The Golden Child by Wendy James is a story that grapples with modern-day spectres of selfies, selfishness and cyberbullying. It plays with our fears of parenting, social media and ‘queen bees’, and asks the question: just how well do you know your child? Wendy James is a prolific author, having published The Lost Girls, The Mistake, Where Have You Been?, Why She Loves Him, The Steele Diaries, and Out of the Silence.
Here are Wendy’s insights into the books that inspired her latest book:
The Bad Seed by William March
This is the classic tale of the evil child. It’s a psychological horror story about a mother’s discovery that her young daughter is a serial murderer. March’s novel comes down firmly on the side of nature rather than nurture. My physical image of Charlotte in The Golden Child derives a little from the sinister Rhoda of the film version, played by Patty McCormack, with her long blonde plaits and sunny, innocent smile.
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James
This remarkable book – written by my sister Rebecca – took the YA world by storm a few years back. Rebecca’s Alice is a classic psychopath – utterly charming, utterly manipulative, utterly self seeking – and she manages to devastate the lives of everyone around her. I still have nightmares about her, years after first reading!
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I loved Shriver’s Kevin, but felt like there was another discussion to be had. It’s not only those mothers who find it hard to love, or who are ambivalent about the whole enterprise, who find that they have ‘bad’ kids.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Atwood is a master of writing about bad girls and bad women, and Cat’s Eye’s Cordelia is one of her worst. Or best. Cat’s Eye is also a brilliant depiction the sometimes longterm consequences of childhood bullying, and the way it can continue to shape our adult lives.
Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman
As a mother of teenage girls, this book was as useful for life as it was for writing. I was a bit sceptical when it first appeared, so I had my twelve-year-old daughter read it. She gave it a big thumbs up, and I think the book gave her a really valuable awareness of how teenage girl hierarchies work – and the way they aren’t inevitable, or forever. For me it was a terrific field guide – as well as a reminder. Things really haven’t changed that much.
Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny
1n 1968, eleven year old Mary Bell was charged with murdering two little boys. She was labelled a vicious psychopath, a bad seed, and sentenced to life in prison. Sereny’s account is based on interviews with Bell herself, who was released in 1980, and although there is no real ‘answer’ to the question of why, it’s a fascinating, and chilling account.
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
I actually read this during the editing of The Golden Child. Written by the mother of Columbine shooter, Dylan Klebold, this memoir is a heart-wrenchingly candid exploration of guilt and grief – and the true meaning of unconditional love. Klebold certainly doesn’t shy away from her own responsibilities, her own mistakes, but her story shows that even the best and best-intentioned parenting doesn’t guarantee good children.
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is probably best known for her somewhat sinister fiction – We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House, along with her powerful short story, “The Lottery”. There’s nothing remotely sinister about Life Among the Savages, a collection of light hearted articles Jackson wrote about family life for women’s magazines. Despite having been written more than sixty years years ago, these were hugely inspirational when I came to write my dizzylizzy blogs. I love Jackson’s wryly humorous take on parenting, her simplicity and directness, the unsentimental but tender descriptions of her children. And her writing’s as tight as a drum!
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
This short novel is about what happens to a happy family after the birth of their fifth, and very disturbed, child. I was totally spooked the first time I read it. We had two kids and I can remember thinking: Right – time to stop while things are going well. We’ve got four now. This short book says so much about our expectations of family life – our vulnerability in the face of love, and the terrifying fragility of the whole enterprise.
Before and After by Rosellen Brown
Carolyn and Ben Reiser’s seventeen year old son Jacob is accused of murdering his young girlfriend, and a once close and loving family unravels. It asks some difficult questions about the limits of family loyalty and parental love. This was made into a film with Streep and Liam Neeson.
The Good Father by Noah Hawley
The good father of the novel is Paul Allen, a successful doctor, happily married, the father of gorgeous young twins. Paul is also the not-so-good father of 20 year old Daniel Allen, Presidential assassin. The work explores Paul’s efforts to understand how his neglected oldest son arrived at this point, and to work out his own part in the tragedy.