On breaking up

I’ve had a few emails from people about love-woes. I guess because The Dating Detox is a compendium of love-woes.

So, to help you pass the time while your heart heals, here something I wrote earlier: The Rules Of Breaking Up.

1. First, you cry

Day one: wallow. It’s over. Forget who dumped who, what he did, what you said, what you were wearing and how you have to now burn those clothes in a pagan closure ceremony, etc. Nothing you do now will change the past. So have a good weep. Cry in the bath, in bed, on the bus, at work in the toilets. Just remember that from now on, every minute – every second – will hurt a bit less than this one. I promise. And don’t call him.

2. Next, pull yourself together

Be tough on yourself. Did you eat breakfast today? Have you washed your hair in the last two days? Have you spoken to a friend about something other than your breakup in the past three days? If the answer is ‘no’, then look in the mirror and repeat ‘I will not waste another tear on him’ until you believe it. (My Dad invented that dramatic mantra for one of my more traumatic break-ups.) You can do it: you’re much stronger than you think. And don’t call him.

3. Do something fun

Your ‘something fun’ list shouldn’t include ‘wailing’ or ‘watching The Notebook’. Do something simple and soul-cheering. For example, have a long bath. Eat Tunnock’s Tea Cakes in bed. Binge on glossy magazines. Rearrange your wardrobe whilst listening to 80s music (montage!). Read a book with heartbreak, hilarity and a happy ending. (Jilly Cooper’s Polo is ideal.) Feeling extra-strong and brutal? Throw out his stuff and the clothes that remind you of him. And don’t call him.

4. Get a (social) life

Tragic, but true: the only way to truly get over a break-up is to fall for someone else. Seem impossible right now? Well, flirting is the first step. The admiring male gaze has restorative qualities. Hit a bar with your friends and be the coquette we both know you still are underneath all that heartbreak. Act wry, coy and/or amusing, arch your eyebrow and bite your lip. It’s called flirting and damnit, it’s fun. Don’t end the night crying and vomiting if you can help it. And don’t call him.

5. Now’s the time for a little perspective

Every guy is the wrong guy. Except for one. And he’s out there now, looking for you. He’s probably in a bar with his friends right this second, complaining about the lack of girls in this place, or facing a lonely night in with a DVD and a pizza. You could be eating the other half of that pizza! You could be making eyes with him across that bar! So don’t think about the guy you just left. Look forward to the man you’re about to meet. And don’t call him (your ex, I mean, in case you didn’t know by now).

6. Get ready to fall in love again

Breaking-up sucks. It’s miserable and nausea-inducing. Life will never be the same again. But – and in case the last few sentences made you start crying afresh, don’t worry, I’m about to get positive – everyone goes through it, survives, and goes on to find someone else. Someone who has the same great qualities that your ex had, but even kinder/funnier/smarter/[insert favourite quality in a boyfriend HERE]. Chalk it up to experience and move on. Your life will be bigger, better and brighter without him. Go get em, tiger.

If you want to add anything to this list, email me at gemma@gemmaburgess.com or add a comment… (By the way, I did post this a few months ago, so apologies to you long-term blog readers, I promise to have something brand-spanking new for you soon.)

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On music

According to my iPod, I have listened to the Divinyls ‘Ring Me Up’ 26 times in the last 24 hours.

You can listen to it here.

OD-ing on a song is very typical of me. I am currently recovering from recent overdoses of Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry’; Roxy Music’s ‘Oh Yeah’; the Pixies ‘Here Comes Your Man’; Placebo’s ‘Nancy Boy’; Flesh For Lulu ‘I Go Crazy’ and the Ga-Gas ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’. These songs are the soundtrack to my second book (the first draft is done! I am tinkering with it right now and am sending it to my agent on Monday. So, in other words, it’s blogcrastination as usual in Casa Burgess).

I tend to have, hmm, extreme fads. I don’t think it’s that unusual, is it? For example, if I’m going to snack on something sweet right now, I’ll only snack on chocolate-covered brazil nuts, and if I drink, I’ll only drink whiskey. This will last for a month or so until I tire of chocolate-covered brazil nuts and whiskey and discover something else. Or it may last longer. I ate one Tunnock’s Tea Cake at 4pm every single day for a year. I cannot look at those marshmallowy little tykes now without throwing up in my mouth.

