The Hungover Games

A True Story


By Sophie Heawood

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This "funny, dark, and true" (Caitlin Moran) memoir is Bridget Jones's Diary for the Fleabag generation: What happens when you have an unplanned baby on your own in your mid-thirties before you've worked out how to look after yourself, let alone a child?
This is the story of one woman's adventures in single motherhood. It's about what happens when Mr. Right isn't around so you have a baby with Mr. Wrong, a touring musician who tells you halfway through your pregnancy that he's met someone else, just after you've given up your LA life and moved back to England to attempt some kind of modern family life with him.
So now you're six months along, sleeping on a friend's sofa in London, and waking up in the morning to a room full of taxidermied animals who seem to be staring at you. The Hungover Games about what it's like raising a baby on your own when you're more at home on the dance floor than in the kitchen. It's about how to invent the concept of the two-person family when you grew up in a traditional nuclear unit of four, and your kid's friends all have happily married parents too, and you are definitely not, in any way, ticking off the days until all those lovely couples get divorced.
Unflinchingly honest, emotionally raw, and surprisingly sweet, The Hungover Games is the true story of what happens if you've been looking for love your whole life and finally find it where you least expect it.

A Sunday Times Bestseller (UK)


Author’s note

This book is based on my own personal experience and my memories of a certain period of my life. Other people who were close to me at the time may, of course, remember things differently, and some names have been excluded or changed for reasons of privacy. This is because this is not a book about the individuals I have described, but about my own experiences and how they shaped my life.


There’s something I haven’t explained

I’m in a bar with a man whom we’ll call Dom. I met him on a dating app, which we’ll call Linger. This app serves to bring together people who might want to fall in love, or have sex, or simply message each other intermittently over several days before becoming incandescent with rage and then fatally resigned to the time it is taking for the other person to reply. Dom replied, though, and when I asked what he was up to he said something about not being sure if he currently had profound existential ennui or just a hangover, and I thought, yeah, you’ll do.

Dom looked nice in the photos too, but mainly because I had scrolled through 268 other men before getting to Dom, and unlike the 268, Dom wasn’t standing in front of a large shiny motorbike, parachuting from a light aircraft, or inexplicably befriending a Bengal tiger with a glazed expression. Dom was unaccompanied by conspicuous consumption, airborne vehicles or ferocious animals–not that these are things I am opposed to, it’s just that, when used in profile pictures, they tend to indicate the presence of a wanker.

He had scruffy hair and the slightly serious face of someone who was far too young for me, but then how would he know that, when my profile said that I was twenty-eight, which had started as a joke but now become true in its own way. I had set this profile up from my new life, in which I thought it was too embarrassing to be doing this, so I made it look like as if my old life was still going strong, as if nothing had changed.

And now it’s closing time in the bar and Dom wants to come back to mine. Which is a bit awkward, but damn it, maybe it’ll be okay, I think. I ask about where he lives, and he reminds me that it’s a few miles away and didn’t I already say that this place was my local? And I say, well, all right. So I take him back to the house and tell him he has to be super quiet on the stairs because there’s someone asleep in that room, and someone else asleep in that room, and here’s my bedroom, shhhh. We stumble onto my bed together and I’m already starting to sober up, just as he’s starting to be incoherently loving, pawing, lost, and I wonder about the idea that alcohol makes men violent because it seems to turn all the ones I meet into water. It’s me who turns into noise, shouting over the top of myself because I want to stay in the present moment for ever, because these present moments are the only times I’m ever sure of anything. But I’m sobering up now. I’m coming down from that righteous certainty, and the present moment is in danger of turning into the past. I start to wonder if I can go through with this.

So I do what you always do when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak: I shut my eyes and think about Jesus when he threw over the moneylenders’ tables in the temple, in that passage of the Bible that I read so many times when I was of an impressionable age and getting interested in boys, and in Jesus as the king of boys. I think of that angry and righteous young man in sandals, the son of God taking no bullshit in his father’s house, and I channel his rage until there’s something there, tingling, pushing me on, making all of this worth it, just for tonight. I was never sure if the rage of Jesus attracted me because I wanted to love him or because I wanted to be him.

