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May Book of the month: The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal - Post a question and join us Tuesday 9pm

(77 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-May-18 16:57:36

Our May book of the month is Costa Award winning author Francesca Segal's much-awaited second novel, The Awkward Age.

Her first novel "The Innocents' was described as 'subtle, witty and acutely observed' and her latest displays similar traits. In this novel, two parents fall in love in later life and, hoping to take their relationship to the next level, unite their families under one roof. Segal observes the lives of the two families as they grapple with the complexities of blended family life and modern day demands – primarily, the constant pursuit of happiness for our children.

Read our book club bloggers' reviews and read or listen to an extract. ]] and join us in reading in May before our author webchat on Tuesday 5th June.

FernieB Tue 05-Jun-18 21:08:22

That's interesting as Phillip and Iris were definitely my favourites. I loved the way that at first it appeared Phillip was dependant upon Iris but actually it turned out that she needed him far more.

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:08:36

BookerG

Hi Francesca, I also enjoyed the book and with 2 teens can really identify a lot of the friction. I read the article in The Times on Sunday where you were talking about moving back into your family home. I wondered (if you're still there) how are family relations going? As much as my mum loves us (myself and my kids) she has a 2 night max rule. I think it’s sad but I can feel the tensions rising if we stay any longer, so I guess she’s got a point - I'm not sure she could tolerate us moving in!

Hi BookerG - Yes, I am typing this right now at my mom's kitchen table! It works because my mother is great but ALSO - she travels a lot! So we have the house to ourselves quite a bit...

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:11:03

d1161119759230b002599

Hi. I really enjoyed the book and all the relationship ins and outs with both couples. My question is what inspired you to write about the step-siblings relationship? Is it something that you think happens often in real life?

I am always really drawn to situations and circumstances where fundamentally good people who love each other nonetheless wound one another with their choices - I know many readers have found my characters frustrating in this book but I do believe that there is deep love there, between them, even when they are being selfish, and I think it is so awful - and so real - when different family members' needs are in opposition, as Julia's and Gwen's are. And yes - the more I read the more I realised that step-sibling shenanigans are incredibly common. I guess if you throw two teenagers together it's almost inevitable, some of the time!

SallySwann Tue 05-Jun-18 21:12:35

What a beautiful book. I found it interesting that so many characters had a medical background and, in particular, obstetricians. I'd like to ask if you have a medical background or whether a family member has?

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:14:39

MamaCBear

Thinking about the characters and in a family of obstetricians I was quite surprised at how quickly they all assumed Gwen was at fault and was making a mistake, at any point did you consider the outcome of the pregnancy going differently? Was quite poignant reading this shortly after the vote in Ireland and Gwen not being respected for her choice.

Also, which was your favourite couple to write about?

I love this question MamaCBear - I really wrangled with this issue in the book because it is so charged for so many people on either side of the issue.

Personally I have a deeply-held belief in a woman's right to choose, and I didn't want accidentally to write something that could be construed as anti-abortion propaganda. On the other hand I am genuinely interested in the question of who gets a say - and I think it's fair to say a lot of the characters think they had a right to weigh in. Also that no one in this book is particularly interested in listening to Gwen.

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:16:08

Belo

Hi Francesca, I really enjoyed the book. I particularly liked the way the characters were described Gwen and Nathan were so well written - the perfect hateful selfish teenagers. In my understanding Nathan used Gwen as a plaything and Gwen used Nathan for revenge on her mother. I also liked Julia's in laws very much.

I would like to ask what was your starting point for the novel; was it the plot or a particular character?

Hi Belo - It was the situation. I read an article in which two step-siblings had started a relationship and it absolutely electrified me. It was so muddled and awful and difficult and yet the teenagers in that case were so sweet and so genuinely in love and I just thought - wow. That's a novel.

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:18:01

SallySwann

What a beautiful book. I found it interesting that so many characters had a medical background and, in particular, obstetricians. I'd like to ask if you have a medical background or whether a family member has?

Thank you so much, SallySwann! I don't have a medical background but I have always been fascinated by obstetrics and all things related - since long before I had my own kids. Maybe lots of women are. I used to read articles about episiotomy rates and water births and rates of multiple pregnancy just randomly, for fun. Maybe in another life I was a midwife.

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:20:23

Heather2gether

I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the webchat. One thing I wondered when reading the book was - what is the awkward age? At first I presumed it was the teenage years but as it went on I realised that it could have been any of the generations. I think you're right user14....., the tensions were a deliberate ploy by the author. All the characters were flawed and this certainly made it frustrating to read at times but also so true of real life. I love a book that leaves you pondering and this certainly did. I'm looking forward to the webchat tomorrow night.

Hi Heather2gether - Thanks so much. I love what you've said because yes, that was what I had in mind. I believe we pass through many awkward ages in life, and awkwardness is definitely not just the preserve of teenagers...

BookerG Tue 05-Jun-18 21:22:26

I was just thinking it would be interesting if it had been the teens who were together and through them, their parents met and fell in love. Imagine the ructions! That would be quite a different novel

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:23:43

puzzledpandacorn

Finished the book last week and although I found the characters annoying (which I think is maybe the point?) I loved the storytelling! The way the narrative unfurls is great and although the subject matter was slightly predictable I thought the way the story was told makes this book very special..

