Your novel, Misconception is about a couple who struggle to navigate a devastating miscarriage. Can you tell us more about this book?
Misconception is a story about love, loss and what comes after everyone stops asking how you are. It’s about moving on with a life that looks drastically different to what was imagined, and how to keep a relationship alive when two people have come to the brink of forming a family, only to abruptly go back to being two people.
Ali and Tom are high achieving, successful and deeply in love, but when their baby, Elizabeth, is stillborn, their connection is fractured. Ali tries to dull the pain of her loss by forgetting about Elizabeth, while Tom can’t stop thinking about her.
As the rift between them grows, forgotten memories from Ali’s childhood begin to resurface. She becomes increasingly self-destructive, risking her career and pushing Tom away until their relationship is at breaking point. To save their marriage and begin to rebuild her life, Ali must face up to her past, reconcile with her estranged mother and confront her grief.
What inspired the idea behind this novel?
The idea for this book came to me when I was going through my third miscarriage. Outside of dealing with the by now familiar sense of failure, I was preparing, once again, to hold it all inside and pretend everything was normal. And I’d had enough of it. I didn’t want to participate in the culture of silence that surrounds pregnancy and infant loss anymore. The story evolved as I wrote it, but the underlying theme was always of the damage that can be caused by not speaking openly about these losses. I was also interested in exploring different ways of grieving and how societal expectations can induce feelings of guilt or shame if a person – and especially a woman – doesn’t fit the conventional image of ‘grieving mother’.
Misconception explores themes of grief, trauma and forgiveness. What are you hoping readers learn or take away from this novel?
I wrote Misconception to open up the conversation about pregnancy loss. I didn’t tell anyone after my first two miscarriages, and it ate away at my self-worth for a long time. I felt broken and defective and just really, really angry. It wasn’t until I finally started talking about it that something within me released, and I realised I didn’t need to feel ashamed about it. My hope for this book is that other women (and men) who have lost babies feel a little less alone, and that maybe they can be part of breaking the cycle of silence.
I also had a particular interest in challenging gendered assumptions about grief and how it manifests. I can’t help but tell stories through a feminist lens, and I believe the patriarchal images of ‘stoic male’ and ‘emotional female’ are really damaging to both women and men. In Misconception, I wanted to flip this stereotype and portray a woman who refuses to feel, a man who is not afraid to show his vulnerability, and the ways they are judged by the people around them – and each other.
I was pregnant with my second child when I started writing and I had to do a lot of research on stillbirth, which was obviously quite confronting. Luckily I had the world’s calmest and loveliest obstetrician, who not only kept me sane through all my pregnancies, but also read scenes from the book to help me make them more authentic.
I interviewed two women who had stillborn babies, and they were so generous in sharing their stories with me – it was a privilege and an honour to lift the lid on an issue that is almost never talked about. Some of the practical details were shocking, some oddly beautiful. I learnt that nurses really are the best kind of people.
I’m also quite lucky to know a nurse, a psychiatrist and a social worker who all helped with some of the scenes.
Aside from the research, I learnt that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! Not to give too much away, but later in the book something unexpected and unlikely happens for Ali and Tom. I justified the suspension of disbelief on the basis that it was ‘just a story’ – and then the same thing happened to me!
What does your daily writing routine look like?
It depends whether I have a deadline! I work and have three kids, so I have to fit my writing into the cracks of life. This means getting up at 5am to grab an hour or two of silence, or writing on the bus and in my lunch break at work. And when I’m on deadline, this often means parenting from behind a laptop! I also have a supportive husband who will take the kids out of the house on the weekend, or I might spend a few glorious hours writing or editing in a cafe or the pub.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m going through the editing process for my next book, which will be out in April 2020. The Girl She Was explores themes of consent and coercion, power differentials, friendship, body image and how adolescent trauma shapes us as adults.
What are some of your favourite books of 2019 so far?
It’s from 2018, but my favourite book I’ve read this year is Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko. It’s one of those books that leaves you feeling like a different person than you were when you started it – it’s so sharp and funny, but it’s also full of deep grief and rage and hope. I also really enjoyed Islands by Peggy Frew, Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and of course Normal People by the brilliant Sally Rooney.