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Live webchat with Slummy Mummy columnist and author, Fiona Neill

(83 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 21-Jul-11 11:21:03

Fiona Neill is the creator of the Times Magazine Slummy Mummy column and author of international bestseller The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy which was voted Mumsnet Best Light Read in 2011.

Fiona's latest book, What the Nanny Saw is out on 18th August and to mark the occasion,Fiona will also be joining us at MNHQ for a live webchat on the 18th August, where you'll get chance to tell her your thoughts on the book and to ask her questions.

What the Nanny Saw tells the story of penniless student Ali Sparrow, whose life changes overnight after answering an ad for a nanny. She is catapulted into the privileged and excessive world of London's financial elite, and is a witness to things she probably shouldn't see. When a scandal erupts that rocks the family's private life, is Ali principled enough to keep their secrets when the press come prowling for the inside scoop? Or will she dish the dirt on the family who never saw her as anything other than part of the scenery?

Don't forget to return to this thread to share your views on the book, and put 18th August in your diary to join our chat with Fiona Neill.

pinkthechaffinch Thu 18-Aug-11 10:05:56

I enjoyed the book, once I got past the rather clunky opening chapters,
although I also wasn't sure what I was 'supposed' to be feeling towards some of the characters. Was Foy, for example, meant to be a lovable old rogue or an appalling harrasser of young women? He gave me the willies anyway !

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 10:39:39

testing, testing

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 18-Aug-11 12:59:08

Hello everybody, Fiona is here at MNHQ until 2pm - so welcome to her, and thanks to everyone who has read her new book and posted.

Over to you, Fiona...

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:02:20

Hello. Just arrived in kentish town. Spent the past couple of weeks in Colombia, escaping the mean streets of London. Good to be back.

BonzoDooDah Thu 18-Aug-11 13:07:22

Hello Fiona
congratulations on another well received book. I was lucky enough to receive a copy and am enjoying it all so far (Chapter 3 or so - although it hasn't bitten yet I am intrigued ....)

As I haven't finished this one yet I can't ask too much but With your Slummy Mummy Series - did you feel. once published, that your parenting skills were more open to critisism? (Did you find yourself behaving different in public to show that your wittty asides were just that or you felt like you had to play to the crowd?)

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:09:50


I got a copy - thank you very much. Am about half way through at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it. Will endeavour to finish it later this evening. DD2 is pinching it to read by the pool and it is a struggle to get it back from her grin. She is seemingly enjoying it too, in a 'can't put it down' sort of way.

I am hoping to make the webchat on Thursday, I do have things on in the morning, but I am an hour ahead here, so may well be back in time.

Failing that, my question is also - have you ever worked as a nanny, Fiona, or is this based on things you have heard over the years? I know the rule is ONE question, but I suspect DD2 may ve one to ask as well. 16 year old's view and all that!

Hi there. I haven't ever worked as a nanny. I interviewed quite a few nannies before I started writing. Their stories were often really interesting, particularly the women who had come from Eastern Europe. One woman I spoke to had come illegally from the Ukraine and spent almost seven months trying to get to the UK on a false Czech passport. Quite a few came from the Philippines and I was struck by the irony that they had come to the UK to look after other peoples' children, often leaving their own behind. For research purposes, the most interesting were obviously those who had worked in the kind of super rich household depicted in their book. I used quite a few of their anecdotes.

BonzoDooDah Thu 18-Aug-11 13:13:05

Seeing as it's quiet in here I'll ask another. How was Columbia and was it a gritty research trip or an escape it all and chill?
And did you come across anything to do with (innovative) the Crossed Legs Strike ?

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:18:05


I enjoyed the book, once I got past the rather clunky opening chapters,
although I also wasn't sure what I was 'supposed' to be feeling towards some of the characters. Was Foy, for example, meant to be a lovable old rogue or an appalling harrasser of young women? He gave me the willies anyway !

