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September book of the month: Fierce by Gin Phillips. Read ahead of the author webchat on 26 September, 9pm

(72 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 03-Sep-18 16:14:56

Our September book of the month is Fierce by Gin Phillips. It's been described by bookclub blogger Max and Mummy as "a small but mighty book that will leave you holding your breath as the story unfolds".

Joan and her four year old son Lincoln are about to head home after a trip to their local zoo. On their way to the exit Joan is stopped in her path by an unsettling noise in the distance. She immediately senses that all is not as it should be. What follows is an examination of their movements over the next three hours within the confines of the zoo.

As Joan races to protect Lincoln from imminent and very real danger, she is confronted by the every day needs of her young son; loo stops, hunger pangs and his inability to stay quiet, even at the most crucial moment.

This is a nail-biting, fast paced novel that will make you question how would you respond if you were no longer able to protect your child from danger. As Joan responds to what unfolds, the novel examines our animal instinct and the ferocity of maternal love.

Find out what our bloggers thought and read an extract of Fierce, then buy a copy and join us in reading ahead of the webchat with author Gin Phillips on this thread on Wednesday 26 September, 9pm.

MakemineaGandT Wed 26-Sep-18 21:02:29

Hello smile

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:03:02

FernieB

There are Reading Group questions at the back of the book. I'd like to ask if Gin had any input into these questions and what question would she like to ask readers?

I did have a say in those questions, and they capture my own thoughts pretty well.

MakemineaGandT Wed 26-Sep-18 21:03:35

Oooh yes! I could really imagine Kate Winslet as Joan.

Belo Wed 26-Sep-18 21:05:04

I'm just under half the way through the
book so I'm joining this discussion with blinkers on! I only started to reading
this yesterday, so the fact that I've read so much is a testament to how
gripping and tense the book is!

The book reminds me of Emma Donoghue's
"Room" where the mother really tries to protect the child from the
horrendousness of the situation they're in. But, there are quite a few observations
in it which relate to all parents. The line "A considerable part of parenting
is pretending moods that you don’t entirely feel" really resounded with
me.

My question is why did you decide to
set the book in a zoo?

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:05:53

MamaCBear

I guess this situation is sadly becoming more of a reality these days, did you imagine that Joan survived at the end of the story or not? I wasn't sure which way that might go. Also, did you ever consider writing a chapter from Paul's perspective, on the outside?

Oh, everyone's always wondering about the ending! So let's take that one first. I like that the reader can decide for themselves what happens. In ways I didn’t intend, I think the ending has turned out as a litmus test for how people view the world. My husband read the first draft of the book and stalked into the room saying, “I can’t believe you let her die!” And I said, “I didn’t!”

I like that he can have a different ending than I did. That you can have a different ending than I did. So that’s one reason for the content of the last few pages. The other is that, in as much as the book is about parenting, the truth is that–in the best of circumstances–you leave your child behind. You go and they stay. So the ending can’t be all smiley faces and rainbows. That’s not life.

And another thing about life: we don’t get everything tied up neatly. We don’t KNOW how our actions effect everyone down the line. Joan can’t know the end result for everyone at the end of the night.

But, for what it’s worth, I always veer towards light instead of dark. I think she lives.

Jenniferturkington Wed 26-Sep-18 21:08:01

Gosh, it never even occurred to me that she didn’t live!

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:08:34

Belo

My question is why did you decide to
set the book in a zoo?

Oh dear, Belo, I hope you ignored my last answer. So...onto less spoiler-ish ground. I liked the idea of setting a story in a very domestic, suburban kind of setting—somewhere recognizable to every parent. The zoo is safe and familiar and unthreatening. And that’s how we think of mothers sometimes, isn’t it?
But the zoo isn't only that. There are wild things in boxes. There are sharp teeth and claws. There is power.
I think that sense of complexity works well for what plays out in the story. Joan and Lincoln wind up feeling trapped, so there is that echo of the caged animals, but Joan is also smart and strong and sure. She has power.

SallySwann Wed 26-Sep-18 21:08:47

What a thrilling read! The book was originally titled Fierce Kingdom, but the version we read was simply called Fierce. What do you think about the name change and how much thought actually goes into choosing the title? Also, the title of a book often differs in different countries, even if they are all English speaking. So, do you choose the title yourself and are you consulted on the different titles?

