April 2014


Kate Long’s debut novel A Bad Mother’s Handbook was made into a 2007 TV movie featuring a young Robert Pattinson. Its sequel, Bad Mothers United, was published last year. She is also the author of Queen Mum, Swallowing Grandma and Before She Was Mine. She lives in Stropshire, England. (Interview by Swati Sharma)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your latest novel Bad Mothers United.

    It’s the dawn of the New Millennium, and the Cooper family’s in its usual state of chaos. Thirtysomething Karen’s attempting to bring up her toddler grandson on behalf of a daughter who’s away at university, as well as holding down her teaching job and trying to maintain some sense of herself. But there’s trouble on so many fronts. When she isn’t being pursued by her maddening ex-husband, she’s haunted by the ghost of her mother who seems to have some important message she wants to pass on. Her head’s a jumble and no one’s listening to her. That is, until a handsome new neighbour moves in next door. Might he be the solution to at least some of her woes? Meanwhile daughter Charlotte’s got problems of her own. How can she keep on juggling motherhood with student life? What’s gone wrong between her and her boyfriend Daniel? Why is her mum unravelling before her eyes? Then, out of the blue, a mysterious card from the darkest reaches of the past turns the family upside down, and sends Charlotte off on the riskiest journey of her life.

  2. 2. How many drafts do you tend to write?

    I lose track! The revision process is endless, I’m never satisfied, and eventually the manuscript has to be wrested from my grasp.

  3. 3. What is the most difficult stage in writing the book?

    Because it takes a long time to write a novel – at least a year for me – there are points in the process where I lose my momentum, and those are dangerous. About a third of the way in I generally think, ‘Where on earth am I going with this?’ and then, at the two-thirds stage, my worry is I’ll never be able to wind everything up properly. At the end of the first draft, too, I often panic over whether I’ll be able to pull the story into shape. However, I always know those confidence-dips are coming so I try and work through them.

  4. 4. Have you ever had writer’s block? How you overcome it?

    I never have writer’s block because I always work from notes, scribbled down in the dark the night before (that’s when the ideas come fast and furious). If I were to sit down each morning at a blank screen, I think I’d panic then.

  5. 5. What’s your average writing day like?

    I drop my teenagers off at school, do a few household or admin chores, and then get stuck into the writing. Normally I write from 9.30 till 3 which is school run time again. Later on I might have a read-through and editing session to get me in the mood for the next section.

  6. 6. What are the pros and cons of being a women’s fiction writer?

    There aren’t many cons – negative reviews bring me down sometimes, but they’re more than balanced by the lovely feedback I get from readers saying I’ve understood something in their lives, or telling me how they’ve shared my book with a friend, a daughter, a mum, a sister. One woman wrote to me saying she’d read The Bad Mother’s Handbook to her (adult) daughter as she was recovering in hospital from meningitis: that was very touching to hear. And it’s nice for me to escape into a fictional world which I can control. Three years ago my husband was seriously injured in a motorbike accident, and being able to retreat into my writing saved my sanity during that horrible time.

  7. 7. How did your journey towards being a published writer start?

    I entered a short story competition in 1996 and won with one of the first pieces I’d ever written. So I was bitten by the bug and wanted to carry on. Then, though another competition, I met a London-based magazine editor who persuaded me to write a novel and said he’d help me place it with a publisher. It took me another six years to come up with the goods, but we did it.

  8. 8. What is your favourite movie and favourite book?

    Movie-wise, I love Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937): a plane-load of Americans crash in the mountains over Tibet and stumble across a magical, perfect community where they learn how to live as better people. The film’s a little creaky now, but the idea of a hidden land where everyone is kind to each other and society moves in harmony is agelessly beguiling, I think. I’m not sure I can pin down a single book as favourite since I love so many, but I do know that Wuthering Heights made a huge impression on me when I first read it, and the characters Emily Bronte created remain intriguing because I half-hate, half-love them.

  9. 9. What one idea has changed your life?

    I wrote short stories for ten years before the idea for my debut novel, The Bad Mother’s Handbook, popped into my head. I’d been having fertility treatment, which wasn’t pleasant, but had finally given birth to a lovely little boy for which I was incredibly grateful. Throughout those years of trying, however, I’d been struck by how unfair it was that some women cried themselves to sleep at night because they were pregnant, and some because they weren’t. The randomness of fertility was something I wanted to explore. Hence teenage mum Charlotte, and her angry mother Karen who needs to learn the meaning of ‘family’.

  10. 10. What is your advice for the aspiring writers?

    Write as often as you can because long gaps between sessions can dent your confidence. And the more you write, the more you’ll find you want to write and the quicker the ideas will come. Be prepared to fight your nearest and dearest for writing-time, though; not everyone will understand your need to shut yourself away and create your own world. Be strong! It’s worth defending.

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