Karen Osman talks about her debut novel, her writing day and what’s next.
1. Can you tell us more about your debut novel, The Good Mother?
I wrote The Good Mother with the aim of creating a gripping psychological suspense novel. It is based around the stories of three women. Catherine is a good mother and a good wife but when she starts writing to Michael, a prisoner convicted of murder, she finds herself obsessing about his crime and whether he can ever truly be forgiven. Kate is bringing up two young children and has no time for herself. Faced with the drudgery, compounded with money worries and an unsupportive husband, she looks for excitement elsewhere and finally Alison, who has just started university. It’s not the life she had hoped for, and she finds herself alone and unhappy, until the day her professor takes a sudden interest in her. As each woman’s story unfolds, the reader is drawn into a world of deceit and revenge, ultimately showcasing just how powerful the emotions associated with motherhood can be.
2. How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
I started brainstorming some ideas, listing them out with a pen and paper. Inadvertently, I had placed them in two columns and I decided to put two ideas together and combine them. The journey of motherhood was the first idea and I combined this with the concept of volunteering to write to a prison inmate. The latter is something that has intrigued me for a long time – what would you write to a murderer? By combining these two concepts, I developed the plot and the characters. What really helped was that I created the plot in order to enter a competition – the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Montegrappa Writing Prize – so the submission deadline really helped me to focus. After the winning the competition, I developed the initial chapters and outline into a complete novel.
3. Did you do any specific research for the book?
Yes, I did a huge amount of research and it’s actually one of my favourite parts of writing a book as you learn so much. A lot of my research time was spent understanding the prison system and how it works. Saying that, I was also fairly reliant on my memory as the book is set in Durham (where I went to university) and the Lake District (where I am originally from.)
4. Who would you want to play Catherine, Kate and Alison in a film adaptation of The Good Mother?
What a great question! For Catherine, I could easily imagine someone like Julianne Moore. I think she would portray the dignified Catherine very well. For Kate, Emily Blunt would be a good choice and Elle Fanning or Ariel Winter as Alison.
5. Do you see yourself in any of the characters in your novel?
No, not really but I’m sure I left a trace of myself in the characters as I spent so much time creating them! Having recently become a mother myself when I wrote the book, I drew inspiration from those emotions and feelings but other than that, I would say that Catherine, Alison, and Kate each had their own very distinct personalities.
6. What was the hardest part of the book to write?
The hardest part of the writing process for me was filling in the details of the novel yet making it interesting. Not every single page can have a dramatic scene so while I found it easy to write the key events, it was weaving it all together that I found the hardest.
7. What does your average writing day look like?
I try and get a good chunk done in the morning when I feel at my most creative, normally between 8:30am and 1pm. I avoid opening emails, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and set my timer for 90-minute blocks of writing time. In general, I have a word count target per day but there are days when I spend more time researching than writing. Between each 90-minute block, I’ll have a 10 minute-break, but if I’m in the flow, or in the middle of a chapter, I tend to keep going. I write my ideas, plots, and character profiles in my notebook, and then use my laptop for the actual writing. I try and avoid editing my work in the early stages and just focus on getting the words down on the screen. With two young boys to look after, as well as overseeing my content writing business, it’s quite a busy schedule but in a way, I found it easier to write when my time is slightly compressed. I have found prioritising much easier since becoming a mother!
8. What is a great book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to others?
Reading is my way of relaxing and I recently enjoyed reading Gillian McAllister’s Everything But The Truth, The Disappearance by Annabel Kantaria, and The Power by Naomi Alderman.
9. If you were forced to write a different genre, what would it be?
Historical fiction. I’m a big fan of Philippa Gregory’s historical novels. I love history, and her level of research combined with her power of story-telling is inspirational. This genre would also suit my love of research. I’m also in awe of children’s authors – the ability to capture a child’s imagination must be a wonderful thing.
10. What’s next for you?
The Good Mother is out on 1 October 2017 so I’m busy launching that while also writing my second novel, which will be out in 2018. It’s a thriller about a woman called Angela who grew up in the harsh environment of a children’s home in the sixties. Despite being an abandoned child, she still yearns to meet her real mother, Evelyn. The novel describes Angela in her late-twenties as she tracks her down. At the same time, a series of unexplained, frightening incidences befall Evelyn and as Angela and her birth mother gradually reunite, Evelyn starts to believe Angela is secretly trying to take her revenge for giving up her daughter for adoption.
How far would you go to protect your children?
Catherine is a good mother and a good wife. The family home is immaculate, her husband’s supper is cooked on time, but when she starts writing to Michael, a prisoner convicted of murder, she finds herself obsessing about his crime and whether he can ever truly be forgiven…
Kate has no time for herself. Caught in the maelstrom of bringing up two young children with no money, and an out-of-work husband, she longs to escape the drudgery of being a wife and a mother. And she soon starts taking dangerous risks to feel alive…
Alison has flown the nest. But university life is not what she had hoped for, and she finds herself alone and unhappy. Until the day her professor takes a sudden interest in her. Then everything changes…
Three women – all with secrets. And as the days tick down to Michael’s release, those secrets can no longer be ignored.
Originally from the UK, Karen won the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Montegrappa Novel Writing Award 2016 with her crime-thriller novel and now has a three-book deal with Head of Zeus. When she’s not writing novels, Karen is busy bringing up her two young children and running her communication business Travel Ink.