Heather2gether Wed 26-Sep-18 21:11:21

Thanks Gin - and mumsnet for the book - like others I found it impossible to put down and read it in one sitting. Was this your intention?

I'm also interested to know your thoughts on the gun laws in the US.

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:11:22

WhatWouldLeslieKnopeDo

Was the story inspired by a real experience? I mean obviously you (I hope) have never encountered a gunman. But the feeling of needing to protect your child.

I have a son, and he was four at the time that I wrote this. I'd really been wanting to write something that explored motherhood. I was spending a lot of time in the zoo during those months, and you have a lot of time to think when you’re staring at a completely stationary alligator for the three-hundredth time.
At some stage, I found myself wondering, What would we do if someone came in here with a gun? Where would I go?
Eventually I thought, hmmm, maybe motherhood could be the center of a book. Maybe the love and joy and sacrifice and animal pull of it—might be brought out most intensely in the most intense situation.

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:14:04

starlight36

Hi Gin,
How long did it take you to write the novel? Did you have a firm plan of how the events were going to unfold or did it evolve during the writing process?

This was a really fast book to write, actually. The first draft took about three months, and the almost-finished version went to my editor in less than year. In the beginning I basically had 1) my first couple of chapters in my head, 2) an idea about hiding in a porcupine pen, and 3) the ending. Everything else I filled in as I went.

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:14:58

Jenniferturkington

Gosh, it never even occurred to me that she didn’t live!

You're clearly a glass-half-full kind of person, Jennifer!

SallySwann Wed 26-Sep-18 21:17:59

Shootings seem to be very commonplace in the U.S. Mass shootings seem to be all too common which doesn't seem to be helped by the strong gun lobby in the country. Was there anything in particular that influenced you to illustrate the strong bond between mother and child in such a violent scenario? Also, do you think there should be strict gun controls as in the U.K.?

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:18:28

MakemineaGandT

My question is - have you experienced any criticism in America for your statement “They sound like young, obnoxious white men - aren’t they always young white men?”? Of course you are right, statistically, and there have been a lot of real life events (sadly) which you must have drawn inspiration from. However, the pro-gun lobby in America doesn’t seem keen to address this!

I find this a really interesting question because the truth is that while every publication or group I've talked to throughout Europe asks plenty of questions about guns, LITERALLY NO ONE IN ANY AUDIENCE IN THE U.S. HAS EVER ASKED A QUESTION ABOUT GUNS. I, too, thought that line might get some heat. But, no. I think people are so tense about guns here that they hesitate to even bring up that line of thought in polite gatherings. Which is so much more troubling than if we were actually actively debating.

Celama Wed 26-Sep-18 21:18:51

Hi Gin,
I read the book quickly; the story was very gripping and I wanted to find out what happened. I have to admit however that Joan and Lincoln really irritated me, sorry! Lincoln just didn’t ring true for his age to me and he was very much PFB which really bugs me. I didn’t understand throwing away the phone and also Joan’s inability to understand why the baby’s mother had hidden the child yet she did the same to Lincoln although her reasoning was to protect Lincoln but she assumed the mother was protecting herself.

My personal preference would have been to have the story told more fully from other peoples experiences rather than concentrating on Joan and my question is, did you consider an alternative ending where we maybe found out what had happened to everyone, both mentioned in the story and those not mentioned or outside waiting for news?

It was a great story that I read in one sitting so even though I might sound as if I’m complaining - I’m not, honestly!

FernieB Wed 26-Sep-18 21:21:07

Thanks for answering my questions Gin. It also never occurred to me that Joan didn't live!

There were a lot of ethical dilemmas in the book. To help the teenagers or not, shelter the mum or not, rescue the baby or not. Joan was able to put Lincoln first in all these and turn her back on others but after Kailynn rescued her and she spent time with her and Mrs Powell she didn't turn away from them so easily. Was this because she felt she owed them or because she'd built a connection with them?

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:24:39

I see a few questions about Joan throwing her phone, so let's jump into that. A couple of points there: First of all, she has a split second to make the decision (which about how much time she has to make every decision). The men are mere feet away. She is desperate to get rid of them....Her phone has, actually, been a liability, both because of the light on the screen and because it distracts her. She feels strongly, in that moment, that the phone is pulling her out of the here and now.

Here's a question: Think of how distracted you are by your phone in any given moment of the day. How much dimmer it makes real life. Do you want to be zoned into Twitter when missing the sound of a single footstep could kill you?

