Join Maggie O'Farrell to talk about THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, our May Book of the Month, on Wednesday 25th May, 8-9pm

(99 Posts)

May's Book of the Month is a book about motherhood - but in an unusual way. THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE is a beautifully crafted novel that weaves together two lives that are fifty years apart. Lexie lives in 1950s Soho, and is forging a life as a journalist in the bohemian, artistic neighbourhood. Elina is a modern day painter, also living in London, who has just had her first child. Each of their stories echoes the other, and connections keep appearing, leading to a suspense-driven climax. When declaring the book Winner of the 2010 Costa Novel Award, the judges described it as '"A book of grand themes and intimate moments. This gripping novel is the one we'd unreservedly recommend.'

You can read more about the book here.

We're delighted that Maggie will be joining us on Wednesday 25th May, 8-9pm, so don't forget to join us to ask Maggie about all her books, how she writes, her experiences of motherhood, what inspires her... See you then.

scottishmummy Wed 20-Apr-11 09:52:05

Im a about to have a sycophantic fan mo. i really am
I love MOF fiction have read them all inc this and have re-read After you'd gone a good few times and i pass her books around the lassies in work after i have read them

i will ungraciously be elbowing and feverishly posting
Me!Me!Me!Maggie ignore those other Farrell come lately.Im your true fan

Meh ha ha

questions to follow and plenty of em

raedrenn Wed 20-Apr-11 10:25:50

I loved this book and was really sad when I finished reading it. The subject matter really put a lump in my throat as a new mum. Am welling up already thinking about it! I recommend it to everybody (as I would all her books)

TurtlesAreRetroRight Wed 20-Apr-11 12:48:35

I love Maggie's books. Also a sycophantic fan. I read After You'd Gone on a train and sobbed in public.

I've found this one difficult. Very close to home. But I loved it.

I'll think of a question I'm sure.

cryhavoc Wed 20-Apr-11 15:52:05

Excellent. I've just started it, and will be devouring it after I finish my exam tomorrow and don't have to revise until the end of May.

I absolutely adore After You'd Gone, cried like a baby when I read it. I think Maggie O'Farrell is fantastic.

Can't wait.

Summerbird73 Wed 20-Apr-11 17:21:22

cryhavoc just keep reading it please - it is so so good - it is the only book i have sobbed at.

i have been waiting for this webchat so will wait with - oh FFS i am on holiday then!!!!! angry

erhem - yoohoo MN Towers - any chance you could reschedule...?! <hopeful emoticon!>

tvoffnowplease Wed 20-Apr-11 19:18:23

I read the hand that first held mine recently and was completely overwhelmed. I truely felt as though I knew the characters like I know my closest friends.
As a mum, the thought of your son ending up in those hands... is just... devastating. I was particularly pleased that MOF didn't make her an evil step mum... the evil was so sublime and under the radar that it made it all the more awful... incredible book. Thanks Maggie.

kerala Wed 20-Apr-11 19:47:24

Just finished this book and echo everyone else thought it was fantastic though beware dont read the end on public transport as you will cry.

TartyMcFarty Wed 20-Apr-11 20:31:01

I do enjoy MoF's fiction, and to a certain extent, The Hand that First Held Mine, but I did find the twist a bit contrived. Am I the only one?

D0G Wed 20-Apr-11 21:09:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Summerbird73 Thu 21-Apr-11 08:53:44

I read the ending alone at home and absolutely sobbed (my son is 2 so YSWIM). As a mother i ticked every box she listed on 'that paragraph' of Lexie's thoughts. (trying not to spoil!)

tarty i too felt uncomfortable about the twist and how it all panned out - i sometimes think about it and feel desperately sad for the child and the real mother and what they all missed out on - then remind myself it is not real!

tvoffnow - everything you just said!

mosschops30 Thu 21-Apr-11 09:33:04

I bought this ranomly last week for my holiday stock. Have never read this author before but m really looking forward to it now

elkiedee Thu 21-Apr-11 12:34:31

Good reason to dig my copy out and read it soon (next month though).

bluerodeo Thu 21-Apr-11 13:53:20

wow - I really didn't like this book at all (was a recent book club pick)
found a lot of the characters very 2D and not likable. I don't like the back and forth between the past and present either (so many authors are choosing to write in this style it seems, I'm not a fan!)

lockets Thu 21-Apr-11 18:13:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

QuickLookBusy Fri 22-Apr-11 14:22:23

Loved loved loved this book. Made me cry, difficult topics handled so sensitively. This is a good excuse to rereadgrin

Another favourite is The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox.