Films are a real problem, too. In the past I’ve gorged on The Saint (I know! I have no idea why either), St Elmo’s Fire, Mallrats, Dazed & Confused, Some Kind Of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles and a little-known Susan Sarandon film from the early 1990s called Safe Passage (I really, really have no idea why).

This is all odd and probably means I have mild Asperger’s syndrome, which I am secretly quite pleased about.

I think it might be because I spent a lot of my childhood in Hong Kong, where there was deeply limited TV in the late 80s and early 90s, so my sister and I were allowed to rent one video each a week and would watch them over and over and over again. Hong Kong was a funny, isolated little pop-culture vacuum before cable and the internet.

Am I getting to a point? I don’t know. Maybe. (It’s exciting wondering, isn’t it?)

Okay, this is the point.

For some reason, I’ve managed to keep my OK GO fixation under control where other pet songs and bands have died a wrought-out, overplayed death.

And this isn’t some flash-in-the-pan band-love, by the way. This has been going on for years.

I first heard OK GO on Xfm in the summer of 2003. It was love at first air guitar strum.

Hearing ‘Get Over It’ still spins me into an instant air guitar stance: legs splayed, one foot slightly inwards, one arm holding the neck (neck? you know what I mean) of the guitar, the other power-strumming, with my shoulders jerking in a slow epileptic fit and my face in an angry rock-snarl. (Are you doing it? I bet you are.)

I’ve also bought tickets to OK GO six times and seen them just three times. This failure to see them is not entirely my fault. (It’s not entirely not my fault either.)

The sixth attempt is next week. At the Empire in London. Their new album – which I can assure you is AWESOME, having heard some of the songs live in New York last year – comes out the same day.

I am excited.

PS: Do you think OK GO would ever consider a cover of Ring Me Up?

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On publication

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of would-be authors out there waiting to get signed. And I thought I’d tell you exactly what I did – timeline, cover letters, absolutely everything, as you might find it useful.

If you’re just here to kill time, please scroll down. There was a post on drinking a few weeks ago that is probably a bit more entertaining.

January 2008: Sheared sacroiliac joint, whatever that is. Was unable to move without excruciating backpain for about three weeks, and my boyfriend was away, and so my sister came over a lot to do things way above and beyond the call of sisterly duty (on the first day she even helped me put knickers on, the poor thing. Apparently I am a nightmare patient, although I compared myself at the time to an adorable duckling with a clipped wing. Anyway.) We watched a lot of Entourage and read a lot of Jilly Cooper, and at some point had a conversation about how we wanted to read more genuinely silly, sharp, warm books about confident, normal, funny girls going through crises. And so one night when I couldn’t sleep, I began writing a thing I had in my head about a girl who wakes up after being dumped again, surrounded by fag packets. Anika said it made her laugh. I kept writing.

Jan- May 2008: Wrote a bit here and there ie every week or so I’d pull out the laptop for a taptaptap, usually when Anika asked ‘what is going to happen next?’. By May I had about seven or eight chapters together and my boyfriend and mother nagged me to send it out to agents. I knew no one in the publishing world, and it’s kind of embarrassing to ask people if they know anyone: ‘um, so I’m writing a novel..’. (Especially as a copywriter, because we’re all fucking writing novels.) So then I picked agents, totally at random, off the internet, chosen according to postcode (my reasoning being that anyone in W1 or WC1 was doing damn well) and sent in the first three chapters, printed and bound, plus a cover letter and synopsis. (Am sure it’s obvious to say here but – everything was proofed to within an inch of its life, printed on good paper, doublespaced, etc.) If you’d like to read my original cover letter, email me and I’ll send it to you.

June 2008 – nothing happens. My birthday is June 15, so my sister (who was then doing covers for Penguin) mocked up a pretend book cover, complete with review quotes on the back. (This is when it was still called The Dating Sabbatical.) She said that it is positive visualisation and ‘if you build it, they will come’ etc. I nodded hopefully and bit my lip. This is a copy of my positive-visualisation cover.

Early July 2008 – got a few rejections. Again if you’d like to read them, email me and I’ll send them to you. They were all standard form letters.

