Tiny Acts of Love is about a new mum, Cassie, who is overwhelmed by that ‘What have we done?’ feeling that new parents often experience. From the outside, her life looks as perfect as it always was - a successful legal career, a husband who adores her, a beautiful home and now a new baby - but since she’s had Sophie she’s been living on the ends of her nerves. Everything seems fraught with peril, even pushing a buggy around John Lewis.
Her problems aren’t all in her head though… there’s a taskforce of ultra-competitive Babycraft mums to deal with, a stalker who likes to arrange garden rockeries in a sinister manner, a misogynistic boss and an ex-boyfriend whom she might just still love. Not to mention the strange things her husband has been saying in his sleep.
Cassie is battling with two big questions, really. How are you supposed to get up and be a smiling, serene mother every day, when your child is just a little scrap of flesh and bone and disaster could be lurking behind any corner? And what is love supposed to look like, between a man and a woman who are now parents?
Please tell us about the character of Cassie.
Cassie isn’t a kick-ass heroine. She’s unsure of herself in many ways. She’s trying to find out who she is, now that she’s a mother, and a wife who’s a mother, and has stepped back with her career. She frets a lot and has a tendency to catastrophise. But she also knows how to laugh at herself, which is her saving grace.
How much has your degree in English Literature helped you to write this book?
Some of the works I studied (Emily Dickinson’s poetry for example) shaped the way I saw everything from that point on. Others, like Charlotte Bronte’s novels, I just fell in love with. But when I was studying I was so in awe of the literary greats that it squashed any urge of my own to write – writing was a serious business not to be undertaken by amateurs. It was only after I finished my degree that I started reading commercial fiction for pleasure –women’s fiction, crime novels etc. The books I liked best were entertaining and easy to read at the end of a long day, but also satisfying, engaging with real issues. That’s what I wanted Tiny Acts of Love to be like.
You went on to study law so how much of this experience has helped you to write about the career of Cassie?
I knew the way a law firm works, and the nuts and bolts of employment law (Cassie’s specialism) so that helped. Employment law cases are usually full of human interest, with all sorts of emotions boiling under the surface. However, the cases Cassie deals with in the book are definitely on the whacky side. For example, she has to advise a funeral home owner when his employees complain that ghosts on the premises are falling foul of the Working Time Regulations. And she helps a beauty clinic receptionist who wants to bring her 78-year-old husband into work with her so he won’t be lonely. The employment law scenarios were a good way to bring Cassie together with people she wouldn’t otherwise meet and to nudge her into thinking about her own situation from different perspectives.
Please tell us about finding your primary homework book and how the novel took off from there.
I was on maternity leave after having my first baby when I found an old Primary 2 jotter at my parents’ house, in a drawer under my old bed. At the end of one piece of homework I’d written, ‘I want to be an AUTHOR when I grow up.’ It was a strange feeling to read that, as though my six-year-old self was there in the room with me, telling me this lawyer thing was all very well, but it was time to get my act together. From that point on, ideas started forming in my mind for a novel. When I finally started writing it, the ‘voice’ was there straight away, as though it had been waiting for years to come out. It surprised me with how irreverent it was - I think that might have been something to do with her, too!
This is your debut novel, so how was the experience compared to what you imagined it would be?
So far, it has been just as amazing as I’d hoped it would be. So much goes on behind the scenes in publishing a book that I’d never appreciated before… editing, copy editing, proofreading, deciding on the name and commissioning cover art, all the publicity work and so on, and it’s been very interesting to see that all happening. The team at Black and White Publishing have been brilliant, and I’ve also had the support of my wonderful literary agent at every stage of the process. I’ve learned a lot from setting up my own website and blog, too. I’d never written short, real life pieces before and I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed it.
What are your favourite tiny acts of love?
Making hot buttered toast for my daughters when we get in from school and nursery on a cold rainy afternoon. Downloading their favourite songs and singing them together in the car. My husband buying me Malteasers to eat on a Saturday night in front of X Factor, or getting up on a Sunday morning so I can sleep in. Most of all, I love reading to my girls, especially if it’s a book my own parents read to me as a child. Some tiny acts of love can be passed through the generations, can become woven into the words themselves.
What is next for you?
I’m writing a second novel. It’s the story of a lonely single mother who tries to track down a school friend who vanished when they were twelve. She begins to realise how her world has been distorted by secrets that were never allowed to surface at that time. It’s about finding yourself when you’re lost, and the redemptive power of friendship (I think, anyway! It’s not finished yet so anything could happen.)