Katherine Faulkner is an award-winning journalist. Her debut novel, Greenwich Park, is also critically acclaimed. She has now returned with a new book and we are honoured and excited to have her here with us today. The Other Mothers follows ex-journalist Tash who is navigating motherhood and a new friendship group with the other mothers at her son’s playgroup. And why they seem to have everything she has always dreamt of, they also have their secrets…
You are a journalist, and Tash is a news reporter. How different and similar do you find writing investigative journalism and mystery thrillers to be?
They are entirely different, but complementary. The pace and intensity of being an investigative journalist is far greater, but fiction writing can be difficult in a different way. It’s lonely, and also much more personal, so it makes you vulnerable in a way that journalism doesn’t. The journalism I’ve done has provided me with loads of inspiration for fiction, though. So many of the cases and stories I’ve covered have set me off thinking about characters and scenarios, and wondering about the real, granular truth of the people at the heart of the stories.
The Other Mothers alternates between Tash and Sophie’s POV, in different timelines. What was the writing process like? Did you write one person’s POV first?
I’m not a massive plotter, so I needed to move between Sophie and Tash’s points of view as I was writing it, but I tended to write a few Sophie chapters at a time, and then a few Tash chapters, so that I could stay inside that character’s head and keep it in their voice. Tash is older, more articulate, and in some ways she was easier to write. Sophie is from a different generation and I had to be careful to keep her chapters in the voice of a young person – and to keep my own, millennial thoughts and phrases out of it!
How did you keep track of everything to make sure it fits neatly?
I write a lot of emails to myself, and note down things I need to fix later! I wasn’t really aware that I was attempting something structurally ambitious with The Other Mothers, I just knew that this felt like the right way to tell the story – it was only when an editor pointed out that I was trying to do something really difficult that I realised this was the case! So yes, there was quite a lot of reverse engineering involved – but I quite enjoy that part of writing: it feels like constructing a puzzle.
This is so well researched! Please tell us everything – how did you approach doctors and nurses about this without sounding you are plotting a murder?
Luckily, quite a few of my close friends from university were doctors. I thought they’d find it quite annoying to be bombarded with my questions but most of them absolutely loved getting involved, and trying to imagine the various dark scenarios I was asking them about! I also spoke to coroners and pathologists about what happens to bodies that are found in water, which subtle signs of injury are the easiest to miss and how a murder might be thereby mistaken for an accidental death – which was completely fascinating!
There is also a lot about childhood trauma and attachment disorders, which is very interesting. Why did you decide to include this aspect in your novel?
I actually thought hard about this. I personally don’t enjoy books where really dark and awful things happen to children – I just can’t stomach it – so you’ll probably never find that in my books. But on the other hand, the nature of my plot meant the children involved were unavoidably going to be impacted, so I thought it was important to accurately reflect that, and understand how things like grief and loss might impact a child. I did a lot of reading and also spoke to a child psychologist who was really brilliant on this. It was actually one of her comments which sparked the idea for one of the big clues in the book.
And are there any fascinating facts you learned that you didn’t put in the book but can share with us?
I learned some really gory stuff from pathologists! One told me that pathologists sometimes have to take the skin off the hand of a corpse and wear it like a glove in order to get good fingerprint samples or to unlock a phone…
Finally, let’s chat about female friendships. Why do you think women can form sudden intimacy with complete strangers?
I think when you’re pregnant, or have a baby or young child, you feel all the time that you’re in unchartered waters – or I did. For me the response to that has always been to seek out the friendship and gallows humour of others in the same boat, and that intimacy can build very quickly because – as Tash says in the opening of The Other Mothers – so much of your lives are inevitably familiar: what you spend your day doing, what you worry about, what keeps you awake at night. I actually love that about motherhood – how it’s such a leveller, and how it breaks down social boundaries. But of course, because I’m a writer of thrillers (!) I can’t resist also imagining what the dark side of that could be, and how the illusion of intimacy could mask something more sinister.
And being a mother, how much of Tash’s experience is inspired by your personal life?
In terms of the small details of her life with a young child, and her conflicting feelings on it – a lot of that comes from my experience, yes! The highs and lows can be so intense –amplified further by hormones, lack of sleep, financial and other pressures. Sometimes there’s nothing more wonderful than a day with your young child – the cosy, slow-paced freedom of it, the love you feel just watching them walking along a pavement and pausing to look at snails and things like that. And then, at other times, it just feels hellish – a draining hamster-wheel of suffocating domesticity and relentless illness, and you wonder what on earth happened to the person you used to be. I think part of the reason Tash is so intrigued by these wealthy other mothers is that she is still searching for a template of how to be – and of course, there is something incredibly seductive about their version of motherhood, because it’s all so pleasant and easy in their moneyed world. Tash wants to believe she can be like them, that she hasn’t consigned herself to a life of drudgery, that she can still hold onto her identity, can still have nice things. And it’s that sense of longing – which I think most mothers have sometimes – that gets her into trouble.