Category: Spotlight

Spotlight + Giveaway: A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas

Posted April 30, 2019 by Lily B in Spotlight / 23 Comments

Howdy, all!

We have a special post introducing a debut author who has definitely gone with the ‘write what you know’ idea and produced a story in her own world of therapy and mental health. Let’s welcome author, Bev Thomas.

But first a little about her book: 

Ruth Hartland is an experienced therapist at the top of her game. The director of a renowned psychiatric unit for trauma victims, she is wise, intelligent, successful, and respected by her peers. But her calm professional demeanor belies a personal life full of secrets and sadness. The mother of grown twins, she is haunted by the fact that her son Tom, a beautiful but fragile boy who could never seem to fit in, disappeared eighteen months ago. So when Dan—a volatile new patient bearing an eerie resemblance to Tom—wanders into her waiting room, it’s not long before her judgment becomes clouded, boundaries are crossed, and disaster ensues. Bev Thomas’ debut novel, A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER (Pamela Dorman Books / Viking; Hardcover; $26.00; On Sale: April 30, 2019), is a powerful page-turner about motherhood, grief, obsession, and the importance of letting go.

A clinical psychologist herself, author Bev Thomas has in-depth knowledge of therapy and mental health, and takes readers inside Ruth’s head with rich detail and realism. Who among us hasn’t wondered what goes on in the private thoughts and life of a therapist? What is it like to be a sounding board for someone else’s troubles—and how do you deal with your own demons in the meantime? A deeply compelling narrator, Ruth is poised on the outside but troubled within, incapable of moving on, fixated on how she failed her son and whether he can be found. With her family in pieces and her marriage crumbling, Ruth finds this new patient Dan is both a balm and a landmine—he is clearly unstable and manipulative, but he is also the shadow son she might actually be able to save. As Ruth twists herself into knots about her duties as a mother and a therapist, she becomes frantic and reckless, events spiral out of control, and her once calm and orderly life is violently disrupted.

A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER will have readers on the edge of their seats, but it is also a brilliant, beautiful story of parenting, of how love consumes us and how difficult it is to heal from tragedy, even when we must.

Now, let’s see what Bev has to say about her book that she shared in an interview with Penguin Viking:

 

 

A CONVERSATION WITH BEV THOMAS

1.       The protagonist of A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER is Ruth Hartland, an experienced therapist who specializes in helping trauma victims. You were also a clinical psychologist for many years, and have an in-depth understanding of this world. What made you want to explore the patient-therapist relationship in fiction and how did your real-life experiences inform the novel?

 

In my work, I had always been very interested in grief and loss – powerful emotions that not only underpin the human condition, but frequently find their way into the therapy room. But I was initially reluctant to explore the therapeutic world in fiction, as I didn’t want the focus to be on a patient. It was only when I flipped the concept and made the protagonist a flawed therapist instead, that the story began to emerge. What if a brilliant therapist is blindsided by feelings of grief about her own missing son? What if one of her new patients reminds her of him? And so the story began. 

 

All the detail around the case work is fictionalized, but the world is real. The workings of a National Health Service [NHS] department, the therapy work, and the understanding and treatment of psychological difficulties are very much drawn from my experience of working as a clinical psychologist in the public sector.

 

2.       How do you feel about the way therapy is typically depicted in popular culture, including books, movies, and television shows? And why do you think people are so consistently fascinated with this subject?

 

I find that in popular culture, therapy is often used as a plot device rather than something to be explored in its own right. There are many different types of therapy, but since my training was in the psychoanalytic model, it was this area that I wanted to explore in greater depth in fiction. It places emphasis on the transference, the relationship between therapist and patient, and the importance of boundaries, and these are the elements that get played out in Ruth’s story. 

 

Therapy is about enabling a person to make sense of their own life story. I think the general fascination with therapy in the media is partly because it’s such a private world: just two people talking in a room. There’s both an intimacy and secrecy to that relationship. In my book, people come to therapy feeling desperate, and hope their lives will change for the better. By opening a window into this world, the reader becomes a fly on the wall, and by seeing it all through Ruth’s point of view, the reader is simultaneously party to, and full of, her anxieties and struggles. People are endlessly fascinated and intrigued about other people’s lives, but I believe it’s more than just curiosity. I think people want to ‘listen in’ to learn about what makes people tick, in order perhaps to apply that learning and wisdom to their own lives.

