‘A Monster Ate My Mum’ by Jen Faulkner

Jen Faulkner is also known for her wonderful blog, InstinctiveMum and embarked on this wonderful journey in order to raise awareness of and support families coping with Post-Natal Depression.

Jen has rightly made no secret of her own battle with the illness and has openly discussed with other parents the impact this had on their family. It was then, that Jen wrote the poem which would eventually become the framework of this wonderful story, aimed at helping children understand how their mother is affected by PND.

Illustrated by Helen Braid, the book takes the readers (both child and parent) through both the symptoms and emotional troubles associated with PND, addressing unanswered questions, easing anxieties and offering support to both readers in the intricate suggestion of comforting gestures toward one another.

The opening page is interestingly illustrated as it places the child in the darkness of PND, raising awareness of how the illness not only affects a mother, but of how it’s influence cascades.

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Jen’s poem, paired with the wonderful illustrations from Helen, go on to personify PND as a monster which needs to be defeated. Nicely, the boy simply sets out to ‘ask for his mum back’, which only adds to the emotional impact of the story, drawing out the feelings of both readers and thus encouraging each to open up.

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As the story progresses, each monster is responsible for taking away parts of his mum that made her joyful, happy and fun and the ‘brave boy’ seeks to retrieve them to make her herself again. It’s an amazingly therapeutic effect, drawing open a mother’s mind to see PND from the perspective of those around her – from personal experience, this can be a huge motivational tool to encourage change as well as the active pursuit of help.

By the end, the final monster offers the boy advice on how to help his mum…at no point is a quick-fix-cure offered, making the book realistic and achievable in its approach. It’s a wonderful portrayal of the emotional implications and anxieties of PND paired with the support and advice of a clearly experienced mum, which seeps through the narrative in the advice offered by the monsters.
The kindness of the monsters and their willingness to help reminds both mum and child of the temporary and conquerable nature of Post-Natal Depression, empowering families to work together to achieve positive outcomes.

The book is a wonderful read layered perfectly with issues associated with PND through a rhyming narrative. Accompanied with well-designed illustrations of unbelievable emotional depth, I’d imagine that Jen will raise much awareness of the illness as well as encouraging and supporting families affected by PND.

You can find Jen on twitter at @Instinctivemum and her book is currently available here in paperback or it’s available for 99p as an ebook download here

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An Interview with Jen Faulkner

I recently reviewed the wonderful, A Monster Ate My Mum, which deals with the impact of post natal depression on the family unit. If you haven’t read my review, you can find it here.

Jen is a wonderful woman and I’ve read her blog InstinctiveMum with both interest and admiration and was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed here at TheLiteraryMum! So here we go, I asked Jen about the book, it’s background, purpose and her hopes for its future…here’s what she said!

1. When and why did you make the decision to write the book?

I didn’t ever sit down and intend to write this book, it has magically evolved over time. I decided to start a blog when a very good friend thought it might help me and be cathartic, which it was. And when I first wrote the poem and published it on my blog I never imagined it would turn into a book, however over time and after many conversations with other PND sufferers, it seemed that there was nothing out there like it to support children and families. I saw first hand the wonderful response from my children and had been so grateful for the honest and open conversations the poem prompted that I knew I had to publish it and help as many other people as possible.

2. How long have you been working on the concept?

The original poem was first written at the beginning of this year. It then took a couple of months for me to turn it into a story. The concept of monsters taking parts of a mum was always there right from the beginning, the challenge was writing something honest that wouldn’t terrify children. I wanted it to be visual and child friendly whilst tackling the sensitive issue of mental illness and PND.

3. How have you managed to juggle your project and your existing commitments?

Luckily I have taken extended maternity leave and so don’t have the commitment of work at the moment. Nap times are filled with replying to emails, blogging and promoting the book! I’m lucky that once I’m focused I can get quite a bit done in a couple of hours!

4. Post-Natal Depression can be a sensitive and complex subject, did you use any wider reading or research to inform your book?