CharlotteBronteSaurus Fri 22-Apr-11 20:51:53

ooooh - DH got me this for Christmas, and I just started reading it this week
<new baby slow readers club>
I enjoyed several of MOF's others, especially The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.

bluejeans Sat 23-Apr-11 19:27:55

Excellent! I bought The Hand That First Held Mine about 2 months ago and loved it, since then have been reading all MOF's other books. I've just finished 'The Distance Between Us' and enjoyed that too. After reading the posts above I now want to re-read THTFHM! Really looking forward to the chat now!

piebald Sun 24-Apr-11 20:49:16

In have loved all her books espsecially Esme Lennox, bought this one a s soon as it was in paperback and then took ages to get started on it. I think i need to read it again, i really enjoyed it but i think i had built it up too much in my mind

Thingumy Sun 24-Apr-11 22:40:22

I bought this book a few months ago (cheap buy in tescos) and it sat on a shelf.

Read it this week over a day and I must say it didn't do much for me.

I was intrigued with the earlier relationships but they never were elaborated or gave finer details.I felt it was lacking as a novel.

I like detail and this book,didn't have detail imo.Personalities were very 2 dimensional and I hated vacant and daft explanation of 'panic attacks' .It was all rather weak for me.

I'm willing to send on the book if anyone wants a copy-send me a pm and I'll pass it on.

topsmart Tue 26-Apr-11 19:56:57

Oh lord, how I love Maggie O'Farrell's books. She has such a way with description. She often puts into words what I didn't even know I felt.

I thought The Hand that first held mine really captured what it is to be a mother. Yep, the 'twist' is a tad ott but I felt the novel was such a powerful description of the way life changes with a baby that in a way the plot didn't matter so much.

It's the sort of book that makes me sob and cuddle it when i'm finished. You should have seen me with the After you'd gone! Hideous snotty mess i was.

Truckdriver Wed 27-Apr-11 21:10:26

Just finished it, oh how sadsad But as others have said brilliantly written and the description of those first few days, weeks and months of motherhood was superb. I also enjoyed reading a character struggling with breast feeding.

With regards to the 'twist' I did not really see it as a 'twist', I thought it was obvious from the start where it was going but I just assumed that this was deliberate by the author.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 28-Apr-11 00:12:48

Pleased to hear you're all enjoying the book as much as I did.... Headline books have now informed us that all 50 copies have gone. Look forward to the discussion with Maggie on 25th.

InAStateOfReflux Mon 09-May-11 13:44:54

Have just ordered this on Amazon. Look forward to getting it as it sounds very good! x

gazzalw Tue 10-May-11 10:00:20

Have any of you received a copy from Headline yet? I'm sure I was very quick off the mark in asking for a copy but haven't received anything yet?

RunforFun Tue 10-May-11 12:46:59

I was wondering this too gazza

I'm deliberating whether or not to buy it or not, I dont really want to end up with 2 copies.

upyourdiva Tue 10-May-11 14:31:20

I saw this book advertised on here and decided to pick it up from the library which I did last week and finished it yesterday.

In all honesty I thought it seemed lazily written, the characters were vague and cold and the story seemed jumpy in many ways not just the past present plot because I understand that was to ensure we knew about Ted and to build on his past to bring in the dismal and obvious twist, but his relationship with Elina and the traumatic labour/newborn son seemed totally irrelevant and nothing but page filler.

I did however shed a tear reading the precise and honest account of Lexie's thoughts when the 'event' occurred but I don't really think this was supposed to be the high point of the book, the fact that the ending was sort of given away at the beginning makes this book a page t on lage urner for all the wrong reasons... to find out where it gets interesting! Which it does on page 312 before going straight back down again on page 316...

The ending is vague and pretty indecisive as seems to be the theme throughout the entire book spare a few pages here and there.

Overall it was just about a half decent read (because I finally started to get into Lexie's story) but not one I'd recommend or pick up again.

AlmaMartyr Wed 11-May-11 13:43:32

My copy from Headline has just arrived today. Looking forward to reading it on holiday, was just worrying that I wouldn't have anything to read because I haven't made it to the library!

Blatherskite Wed 11-May-11 15:49:42

Whoo hoo, I got a free copy. Will be ditching my current book to get started on reading it. It sounds good

MrsKwazii Wed 11-May-11 20:03:03

My free copy arrived today too. Am really looking forward to starting something new. Thank you v much!

gazzalw Wed 11-May-11 21:32:58

I missed the Postman this morning, have one of the red missed delivery cards and think I have one arriving shortly - fingers crossed! Exciting...happy reading!

Blatherskite Fri 13-May-11 13:55:56

I'm really enjoying it so far....

ShowOfHands Fri 13-May-11 21:20:17

It's interesting reading the reasons people didn't like it. Because for me those criticisms are some of the reasons I loved it. Stylistically it's very different to Maggie's other books but the sparse details, the immediacy,,the lack of concrete details (more impressionistic, like the art that was so thematically important), meant that you had to bring something of yourself to it. When I said it was close to home for me, I had a birth experience like Elina's and some tough memories of the early days and I thought the way Maggie had described that ethereal, dream-like quality of motherhood allowed or even required you to project a bit iyswim. I found it such a personal experience reading it. Like decent art or a well shot film, I had to give a bit of myself to it and it stayed with me afterwards.