 

There is clearly an appetite for this subject matter. Among recent works of nonfiction, there is the brilliant An Examined Life by the psychotherapist Stephen Grosz, where he writes beautiful case study vignettes. They read like perfect short stories that teach us about life, love, emotions and relationships. On television, the series In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne was an excellent portrayal of the complexities of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

 

3.       A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER is also, as the title suggests, about the responsibilities and challenges of motherhood. Why did you choose to ground the novel in Ruth’s role as a mother and in her relationships with her children—and were there particular themes or issues you hoped to explore?

 

In my clinical work, I became particularly interested in attachment theory, and how this can affect the relationship between a mother and child. The title is taken from the writings of Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. It refers to the necessary progressive detachment of a mother to her child, so that the child is able to develop appropriate independence. The aim is for something less than perfect, not all encompassing, enabling a child to learn to thrive. In the book, the irony for Ruth is that, despite her best intentions, it is her own difficulties in separating from her son that contribute to his problems. 

 

Attachment and mothering are key themes in the book, reflected in the relationship between Ruth and her mother, Ruth and her son Tom, and also what we come to learn about the relationship between Dan and his mother. We also see how patterns can unintentionally be repeated through the generations. And in making Ruth the mother of twins, I wanted to help the reader to see differences in the way she parents her two children. Carolyn, as the overtly less ‘needy’ child, gets much less attention and focus, which clearly affects their relationship.

 

I think the book highlights a general tendency towards ‘over parenting’ and perhaps taps into the maternal anxiety of our generation. We are bombarded with messages that encourage perfection, success, and the emotional happiness of our children. And while we of course need to offer love and support to our kids, we also need to know when to stand back and let them find their own way, however painful that might be. 

 

4.       Because of your background, you already had firsthand knowledge of psychological therapy and psychoanalytic theory before beginning this book. But you did do some additional research while writing. Can you talk a little bit about what that process looked like, and what you learned more about?

 

I did further research into the psychology of trauma. It was something I had encountered in my clinical work, but I was able to deepen this understanding through research, particularly into the psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of trauma. I came to appreciate the difficult and enormously valuable work done by therapists who treat the survivors of awful tragedies and traumas. We might read those stories on the front page of the paper, or see them on the evening news, but we don’t always think about how those people go on to live their lives after experiencing such terrible events. While Ruth is a flawed character, I hope readers will gain an insight into the psychoanalytic model of therapy and the extraordinary work done by skilled therapists in this field.

 

I also did further research into missing persons. I was appalled by the statistics of young people and adults that go missing every year.  My research focused on the lives of families and loved ones who are left in an awful limbo, a state that has been described as an ‘ambiguous loss’—a particularly painful psychological experience that is punctuated by hope, uncertainty, and a lack of closure.

 

5.       From the first introduction of Dan—Ruth’s new patient who bears a striking resemblance to her missing son—it is clear that he is damaged and manipulative. Yet Ruth is drawn to him all the same, and the reader must wait with bated breath to see just how bad things get. How did you go about building suspense, and were you inspired by any other novels or films?

 

I probably spent an inordinate amount of time on the opening chapter! It really needed to set up the book, revealing simultaneously both the risk and the inevitability of Ruth’s choice to continue seeing this patient. The reader needs to knows it’s unwise, but also to understand the pull. In the book, the two parallel stories of Dan and Tom are interwoven. In each strand, there are important questions to which the reader wants answers, and it is the slow and steady revelations that build suspense, continuing until the narratives collide and come to a climax at the same time.

 

Unsurprisingly, I’m drawn to books and film that explore psychological and emotional complexities. One film that gets a mention in the book is Ordinary People, which is an extraordinary film about the aftermath of grief and loss in a family. I am endlessly fascinated about why people do the things they do.  The books and films I enjoy the most are often about ordinary people’s lives. The dynamics of family life are steeped in conflict and tension, and encapsulate huge drama.

 

One of the fundamentals for me in writing this book was to ensure the characters make ‘psychological sense’.  I wanted the reader to really believe in them as characters; back stories, motivations, emotions and subsequent behaviors had to be believable and true. 

 

6.       In many ways, Ruth represents the archetype of the “wounded healer.” Can you expand on that idea a little further, and what it means in the world of this book?  

 

The “wounded healer” was a term originally created by the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. It refers to the idea that analysts are compelled to treat patients because they themselves are ‘wounded.’  

 

Many people in the caring professions come to the work because they are interested in it, but also perhaps because they have also had difficult personal experiences.  Therapists, just like all people, deal with the complexities of emotional and family life, and this can often add, rather than detract, from ability to do a good job.