And then somehow I get there, and there are noises, and it is Dom, not Jesus, who is murmuring the word ‘baby’, testing it out in his mouth. How it hangs there in the air. And I’m tired and I don’t want to pay my dues by taking him there in return, because this was never really about him anyway. At which point my bedroom door opens and I hear the soft footsteps before I see the small figure. And the small figure turns towards me, opens its mouth and says, ‘Mummy?’


Los Angeles


In which I accidentally get pregnant

It had all happened by accident. I hadn’t meant to have a baby at all. I hadn’t meant not to have a baby either, by which I mean I always thought I’d have children one day. It’s just that I always thought those children would grow up with me and their yet-to-materialise father in a lovely farmhouse, hugged by the hills, with an Aga and a dog and storybooks and trees and long invigorating walks through the fields in loving drizzle. This was not how I had grown up in Yorkshire but it wasn’t a million miles from it, either. Several hundred thousand, at a push. It was an idealised version of home, and it lived somewhere vaguely in my future as an unspecified certainty.

Exactly how I thought La Vida Farmhouse was going to appear when I was, in fact, living in a one-bedroom rented apartment in West Hollywood isn’t clear. My apartment was just beside the Sunset Strip part of Sunset Boulevard, which is a road that runs for several miles from the Pacific Ocean to the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles. The Strip was the glamorously cheesy bit, full of glitzy hotels and rooftop pools and famous people and palm trees, and it was a place that encouraged in me a relationship with reality that could at best be described as negligible. When I wasn’t there on the West Side, I was over on the scruffier East Side where most of my friends lived, and on both sides there were parties. Some of them were thrown by my friends, who were lovely people and almost entirely real, and some of them were thrown by the film industry, for people who were paid to pretend to be other people, who were then required to turn up and look like themselves in the photos, which involved a similar amount of pretending. Meanwhile, I felt a strong urge to be honest everywhere and about everything, which is probably why I drank.

I was working as a journalist, interviewing Hollywood celebrities for British newspapers and magazines back home. I had been doing a similar sort of entertainment journalism back in London for several years and now I was here on an American work visa to do it in the heart of the action, the HQ of celebrity itself. It had taken me a good year to ingratiate myself into the Hollywood machine, governed as it was by the sort of publicists who would probably hate me in real life, so it was fortunate that this wasn’t real life. I had kissed enough arse and filled enough newspaper pages with writing that was sharp enough to impress but not so sharp as to be offensive. This put me on the right invitation mailing lists, allowed me into preview screenings, and gave me one-on-one access to the preened and the perfected and the shining to try to get them to say things into my Dictaphone that would reveal them to be unravelled and rotten and broken, so that normal people could read about them in the papers and gasp. That was the job. That is still my job today.

One day, my friend Lily had asked me to accompany her across the border to a luxury wellness ranch in Mexico where she would be giving life-coaching lessons, telling lots of rich Californians that all they had to do was follow their dreams and the universe would make those dreams come true (because the universe was structurally biased towards supporting rich white people and their unspoken belief in American exceptionalism–all right, so I can’t guarantee that she said these exact words out loud). Lily was a rock in my life, which might seem unlikely, given that she based her life around New Age passions that certain others might describe as ‘floaty’, ‘wafting’ or ‘woo woo’, and given that the only rocks she was interested in were her collection of crystals. These heavy, sharp objects had begun to annoy her downstairs neighbour after she started taking them to bed with her every night, and they rolled off her sleeping body, landing on the hardwood floors with a resounding clunk. This is how you irritate the people in your apartment building in Los Angeles: either with the sound of your crystals going bonk in the night, or your chihuahua yapping incessantly because it isn’t getting as much skin-to-skin contact with you as the psychic vet recommended. Or because you’ve blocked the waste disposal unit after coming home drunk and trying to juice an In-N-Out burger.