July 16, 2008 – phone call from Laura Longrigg at MBA asking to read the rest. Cue, jumping for joy, etc. (Blogged about this already so won’t repeat myself.) She asked for the rest of it. Immediately dropped everything and started writing. (By the way: my manuscript, being unsolicited, might never have been read at all had an intern who was at MBA for a few days not been assigned to read the slush pile. MBA gets hundreds of manuscript submissions a week. Fortunately for me, the intern read my manuscript and wrote a little report recommending it be looked at by Laura. I have a copy of the report and every time I look at it my stomach drops with what might have been. I never met that intern. I wish I had. If you are out there, please get in touch.)

Mid August, 2008 – Two other agents got in touch around now, but my heart was with MBA, and I sent in my final manuscript. It was about 65,000 words – ie, half the length it is now. (Silly freshman.) Laura rang to say she liked it and ‘more, please’. She was incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging about those 65,000 words, which spurred me on – I imagine many agents might have said ‘novels aren’t 65,000 words, you ninny’. She also gave me some specific feedback about she thought what worked and what didn’t.So, I immediately dropped everything and started writing again. Was also freelancing fulltime so gave up drinking entirely, which was tediously effective as I could survive on about five hours sleep. I lived my social life vicariously through book (why do you think they all drink / smoke so much?).

October, 2008 – Handed in second draft and really, the first ‘real’ draft. This one had longer subplots and a few extra plot twists and turns. Laura liked it, causing me to nearly pass out with happiness, and officially offered me a contract and started talking to various publishers. Sadly, our timing was off: the world had just financially combusted. I kept seeing articles about how it was The Worst Frankfurt Bookfair In The History Of Mankind, etc, and shouting WHY at the sky.

November 2008 – I had lunch with Cat Cobain, then editor at Headline and now at Transworld. She was very encouraging and gave me fantastic, thought-provoking advice. We talked books and plots and character development for two hours and I left thinking ‘maybe I can do this thing…’

December 2008 – February 2008 – very very quiet period when no one was offering a book deal for my poor little manuscript. Got a bit down at this point. Lots of staring into space pondering life. Tweaked book but was starting to hate it. Laura was, as ever, incredibly encouraging and supportive throughout all this…

March 2009 – Harper Collins offers a book deal! Cue: streamers, champagne, balloons, etc. Loved book again. Started writing second book.

April 2009– This isn’t book-related, but I got engaged. So that was nice.

May 2009– Harper Collins editor Keshini Naidoo sent a brilliant and stimulating document of thoughts and suggested additions – particularly (if you haven’t read the book, which I’m sure most people won’t have, just skip this paragraph as it will bore you): the addition of all the boyfriends by name/story; making Sass’s motivations much clearer so that going on a Dating Sabbatical is the only course of action; mentioning the Rules throughout the book so that the reader is constantly reminded of them; etc – basically, refining and sharpening the whole thing. Kesh also suggested I add more dating tips from Sass to Kate – and then my friends requested I add even more. And by the way, over the previous six months, about ten girlfriends had read it and made helpful comments (ie, from my most ladylike friend, “I don’t like the ‘I need to wee’” – someone else felt Kate was a bit cold, etc).

About feedback, by the way: seeing your book through someone else’s eyes is an immeasurable advantage. I’ve heard lots of people say that it must be hard to get criticism but it’s really not. (Perhaps after 10 years as a copywriter I’m used to it.) Try to be bulletproof about it. Everyone will have an opinion on your writing, guaranteed – you don’t have to agree with all of it, of course, or act on it, but the point is that it stimulates thought and that’s always a good thing. For example, if someone doesn’t see a character the way you see them, then you have to ask yourself why and go back and see how you can introduce the character better.

Feedback also inspires editing. I love editing. Sure, sometimes it hurts. If there’s a line, word, character or scene you love, killing them can be tough. But the result is just about always better. ‘Kill your babies’ is the saying (nasty, I know).

And one more thing about feedback / comments / suggestions: you might think ‘but x wouldn’t do that’ or ‘that would never happen’, and that’s cool too. No one can make you change your book in ways that you don’t want to – it’s a world you’ve created, after all, and no one knows it like you do. (By the way, if feedback is really nasty and unhelpful, then just flip it the bird and ignore it.)