 

As is highlighted in the book, however, a problem arises if work becomes a way of trying to heal a personal problem. For Ruth, helping and fixing was something that was rooted in her complicated childhood. She was the child of an alcoholic, and after her father left her family, she was the sole caretaker of a mother who was volatile and inconsistent. Undoubtedly, this life experience played a part in her decision to train as a therapist – and probably contributed to her being an extremely good one.

 

Yet, it is her more recent, current grief for her missing son that is her undoing. She is ‘wounded’ by this trauma, so at the very time she needs to be pulling back, she sinks in deeper, and Dan becomes a focus of her feelings of grief and despair. 

 

Therapists are not immune from the tragedies of life, and support and supervision are essential to ensure that their work is not compromised by their personal lives. In the book, Ruth has a supervisor, but she is not honest with him, hiding crucial information because she knows exactly what he would say if he knew the truth. She fails to practice what she preaches. 

 

7.       Without giving too much away, A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER culminates in a terrible act of violence. But the book doesn’t end there, and instead shows the characters working through the aftermath—confusion, grief, penance, acceptance. Why was it important to you to examine the effects of trauma and to grapple with the toll that this violence takes on the characters?

 

There is a multilayered aspect to the book, as I wanted to create mirroring between the emotional experiences of the characters. We see how Ruth’s childhood feeling of suffocation and lack of individuation at the hands of her mother is mirrored in her relationship with her son. We also see how her unresolved trauma regarding the disappearance of Tom draws her inexorably to Dan, as she’s compelled to try to find a way to ‘fix’ him, in a way she has failed to do with Tom. Dan was looking for a mother; she was looking for a son. It was a perfect storm. Interweaving these stories was fundamental to the plot, but I also wanted to make sure the emotional fallout following the tragedy was similarly multilayered. It couldn’t be a clearcut line of blame and responsibility that would fall at the door of one person – life very rarely works that way. It felt important to show the subsequent emotional unravelling in all its complexity.

 

8.       What do you hope readers take away from A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER?

 

First and foremost, it’s a book of fiction, and so I hope they enjoy it and find the narrative thought-provoking. But I also hope they learn something new about the model of therapy, and the fact that you don’t need to be in a therapy room to find the concepts useful. I hope people will take away the value of acknowledging and experiencing our feelings. While Ruth thinks she is in control of her world, she is in denial about the strength of her deep feelings of grief and loss. But these feelings seep out. While there’s no instant ‘cure’ for such feelings, talking and connecting with them is essential. Ruth’s state of denial involves the suppression of feeling and that is what causes problems. 

 

I’ve worked in the NHS for many years, and currently work with staff teams in mental health services. On a daily basis I work in a system that is stretched and under-resourced. Mental health problems are increasing and services to support people are decreasing. It was my aim to highlight this pressure in the book. In one chapter, when Ruth works with a traumatized staff team, we see firsthand the tragic impact of the unavailability of in-patient beds for a desperately unwell patient. Services for mental health patients are shockingly underfunded and as a patient group, they are often disenfranchised and without voice and power to demand better services. One in four people will be affected by a mental health problem in their lives regardless of culture and social class, so this is an issue we should all be paying attention to. In particular, the book highlights adolescent mental health issues and so I hope it will draw attention to our responsibility for the youngest and most vulnerable in our society.

Where to find A Good Enough Mother:

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40603516-a-good-enough-mother?from_search=true

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Enough-Mother-Novel/dp/0525561250/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1555179848&sr=8-1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-good-enough-mother-bev-thomas/1129244860;jsessionid=63BE91CA198B451E735CDC1230448E8B.prodny_store01-atgap07?ean=9780525561255&st=AFF&2sid=Goodreads,%20Inc_2227948_NA&sourceId=AFFGoodreads,%20Inc#/

Giveaway

Pamela Dorman Books/Penguin Viking is graciously giving away one (1) print copy of A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas to one randomly selected commenter on this post. This is a US ONLY giveaway. The winner will be contacted by email and asked to provide US mailing address details that will be forwarded to Penguin Group who are handling the giveaway and responsible for distribution. The giveaway will remain open for ONE WEEK beginning the date of the post. You must be over 16 years old to enter, or have a parent enter for you.

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About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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Author Spotlight Q&A

Posted January 16, 2018 by Lily B in Spotlight / 15 Comments

Howdy, Night Owl Book Café Readers!

We have a treat for you today. The good people at Pamela Dorman- Penguin Viking have invited us to participate in a Still Me Release Celebration for the third book in the JoJoMoyes’ Me Before You series.