Even crystals are not always rocklike in their loyalty: another comrade of Lily’s once buried a load of the spiky little buggers in the ground outside her apartment building because she had become convinced they were actively conspiring against her, such was the run of bad luck she’d had since the man in the Purple Moonlight shop in Venice Beach sold them to her. She later dug them up again though, after she went back to the shop to complain that he’d sold her an evil bunch, and he had explained that they weren’t taunting her but were, in fact, crying out with a message that her life simply needed to hear. When she recounted this story to me and Lily and I said wow, what an amazing way to get out of giving you a refund, she just stared. So yeah, I wasn’t always on the same page as Lily’s gang of human moonbeams, but Lil is simultaneously the most loyal, loving, warm, witty human being I’ve ever met, and our friendship worked. She doesn’t ever need a drink, and has never taken a drug because her mind is full of birds floating away already. Speaking of birds, she likes to remind me that all pigeons, all around the world, are called Reg. Apparently, there’s a pigeon organisation that has sorted it. Curiously, this has turned out to be true–cast a glance at the next pigeon face you come across and you’ll see it. All pigeons are called Reg, and there’s not a damn thing any one of us can do about it.

So on this ranch in Mexico, all the rich Californians would receive massages from local beauticians, and talk about spirituality and vibes and the universe and say Namaste at the end of all their sentences. Then they would go back to San Diego and Brentwood and Marin County and carry on refurbishing their beautiful houses with the help of Mexican labourers who weren’t allowed to use their indoor toilets but instead had to piss in plastic Portaloos because Namaste didn’t extend to welcoming the urine of migrant construction workers.

I couldn’t afford this retreat, being someone who caught the bus everywhere while living in LA, along with the construction workers. I might have worked among the glamorous but I only earned a few hundred dollars here and there, and was bad at paying bills on time and avoiding fines. I spent all my earnings on bills and fines. In fact, my greatest freelance achievement was the invention of a contemporary dance move that I employed when I needed to stare at the cash machine for long enough to type in the important numbers, but swiftly enough to turn away in a dramatic flourish the moment it flashed up the exact state of my overdraft. But Lily was allowed to bring a partner to the ranch for free, and someone had offered to drive us there in their car, so off we went.

At the ranch, I attended daily power yoga classes run by a breezy, indefatigable woman who made us all feel invincible. Whenever things hurt, she said to work with the pain, go into the pain, feel the pain. It was just as well she said this because I did indeed feel a lot of pain in her class, and on the drive back across the border to LA, after a week of such classes, I felt so much pain that we had to stop at a Mexican service station to beg the universe to give me hardcore pain-relieving drugs. By the time we got back to my apartment in LA, I was feeling so much pain that I was unable to sit down, unable to stand up, unable even to be. A day after that I was in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Beverly Hills, which was the place that Paris Hilton and co would end up after paparazzi-induced car crashes, where the Kardashians would give birth, and where Zsa Zsa Gabor would breathe her last before Kanye West arrived having a breakdown. It was, improbably, my local hospital.

It wasn’t clear to anyone, including me, quite where this agony was coming from, or if it had anything to do with the exercise at all. It seemed to be in my back, it seemed to be in my belly, it seemed to be in my pee, nothing was clear. I spent a whole day lying on a gurney and being wheeled around to different tests in different parts of the hospital, and having a cash machine wheeled right up to my face by a credit-cardiologist who said that even though I had given them my health insurance details and paid a deposit on arrival, would I like to pay a little something more, just to top it up, before they billed me?

When they said they were sliding me into the big tube for the MRI scan, I felt waves of claustrophobia wash over me. This was worse than the potholing trip we got sent on at school. A man in a lab coat asked me what sort of music I liked, which was even more confusing, until he handed me some big headphones and explained that the music would be piped into my ears during the scan to help me relax. Phew. So they rolled me into that big white tube, and I lay as still as they had strictly instructed me to, and then a voice boomed into my ears. ‘Do you want to be STRONG?’

It was the big doomy voice of an American movie announcer. Odd. This was not my music. I mean, yes, I wanted to be strong, hence my being in a hospital. ‘Do you want to be ARMY STRONG?’ it continued, which, I’ll admit, after some reflection, didn’t appeal as much. Then, an entire recruitment commercial for the US military followed, and suddenly I could see why the American campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq had been going so badly for so long. They’d been recruiting their soldiers from hospital beds in Beverly Hills! The only wars we’d win would be against the paparazzi, and even then we’d probably lose. Though, to be fair, my twelve-hour day of hospital testing had also included someone shoving a big cold wand up my vagina and rolling it around like Miss Trunchbull with a rounders bat, so I was feeling quite like starting a battle myself.

