Blogger Isabella Davidson talks about her debut novel and the world of alpha mums.
1. Can you tell us about your book, The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land?
The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land is the story of Sophie, a down-to-earth mum from Canada who has to move to London for her husband’s job and – with the help of a nursery consultant – ends up in the most exclusive nursery in London. There, she is faced with all these super mums: super successful, super beautiful, super competitive and at times, super bitchy. As she feels more and more lonely, she starts a blog, describing the world of these Alpha moms and finds virtual friends who make her feel isolated and less lonely. She also meets a virtual ‘friend’ who she becomes increasingly close to but I won’t tell you more about him! You’ll need to read the book to find out more! It is a light, fun, entertaining summer read about being a mum, feeling lonely and an outsider, but in the world of the super rich and super competitive mums. It is also about mothers in general and how it can be hard to find your own identity (and sanity) after you have children.
2 How did you come up with the plotline for the book? Is it in any way based on your own experiences?
I have lived in London for 15 years so Sophie’s story isn’t mine and the characters are all fictional, but some of the events have really happened – either to me or to others. I live in west London so am an observer of this world and I am part of it too. I felt that to really describe the world of the Alpha mums appropriately, it had to come from fresh, new eyes, and also from someone who was the anti-thesis of the Alpha mums. So that’s how I created Sophie. In terms of similarities, I have moved a lot so I know all about feeling lonely when you move to a new place and feeling like an outsider. I did also start a blog http://www.nottinghillyummymummy.com but not out of loneliness, but more out of fun and wanting to do some writing. Some of the experiences are mine, like the time I went to a play date and the staff thought I was there for a housekeeper interview!
3. Where did you get the inspiration for the characters?
I wanted Sophie to be this really nice person, so I made her Canadian! Everyone is so nice there. I have a lot of Canadian family so I have spent a lot of time there. I also worked for a non-profit for a while and these are people who are so passionate about their jobs that money and materialism doesn’t matter to them. This was to highlight the difference between her and the world she enters.
Kelly, the bitchy class rep, is just awful and one of my beta readers said that the character seemed too much of a caricature but I really have come across some women who can’t help themselves and have to criticize everyone around them. She’s not based on one person but generally on women who can just be so bitchy to each other. I have heard people say things like ‘I can’t stand stupid people’ or ‘she’s got the personality of wallpaper.’ I just don’t understand the need. One of the themes of the book is that we should be nicer to each other, especially as women and mothers, and we should try supporting each other.
The other characters were just a mix of people you can easily come across in these nurseries; the career driven woman, the Russian oligarch, the lost stay-at-home-mum, the gorgeous model, and the pushy mum.
4. If you have to pick one favourite character from the book, who would it be and why?
I have to say, it’s Kelly, she was so much fun to write! At first, she is this intimidating, scary character but then you realize that she is just so misguided that you end up feeling really sorry for her in the end.
5. What was the most difficult part about writing this book? And what was the most fun part?
Finishing the book was so difficult. I wanted to quit so many times! And the editing part was also really tricky for me. I didn’t want to lose any scenes I had created but you have to learn to let go. It’s all a learning curve as a first-time novelist. But I really had this goal that kept me going, and I was in the Faber Academy Novel writing course which really helped. It motivated me to write something every week and also provided lots of feedback with what was working and what wasn’t. That was invaluable.
The most fun I had was when I was working on one of my scenes and I made myself laugh as I wrote it. Those moments when you feel like you are writing something others will enjoy. It makes all the hard work worth it.
6. Do you have a set daily writing routine?
No, with two kids, you have to write whenever you have a moment! My little one was still in nursery when I started the book so I really had to find any free moment. Usually between 9am to 12pm when she was at nursery and then sometimes at night after they went to sleep. Luckily, I had some help with the children otherwise it would have taken me ten years instead of two years to write it.
7. When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?
I have always wanted to write a book, for as long as I can remember and have started many books but I was in medical school and then training as a doctor for over ten years and just didn’t have the time. Then I thought I would do it during my maternity leave but never realized how demanding little babies could be! So after my second daughter was born I started a blog and it reminded me how much I loved to write. It was after people told me they loved my blog that I decided to really give writing a novel a try.
8. Who are some of your own favourite authors at the moment?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote Americanah, is an outspoken author about race and feminism and did this amazing TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’ where she shares her experiences of being an African feminist, and her views on gender construction and sexuality. She is an amazing woman, and she is my age. It is good for me to have someone to aspire to!
Of course, Liane Moriarity has been influential, particularly as one of my reviewers commented on how I was ‘very reminiscent of Sophie Kinsella and Liane Moriarty’s love child … if they were to ever have one … you know in chick lit land,’ which is such a great compliment!
9. Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
Well, we’ll see if people enjoy The Beta Mum, and if they do, I will write a sequel!
When Sophie Bennett moves from a quiet, sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy west London, she doesn’t know where she has landed: Venus or Mars. Her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms, the most exclusive nursery in London, where Sophie finds herself adrift in a sea of Alpha mums. These mothers are glamorous, gorgeous, competitive and super rich, especially Kelly, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep.
Struggling to fit in and feeling increasingly isolated, Sophie starts The Beta Mum, an anonymous blog describing her struggles with the Alpha mums. But when her blog goes viral, she risks ruining everything for herself and her daughter. How long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive one of her follower’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha mums?
Isabella Davidson is the author of the popular blog, Notting Hill Yummy Mummy. Prior to her writing career, she worked for a humanitarian organisation in public education and awareness and as a doctor for the National Health Service. She loves to travel and has lived in seven countries on four different continents. She now lives in West London with her husband and their two children. The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land is her first novel.