There are more than logistical concerns, too—this is the moment where Joan gets sick of waiting for someone to save her and her son. She decides that she will save them.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 26-Sep-18 21:26:20

Celama

Hi Gin,
I read the book quickly; the story was very gripping and I wanted to find out what happened. I have to admit however that Joan and Lincoln really irritated me, sorry! Lincoln just didn’t ring true for his age to me and he was very much PFB which really bugs me. I didn’t understand throwing away the phone and also Joan’s inability to understand why the baby’s mother had hidden the child yet she did the same to Lincoln although her reasoning was to protect Lincoln but she assumed the mother was protecting herself.

My personal preference would have been to have the story told more fully from other peoples experiences rather than concentrating on Joan and my question is, did you consider an alternative ending where we maybe found out what had happened to everyone, both mentioned in the story and those not mentioned or outside waiting for news?

It was a great story that I read in one sitting so even though I might sound as if I’m complaining - I’m not, honestly!

To translate to Gin: PFB = precious first born - possibly something you're not aware of unless you frequent the Mumsnet discussion boards smile

Jenniferturkington Wed 26-Sep-18 21:29:59

I liked the teacher being bought in to the story. The line ‘she didn’t give anyone else any orange’ struck a chord with me (a teacher) as it highlights that children don’t remember the endless maths & English lessons so much as the small stuff that makes them feel special.

Which teacher left a lasting mark in your memory and how?

miketv Wed 26-Sep-18 21:30:21

Hi - do you think Joan was right to tell Lincoln that the bad men would kill them? That would probably make older children behave but younger ones perhaps can't grasp the gravity of the situation?

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:30:37

FernieB

There were a lot of ethical dilemmas in the book. To help the teenagers or not, shelter the mum or not, rescue the baby or not. Joan was able to put Lincoln first in all these and turn her back on others but after Kailynn rescued her and she spent time with her and Mrs Powell she didn't turn away from them so easily. Was this because she felt she owed them or because she'd built a connection with them?

FernieB--I thought the core question of this book was "What do you owe your child...and what do you owe a stranger?" Or, put another way, what do you owe someone else's child? I think that Joan is faced with one impossible choice after another: most of us would like to believe that we'd risk our lives for a stranger...but if you ask us if we'd risk our child's life? A different answer, I think. That's what changes, I think by the end of the novel--Lincoln is not in immediate risk by Joan's choice to go after Kailynn. And, too, you're right that she has built a connection. She's realized that this child is as precious as her own child. I think of the book as being about the ways we are all bound together. We're living in such a tribal time these days, and I believe strongly that the answer to what do you owe someone else's child is the same as what you owe your own: everything.

Jenniferturkington Wed 26-Sep-18 21:30:45

*brought

FernieB Wed 26-Sep-18 21:31:16

Gin - I agree about the phone. I felt Joan was finding it an irritant anyway. If you had a phone you'd constantly be checking for updates and it would be incredibly frustrating to have no new information (as Paul kept saying "they won't tell us anything"). All Joan found was news of a flood. Better to be without it than be constantly disappointed by what the phone tells you.

GinPhillips Wed 26-Sep-18 21:35:19

[quote RachelMumsnet]

Celama

Hi Gin,
Lincoln just didn’t ring true for his age to me and he was very much PFB which really bugs me.
My personal preference would have been to have the story told more fully from other peoples experiences rather than concentrating on Joan and my question is, did you consider an alternative ending where we maybe found out what had happened to everyone, both mentioned in the story and those not mentioned or outside waiting for news?

To translate to Gin: PFB = precious first born - possibly something you're not aware of unless you frequent the Mumsnet discussion boards smile

I think I've touched on the ending already--it was very important to me that it not tie up too neatly. And, for me, this was always Joan and Lincoln's story. They are the core. As for Lincoln not ringing true, try to avoid saying that around my friends and family. It's the one criticism of the book that brings a rush of objections.

One of the great pleasures of writing the book was that it let me capture my son exactly as he was at four. For anyone who knows him, I promise that Lincoln feels pretty real.

Paulastribe Wed 26-Sep-18 21:36:23

I've been recommending Fierce to lots of friends. For me that it really captures the irrevocable love you feel for your child and desire to protect them - as well as being a great thriller. I'm a big fan of domestic noir novels . Gin - are you? and who do you have any recommendations for other novels or authors?

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