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It was off to my favourite place in Abingdon (Mostly Books, where else!) on Thursday for an evening with one of the town’s favourite authors – Bethan Roberts. Born and bred in Abingdon, it was Bethan’s third visit to the bookshop, and for those of us who’ve been to see her talk each time, it’s like meeting an old friend – she remembers everyone. There was also a good turn-out from her friends and family, so it’s always a bit of a homecoming for Bethan, who now lives in Brighton.

mother islandThis time she was here to talk about her fourth novel, the newly published Mother Island. (I will be reviewing it for Shiny New Books in our mid-August inbetweeny issue, together with an extended interview.) Bethan’s third novel My Policeman, featuring a love triangle in 1950s Brighton was stunningly good, making me weep towards the end and was my ‘best three hankie book’ of 2012, (my review here) so I had really looking forward to her latest.

In introducing Mother Island, Bethan gave us her sales pitch: She said she had nailed a basic description of the book early on – ‘It’s about a nanny who steals a child!’ – so if you like psychological thrillers – this book is for you. It’s also about Anglesey, where her dad grew up, a beautiful, mysterious and difficult place – so if you like scenery and bridges – this book is for you. It’s also about motherhood and post-natal depression, art and life-drawing – so if you like reading about any of them – this book is for you. She admitted she felt uneasy about the thrillerish nature of the basic premise, as the novel is about so much more than this.

Maggie is Nula’s cousin, and nanny to toddler Samuel. But there is history between the two women, going back to when Maggie was a teenager, living in Anglesey and Nula and her father came to stay for the summer. I won’t say more for now…

20140731_194657_resizedBethan read to us from the prologue, in which Maggie actually abducts the little boy, followed by conversation with shop-owner Mark and questions from the audience. Mark asked if Bethan was worried about the book being marketed as psycho-nanny, and what did Bethan’s childminder think of it?  Bethan had been worried, but her part-time nanny had read the book and was OK with it – phew!

They also discussed Bethan’s move of publisher from Serpent’s Tail to Chatto & Windus for My Policeman. Bethan said that Serpent’s Tail had been, and still are, wonderful for her first two novels, but their editing process was short, and she felt that to improve as a writer a more involving and longer process with her publisher would be better, Chatto’s goes round several times. With Mother Island, she had started with Nula, knowing that Maggie would be a big part – but it became Maggie’s book in the edit.

20140731_203916_resizedThe inspiration for the book came from Bethan wanting to write about Anglesey. Originally she’d thought of a turn of the century setting, but being a new mother didn’t have time for the research – so she turned to her own life for the first time, and memories of many happy holidays there. (Incidentally, the boathouse in the novel does exist – it was a ruin, but has now been chi-chied up and was for sale at nearly 500k!). She particularly wanted to write a novel about motherhood and bringing up young children too – there aren’t many that show how difficult it can be.

Mother Island was a fantastic and involving novel to read – I highly recommend it. Bethan is lovely and I wish her every success. See you next time!

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Source: Publisher – thank you! To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Mother Islandby Bethan Roberts. Pub July 2014 by Chatto & Windus, Hardback, 320 pages.
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts, paperback.

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