The character of Foy is deliberately ambiguous. He can't accept that he is growing old and tries to boost his ego by flirting with younger women. But just because he has been a feckless philanderer during his marriage, doesn't mean that he is necessarily a bad person. I think this is true of life. People's motivations are always complex.

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:25:22


Hi Fiona
Is the relationship between nanny and mother pretty much designed to be tortured? Apart from the odd exception, I don't know anyone on either side who finds it particularly easy..

Hello there. I tried to depict the awkwardness of the relationship but tried to avoid making it too torturous (I hope). It can sometimes be an awkward relationship, particularly I think if the nanny lives in with a family. Interviewing nannies before writing the book I was struck by the difficulties inherent in being at the heart of the family one moment and then expected to slip back into the shadows the next. It is a psychologically complex role.

pinkthechaffinch Thu 18-Aug-11 13:25:27

Thanks for answering my question and I'm sorry if my comment about the opening chapter sounded rather rude- I cetainly wouldn't have said it to your face!

The character of Foy certainly rang true!

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:34:35


Could hardly put it down. Very good characterisation in the book, plausible scenarios, shrewd insights, and I found it good to read as a companion piece to Kathryn Stockett's 'The Help'. Great job.

My question. I thought it was particularly interesting when you wrote about the way the bankers' families apparently commoditised everything, including relationships. I was wondering whether you had experienced seeing this sort of thing up close in real life and whether writing the book was a way of being able to make comments about certain behaviours that would be socially unacceptable face to face (I ask because I certainly have seen this sort of thing at first hand and it turns my stomach, but obviously it's difficult to say anything while you are there).

Thanks so much Senior Wrangler. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. It took a lot of research and a lot of time. I interviewed a lot of bankers to write the book, as well as nannies who had worked for super wealthy families. The bankers mostly helped me out on the finer points of derivatives trading but the nannies were a rich resource in terms of the often hilarious accounts they gave of life in fully staffed households in central London. I think that there are now quite a lot of very wealthy families based in London, who have the financial capacity to buy their way out of many of the more unpalatable aspects of parenting and domestic life.

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:41:55


Received a copy (thanks Penguin!) and enjoying the escapism; wondering if this is really how the other half live.

n.b. Just looked at its entry on a popular online bookshop wink: I wish books about women's lives today weren't all reduced to being defined as 'chick lit'. Patronising or what?

Hello just a girl from edgeware. I did enough research around the streets of Holland Park and enough interviews to know that this is really how the other half live. (Although this group of people is much less than a half, a tiny but significant and powerful minority perhaps). Agree totally with the chick lit label. It's so reductive and encompasses so many female writers that it isn't really helpful because it doesn't describe the range of writing. Also it's inevitably a pejorative term. but people love labels and it probably isn't going to disappear.

FannyFifer Thu 18-Aug-11 13:41:59

I really enjoyed the slummy mummy book. Looking forward to reading your new one.

Was it slightly autobiographical or total fiction?


FannyFifer Thu 18-Aug-11 13:42:48

Slummy mummy I mean.

MrsPlugThePlumber Thu 18-Aug-11 13:47:44

Are you a MN regular, Fiona?

messybear Thu 18-Aug-11 13:47:53

really enjoyed slummy mummy, love your sense of humour and look forward to reading the new book.
Interested as a writer, how do you find the best approach to capturing your ideas, do you have a set time each day, keep notes etc.
I would love to be able to put pen to paper , not sure where to start though?

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:48:22


I have just finished it, I found the beginning layout a little difficult to get into. However, I was soon ploughing through the book. I
t was an easy read and provided good escapism, I also enjoyed how chunky it was a a volume. However, I would have changed the ending slightly if I could as I found the focus was more on the family, when I would have preferred it to be on Ali. Still, a good read and I am so pleased I managed to get a copy as I am not usually so lucky!

