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Helen Whitaker is the author of The School Run and I Give It A Year, which was released in paperback on 7 January. She took the time to answer some questions for us.
Tell us a bit about I Give It A Year.
On New Year’s Eve, Iris discovers that her husband of ten years, Adam, has been cheating. Her first instinct is to kick him out, but with two kids and a history together she’s not ready to end her marriage, so she decides to give him one more chance. She sets a series of ground rules to see if over the next 12 months they can not just salvage their marriage, but fall back in love with each other. It’s also about all the other relationships in our lives – grown up friendship and making decisions that your friends don’t necessarily agree with, and a father-daughter relationship that was quite emotional for me to write. It’s also about the juggle a lot of women face in their 40s: demanding jobs, difficult relatives, young children and aging parents. Basically, all the non-negotiables that mean trying to save your marriage isn’t the only thing on your to-do list!
Lots of authors seem to struggle with the pressure of writing their second book. How was that for you?
I have a day job four days a week and a 4-year-old so my biggest stress has always been finding the actual time to write –pre-school being closed for three months of 2020 really did not help with that! But I was really enthusiastic about writing this story so that made it a lot easier. I wrote two books before The School Run that didn’t get published so the fact that I had a book deal kept me going.
How would you compare this book to your first, The School Run? Do you think they’re for a similar audience?
I think tone-wise they’re quite similar in that they’re a mixture of light and shade, comedy and drama. I think I Give It A Year is probably more emotional (one reader said one of the father-daughter scenes made her cry so job done!) and perhaps (I hope) might appeal to a broader audience, as The School Run was about a specific aspect of parenting, which is trying to get your child a school place, whereas I Give It A Year covers a lot more about the female experience I think.
How do you juggle journalism, writing and mumming?
Doing them all half-arsed? Ha! Having worked out when I do my best writing I’ve tried to set up my weekdays so that I can write for 45 minutes first thing in the morning before starting my day job, so then I can give that my full attention. You get a surprising amount done if you’re revved up and ready to go! I also have one day a week that I can dedicate to writing alone (a joy!) Then outside of that, I’m in mum-mode. However, the above was all based on pre-school opening times of 8am-6pm, but my son started school in September, which means shorter days. Between that and the Covid chaos, the juggle is recalibrating all the time at the moment!
Which fictional character would you like to have as your best friend?
I will always love Jo March from Little Women, but in terms of fun, you can’t go wrong with Bridget Jones (as well as her best mates, Shazza, Tom and Jude for good measure!)
What’s next? Do you have another book in progress?
I do! It’s an idea I’m really excited about and I’ve written an outline and about 10,000 words so far. I’m hoping my publisher likes it as much as I do!
What books have you read and loved recently?
How long have you got?! I loved Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers, about a local news reporter in the 50s. Single and in her 40s, she has a ‘small’ life, but when she’s sent to cover a story about a woman who claims to have had a virgin birth, her world opens up. The ending slightly destroyed me.
I also loved Theatre of Dreamers by Polly Samson. It’s a coming-of-age story set on Hydra in 1960 where a (fictional) teenager gets taken in by the bohemian set, including Leonard Cohen. I apologise as it will make you want to go to Hydra (and hang out with Leonard Cohen) immediately!
I recently got sent a preview copy of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, and raced through it. Nella is an assistant at a very pale, stale and male publishing house and has to deal with micro-aggressions on a daily basis. When another Black woman joins the company, she hopes she’ll have an ally, but something about the new girl quickly starts to feel off. The book takes you in a totally different direction than you imagine it’s going and is so original. It’s out in June and I highly recommend a pre-order.
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