And I don't think it was a twist was it? It was working towards an explanation of the how. I though you were supposed to know that Theo/Ted were one and the same.

QuickLookBusy Sat 14-May-11 16:03:43

Agree with you ShowofHands have just finished it for the second time. I think it is a wonderful book.

I really identified with both Ted and Elina. I had an e-cs and the vagueness Maggie describes really summed up those early weeks or even months perfectly.

My own mother left when I was 4 so the whole thing Ted goes through with the birth of the baby bringing memories to the surface, was very emotional for me to read.

I am so glad I have read this book.

I do wonder how/where Maggie did her research for this book or indeed if she has experienced any of the themes.

Looking forward to this chat very much - and remember to join us even if you haven't read/finished this particular novel. All questions on any of Maggie's books are welcome.

Speaking of which, I'm getting ready to send a few advance questions over, so do start to pop them up here, please...

PoohsMum Wed 18-May-11 11:00:20

Was lucky to get a free copy and I am quite pleased with the book. Its a good read, esp. in parts where it covers Elina's fuzzy emotions after her birth experience. Had a botched up c-section involving massive haemorrhage followed by horrible PND and the book captures the post delivery emotions bang on.

Lexie's thoughts during the 'incident' had me in tears. It's been a week since I finished the book and my thoughts keep going back to it.

Crumblemum Thu 19-May-11 22:58:31

Amazingly written book, great story and captures so beautifully the awe (both positive and negative) motherhood brings. Really is one of the best books I've read for years.

Am trying to think of a question rather than slavish praise so here goes - Maggie, do you ever have to fight the urge for a happy ending - even for the letters in the loft to have been preserved would have been a comfort - or are you always acutely aware it's a work of fiction and it's your duty to reader (and publisher) to add layers of drama (and often sorrow)?

MrsKwazii Fri 20-May-11 16:37:56

Have just finished the book. At first I really didn't enjoy the staccato style and the way that it seemed to be written like a screenplay - purely descriptive. It took me until about halfway through before I got used to it.

I enjoyed the toing and froing of the stories, and in my head Lexie looked like Joanie from Mad Men grin. I liked her characterisation, a woman ahead of her time and forging ahead on her own. I felt that the other characters were drawn quite superficially though.

I really felt for Margot. She obviously had a deep-seated need to be a mother, with attending sadness, and had been so manipulated that she was nothing but a puppet. V sad, with obvious knock-on effects for others.

Will have a think about a Q to ask. Hmmmmm

flakemummy Sat 21-May-11 17:59:40

Just finished this great book interesting twist carefully unfolded. i have also read a few others by this author and enjoyed them too.
Esme Lennox is next on my list now.

A quick reminder that we will be sending any advance questions to Maggie soon, so do pop them up here.

Looking forward to Wednesday, hope everyone can make it..

mrsbabookaloo Tue 24-May-11 21:45:46

Am embarrassed to confess that I haven't read any of Maggie O Farrell's books (yet!!), but wanted to link to this wonderful article she wrote about toddlers in 2005.

www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/mar/26/fiction.features

If you've ever had a two year old, read and enjoy....

QueenoftheWildThings Tue 24-May-11 22:18:30

Can't make it tomorrow, but so loved this book - loved the evocation of 50's Soho: excitement about art and ideas; Lexie escaping her family and making her way as an independent woman through Fleet Street at a time when women couldn' t progress in journalism easily and just the most compelling description of traumatic birth and the following haze that I have seen. I couldnt put it down, and I gave my copy to someone and feel a bit bereft and might have to get another one!
Maggie I once saw you in Reception at the building I work in and I was too shy to tell you how much i loved it, so I'm telling you now!

scottishmummy Tue 24-May-11 22:44:04

loved the book,dont want spoil so will discuss my jist
the book really got that vagueness of being new mum,the pull of detachment of old self and sudden attachments to a new baby.clash of old life and new life

i liked how lexie grew and emerged into a confident womann through her art . when lexie dies,-the circumstances and description i was upset but couldn't stop reading.really moving

grew to hate margot for the betrayal and not taking care of items she should have.I wasnt shocked at revelation about Ted, more upset how they had handled it

i like maggie style,not so much whodunnits as whydunnits

as an aside, when i read after you'd gone i was convinced alice dies,but when i discussed this with pal she swears no no i got it wrong.....so maggie?

scottishmummy Wed 25-May-11 18:34:36

im working so will catch this later.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 18:40:53

test?

bluejeans Wed 25-May-11 19:16:19

Maggie, I read that you have lived in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales and i wondered where feels like home? I love that many of your books (I've read them all!) have a Scottish connection, in an understated sort of way. Too many books are set in London! (I'm Scottish by the way!)

