Excerpted from Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington. Copyright © 2003 by Mil Millington. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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.