Since being ill with PND I’ve attended a lot of support groups and have worked alongside many other sufferers. It was at an art therapy group where I first read out the poem, the response was immediate and so wonderful it encouraged me to continue. I’ve since spoken to publishers and literary agents about eh book, with the advice being to self publish because it can be such a complex and sea title subject. I have consulted PND charities and other health professionals and taken all of their fabulous advice on board. I’ve also read other books about depression, and of course, my blog and Twitter have been invaluable in gauging how the book will be received.

5. The book is fantastic…it seems to focus on the anxieties and needs of the child, but also gives them suggestions to support their mum, which I found so touching – can you see this as an important coping mechanism within the family unit?

For my family the book meant there was no longer this thing we didn’t speak about, yet was affecting everyone. It helped them know it wasn’t their fault and that this wouldn’t be forever, it helped relieve my guilt and anxieties by reminding me of the same things and it also put things in perspective for my husband who needed supporting as well. As a family I believe it’s important that everyone is supported, that you are a unit, a team. I also hope that by showing children it’s an illness and one that it’s ok to talk about will help them, for who knows when they are adults they may need to ask for help themselves.

6. What are your next steps in spreading the message?

Currently I am working with several PND charities and looking at the local press to run my story. There are a few guest posts coming up on well know parenting sites as well which is very exciting. And then I’m thinking about organising a PND awareness day in the UK as currently there isn’t so definitive date for this.

7. What are your hopes for the book’s direction\impact?

I hope it helps as many people as possible. Post Natal Depression affects many families and many mums suffer in silence. I hope that by talking honestly about mental health with children we can nurture a stigma free generation. Many children are affected by depression and I hope this book will be a source of comfort and honesty about the illness for them. There is hope in the book, and reassurance and I think this is an invaluable message for everyone, not just children.

You can find Jen on twitter at @Instinctivemum and her book is currently available here in paperback or it’s available for 99p ebook download here

Preview: Extracts from my First Book (Chapters 1-4)

Back in August, I finally set to work on my first novel, which is yet to be named. Firstly, let me explain what I hope to achieve…

I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at the age of 7 back in 1992. Following treatment at the RVI in Newcastle, I was given the All Clear on April 19th, 1994, almost 20 years ago. Following treatment, my family and I raised funds for Leukaemia research, to help others affected by the disease and to work towards a cure.

20 years on, here I am! I’ve luckily had no long term health problems, I am married with two beautiful daughters, a degree in English Language and Literature, plus a PGCE in English Secondary Education from Durham University; I’m the happiest I could be.
I decided to write my story for a number of reasons, firstly, my love of writing and of reading. Having given up my job as a teacher to watch my girls grow up, I now have time to read and to write…my favourite things! Secondly, to raise awareness. I’ve done research into leukaemia, including all the medications I was given, their role in treating the disease and their possible side effects, as well as leukaemia genetics, to explain how the disease manifests itself. With this research, come memories from the perspective of both myself and my mother, who kept two diaries spanning almost three years.The chapters in the voice of my mother fill the gaps in my own childlike understanding of the events that occurred, giving the reader a clearer indication from an adult’s perspective and deepening their understanding and empathy.

So here we go…a selection of extracts from the first four chapters, which take the reader from pre-diagnosis and symptoms, through to that fateful night, when my parents were told that I, their youngest daughter, had Leukaemia.

Chapter One – From my own perspective. The Appointment
What a trek to be seen by a Doctor! The surgery had always been a few minute’s bus ride away from our house, but since the practice expanded, The New City Medical Centre had been based in Sunderland Town Centre; in all honesty it wasn’t in the centre at all, it was placed directly in between the two bus stops that the number 16 and the number 19 would drop us at.
Because the appointment was an emergency end of surgery arrangement between the receptionist and my mother, she decided that we would get the number 16 into the main bus station and walk downhill towards the surgery; it’d be easier on my knees at least!
As usual, we were early. All booked in, here we were sat waiting for our names to be called – Mam had an appointment for something herself, so they had squeezed me in with her to have my bruises looked at. I now had many more than I’d had the week before and now they were also different. I felt a fraud, feeling under the weather rather than ill, which I don’t suppose was out of the ordinary for May! Mam always said that May was a ‘funny month’, up here in the North East in the month of May, we could expect anything from the sun cracking the pavement to a foot of snow. Today on Tuesday 26th May, the weather was nice. It was making its journey into summer warmth and we’d even sat in the park before continuing our walk to the surgery, watching the ducks paddling in the lake, the sun glistening over its surface. We hadn’t said a lot.
Now, tired from the walk, I can see that Mam isn’t in the mood for discussions; she seems to be deep in thought about something, so now here we are…waiting.