Evening everyone

I'm delighted to introduce our supremely talented May Author of the Month, Maggie O' Farrell. THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE is not only brimming with the strike-a-chord observations on motherhood that have us all nodding and heartaching and remembering, but also fascinating details on life in 1950s bohemia that were entirely new (to me). There's much to discuss, so without further ado....

Maggie, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And congratulations on such a satisfyingly gripping and heart-wrenching novel. Perhaps we could kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread? And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to add two questions:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:03:42

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

I'm delighted to introduce our supremely talented May Author of the Month, Maggie O' Farrell. THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE is not only brimming with the strike-a-chord observations on motherhood that have us all nodding and heartaching and remembering, but also fascinating details on life in 1950s bohemia that were entirely new (to me). There's much to discuss, so without further ado....

Maggie, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And congratulations on such a satisfyingly gripping and heart-wrenching novel. Perhaps we could kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread? And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to add two questions:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

A very good evening to everyone out there. It's been an unbelievably cold day here in Edinburgh so it's nice to be tucked away in my study with the shutters closed. I'm hoping we're not going to be disturbed by my two children, who are refusing to go to sleep. I've never done this before so I hope I'm not going to make an idiot of myself. I'll answer Tilly's first two questions then have a look at the ones further up.

Which childhood book most inspired you?

A hard one because there are so many. The Moomin books and The Secret Garden. Oh, and Where the Wild Things Are.

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

- Read, read, read. Then read some more. Think about what works in a book and what doesn’t – and why. Keep reading, as much as you possibly can, whenever you can.
- Try to ringfence off some time every day (even if it’s only 20 mins) when no one will disturb you. Unplug the phone, switch off the router, and use this as your writing time.
- Don’t be intimidated by beginnings: start in the middle of a story, or at the end; you can always go back and fill in the gaps later.

PogueMahone Wed 25-May-11 20:04:07

I think you're brilliant Maggie. <sycophant>

I loved this book, in fact all of your novels. Great female characters (how fabulous is Lexie?), and an uncanny ability to put into words what motherhood feels like. The beautiful description of a thread unspooling as Lexie walks to work away from her son is just perfect. And this being balanced by this same pull from the child's point of view was heartbreaking in this context.

So... are you a mumsnetter? (Please say you're someone like AF)

gailforce1 Wed 25-May-11 20:04:49

Maggie, following Tilly's questions what inspired you to start writing and how long was it till you got your first book published?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:05:18

Crumblemum

Amazingly written book, great story and captures so beautifully the awe (both positive and negative) motherhood brings. Really is one of the best books I've read for years.

Am trying to think of a question rather than slavish praise so here goes - Maggie, do you ever have to fight the urge for a happy ending - even for the letters in the loft to have been preserved would have been a comfort - or are you always acutely aware it's a work of fiction and it's your duty to reader (and publisher) to add layers of drama (and often sorrow)?

Hi there – thank you so much. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book.

Re endings: I never have to fight for endings, happy or sad or somewhere between the two. They tend to come of their own accord. A sign that a book is working is when the plot and characters take on a momentum all of their own and events and resolutions start presenting themselves, rather than me having to work them out. I don’t always know how a book is going to end when I begin but, usually (hopefully?), by the time I get there, an end has appeared.

M

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:06:37

QuickLookBusy

Agree with you ShowofHands have just finished it for the second time. I think it is a wonderful book.

I really identified with both Ted and Elina. I had an e-cs and the vagueness Maggie describes really summed up those early weeks or even months perfectly.

My own mother left when I was 4 so the whole thing Ted goes through with the birth of the baby bringing memories to the surface, was very emotional for me to read.

I am so glad I have read this book.

I do wonder how/where Maggie did her research for this book or indeed if she has experienced any of the themes.

Can I just say that I love your username? For some reason it reminds me of my DP …
Elina’s e-c is loosely based on the delivery I had with my son in 2003. It’s not an exact account of what happened to me, of course, but I used the experience to inform the character of Elina. It can be such a shock when you have a traumatic and mismanaged delivery: it certainly took me a long time to recover, both physically and mentally. I couldn’t really talk about it for a long time afterwards but then, a few years later, found I wanted to write about it – but as if it happened to someone else. I don’t often use events from my own life in my novels but this one just wouldn’t go away.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:10:51

PogueMahone

I think you're brilliant Maggie. <sycophant>

I loved this book, in fact all of your novels. Great female characters (how fabulous is Lexie?), and an uncanny ability to put into words what motherhood feels like. The beautiful description of a thread unspooling as Lexie walks to work away from her son is just perfect. And this being balanced by this same pull from the child's point of view was heartbreaking in this context.

So... are you a mumsnetter? (Please say you're someone like AF)

Hello Pogue (can I call you Pogue?),

THANK YOU. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it hard to walk away from their children to work.

I am a mumsnetter actually. A committed one. I lurk and occasionally I join a thread. I'm not AF, however...