July 2009 – I handed in the final-final-seriously-I’m-hanging-up-now-no-you-hang-up draft. It was only at this point that I named the main character. I’m not kidding. I’ve posted about how I named her a few weeks ago, so scroll down to find out. Then I started writing a screenplay based on the book, just to see if I could.

August- September 2009– Copy edits. Proofing. At this point, the control freak in me roared a mighty roar and I became obsessed with proofing and copyedits (which is things like, checking that street names are correct; making sure numbers / names / places are referred to consistently – difficult when, like me, you tend to change minor characters names based on your mood that day). This was possibly the most stressful period of the entire publication process. The publishers also recommended we change the name from The Dating Sabbatical to The Dating Detox around now. Plus, at this point my first effort at a second book drove itself into a ditch and wouldn’t get up. No amount of CPR would bring it back to life. September was a difficult month. I spent a lot of time lying prostate on the kitchen floor, wailing in the shower, etc.

October 2009 – I started a second second novel. Luckily I found an idea that made me laugh and am, at the moment that I’m typing this, half a chapter away from finishing. (This entire blog post is really one long procrastination effort.)

December 2009: The Dating Detox hits the shelves…


If you’re interested, read this excellent piece about how long it takes to get published… apparently I’m fortunate in only having to wait eight months to get published. Yikes.

And here’s a fabulously brutal piece about how agents choose a book.

And read this from soup to nuts. It’s awesome and full of other author How I Did It stories.

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Try before you buy

Want to see what The Dating Detox is like before you order it?

Email me gemma@gemmaburgess.com and I’ll email you the first three chapters in PDF format, immediatement. (That’s French, baby.)

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On fiction

My Dad rang yesterday to ask, in a very serious and concerned voice, if any of ‘The Dating Detox’ was true, “because if so…” – if so what, I never got to find out. I assume a team of vigilantes would be flying in from Hong Kong to wreak havoc on a handful of unsuspecting bastards in South-West London.

I assured him that it’s fiction. And I thought it was worth saying again here.

It’s fiction.

It’s totally made up. The characters are made up, the events, all of it. Fiction, innit.

My own single life was, of course, marked by various dreadful relationshits, all a bit less dramatic than the ones in the book but no less painful nonetheless, and a couple of very nice ones that simply Weren’t Quite Right. I went on a Dating Sabbatical once, after a series of seriously bad dates, and stayed on it mostly because I thought it was a funny thing to say and I didn’t meet anyone particularly tempting. It lasted about six weeks before I gave in and went out with a guy who turned out to be a complete ass-hat.

It’s worth adding that in those six weeks, life got better in a hundred tiny ways, just because I was looking at it differently. So after the ass-hat dumped me, I took stock of everything, remembered my change in perspective, and started again. (Lessons in real life are never as linear as they are in books.) And that changed the way I approached work and love and everything else, for years. And then I met a ricockulously funny and lovely guy who I’m getting married to in April and wrote a book and well, became the happy little bunny that you see before you today.

All my friends wanted to know ‘who is who’. Who is Rick, and if Kate is so-and-so, and if Jake is (my young man) Foxy, etc. One friend is so convinced that one character in my second book is Foxy’s brother that she rang me, during the reading of an early draft, shocked that one particular thing actually happened. But I made it all up, guys. I really did. I promise. I know those characters a thousand times better than I know my friends, in a weird way, because I invented them. They do as I say and come to my whistle. If it sounds real, then high five me, as that’s what I’m aiming for… but it’s fiction.

I should caveat that my sister read The Dating Detox and said ‘it’s like talking to you but I can’t talk back’. But then she read the second book recently, which has a totally different main character, and said ‘this just sounds like you too, in a different way, but still you’. I hope it’s just the way I write. I try to be chatty and confiding and real.

Having said all that, I need to be honest and say there are similar details: I’m a copywriter in advertising, I always have a yellow clutch, I lived in Pimlico for years and spent my 20s trying not to get dumped, drunk, broke or lost – and frequently failed, but still had fun. And I’m the same combination of show-off-and-shy, confident-and-worried – but then, I think a lot of us are like that. Right?

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Books to make you laugh

So, I saw copies of The Dating Detox in all the bookshops in T1 on my way to Ireland yesterday, and didn’t have the thrill I thought I would. Odd, huh?

