We got the speak to Lisa Drakeford, author of The Baby (Chicken House, 2015) about her book, her inspirations and Lisa herself. Read on to find out more, and to enter our giveaway to win a signed copy of her book!
What were the origins of The Baby? Where did the idea
for the book come from?
I’d slogged away at some pretty bleak fiction and
have a folder full of rejections from agents and publishers for their sins. So I
decided to listen to a variety of advice from other writers and teachers who
all said I needed a dramatic first chapter. A shock childbirth at a teenage
party seemed as dramatic an opener as you could get. So there lay my premise.
One which I found I couldn’t wait to sink my writing teeth into.
The Baby features five main characters, not including
Eliza: Nicola, Olivia, Ben, Jonty and Alice. Each one has their own story that
surrounds Eliza’s birth, and each character gets a section of the book to
explain their own story and share their secrets. I really like this way of
telling the story, but why did you choose it?
I love reading books like this. I love being able to fill in
the gaps as a reader. I’d just read The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas where a child
is slapped at a 40th birthday party, so I wondered if I could do
something similar for YA. Tsiolkas uses
7 characters all of different ages, genders and sexualities, so I decided to
have a go at watering it down slightly to 5 of my own characters. The Baby has
3 girls, 2 boys, all seventeen years old apart from Alice who is eleven. They
each come from a variety of backgrounds and one of them is gay. It was a
challenge, but one I was completely up for. It was a bit like a jigsaw, fitting
all the narratives together. But I’ve always liked jigsaws. (Now that’s a bit
of an old lady confession!)
Baby is about a teenage pregnancy, which at the moment is still a very
controversial issue but the rates of teenage pregnancy in the UK are at one of
their lowest levels right now, so it’s not as prominent an issue. Why did you
want to write about a teenage pregnancy?
Teen pregnancies in England and
Wales are at an all-time low but the conception rate is still higher than other
Western European countries, so I feel it’s still an issue. It wasn’t really the
pregnancy which I was interested in. I work with vulnerable youngsters in my
day job (I’m a learning Support Practitioner for children with medical needs)
and it was more this aspect that I wanted to concentrate on. I don’t think you
can get more vulnerable than a teen mum with a surprise daughter who doesn’t
have a partner or parental support. I was more concerned with showing Nicola’s
isolation as a new mum. Her fashion ambitions, her education, her friendships
and her teenage years, they all fall by the wayside. She has to contend with
prejudice and judgements from complete strangers and I don’t think anyone
deserves this. This was what I wanted to write about.
Pratt’s Trouble also has a teenage pregnancy as its plot, but Trouble focused
quite a lot on the relationship and sexual side of the pregnancy whereas I
found that The Baby focused more on the people. Was this something you chose to
do or not, and if so, why did you choose to do so?
I love Non Pratt’s Trouble, but I
read it well after I’d finished The Baby. Her writing is sublime and Hannah is
such a feisty, wonderful character. However, I wanted The Baby to be about
Eliza’s impact on all five characters and how it affects their friendship. I
know that after food, shelter and warmth, friendship is a key contributor to
positive mental health in young people. Having two teenagers of my own and some
brilliant memories of my teenage friends I wanted to focus on what it does to
their relationships. I hope this comes across.
you tell me a bit about how you formed the characters in The Baby? How did you
go about choosing the different qualities and traits? When did you decide it
was going to be Nicola’s baby?
I wanted Nicola and Olivia to be pretty standard teenage
kids who move through the usual rites of passage which teenage girls normally
experience. (Aside from pregnancy, obviously.)
I wanted Jonty to be dangerous and damaged, but still strangely
appealing. (I’m afraid I’d have liked Jonty as a 17 year old.) I needed Ben to
be delightful. He’s sorted and brilliant and such a good friend. And Alice?
Well, I’ve taught so many Alices over the years. I hoped I could highlight some
of the difficulties that these wonderfully quirky kids have to face.
had to be Nicola’s. It was always going to be Nicola who was going to find
motherhood difficult. The lack of money; the already mentioned lack of parental
support; the ambitions to fall by the wayside and the awkward relationship with
Jonty. Who else could it be?
Because The Baby is about an ‘issue,’ it’s been
labelled by some as an issue book. Do you think The Baby is an issue book and
are you happy with it being called one?
Ooh, that’s a difficult one. I can understand its
labelling; people will latch onto our high conception rate. But as we’ve both
already said: The Baby deals more with the friendships than the pregnancy. I
suppose I don’t mind really. It’s a talking point and there are other issues as
well: sexuality, violent relationships, ASD and homophobia, so I’d be foolish
to say it doesn’t deal with ‘issues’. But I guess I don’t want to be labelled
as an issues author. I just want young adults to enjoy a good story and if it
picks up on issues (which any realistic story will,) and it leads to the
prodding and provoking of thoughts, then that’s absolutely fine by me.
lot of people don’t believe we should be encouraging books like The Baby to be
written, purely because they cover quite adult topics. But others think that
they should be written because they form that crossover between children and
adult books. Do you think that books on taboo topics should be written?
Yes, yes, yes. Surely it’s the safest way to learn
about these subjects? If a young person can read about these topics from the
security of their back garden, their bed or their comfortable sofa without
having to go through these things themselves, then isn’t this a far better
option, for everyone?
and where do you tend to write books? Is there a certain way you write them?
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Although I work with young people and have
two of my own, I don’t base any of my characters on them. That wouldn’t be
fair. But I’m truly inspired by their courage, their humour and their
I work full time, so have to do my writing in
the evening when most people are watching TV or going out. My family get quite
grumpy with me because I’ve become so anti-social. But what I keep telling them
is that I LOVE it. It’s my relaxation, my therapy, if you like. If I didn’t
write then I’d probably take up crocheting or knitting or- perish the thought –
To your readers, what do you have to say about The
Baby if they are reading this interview?
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed
writing it. Oh, and give Jonty a break. He’s done some inexcusable things – but
he’s trying to rectify them and he’s doing a good job. And if you ever see
someone like Alice – please be nice.
I’d say keep going. I have documental
evidence that I wanted to write a book at seventeen. (I’ve kept all my
diaries.) I’m now fifty! I was too distracted by my job, my marriage, my
friends and my kids. It was only four years ago that I remembered my old
ambition. Thirty three years. THIRTY THREE YEARS!
get distracted and please don’t leave it thirty three years!
Thank you so much to Lisa Drakeford for allowing us to interview her! Haven’t read The Baby yet? Enter our giveaway for a signed copy today!