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

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.