Chapter 2. From my Mother’s Perspective – The Appointment
I knew I should’ve brought her sooner. I can’t seem to sit still, my whole body rocks with worry and fear as I recall the conversation with Dr Hick only a few moments ago. Anaemic. That must be something to do with the iron deficiency I’d suspected a couple of weeks ago? I clutch the envelope given to me by the doctor, anxiety urging my fingers to open it. The paper beneath my trembling hand begins to crinkle and I find myself thinking up excuses in my head, like a child who has been caught out doing something they shouldn’t. It just ripped. I thought it was for me. I wasn’t sure which hospital to take her to. Kelly seems unsettled now, perhaps sensing my unease.

Dr Hick had always been one of my preferred GPs to see, she was one of a panel of doctors, but the only female. She was extremely easy to talk to and very thorough. I’d made the appointment as a routine visit to pick up a prescription for tablets I was taking; it was nothing out of the ordinary. It had been my intention to quickly visit the surgery, pick up my prescription and return home in time for bath time, putting Kelly to bed and relaxing at home. That wasn’t to be.

Chapter 3. From My Perspective – Hospital
The conversation between him and my parents is similar to that had by my Mam and Dr Hick only a few hours previously. The doctor speaks in a low tone, his words obviously only meant for my parents to understand and all I can do is judge through their eyes what his utterance means. Before long, Mam turns to me; she has those glazed eyes again.
“The doctor wants to have a look at some of your blood, so he needs to get some from your arm.” Her tone is smooth, controlled and calming as her words stroke my skin.
She touches my arm softly and her eyes shift to the portrait on the wall to my left, my eyes take a natural shift to the direction of her gaze.
Mam talks about the rainbow, about the little hedgehog and how he likes to hop in the grass and as her words soothe me, almost into a sleep, I feel the sharp, immediate scratch of the needle as it punctures the inner side of my right arm. The room seems to become brighter and my instinctive response is to close my eyes as tight as I can, stars appearing behind my clenched eyelids as my body is shaken by the unusual invasion. I feel the smooth, intense slide of the needle being retracted and this is immediately followed by pressure on the area, making me believe that my skin was bruising already, as it had done that weekend under the pressure of just a plaster.
I work hard to control my breathing. My crying struggles to cease as my body jerks breathlessly, turning me towards the wall where I cannot bring myself to look at the portrait again. The rainbow and hedgehogs were lies. Struggling to gather my thoughts, I lie limp and heavy with pain and disappointment so raw, I feel exhausted and worn.
This isn’t the end of my ordeal.

Chapter 4. My Mother’s Perspective – The Hospital/Diagnosis
At somewhere between eight and nine o’clock, a man arrived at the door of the room, accompanied by two nurses. He said hello and spoke to Kelly, but it was us he had come to speak to, myself and Alan.
He was dressed in ordinary clothes, no uniform or doctor’s coat and appeared to be rushed and flustered. He introduced himself as a doctor, which confused me.
“Sorry about this,” he said, gesturing towards his attire, “I was actually out this evening when I received the call to come in and see you.”
He became restless, unable to judge what to say or do next.
“I think I’ll have the parents in another room,” he explained to the nurse to his left and she nodded in agreement.
My eyes met those of the nurse and I saw at once that the night had now reached its pivotal moment. This was it. I felt it. Anxiety, nerves and worry bubbled in the pit of my stomach, radiating through the entire surface of my body, up to my skin.
I asked the nurse to stay with Kelly. She nodded and strolled slowly over to sit at her side.
I’d made a promise to Kelly. I’d said I wouldn’t leave her for a second and here I was, strolling off at the request of a man, to another room, leaving her with a complete stranger. But this conversation had to happen. We were here. This was happening…I had to keep telling myself.
As we took our seats in a room further down the corridor to where Kelly lay, the man introduced himself properly, in a more formal and controlled manner, as a consultant.
I’m still unsure whether the words he spoke first reassured or terrified me.
“This is serious, but it is treatable.”
What came next was a stream of words, flooding around my body and occasionally into my ears, although I struggled to make any sense of his explanation. My thoughts were drawn back to Kelly’s symptoms, the events of the last few weeks played like a film in my head…the window at school, the trip to see the football team, the freckled marks appearing over her skin. My memories were punctuated occasionally by the words he spoke: platelets, red cells, white cells, bone marrow and blood.
“So, have you gathered anything from what I’ve been saying?” he asked.
I was blank. My head whirled and seemed to buzz between my ears as I shook my head.
“She’s got Leukaemia,” Alan stated. Just like that. It was out there now, in the room, in the open air around us.
More importantly, it was now in my head, firmly planted there.
“Yes,” replied the consultant in acknowledgement of my husband’s attentiveness, “Leukaemia.”

