Meera Syal has no right to look as good and fresh as she does.
Despite going through an endless stream of press interviews whilst cooped up in an airless room deep inside the bowels of the offices of her publisher Penguin UK, the 53-year-old looks fantastic and stylish.
The press junket is the latest round in a scarily long publicity blitz ahead of the release of her much-anticipated new book, ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’.
In the preceding months she’s appeared in films, radio plays, written innumerable column inches AND been on a gruelling run at the National Theatre starring in David Hare’s rather stupendous play ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ – all while putting the finishing touches to her third novel.
And running off to Buckingham Palace to collect a CBE. And raising two children.
Whether it’s an extraordinary work ethic, some sort of preternatural energy store or a hyper-activity issue, her productivity is amazing.
And utterly rewarding for her legions of fans.
Whether it’s the innumerable characters she played on Goodness Gracious Me or The Kumar’s at No. 42 or the even more numerous avatar’s of Syal on TV, radio, stage and cinema or even the author who gave us the beautifully crafted ‘Anita and Me’, Syal’s twin gifts are that she can engage with all manner of audiences and, more importantly, create humour out of the most surprising situations.
Goodness Gracious Me – which Syal also co-wrote – is a great example of the use of humour to tackle everything from racism to jealousy.
‘The House of Hidden Mothers’ is another classic example.
At its’ heart is the thorny issue of surrogacy, specifically the “business” of surrogacy in India – the young women whose wombs are rented out to people in the West, desperate to experience the joys of motherhood.
It’s a thorny issue because it involves large sums of money (more than just pocket change for the often impoverished women who become surrogates) and money breeds exploitation.
Syal says she became interested in the topic after watching a BBC documentary three years ago.
But woven around the issue of surrogacy are myriad other issues: from the grave – ageing, sexual politics, alcoholism, parenting – to the utterly mundane – sharing a home with your ageing parents.
It’s a story with multiple facets but one which is never arduous.
It’s sprawling, intimate, vivid, simple, intelligent, poignant and frequently – and hysterically – funny.
Watch Meera explain.
‘The House of Hidden Mothers’ is published 4 June by Random House UK.