The Moomin books are wonderful. Are you at all Scandinavian? Did you make Elina Finnish for a particular reason? or did it just add another dimension to the character's displacement/otherness in the book?

And I'm intrigued by Elina's mother - she was actually her 'real' mother (as opposed to Ted's 'unreal' one) but she was less present than Ted's, and, well, completely rubbish to her daughter. Did you deliberately choose to contrast her with the other mothers in the book?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:13:42

bluejeans

Maggie, I read that you have lived in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales and i wondered where feels like home? I love that many of your books (I've read them all!) have a Scottish connection, in an understated sort of way. Too many books are set in London! (I'm Scottish by the way!)

Having lived in lots of different places, I feel that they are all home and yet not. It makes you a little bit of an observer wherever you are, which is of course no bad thing if you happen to be a writer. I think of Scotland as my home these days, partly because it is and partly because my family are here. Also, I moved here when I was a teenager and I think your skin is at its thinnest then - you're at your most porous.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:19:14

scottishmummy

loved the book,dont want spoil so will discuss my jist
the book really got that vagueness of being new mum,the pull of detachment of old self and sudden attachments to a new baby.clash of old life and new life

i liked how lexie grew and emerged into a confident womann through her art . when lexie dies,-the circumstances and description i was upset but couldn't stop reading.really moving

grew to hate margot for the betrayal and not taking care of items she should have.I wasnt shocked at revelation about Ted, more upset how they had handled it

i like maggie style,not so much whodunnits as whydunnits

as an aside, when i read after you'd gone i was convinced alice dies,but when i discussed this with pal she swears no no i got it wrong.....so maggie?

I really wanted to write a novel about those first few weeks of new motherhood - the exhaustion and shock and elation of it all. I hadn't really seen in done much in fiction before. There's an awful lot of non-fiction on the subject but I couldn't believe novelists hadn't been drawn to it before. To me it was irresistable.
I'm sorry you hated Margot. What she did was wrong, of course, but there were extenuating circumstances, wouldn't you say? She herself was a product of bad parenting.
After You'd Gone: I get that question all the time. I wrote the ending and then, at the last minute, I altered it to make it a bit less obvious. But maybe I was a bit strong with the editing because people are always asking me if she died or not. I once got a letter from a man who said I'd ruined his honeymoon because he and his wife argued about whether Alice dies or not. Wasn't sure how to answer. Anyway, nobody is wrong. It's deliberately ambiguous. But to my mind Alice lives. She couldn't not.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:21:22

QueenoftheWildThings

Can't make it tomorrow, but so loved this book - loved the evocation of 50's Soho: excitement about art and ideas; Lexie escaping her family and making her way as an independent woman through Fleet Street at a time when women couldn' t progress in journalism easily and just the most compelling description of traumatic birth and the following haze that I have seen. I couldnt put it down, and I gave my copy to someone and feel a bit bereft and might have to get another one!
Maggie I once saw you in Reception at the building I work in and I was too shy to tell you how much i loved it, so I'm telling you now!

I can't believe you didn't come and say hello. Next time, you must.

scottishmummy Wed 25-May-11 20:24:06

aha about alice raikes.i passed after you'd gone on and yes we did have diff thoughts. glad she didnt die. i read that book every few years,get something different each time

margot i found i increasingly i couldnt reconcile what she did the carelessness of thought and actions -maybe i read her harshly?

the painting behind the dresser, what was the inspiration for that?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:26:31

gailforce1

Maggie, following Tilly's questions what inspired you to start writing and how long was it till you got your first book published?

I've always written, ever since I was a child. I can't remember life without that urge. I've kept a diary since I was quite young and I went to writing workshops for years. I wanted to be a poet for a long time but i wasn't very good. I started writing what became my first novel when I was in my early twenties but it took a long time to finish. I went on an Arvon Foundation Course (a brilliant place - would recommend to anyone who wants to get started on something or wants a bit of help with finishing) and via the tutors there I got in touch with the woman who eventually became my agent. Getting published is a long road and you need to develop the skin of a rhinoceros to deal with all those rejection letters. I redrafted the novel several times before the agent agreed to take me on; she sent it out after a year, it was rejected by six publishers; I rewrote it again over the course of another half-year and then it was picked up.

gailforce1 Wed 25-May-11 20:27:29

Do you find the time to read much yourself and who are your favourite authors?

Just flagging up a lot of discussion amongst Mumsnetters about the twist - did you see it as more of a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit? And do you think Margot was at all redeemed by at least bringing him up, even though she never told him that he wasn't hers?

lorelei88 Wed 25-May-11 20:31:45

Maggie, I just had a baby 2 months ago and just finished the book. It was fab. I particularly enjoyed Lexie's article 'the women we become after children' - its perfect - is this something you wrote beforehand and wove in to the plot? it feels very personal. I love it.