Finally, as the evening drew in and after my pain had been toured all around the hospital like a bearded lady in a freak show, they told me that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the MRI scan had revealed the main problem: I had something like a slipped disc; a vertebra that had come loose from my spinal column and wedged itself forwards into my abdomen while I was busy feeling the pain in an exercise class. This sounded like the bad news, but with their Beverly Hills smiles they reassured me it was definitely the good news, as I would not need surgery and it would resolve itself naturally within a week or two if I was sensible and simply became addicted to industrial-strength painkillers instead. Something like that.

The bad news, however, was that while they were poking around up where reality had never been a friend of mine, with Miss Trunchbull’s truncheon, they had discovered some trouble in my ovaries, some trouble with some troubling implications. Oh, I know about that, I said, I was already diagnosed as having polycystic ovary syndrome in my twenties, it’s not that bad, I’ve been told it’s probably fine. Well, it isn’t fine now, they said, it’s much worse, and coupled with your hormone levels and your age and—hang on a minute, I thought, your age? I was only just into my thirties–all right, I was thirty-four–but nobody had ever said your age to me in that tone of voice, suggesting that I had used a lot of my age up already, rather than not had enough of it yet. Regardless, the doctor continued on her merry way, saying that it could still be solved, that I had the best kind of infertility, because I could get fertility treatment for PCOS and still carry a child in my own womb. It was just that I would not be able to conceive naturally.

There are times in your life when a whole lot of words collide with each other, serving not just to dredge up your past, but to dredge up your future too. I was more sensitive about my future than I was about my past; I stored more of myself there. In my life, it was as if I was the captain of a magnificent ship but was somehow, always, at this moment, just this one perpetual moment, in a dinghy buffeted about in the ship’s wake, always about to catch up with myself. Up ahead on the magnificent ship, I was organised and sober and slim and shiny-haired, all of which was always coming soon, like a trailer in the multiplex that ran in my head twenty-four hours a day. Whatever deadline I was currently missing was always the last deadline I was ever going to miss in my whole life ever, because tomorrow was going to be the perfect day, the most perfect day; the first perfect day of the rest of my perfect life. This infertility news was the first thing to finally break through to me that the ship had sailed off without me this time. For good. That I couldn’t keep promising to catch up for ever. Sometimes you miss it and it’s actually, truly gone. I went home, shut the door of my apartment and cried for a week.

Obviously, the slipped disc must have contributed to the weeping but I don’t remember crying about that; I remember crying because it had finally dawned on me that I had been living in a lovely big pink bubble, a dream world, and that it had burst. I had always got away with leaving things till later, not finishing them, running away and then finding a way to get people to help me pick up the pieces. At school I had never done my homework but never truly suffered any consequences; at university I had crashed in late to every class in my multicoloured rainbow jumper and zebra-skin clogs, starting three separate degrees in three separate years; finishing one just by the skin of my teeth–but it was all right in the end. Now, a lifetime of people making allowances for me was over. What an idiot I had been, thinking that I could go back and make a family later, that I could work out how to have a relationship with a nice man later, just because I thought I was supposed to mess everything up a few times first. Love and sex sat at the two ends of my horizon like feuding siblings who refused to meet. I was nowhere near spawning three children in a farmhouse with a nice man because I didn’t know any nice men. What I knew were exciting men, egotistical men, men who ran fast and whom you could sometimes run alongside, as long as you didn’t let out a single whisper of genuine need. I was attracted to men who made me think that love was a competition I could win. And then I’d win the competition and turn around and wonder where the love had gone. Men who were humming along to the bassline all the time that I thought we were singing along to the words.

So I sat there with my big bag of industrial painkillers and cried for a week. Until my friend Mal invited me to meet him near his office for lunch, which was a relief, as it required me to wash and dress and look like someone who hadn’t been raised round the back of some bins by wolves. Plus, the doctors were right: by the end of the week my spine was fine again. It was just my soul that had changed for ever.