We have a lovely Question & Answer with the Author, details about the new book, and best of all, the folks at Penguin have a giveaway opportunity for our US readers so stick with us through the end of the post.

First, the lovely Q&A:

In STILL ME, you bring Louisa Clark, the beloved character you created in Me Before You, to New York City. Why the transatlantic journey?

I really wanted to stretch Louisa in a place where she would be out of her depth. What’s one of the wildest, most metropolitan places you could land a small-town girl? The heart of Manhattan. I have spent a lot of time in the US over the past five years and most trips begin with some time in New York so I have long been viewing the city through alien eyes myself. It’s tough, exciting, challenging, and unforgiving and enormous fun. The perfect backdrop for Lou’s adventure.

NYC is far from Lou’s home in Stotfold, England—what was your research process for finding the places and experiences that Lou enjoys in the Big Apple?

As well as the time I spend on work trips, I came out in October and did a week’s solid research. I tried to do all the things that I put Lou through—except sleep in a horrible hotel with bedbugs! A friend got me into one of the really exclusive apartment buildings overlooking Central Park, which was invaluable, and the owner then put me in touch with a very experienced realtor who gave me chapter and verse on the realities of living in one of these places. It’s VERY specific, in the same way that it would be if you were a North or South Londoner, and it was important to me that I didn’t get things horribly off-key.


Reading STILL ME is like catching up with an old friend. How did it feel to revisit the story of Lou Clark and some of the other familiar characters, such as Treena and Ambulance Sam?

I absolutely love writing Louisa. By now shedoes feel like an old friend. It’s really hard sometimes to find your way into a character, and with her it’s like slipping on your favorite clothes. I know her. I know how she would react to any given circumstance. She’s genuine and funny and a bit daft. But what was fun in this book was to really push her forward a bit. She grows up a lot, especially in the last third of the book. I think like many of us she is really still working out who she is.

One character remarks that New York suits Lou. What is it about Lou that makes you want to take her on new experiences? Why do you think she resonates with readers?

I think Lou is very identifiable for a whole raft of people. In Me Before You, it was about being aware that life had somehow slipped away from you and reaching an age and finding yourself leading a very small life—and not being entirely sure how you got there or whether you even wanted to be somewhere else. But in After You a lot of readers seemed to identify with her grieving process—the difficulty of everybody else expecting you to move on and be cheerful and outgoing when you really don’t feel like that at all. Most importantly, Lou is someone who really tries to do the right thing—but often does the wrong thing—which I think makes her like an awful lot of us…

Class divide is a major theme in your books—Lou often finds herself in circles far different from her working-class upbringing, with employment to the Traynors in Me Before You and the Gopniks in STILL ME. Why is this dichotomy important to you and in your writing?

I think in this book it’s much less class than money. All good narratives thrive on tension, and if you push together rich and poor or upper and working class then you have an inbuilt tension in your story. It’s a growing issue in society—the polarization of money and opportunity—and for most people we will only ever have our noses pressed against the window.

At the same time, I think a lot of us now have the lives of very rich people broadcast to us daily—whether they be Kardashians or movie stars, on Instagram or via other social media, which makes that difference more obvious. With Lou, I wanted to ask how it would feel to step into one of those lives.

There is a thread in STILL ME about a public library on the brink of closing in Washington Heights. What significance does the library play in your life and why is it important in the story?

I am passionate about libraries—they are one of the few cost-free resources that offer people not just shelter but the chance to entertain or improve themselves. I spent some time at a library in a very mixed area of Washington Heights where I saw quite how many different functions the public library performed—from a learning opportunity to a safe place, to somewhere people could make job applications, or just escape from their lives for a while. It really worries me how hard libraries are being squeezed in both the UK and the US. There are so few places that don’t require a financial transaction, that really are just about the joy of learning. Once they are gone we won’t get that resource back again.

Another prominent theme in STILL ME is the struggle for women to “have it all.” Louisa finds herself between the pull of New York high society and her life in England; Mrs. De Witt was torn between her fashion career and family life; Agnes struggled to maintain her old friendships after marrying into wealth. Why is a woman’s unique balance to play many roles in life while staying true to herself important to discuss?

When I was a girl I assumed I was the equal to any boy and that I would be treated the same as an adult. For the most part that was the case—until I had children, at which point I discovered that there is always a choice to be made, always a compromise, and that in most cases that belongs to the woman. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who supports my work and does his best to be an equal partner in all ways—but I am a rarity. I know elderly women who had to give up their careers to follow their husbands, and I know younger women who gave up their jobs because their partners couldn’t be home for the children. I hope that one day we can find a way to make this a little more equitable. It’s good for men, too!