ShowOfHands Wed 25-May-11 20:32:48

Hello Maggie. <shy> I love you a little bit and have ummed and aahed about how to make 'gosh I love your books' into a question but I've got there...

Do you imagine whole lives for your characters after the novel ends? Part of the beauty of your writing is that it's a bit haunting. The characters stay with you. And I sometimes find myself wondering as the books catch my eye on the shelf what happened to Elina and Ted for example. If Ted's 'parents' stayed together etc? Do they cease to exist for you at the close of the book or do you have strands of their lives in your mind?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:32:53

scottishmummy

aha about alice raikes.i passed after you'd gone on and yes we did have diff thoughts. glad she didnt die. i read that book every few years,get something different each time

margot i found i increasingly i couldnt reconcile what she did the carelessness of thought and actions -maybe i read her harshly?

the painting behind the dresser, what was the inspiration for that?

I couldn't really have killed Alice off after all that. The book would have been littered with corpses...
Margot is a tricky one, I admit. I originally conceived her as someone purely evil, a kind of Grimm's fairytale stepmother. In the writing of the novel, though, I found a kind of sympathy for her. She's been so warped by her mother and the desire for children, if thwarted, can make you do all sorts of strange things.
Painting: I was interested while writing the book in the things that outlive us. Those possessions that pass out of our hands after our deaths and go on to have further lives, with other people.

ShowOfHands Wed 25-May-11 20:35:27

I felt ridiculously sorry for Margot. She was created by her mother. I don't think she chose to be that way did she? Poor blooming woman.

I am aware that I'm talking about these characters as if they're real.

Wheelybug Wed 25-May-11 20:36:48

Trying to join in from my phone whilst waiting for dd2 to go to sleep but in case I don't get the chance to join in properl,just to say I loved the book as I have all your books. After you've gone has stayed with me singce I read it when it first came out. Where did your inspiration come from for AY!G? I hope not personal experience.

And do you have anything in the pipeline?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:36:58

gailforce1

Do you find the time to read much yourself and who are your favourite authors?

It can be hard, as I'm sure you all know, with young children in the house. But I am both lucky and cursed to be an insomniac, so I get a lot of reading done then. Favourite authors.
Dead: the Brontes, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Tolstoy, JG Farrell, Molly Keane, Edith Wharton, Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark.
Alive: Margaret Atwood, Michele Roberts, William Boyd, Alice Munro, Peter Carey, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Franzen, David Mitchell.

scottishmummy Wed 25-May-11 20:37:39

i like rummaging in junk shops,there is a poignancy about items that outlive people.a discarded brooch etc wondering who,what loved and held those items. all the shops down grassmarket and candlemaker row

i think your enduring themes is human condition,how we negotiate flaws and decisions made. so i didn't read hand held mine as a whodunnit, a def whydunnit. but if i wanted systematic unpicking and who was it guessing id read another genre

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:40:11

lorelei88

Maggie, I just had a baby 2 months ago and just finished the book. It was fab. I particularly enjoyed Lexie's article 'the women we become after children' - its perfect - is this something you wrote beforehand and wove in to the plot? it feels very personal. I love it.

That particular bit I had a struggle over. It belonged to a much earlier draft, most of which was narrated in the first-person (long story - a disaster that I had to fix, by going through entire manuscript, changing all the 'I's to 'she's and 'me's to 'her's - what a dull fortnight that was) but I couldn't bear to lose that bit. Spent nights awake thinking, how can I save it? Eventually hit upon idea of putting it into Lexie's writing.

I did long to be Lexie, even with the difficulties of working motherhood. I found her so refreshing and un-tethered. Did you unearth a character in any of your research of the period that inspired her? She made me think of Lee Miller...

And was it difficult to edit your Soho artworld research into the plot - must be so tempting to include more Colony Room characters, etc?

lorelei88 Wed 25-May-11 20:43:02

Aha - it definitely has a different tone - Its the part of the book that resonates with me the most - glad you kept it in!

ShowOfHands Wed 25-May-11 20:43:49

Right, will read the rest of the chat later as I do have to interact with my child. My mil's a social worker and Says Things when I leave dd to forage for scraps.

I'm so pleased you're here for a webchat and that you're actually a MNer anyway. You must know how much you're liked by seeing how often you're recommended on here. I'm always foisting your books on friends/family and insisting they read them. grin

Write lots more books immediately.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:45:33

ShowOfHands

Hello Maggie. <shy> I love you a little bit and have ummed and aahed about how to make 'gosh I love your books' into a question but I've got there...

Do you imagine whole lives for your characters after the novel ends? Part of the beauty of your writing is that it's a bit haunting. The characters stay with you. And I sometimes find myself wondering as the books catch my eye on the shelf what happened to Elina and Ted for example. If Ted's 'parents' stayed together etc? Do they cease to exist for you at the close of the book or do you have strands of their lives in your mind?