Hi purplebuns. Not sure what to say about the beginning, difficult to analyse your own book. But I can say about the ending that I wanted to underline the way that at the end of the day, Ali was someone that the family dispensed with as soon as she ceased to be useful to them. She was an adjunct to the Skinner's life, whereas she felt totally absorbed by their family. I also wanted to look at the way she was living her life through the family and how she fell foul of them as soon as she made the transition from observer to participant. Thanks for your comment.

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 13:53:24


I finished it at the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. All the loose ends nicely tied up and not in a predictable way either. Would love a sequel as some of the characters were so appealing (and so well written) that I want to know how things turn out for them, especially the adorable little twins. Well done Fiona, ten out of ten from me! smile

Thanks for your observations Kathleen. Really glad to hear you enjoyed it. I don't have any intention of writing a sequel because when you finish writing a book you want to take a break from the characters you have spent the past couple of years writing. But I do miss Ali and Foy! A friend of mine with identical twins really helped me to understand how they interact and I found it really fascinating. Hope they feel real to mums with twins! There is some interest in creating a four part TV series so I'll keep Mumset posted if that happens.

strangerwithmyface Thu 18-Aug-11 14:01:36

Just rushed in, glad I haven't missed the chat >wheezing<. Hi Fiona. Do you use a nanny with your kids? How do you balance work and parenting?

Hello again, sorry a bit late to the party as running around somewhat this morning. Thank you for answering my question - DD2 has flown off this morning taking the book with her to finish it en route to the UK. She just wanted me to say to you 'thank you for the most unputdownable book I have read all summer'. Given that she is not quite 17 and is generally more interested in what the Z listers are up to, I can promise you that this is a huge amount of praise!! She has also removed the Slummy Mummy books from the shelf as she feels they will be far more fun than her prescribed A level reading next term grin

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 14:02:57


really enjoyed slummy mummy, love your sense of humour and look forward to reading the new book.
Interested as a writer, how do you find the best approach to capturing your ideas, do you have a set time each day, keep notes etc.
I would love to be able to put pen to paper , not sure where to start though?

It happens in different ways. Sometimes a character comes to you (in this novel Foy existed in my head many years ago after a conversation I overheard on an airplane) and sometimes different scenes write themselves. The kernel of the idea for this novel came from a news story I read in the New York Times. It was about a woman who worked for a financial pr company in New York who discovered that her banker husband was spying on her to do insider trading. I carry notebooks with me all the time and jot down notes. I have lots of ideas on the go at once! When I am ready to write, I am very disciplined because I know that I only have six hours while the children are at school. At the beginning I try to write 1,500 words a day. But I don't beat myself up if I miss the target. I would recommend doing a thorough plot outline and character profiles. That way you can avoid wasting valuable time.

jugglingwiththreeshoes Thu 18-Aug-11 14:10:39

I'm looking forward to reading it this hols, especially as I used to be a nanny to two (fairly posh) families, before I had my own two smile

Blatherskite Thu 18-Aug-11 14:10:41

I'm afraid I haven't finished it in time for the webchat but I am really enjoying it. I like Ali as a character. Is she based one someone you know in real life? And if she is, do they know?

FionaNeill Thu 18-Aug-11 14:10:56


Just rushed in, glad I haven't missed the chat >wheezing<. Hi Fiona. Do you use a nanny with your kids? How do you balance work and parenting?

Hi Stranger with my face. When I went back to work after the birth of my first child I did employ a nanny but she didn't turn up the first day I was due back in the office. So I ended up using a nursery and my mother in law. Later I had a German au pair (who lasted six weeks) and then a lovely Slovakian au pair. I now have help in the afternoons during term time and sometimes an eighteen year old student helps me in the holidays. In short it's a patchwork of muddle and juggle. I often get up really early in the morning because I love that feeling of being ahead before the day starts. If I worked in an office full time I'd definitely employ a nanny.

BonzoDooDah Thu 18-Aug-11 14:13:09

<<waves hand feebly from the back>>

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