Please do use the comment facility to leave any feedback if you’d like to. Alternatively, please feel free to contact me via email at theliterarymum@gmail.com or through twitter using @theliterarymum.

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Not Without You, Harriet Evans

Having devoured, Happily Ever After just two weeks ago, I was thrilled when HarperCollins sent me a copy of Harriet Evans’ latest page-turner, Not Without You.

Through carefully weaved chapters written from the perspectives of both female leads, Sophie Leigh and Eve Noel, we see each character become victims of their own glamorous success in some dreadfully painful ways. Despite living their dream decades apart, the reader soon learns of the connection between them as the plots of each are intricately threaded through the use of carefully placed, indicative narrative clues as well as Evans’ superb use of language and form.

The book is opened by a very well-crafted prologue, which is unlike that of any ‘Chic-Lit‘ I have read. From the perspective of 1950’s icon, Even Noel, we are thrown into the catastrophic event that haunts her life for decades to follow. I was in awe of Harriet’s writing style here, as she builds an opening from complex sentences, deliberately creating a sense of the past through her use of language and her ability to employ a traditional tone to her writing. It is a result of this prologue, that the narrative voices of each character are so easily recognisable throughout the novel, as this skill is perfectly and expertly employed throughout.

We are taken on to the life of Sophie Leigh, Hollywood A-Lister with the glamorous lifestyle, attentive assistants and executive meetings we expect. We learn, throughout her chapters, that she has hidden depths in her character, which draw us in and cause us to anticipate change. She idolises star of the 50’s, Eve Noel and we see her spending her solitary nights watching ‘old films’, in the emptiness of her seemingly enriched life, in Eve’s old house, which she purchased almost in tribute. It is through Sophie that we learn of the disappearance of Eve Noel, under mysterious circumstances given her popularity and fame.

As Eve Noel’s chapters progress, we see how the industry has damaged her…hurt her in ways that no one outside the world of film could possibly empathise with. She is used and abused by the ‘big guys at the top’, who, despite recognising her talent for acting, cannot fail to take advantage of their power and her natural, young, innocent beauty. In a powerful scene, we witness Eve at one of her most vulnerable times: alone in a car with, Mr Baxter (the Head of Monumental Films). The scene is intense, as we expect Eve to suffer an incredibly brutal attack, but Harriet Evans carefully uses the opportunity to highlight Eve’s strength of character as well as her instinct to detach herself from the painful truth of situations that may cause her emotional or physical pain…this links perfectly to the prologue.

As the lives of the two actresses weave carefully together, the narrative begins to move in deep and sinister directions, becoming mysterious and dark in places, taking on the pace of a mystery or thriller. I was drawn into this very quickly, snatching each spare minute of my day to read on in anticipation. Under the mystery and tension however, remained the burning sensation of romance, which contributed hugely to the emotional depth of the novel. Both characters had long spanning romances, drawing through from the beginning to the very end of the novel in Eve’s case; this was a wonderful and refreshing change to the ‘come and go’ romances of other literature within the same genre that I have read.