I think authors write the kind of books they themselves would like to read. I know that I hate it when all the ends are neatly tied up in the final pages of a novel: I find the story and the characters immediately fade from my mind. So, yes, I like the idea of characters going on to have a whole metalife outside the book. I'm sure that Ted and Elina are going to be fine; Felix and Margot, not so fine.
As to whether they cease to exist - they tend to still live in my mind for a long time but part of the process of starting a new book is saying goodbye to the people from the previous book. (Does this make me sound bonkers? Perhaps. Me and my imaginary friends.) There are some characters who don't want to leave. Esme Lennox really didn't want me to start on Lexie and Elina, for example. She wasn't happy at all about that.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:48:17

TillyBookClub

Just flagging up a lot of discussion amongst Mumsnetters about the twist - did you see it as more of a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit? And do you think Margot was at all redeemed by at least bringing him up, even though she never told him that he wasn't hers?

I never really thought of it as a twist, more of a reveal. I knew some people would see the link between the stories straight away and others not. It's there if you want to see it, I suppose. It was something i asked my advisors and editors, while I was writing it: at what point did you realise? But, yes, absolutely a whydunnit.

champagnesupernova Wed 25-May-11 20:49:32

<rushes in late, clattering and trying not to look flustered>

Hello Maggie, loved the book and I love that you're a MNer. grin

Annoyingly I can't say anything too clever as I had made my notes about THTFHM on my Kindle and then it crashed (are you sensing a theme about disorganisation here?!!)

Do you have a Kindle - what do you think of them?

I am going on holiday - which of your books should I download next when it's unfrozen?

I haven't read any others blush but LOVED this one esp Lexie's article as admired above.

beachholiday Wed 25-May-11 20:52:16

Thank you for all your books - have enjoyed all of them. I found the ending of "The Hand That First held Mine" very memorable - I read it when it first came out and the ending very much stayed with me. It was the realisation of what the little boy had had to go through, supressing his memories, and the confused emotions he must have felt as an adult. I really felt such relief that he had Lexie's columns to validate his own past and give him a way forward. It was very thought-provoking.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:52:29

Wheelybug

Trying to join in from my phone whilst waiting for dd2 to go to sleep but in case I don't get the chance to join in properl,just to say I loved the book as I have all your books. After you've gone has stayed with me singce I read it when it first came out. Where did your inspiration come from for AY!G? I hope not personal experience.

And do you have anything in the pipeline?

Hope DD2 has gone off now ...

I think the inspiration for all novels is partly personal experience, partly things you make up and partly things you shamelessly borrow from other people. AYG no exception.
I'm just over halfway through a new book. It's set in the heatwave of 1976 and is about a London-Irish family (sorry to the MNer who thinks there are too many books set in London - it's also set in Ireland and New York). Halfway through is my least favourite place, though. Too far to go back and still a long way to go ...

QuickLookBusy Wed 25-May-11 20:53:51

Oh I'm so annoyed I have missed it all.

Was unexpected delayed by blooming children.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:54:32

TillyBookClub

The Moomin books are wonderful. Are you at all Scandinavian? Did you make Elina Finnish for a particular reason? or did it just add another dimension to the character's displacement/otherness in the book?

And I'm intrigued by Elina's mother - she was actually her 'real' mother (as opposed to Ted's 'unreal' one) but she was less present than Ted's, and, well, completely rubbish to her daughter. Did you deliberately choose to contrast her with the other mothers in the book?

I'm not Scandinavian, more's the pity. I am a total Scandinavia-phile. Love it. Elina is Finnish because, like you say, she needs to be something other than British to emphasis her otherness and also because I went to Finland while working onthe book and loved it so much it had to go in.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 20:56:53

scottishmummy

i like rummaging in junk shops,there is a poignancy about items that outlive people.a discarded brooch etc wondering who,what loved and held those items. all the shops down grassmarket and candlemaker row

i think your enduring themes is human condition,how we negotiate flaws and decisions made. so i didn't read hand held mine as a whodunnit, a def whydunnit. but if i wanted systematic unpicking and who was it guessing id read another genre

Spent a lot of my teenage Saturdays moping about the the second-hand clothes shops in the Grassmarket. It's still one of my favourite places in the world.

PogueMahone Wed 25-May-11 20:58:34

Hurrah for a new novel!
(Of course you can call me Pogue. Much nicer than my full name.)

We're getting close to closing time...Maggie, would you have time to stay just a tad longer and answer Supernova's questions? And then we'll have to call it a day...

QuickLookBusy Wed 25-May-11 21:00:52

Have just read your reply to ScottishMummy about the ending of After You'd Gone.

Thank you for saying Alice lives. I too have had arguments discussions with friends.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 21:02:12

champagnesupernova

<rushes in late, clattering and trying not to look flustered>

Hello Maggie, loved the book and I love that you're a MNer. grin

Annoyingly I can't say anything too clever as I had made my notes about THTFHM on my Kindle and then it crashed (are you sensing a theme about disorganisation here?!!)