I guess what I’d like to know is whether you ever took sides with any of your characters as you were writing the book? I was torn the whole way through with feeling sympathy for each character in turn, and it changed quite often and quite rapidly!! Is this something you experienced while writing or did you have a perspective you particularly sympathised with more than others?

Hi puzzledpandacorn, I think I had a very similar experience writing it - I would be on one character's shoulder and feeling deeply with them and then I would flit to another and see it from a totally different perspective. That was what I wanted to explore - that everyone's narratives can be conflicting and at the same time true, to them. And that every people who have one another's best interests at heart can still be selfish and thoughtless, or just misguided...

It's hard for me not to favour Philip. And I do really love Iris too, for different reasons...

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:24:38

BookerG

I was just thinking it would be interesting if it had been the teens who were together and through them, their parents met and fell in love. Imagine the ructions! That would be quite a different novel

Oh, I love that! Imagine HOW EMBARRASSING - if your boyfriend's mum started dating your dad! Terrible. I would love to read that book...

SallySwann Tue 05-Jun-18 21:25:03

Your first book won, or was nominated for, several prizes, but how difficult was it gaining that first publishing deal and what prompted you to start writing?

Belo Tue 05-Jun-18 21:25:18

Bookerg, I know a couple who got together that way! It most certainly didn't lead to a happy family!

FernieB Tue 05-Jun-18 21:25:46

Booker - I know someone whose husband left her for their teen sons girlfriends mother! It happens. The fallout was huge.

Francesca - Pamela is a larger than life character with bags of personality. Is she based on anyone?

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:26:43

ClaireTMumsnet

Hi Francesca - I was wondering who you'd say your biggest influences are, both in writing style and in subject matter?

It's hard to say who my biggest influences are - I can say who I adore reading. I love AS Byatt, Nick Hornby, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Rosamond Lehmann is just a genius. I adore Edward St Aubyn so I am too scared to watch the TV adaptation.

MiniMiniMiniBar Tue 05-Jun-18 21:27:01

Thanks for answering! On a totally different topic, are you writing a new book at the moment and if so are you allowed to say what it's about?

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:27:21

Belo

*Bookerg*, I know a couple who got together that way! It most certainly didn't lead to a happy family!

What happened??? Fascinating!

MamaCBear Tue 05-Jun-18 21:29:03

The most moving moment for me was Mole dying. It was the most relatable part for me personally and I liked that this was a way of bonding Joan into the family for Gwen. Pleased that things worked out for Philip.

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:29:09

MiniMiniMiniBar

Thanks for answering! On a totally different topic, are you writing a new book at the moment and if so are you allowed to say what it's about?

Yes and Yes! I am writing something totally different - it is a slim little non-fiction book, a diary of the fifty-six days that my premature twin daughters spent in hospital. It is part love letter to the NHS, part love letter to my daughters, and most of all a love letter to the other incredible women I met in the NICU - the sisterhood of us, on the ward. I've never written non-fiction before so it is a very different experience, but it's a joy to be doing it. It's coming out Spring next year, as yet with no title...

SallySwann Tue 05-Jun-18 21:29:33

You have left The Awkward Age at a point where there is potential for a sequel. So, how tempted are you to revisit these characters at some point in their future lives? Also, have you started writing your next novel and, if so, what can you say about it please?

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:30:35

FernieB

Booker - I know someone whose husband left her for their teen sons girlfriends mother! It happens. The fallout was huge.

Francesca - Pamela is a larger than life character with bags of personality. Is she based on anyone?

Oh no - at least it wasn't the teen son's girlfriend, at least, which was where I thought you were going!

She's a little bit based on a few people. I do adore angry hippies - I think that mixture of zen posture and acid tongue is so fascinating.

Celama Tue 05-Jun-18 21:31:15

Hi Francesca
I enjoyed the book especially the way it was divided into sections and found it very easy, continuous read where I could happily read chapter after chapter as they flowed into each other. Like others have said, I did find Julia and Gwen particularly irritating - why did you decide to make them so insipid when everyone else had a much stronger personality?

Belo Tue 05-Jun-18 21:32:30

The parents ended up getting married and the two kids fell out and hated their step parents. The parents are still together and the last time I saw my ex-colleague, she told me that 15 years on the kids (now late 20s) has finally come to terms with the marriage!

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:33:08

SallySwann

Your first book won, or was nominated for, several prizes, but how difficult was it gaining that first publishing deal and what prompted you to start writing?

I've always written, since I was a child. My first publishing deal - I wrote a column reviewing debut fiction for the Observer for about five years and so a few agents began to know my name because I was reviewing their clients. That was very valuable because it meant that when I wrote to people they at least read my submissions.

So getting an agent was my first hurdle, and after that I think it took... six years, to signing first book deal?

FrancescaSegal Tue 05-Jun-18 21:34:56

Celama

Hi Francesca
I enjoyed the book especially the way it was divided into sections and found it very easy, continuous read where I could happily read chapter after chapter as they flowed into each other. Like others have said, I did find Julia and Gwen particularly irritating - why did you decide to make them so insipid when everyone else had a much stronger personality?

It's such an interesting question because I also found them frustrating.

I think it was just how I thought they would behave, rather than how I wanted them to. They were both shaped in different ways by their circumstances and this was where I saw them - trapped together in their complex mutual dependence, Julia too passive, Gwen too domineering...

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