I’ve only had two book-related thrills, actually. One was when Laura, my now-agent, rang to say she liked my first three chapters and could I send the rest. (“Of course!” I trilled, mentally calculating how long it would take me to actually write ‘the rest’.) At the time, I was in a conference room at the ad agency I was freelancing at (I copywrite to keep myself in lipgloss and ankleboots), and when we hung up, I did a little leapy dance around the table, yelping for joy. I then turned around to find the head of client services staring at me, with a gaggle of suits in tow.

The second time I felt a proper book thrill was when Laura rang to say that HC had made an offer. I hung up the phone and smiled so hard that I felt like I should have rays of light beaming from my body, like that nuclear dude in Heroes. It was late Friday afternoon and everyone else was still at work, so I went to the Botanist by myself, ordered a glass of champagne and smoked a celebratory cigarette, and texted everyone I know to tell them. (One reply – ‘That’s great, but who is this?’ – sort of put things in perspective. Thanks Greg.) Then I went out for dinner with Foxy and some friends, and drank so much champagne that the next day that when I met a girlfriend for coffee, I was forced to lie down on a park bench for a little while because walking was quite frankly out of the question. Champagne is a vengeful little bitch sometimes.

I think it would be highly exciting if I ever saw someone reading it, but I think that’s unlikely. Martin Amis wrote in Experience that he saw someone reading The Rachel Papers on the tube once, but he’d never seen anyone reading anything of his since.

And now, to my point.

Have you read any David Sedaris?

I was reading Me Talk Pretty Some Day a few weeks ago on the tube and found it so hilarious that I accidentally cackled aloud and slapped my thigh in delight. Note: try not to do this within Zone 1 or 2, as people will think you’re nuts. As you get into Zones 3 and 4, you can act more crazy without drawing too much attention to yourself, and once you’re in Zone 5 and 6, you could duct-tape a stuffed owl to your shoulder whilst playing the spoons on your nipples and no one would look twice.

I’d love any and all suggestions for funny reads. I’ll need them for the minute I send the puppy we call Book Deux to Laura and find myself with lots of free time. And not just the isn’t-Mrs-Bennett-annoying and doesn’t-Hardy-have-the-horn-for-Tess type literary chuckles. I’m talking about out-and-out close-your-eyes-throw-your-head-back-and-guffaw laughter. Lucky Jim and Heartburn also make me laugh, by the way, but I’ve already listed them in the books-for-comfort post, so does Philip Roth and Joshua Ferris and a book called Making Love by a righteous dude called Marius Brill. But I need something new.

So come on. Let’s have it. Email me at gemma@gemmaburgess.com

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Les jeux sont fait

My first book, The Dating Detox, is in shops ahead of schedule.

This fills me with pride (the clever little thing, it was always advanced for its age) and nausea (you mean people are actually READING it?).

I realised yesterday that I hadn’t prepared for this bit. Everything has been geared towards publication. Typos and inconsistencies and PR, oh my. And now it’s all done, and I’m mildly surprised every time I look at the book. I’m like one of those mothers-to-be who obsesses about the gestation and birth and then goes home with a tiny baby and thinks ‘what the hell am I supposed to do with THIS, then?’. All I did was have sex, I mean, all I did was start writing something that I thought was amusing and suddenly it’s a book.

So, perhaps I’ll just say this. If you’ve read it: I hope you liked it. And if you didn’t like it, please don’t tell me. I’m allergic to criticism. It brings me out in cigarettes.

In fact the whole thing makes me knotty-tongued. So instead of focusing on The Dating Detox, I shall talk about the second book.

As I keep saying, it’s called The Late Starter, or perhaps, The Dating Virgin. I have even more trouble with titles than I do with names (see: www.namethatbastard.com for details on the trouble I have with names).

It’s not about the same characters, though I do love The Dating Detox characters and hope to revisit them in another book soon. (I have some extremely fun plans for them, the little scamps.)

The plot: after the demise of a long-term relationship, our heroine, Abigail, must learn how to be single. I went through this, so did an awful lot of my friends, and the truth is that readjusting to single life is strange and hard and funny and sometimes horrible. You have to learn how to socialise as a singleton, to flirt, to spend time alone, to (hopefully) pick up, deal with a one night stand, survive a bad date, enjoy a good date… It’s a skill.

No, it’s an art.