Do you have a Kindle - what do you think of them?

I am going on holiday - which of your books should I download next when it's unfrozen?

I haven't read any others blush but LOVED this one esp Lexie's article as admired above.

I'm always late and flustered so no need to apologise here.
Kindles: I don't have one but not because I don't like them. If I commuted, for example, I'd def have one. I'm not much of a gadget person. I can see that we'll prob all have them at some point in the future. But for now I'm still wedded to the feel of a book, to paper and ink, when I'm reading (not when I'm writing). It would be hard to give that up.
A book I loved recently was Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. Anyone else read that? And Kathleen Winter's Annabel & Edward St Aubyn's At Last.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 21:04:43

TillyBookClub

The Moomin books are wonderful. Are you at all Scandinavian? Did you make Elina Finnish for a particular reason? or did it just add another dimension to the character's displacement/otherness in the book?

And I'm intrigued by Elina's mother - she was actually her 'real' mother (as opposed to Ted's 'unreal' one) but she was less present than Ted's, and, well, completely rubbish to her daughter. Did you deliberately choose to contrast her with the other mothers in the book?

Sorry, just realised I forgot to answer second question here. I can't remember if making Elina's mother a bit rubbish was deliberate or not. It just seemed that she was that way - there had to be a reason why Elina had run away and stayed away.

I can't wait to read the St Aubuyn. Mother's Milk had the most brilliant opening chapter, it made me see all my births from the babies POV, and I want to photocopy it and send it to all expectant mothers.

Maggie, you have been brilliant - thank you very very much indeed for all your thoughtful and illuminating answers. And hope you'll be on bookclub again, either as MN'er (can I tempt you by saying we might have Jonathan Franzen on here fairly soon?) or with the new book.

Good luck with the next one, we can't wait to read it. And hope your two are safely fast asleep by now...

And thanks to everyone for their questions. Really enjoyed this evening.

QuickLookBusy Wed 25-May-11 21:10:23

Thank you so much Maggie.

Cannot wait for your next book.

scottishmummy Wed 25-May-11 21:10:56

great duscussion.one of the best id say

cheers

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 21:11:59

TillyBookClub

I can't wait to read the St Aubuyn. Mother's Milk had the most brilliant opening chapter, it made me see all my births from the babies POV, and I want to photocopy it and send it to all expectant mothers.

Maggie, you have been brilliant - thank you very very much indeed for all your thoughtful and illuminating answers. And hope you'll be on bookclub again, either as MN'er (can I tempt you by saying we might have Jonathan Franzen on here fairly soon?) or with the new book.

Good luck with the next one, we can't wait to read it. And hope your two are safely fast asleep by now...

And thanks to everyone for their questions. Really enjoyed this evening.

Mother's Milk one of my favourite books - I can read it over and over again and still marvel at how brilliant it is. At Last just as brilliant, but in a very different way.

It's been such a pleasure to come on here tonight. Thank you all very much for having me. My two are asleep, I think. Either that or concocting some terrible, silent project together in their bedroom ...

gailforce1 Wed 25-May-11 21:12:00

Tilly thanks for organising another great book club. Shame the hour goes so quickly.....

MaggieOFarrell Wed 25-May-11 21:12:18

QuickLookBusy

Thank you so much Maggie.

Cannot wait for your next book.

Ha - me too.

I agree, gailforce, an hour seems never enough. Maybe we can extend. Will see what other MN editors think.

Thanks again everyone. And don't hesitate to tell me which other authors you'd like to see up here...

scottishmummy Wed 25-May-11 21:43:46

Jackie Kay please-outstanding author

bluejeans Wed 25-May-11 22:26:49

Maggie - thank you for answering my question! And I don't mind a bit if the new book is set in London - the 1976 angle sounds good too <old enough to remember it> Can't wait!

QuickLookBusy Thu 26-May-11 07:53:16

Tilly, Kate Atkinson would be a great author to have for a chat.

elkiedee Thu 26-May-11 09:10:29

Thanks to all involved for that, I was actually lurking for most of it as kids in bath with their dad doing the work and looking after them. Isn't Kate Atkinson coming next month?

QuickLookBusy Thu 26-May-11 14:44:20

Oh is she?

Fantastic!!

elkiedee Tue 31-May-11 12:02:24

I finished reading this over the weekend, a little late, I loved reading it and didn't mind the spoilers, the discussion here enhanced my reading of it. Thansk all.

Blatherskite Fri 10-Jun-11 09:51:36

I have finally finsihed reading this book and I really liked it.

I didn't enjoy so much the early days with Elina after the baby was born but I think that's because they were so well written that I felt a little wooly headed and lost too.

Loved the ending though, so poignant and sad. A lovely glimmer of a hope of a happy ending when Elina finds Lexi's articles for Ted though.

Thank you for the opportunity to read it.

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