I can say, with utter confidence in the statement, that throughout my degree in English, my role as a teacher of English and Literature and throughout my love of reading that I have simply never come across a novel that was so engaging and enthralling on so many levels. The narrative was crafted and layered so superbly, that no aspect suffered at the success of another. The development of characters, use of language and ability to weave together the intricate lives of the women and their co-stars were evenly exceptional, bringing the characters together for the splendid resolution, during which the depth of character created throughout could be truly appreciated.

I would recommend this book, as well as Harriet Evans as a writer, to anyone who enjoys chic-lit, romance, mystery, suspense or, quite simply, a well-written narrative developed with the use of expertly employed skill.

It is within Not Without You that I have seen Harriet Evans not only as a writer but as an artist.

The First Chapter!

I wanted to post this last night, but was so incredibly tired that I slumped off to bed! Yesterday, I wrote and edited the first chapter of my book…it is still to be given it’s title.

After four redrafts/edits, I’m fairly happy with the end result and I’m glad that I decided on offering two characters’ perspectives on the events that unfold – it was the right move!

It’s made me realise that this dream is finally happening; it’s becoming My Story and will hopefully make a huge difference to people’s understanding of Children with Cancer. Not only do I plan to make a large donation to Leukaemia research at the NECCR, but I’m hoping to take inspiration from Alesia Shute over in the States, visiting parents, hospitals, schools and the patients themselves – why only do a job half-heartedly?

So it’s in the process, 1730 words in and counting!!! I’m excited to begin contacting agents soon and would also welcome anyone who would like to read my writing and offer their thoughts/critique.

The Big Project: Surviving Childhood Leukaemia

At the age of 7, I stopped playing with friends. It was no longer my wish to run outside, play on my bike or even walk to the shops to buy sweets. My rosy, pink cheeks turned to chalk dust, scattered over my skin and drawing in my eyes; my legs ached, my chest throbbed and my skin began to bruise at the faintest of touches…

Leukaemia does that to a girl, apparently.

I was diagnosed after blood tests, a bone marrow test and a lumbar puncture and together, as a family, we began the biggest journey any of us had experiences before…now comes the time for me to tell that story.

I’ve been writing notes of memories for years; I suppose it’s been therapeutic when my mind becomes distracted by the seriousness of it all, paired with the possibility of its eventual return. But now, it’s time to tell the whole story, from diagnosis, treatment plans and chemotherapy to emotional breakdowns, school bullies and the lasting emotional and psychological impact of the illness 20 years after being given the all clear.

It will be 20 years on April 19th since I started my recovery. The aim is to give back to those who helped to treat my illness and I’ve began to raise funds for research; a huge part of the donation will hopefully come from the book that tells my story.

So watch this space! Currently in the planning stages, I’m now working as hard as I can to raise awareness, break down those barriers and help as many people as I can…

I’ve taken great inspiration from Alesia Shute who I came across while researching other survivors who have written about their experiences, please take a look at her website at the inspirational work she does…it’s incredible. You can find her page here

Rumour Has it By Jill Mansell

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Rumour Has It, restoring our faith in the ability to turn problematic men around, was an amazing read packed with well- written and expertly developed characters!

Tilly, the Central character as opposed to the main one, (as I became so involved with a group of characters rather than 1) experiences issues in the opening pages that any woman can relate to; trapped in a relationship she feels is running through the motions rather than sweeping her along in the direction of a happy ever after. These problems are very, very quickly forgotten by the reader as she becomes part of the community in Roxborough.

With her best friend hiding a huge secret which will eventually rock the town, a mystery new job and a love interest from the town’s main man (who has, as you can imagine, a troubling reputation with almost every woman in town!) Tilly sets about settling into a close-knit town with a warm heart and, at times, a viscous tongue.

The characters of Tilly, Jack, Max, Erin, Max and also his ex wife, Kaye all come with their own fascinating narratives, inviting the reader to experience the lives of characters that Tilly finds herself closest to; this only leads the reader to empathise with Tilly’s character more as the novel progresses. Her happy ending therefore, is not the only one we long for as we read on…

Like all of Jill’s novels, characters and their stories play a huge role in engaging her readers and Rumour Has It is no exception to the consistent quality Jill Mansell provides.

Simply wonderful!