So. Abigail navigates the tarry bogs of single life in London with the help of her flatmate, a notorious bastard and lothario called Robert. He teaches her how to date like a man, or more specifically, like a bastard. And that’s when things get interesting.

I’m going to knuckle down over Christmas and really nail this puppy, so the first draft will be done in the next two or three weeks. If you have any thoughts on what makes adjusting to single life surreal or difficult, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. My email address is gemma@gemmaburgess.com

Exeunt, stage left, bowing deeply.

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On drinking

Where was I?

Oh yes.

On drinking.

I like pubs. I also like bars. I like everything in between.

And so, here are my five favourite places to drink in London this December.

(I say ‘December’ because I’m feeling festive and wintry, and the places I’d go in April or August are obviously, totally different, and I say ‘this December’ because I’ve slaked my thirst in lots of different, equally Christmassy places over the years, and I’m sick of some of them. So, in other words, this is a whim-based list about where I’d drink tonight if I could.)

1. The Windsor Castle, Notting Hil
Yes, it’s a tourist trap, and yes, the service is verging on a joke and yes, it’s frequented by thieves so your bag has a fighting chance of disappearing if you don’t keep your hand on it at all times. But it’s cosy as fuck. Much of the pub is divided into little snugs (room-lets with just a table and benches built in), with tiny doorways cut for Ye Shortarses Of Ye Olden Days connecting them. Plus it has fireplaces and mulled wine. There’s also a garden with fairy lights strewn all around, and at nighttime, after several glasses of well, anything, it’s magic. Recently I got inappropriately drunk here with my friend Alida on a Thursday afternoon when I was meant to be writing my second book. Whoops.

2. The Antelope, Chelsea
This tiny pub is tucked into Eaton Terrace like a happy little Christmas elf flanked by leggy supermodels. There’s a fireplace and bookshelves at the back, and if you’re there early enough, you can take over said area and settle in for the night. I have not been here since last winter and intend to rectify this at the earliest opportunity. Bags the seat next to the fireplace.

3. The Portobello Star, Notting Hill
I could throw a stone and break a window of this bar from my house, if a) all the houses in between us weren’t in the way, b) I could throw and c) I wasn’t a bit of a sissy when it came to doing naughty things like that. The point is: it’s close, and the cocktails here are unbefuckinglievable. The Tommy margarita is, I like to think, named thus because the English tommies used to make it in the trenches. It seems like the kind of drink that would cure trenchfoot. The decor is somehow welcoming and shabby and cool and clever, all at once.

4. The Only Running Footman, Mayfair
Whenever I think of Mayfair, I picture the word in green and red, with snow on top of the letters and holly hanging off the ‘M’ and the ‘r’. What I mean is that the whole area could have been designed for Christmas, and this is the most Christmassy pub of all. It’s like some of my other favourite eating pubs in London (the Thomas Cubitt, The Pantechnicon Rooms): there’s warm, welcoming ground floor bar with totally rad burger and chips and a slightly posher 1st floor restaurant where everything is perfect. This pub is a sure thing. (The Sure Thing is an awesome and underappreciated film, by the way.)

5. Bumpkin, Notting Hill
This pub had a starring role in The Dating Detox, and then, because of tedious geographic issues, I had to change it. Which is a tragedy, as I love the warm slightly-ironic-but-not-too-much-farmhouse-chic of Bumpkin (the Notting Hill one, not the South Kensington one, which is perfectly fine but, well, you know, I met the NH one first). I eat there so often, particularly in winter, that it’s slightly embarrassing. Now this is very firmly a restaurant pub, though there’s a bar where cocktails are made (very, very good ones, especially the winter mulled cider cocktail, it’s like a hot water bottle of joy in your tummy). The burger is exceptional and the chips are outstanding, but it’s the pies that’ll keep you coming back time after time. The big square corner table was perfectly designed for 12 to 16 people to enjoy a long, loud, boozy meal together. And if that doesn’t scream Christmas, then I don’t know what does. I just like everything about this place. There’s also a specials blackboard, and one Sunday, the manager Rupert wrote ‘You’re a special’ on it. See what I mean?

PS Honourary mentions because I hate leaving them out when they’re so damn cosy, but five is a nice even number:
The Pig’s Ear, Chelsea
The Churchill Arms, Kensington
The Colton Arms, Barons Court

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