course, and there are some other (tsk) 'projects' - film, TV, and possibly radio, things - that I'm (tsk) 'exploring'.

Oh, and I update the Things page every couple of weeks, natch.

As for Mil and Margret - Margret's talking about getting a new fireplace for the living room, and Mil's keeping his head down.

Praise

Praise

“[A] brilliantly-written comedy . . . both funny and affectionate.” —The Guardian

“There is little to say about coupledom that is not wittily and often movingly explored here. Sharply-written, brilliantly-observed and absolutely hilarious.” —Daily Mail

“A funny and heart-warming comedy about love, fatherhood and being in the wrong places at all the wrong times.”—Essentials

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