Mal was older than me and widely loved, his career as every creative person in LA’s favourite lawyer barely having been dented by the years where he was also his heroin dealer’s favourite customer. Now he was just a tennis-playing drunk, so that was all right. We sat in the cafe outside his office and I told him about this most awful diagnosis that I had had, and Mal, a man so laid-back and unflappable that it never made any sense to me that he had needed to take heroin in the first place, listened. At the end of it, when I had finished explaining that this awful news had made me reconsider my whole life and what a fuck-up I had been and how I’d never have the family I wanted, how I had been on this spiritual quest to reconsider my relationship with the world, with my own personal gravity, my gods, my human limitations, how this felt like a great reckoning with me, a great leveller, a moment to take a deep breath and realise what the universe was trying to tell me, that I didn’t want fertility treatment, I didn’t want chemicals pumped into my body, I wanted a real relationship, a family, and that door had slammed shut! Oh, lords above of everything holy, hear my prayer!

Mal sat and listened. And when my monologue ended, he smiled at my lost little face and said, ‘Sophie.’ And I said ‘Mal’, in that way that you do when you just like to check in with each other’s names, make sure you’re still there.

‘All that the doctors have said to you,’ he continued, holding his fork up, grinning slightly, ‘is that you can only get pregnant on purpose, not by accident. That’s it. That is literally it. Which is, as you would say, brilliant.’

An aeroplane flew above our heads towards the airport. I stared and I stared at the words coming out of Mal’s face. It was like witnessing God take human form.

‘So I think you should celebrate this amazing news,’ he continued, ‘by going out and fucking like it’s the 1970s.’

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 happened, the very next day (and not, I should add, with Mal, but with someone else entirely), which turned into the story of how I got pregnant and had a baby and became somebody’s mother for the rest of our lives, the end. Except it’s not the end, is it? Not by a long shot. It never is.


All right, the accidental pregnancy actually happens in this one

I remember feeling particularly hot that next night as I left my apartment with Mal’s fantastically bad advice re shagging still ringing in my ears from the day before. I remember walking across Sunset and feeling something far beyond the usual Californian heat. It was turning midnight as I made my way there, a fat and juicy moon overhead, cars driving home past me as I walked, the only pedestrian in Los Angeles because I had still not learned how to drive. I remember the bright yellow towelling jacket and black chiffon culottes that I wore, an outfit that I had found in a thrift store in the Valley and been mighty pleased with. I remember how the hotel looked–I remember how all the hotels in Hollywood stirred something in me, the subtle ones, the overpowering ones, the cheap and nasty ones, but how I had chosen my apartment because it was so close to the best: the Chateau Marmont.

This particular hotel had been built as a mock French castle in the slightly ridiculous rococo style that was all the rage in Hollywood in the 1930s, with turrets and pointy sloping roofs and crested balconies, a hazy American impression of old Europe. It was perfect in its sexy wrongness, like a rumour that was so pleased with itself it had decided to come true. Commonly known as the Chateau, it had been a place for Hollywood stars to hide away for decades and showed no signs of stopping. It was dimly lit, with a sitting room full of old dark sofas, lamps, and a grand piano that people sometimes played if the mood took them. I’d been at a few late-night singalongs around that lovely thing.

Outside was the garden restaurant with its wicker armchairs and parasols to make people look comfortable while they ever so casually indulged in multi-million-dollar business-deal lunches with actors and directors and other industry types. Or there were couples on dates, or journalists like me conducting discreet interviews. Some of the guests stayed in the rooms upstairs or some paid even more to take up residence in one of the bungalows around the swimming pool–Lindsay Lohan was rumoured to have got stuck living in one for months after the bill grew too high for her to leave.

I was always hanging around there, watching dreams walk past on their own legs. There is something about being that close to people whose dreams actually came true. You’re always hoping it’s going to rub off on you, or act like an extending dog lead and somehow loop you in, tangle you up in it. Especially since it was so dark in there–even getting into the place involved walking through a corridor so shaded that I would stroll into it in my sunglasses, mid-afternoon, and unfailingly trip on the stairs. I saw David Lynch at the Chateau. Miley Cyrus. Salman Rushdie, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Richie. Charlie Sheen. Nicole Kidman. Bono grinned at me as we passed on the narrow stairs. I think he thought I was somebody else. I think I did too.