Fashion is a significant element in Lou’s story, notably the red dress and bumblebee tights in Me Before You. In STILL ME, Louisa becomes involved with an East Village vintage emporium, and Mrs. De Witt is revealed as a former fashion magazine editor. What is your interest in this world?

Well, most of my friends would laugh at the idea that I was massively interested in fashion. My default uniform is shirt, jumper, jeans, boots. I rarely wear anything else. But it feels like such an integral part of Louisa’s character, and over the past few years I have discovered a love of vintage clothes. I have a number of vintage outfits—and suppliers—and I find them so much more enjoyable, both to buy and wear, than just a chain boutique. It’s partly textural—the work that goes into some of these older clothes—beading, cutting, stitching—is just beautiful. Even I can appreciate it!

In a couple of your books, including STILL ME, you created dogs that, much like your human characters, have distinct personalities and quirks. Why do your animal characters receive such prominent roles?

I guess because animals are such a fundamental part of my own family. We joke that if we didn’t have our animals we’d have nothing to talk about. All our animals have distinct voices that we use for them (for some reason Eric, our shorthair cat, has a Spanish accent, whereas BigDog, our rescue Pyrenean, has a more lugubrious tone). I think anybody who has close contact with an animal knows that they have just as much personality and just as many expressions as humans do.If I’m writing one into a story, I can’t see why it shouldn’t have a fully formed character in the way that a human does.

Your books always evoke a wide range of human emotion—on one page, you leave readers laughing out loud and on the next, reduce them to tears. Is it a difficult process to combine such an accurate portrayal of the comedies and tragedies of life? How do you create such deep characters and storylines?

Thank you! I consider that an enormous compliment. I guess it comes from the fact that I try to write the books I like to read—and if a book can make me laugh or cry then that author earns my undying loyalty. The key to writing them, I think, is that both laughter and tears have to come from a place that is honest—something that feels true to the character. If I know the character then as I write their experiences I feel what they are feeling—it then becomes easier to translate that emotion onto the page.

What was the Me Before You movie experience like? If you were to cast STILL ME, who do you see playing some of the new main characters?

Writing and being part of the filming of Me Before You was, without doubt, the best—and most challenging—experience of my professional life. I was on the steepest learning curve and I worked flat out for months. But I loved the cast and crew and the director, producers and I are still good friends, so it never really felt like work.

If I were to cast STILL ME I would obviously want Emilia Clarke to return as Lou. And having Sam Claflin as Josh would be a lovely way of bringing him back in! I have no idea who would play Margot—but I always saw her as looking a little like Iris Apfel, the famous NY society fashion icon.

What’s next? More adventures for Lou?

I’ve been saying no, as I would hate to be seen flogging her to death. But when I think about never writing her again I feel ridiculously sad. Maybe a short story?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

JojoMoyes is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of After You, Me Before You, Paris for One and Other Stories, The Horse Dancer, One Plus One, The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover, Silver Bay, and The Ship of Brides. She lives with her husband and three children in Essex, England.

 JOJO MOYES WILL BE TOURING IN THE FOLLOWING CITIES:

New York, NY (1/30) ▪ Portsmouth, NH (1/31) ▪ Madison, CT (2/1)
Cleveland (Parma), OH ▪ (2/2) Dallas, TX (2/3)

Denver (Parker), CO (2/5) ▪ Seattle (Lake Forest Park), WA (2/6)

STILL ME

JojoMoyes ▪ Pamela Dorman Books / Viking ▪ $27.00 ▪ On-sale January 30, 2018 ▪ ISBN: 9780399562457 

jojomoyes.com▪  jojomoyesofficial▪ @JojoMoyes▪  JojoMoyesAuthor

 

About Still Me:

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She is thrown into the world of the superrich Gopniks: Leonard and his much younger second wife, Agnes, and a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and New York life within this privileged world. 


Before she knows what’s happening, Lou is mixing in New York high society, where she meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. In
Still Me, as Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets–not all her own–that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

 

 

Giveaway Opportunity:

Penguin-Random House is hosting a giveaway US Only for a print copy of Still Me. To enter, must be a US resident and fill out the Rafflecopter. Winner will be contact to confirm and will need to provide mailing address that will be shared with the publisher at Penguin. Good luck!

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About Sophia Rose

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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