As part of their lockdown ritual, Sophie Heawood has been playing with her eight-year-old daughter and her group of teddies. Each has a name like Samantha de la Rue, and has been given an outrageous Hollywood backstory.
"We've gotten quite obsessed," laughs Heawood. "Some of them have really fallen from grace. Samantha, for instance, doesn't like to talk about her past."
Heawood is an ebullient, playful and creative writer, so it stands to reason that she would invoke part of her previous life as a Los Angeles-based celebrity journalist during playtime. It also hints at her particularly close bond with her daughter, whom she is raising as a single mum.
Both of these aspects of the former Guardian columnist's life make up much of her lively memoir The Hungover Games. By turns caustic, astute and very, very funny, the book is the work of a woman figuring out if she can still be herself - or still wants to - while becoming a mother.
In it, Heawood gets unintentionally pregnant at the zenith of her Hollywood reporting career, and spends much of the ensuing months and years navigating dating, working, partying and friendships as a single parent. Against a backdrop of A-list interviews and junkets, she attempts to embrace the Hollywood hype as she prepares for parenthood. Amid all this, she is still always last off the dancefloor.
Eventually, to be closer to her Yorkshire-based family, she leaves behind the kale-crunching craziness of LA for London, where even there, she encounters the 'hallouminati'.
Heawood has made a fine career writing with salty candour about her personal life, but admits that she feels slightly 'naked' on the release of her book ("mainly, I don't want my parents to read the sex bits," she says).
"What I felt myself when I was pregnant, as someone who loves words and stories, was 'what can I read about this [situation]?" Heawood reflects. "Oddly, I couldn't find anyone who wrote about getting pregnant in a Hollywood hotel and moving to east London. I wanted an account of uncertain motherhood and uncertain pregnancy.
"It's quite a good place to lose your sense of self completely," she says of LA. "I was living a dream life but I think if it had gone on any longer, there would have been an empty hole in the heart of it."
Still, Heawood's path to pregnancy reads as fairly outrageous. When she suffered a slipped disc, she visited the doctor in LA and ended up being diagnosed her with polycystic ovary syndrome. She was in effect told that she might never conceive naturally. Figuring that she could only get pregnant on purpose and not by accident, her friend Mal suggested that she make the most of this situation. "And that is the story of how I didn't use a condom the next time I had sex, which would turn out to be, as it happens, the very next day," Heawood writes in the book. Her on-off friend/lover, referred to as The Musician in the book, later demanded a DNA test.
Somewhat extraordinarily, Heawood returned to her Sunset Strip apartment after this one encounter, pulled out her laptop and, as though her hands were typing the words themselves, wrote into a Word document: "One day I'll tell you all about how you were conceived in a Hollywood hotel room."
When she told her friends about the pregnancy, one of them observed that as she had stopped drinking, it was the only possible explanation. "Some of them were like, 'right, so I've rung the clinic for you'."
Her parents' reaction was more touching: "My mum said, 'this might not be the right time or the right man, but it's the right baby'," Heawood recalls. "As the prodigal daughter who was all 'right, I'm going to LA to get away from you lot', I was definitely the one who came home the hardest."
When her daughter (unnamed in the book, to protect her privacy) was born, Heawood's parents moved into her London home.
"I had nowhere to stay, was pregnant and had no job - a triple whammy, but I was still quite Pollyannaish about these things working out. I do have to acknowledge my luck that my parents are both comfortable and sensible.
"When they left I was all, 'I'm gonna drop the baby!', but you know what? It was fine."
In time, Heawood started to see the advantages in her status as a lone parent.
"I noticed in group chats that other mums would say, '[my partner] doesn't hear the baby, is he doing it to annoy me?', and I didn't have any of that," she smiles. "If there was a bowl of washing up that needed doing, it was on me. I didn't waste any energy on getting cross with anyone. There was a definite moment where I was feeling a little quietly smug."
Her fellow new mums, meanwhile, couldn't get enough of Heawood's postpartum dating misadventures. "Oh, their faces… they were very, 'did he kiss you? Tell me again what it's like when someone touches you for the first time'," Heawood laughs. The book's opener recounts a scenario in which her young daughter encounters her and a paramour in flagrante. "Thankfully it only happened the once, but I did become pretty nimble at moving people," she notes.
Predictably, The Hungover Games has already been optioned for TV. "The good thing is that when this becomes fictionalised, we can have fun with it," Heawood says.
"Mainly because I want to put stuff in that didn't get into the book. And then I can always say to my Mum, 'that never really happened! That's just the screenwriter putting that in'."
Though still a celebrity interviewer, Heawood occasionally misses her old LA life. "Part of the book is working out if I can refuse to stop partying, or do I have to settle down with a box set and be a yummy mummy," she says. "I mean, I'm pretty slack as a mum, but I'll tell you one thing. The one thing I've never heard this child say is, 'Mum, I'm bored'."
'The Hungover Games' by Sophie Heawood is out via Penguin Random HouseSign up to our free entertainment newsletter
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