That particular night, though, I remember wondering if I could pass myself off as someone who deserved to be on the inside of that world. I remember trying to walk confidently straight past the hotel reception desk, and then stopping round the next corner to secretly check the text message again. He had told me which room he had arrived in only an hour previously. I just had to find it.

It took me a minute to work out how the rooms in that part of the hotel were arranged, and then I was beside the swimming pool, deserted but still floodlit. That side of the hotel overlooked the pool with an expression of nonchalance, as if it had long since stopped caring how wicked and wild people thought they were being beneath its gaze. I remember hearing a noise and looking up and seeing him, a man I’ll call the Musician, grinning down at me. He was waiting for me on his balcony, in a scene that could have come straight out of Romeo and Juliet, if it had been set in Los Angeles, and if it had been Juliet who went creeping around at night to find her lover, and if her lover had just flown in from another city where he was playing on tour, and nobody had said ‘Wherefore art thou…’ but rather, ‘Wait, are you dressed as a bumblebee?’ And if Juliet had looked down at the yellow-and-black outfit she had thought was so coolly different and casually chic, and thought, thundering pissflap arsecakes, I am dressed as a bumblebee.

I remember walking round the steps to meet him in his doorway and him already being there to meet me and us not even making it into the room. We were tangled up against the frame; a bee and its sting and the reckless pursuit of honey. Wrapped around each other like we had something to prove, and I suppose we did, even though I would spend many years afterwards wondering what it was, or what would have happened if I hadn’t walked up there, or what if that tour hadn’t brought him to town, and what if I hadn’t injured myself doing power yoga, for God’s sake, in Mexico?

There was a bottle of whisky on my side of the bed and a bag of weed on his. At the time, I thought how cool it was that we were both wise to our own pleasures. Looking back, I wonder if we were both wise to our own pain. And I took a big gulp of whisky while I laughed and said that we didn’t need to use anything, because I definitely couldn’t get pregnant, and I swallowed the drink down hard and felt it burn.


  • "Raw and funny, Heawood's memoir celebrates the messiness of life and motherhood with boldness, panache, and unexpected moments of real poignancy. An uncensored and eccentric delight."—Booklist
  • "Finally the book that single mothers across the globe have been waiting for. . . . Funny, dark and true."—Cailtin Moran
  • "Single motherhood gets a caustic spin in this intercontinental memoir. Sophie Heawood revisits the time her life fell apart: when she left L.A. for her native England while pregnant, and her musician boyfriend walked out on her."—Entertainment Weekly
  • "Sophie has the ability to write as if she's talking only to you, in moments of humour and pathos. She makes you feel like you're not on your own. I always feel both inspired and comforted after reading her work. She has a voice as a solo parent that I don't think is represented in the world today. I am, and will always be, her biggest fan."—James Corden
  • "Unflinching yet comic."—Cosmopolitan (UK)
  • "The Hungover Games deftly explores expectations of modern womanhood through a beautiful, wild, painfully honest, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking story. Full of adventure and awe, Sophie Heawood has written a soulful, truthful homage to a life lived with appetite, intensity and wonder."—Dolly Alderton
  • "It's a deeper, funnier, realer, more poignant Bridget Jones. I have never read a more accurate account of what it feels like to be a parent, especially a single one."—Philippa Perry

On Sale
Jul 7, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

Sophie Heawood

About the Author

Sophie Heawood grew up in Yorkshire, where she developed an early understanding of celebrity as the only vegetarian in the local state school, and wrote earnest letters to the South African ambassador about apartheid, aged ten. She later studied languages at Kings College and Birkbeck, both part of London University, while working nights as the door-girl in the legendary nightclub Trash.

She has also lived in Barcelona working as an au pair, in Hong Kong working as an extra in Chinese soap operas, and in Los Angeles, where she interviewed the famous and wrote columns on modern life for publications including the Sunday Times, Guardian, Observer, Vogue, and Vice magazine. She was nominated for Interviewer of the Year at the British Press Awards 2019. She lives in Hackney, East London, with her daughter, and hasn’t quite stopped nightclubbing yet.

Learn more about this author