Interview: Brenda Burling Author of Mother’s Love
Brenda, "Mother’s Love" delves into the complexities of the 1960s for an unmarried pregnant woman. What drew you to set your story in this particular era?
The 1960's is an era I find fascinating. A conflicting time of liberation for women in respect of the advent of birth control but also a time where society as a whole was not quite so quick to let go of traditional standards, beliefs and stereotyping. Science gave women more choice and control over their bodies than ever before, society often dictated otherwise.
The novel seems to explore the strength and resilience of women, especially in challenging societal norms. Was there a particular inspiration or muse behind Sal's character?
My own mother was a single parent, beginning in the 1970's. Her resilience and inner strength were definitely inspirational. She moved my sister and I from North Wales to Essex on her own shortly after her divorce and created a whole new life for herself and subsequently us plus two additional sisters later on. We all agree she passed on to all of us an ability to cope and make the best of life, whatever it threw our way.
What kind of research did you undertake to accurately depict the sentiments, settings, and societal views of the 1960s?
Researching an era, its trends and societal views has never been easier thanks to the internet. However, I do enjoy an "old school" approach which includes reading material written during the time, I even have a small collection of vintage Mills & Boon novels which I love, each story depicts its time perfectly, purely by how it is written, the language of the time and feel of the environment. I'm a great one for talking to people, listening to their stories. Women have so much to share about their lives..we do, on the whole...love a chat.
The bond between mothers, daughters, and sisters is central to your story. How much of your personal experiences or observations of relationships influenced the dynamics in the book?
The bond between mothers, daughters and sisters I like to think I may be a bit of an expert on being the eldest of four daughters. Our mother was a single parent for a large proportion of all our lives. There is a large age gap between the two elder and the two youngest of us and yet we are all very close, some would even say our family can be intense and yet we are each very different people. Two have been single parents themselves, one of us married for decades and one a relative newly-wed, there was a wealth of life experience to draw upon for Mother's Love . As with all families there are disagreements and different points of view but we are always, always there for each other and there is an incredibly strong bond between us all.
As this is your sixth novel, how do you feel your writing has evolved since your first book?
As my sixth book, I feel my writing has moved on a great deal. I am now not quite so terrified of criticism and actually quite like when someone questions something I have written. I do have to stop myself from writing too 'passively' which is a flawed trait. I love the fact I can genuinely enjoy my writing for my own pleasure, I think that comes with having a few books published, you get to feel a little more relaxed. I realise I will never please or appeal to everyone and I'm now okay with that. Writing for me is an addiction, I may go for two or three weeks not looking at the current project but I do think it is important to write something, anything at all... every day. My first book Deceived was originally written in 1999 and was finally, published in 2014 and has been published by 3 different publishers since. Perseverance pays off in the end.
Brenda, you've mentioned that you enjoy people-watching at airports for character inspiration. Can you share an instance where this hobby directly influenced a character or scene in "Mother’s Love"?
Airport people watching is a favourite pastime though like most, not indulged as often as I might like. Mother's Love had a few scenes that were inspired by my observations. One in particular, only a very small interaction but it clearly stuck in my mind was whilst arriving at Malaga airport on a family holiday. My husband and I, our two small children, all a little fraught with multiple cases bouncing off arms and legs, passports and tickets firmly clenched between teeth, there being no free hands available and surrounded by countless other families in the same predicament. There is after all nothing very relaxing about travelling with very excited, small children in the thick of the summer holidays. In mid shepherding mode I noticed an immaculately dressed woman, sky high heels, pencil skirt, not a hair out of place and flawless make-up. Definitely not the "sweaty Betty" look I was sporting. She breezed through the barriers, skimmed the outskirts of the rabble we were in the thick of and in one fluid movement her passport produced, checked and approved. She walked through the corridor just ahead of us talking in murmured tones in to her mobile phone and out into the arrival hall. A bank of suited chauffeurs waited with discreet named placards at the front barriers. The woman made her way in the direction of them and one stepped out towards her, clearly they knew each other, he smiling broadly at her. He was older, late fitties maybe sixties.. as she turned towards him she was smiling, he took her subtly patterned and very modest wheelie case from her, linked arms and strode off together. It was obvious they were at complete ease in each other's company. A scene for the characters Faith and Fred in Mother's Love was created.
Your diverse portfolio spans from cancer support books to romance novels. How do you navigate transitioning between such different genres, and do you have a favourite?
My true passion is storytelling through writing. Approaching writing in this way allows me to switch genres easily, a story...any story... can be told. I am also a great believer in if a subject interests me I can write about it.
"Mother’s Love" emphasises the importance of family and the individuals that shape us. How has your own family influenced your storytelling?
My family is massively influential in my writing. Coming from a predominantly female background and then going on to have two sons and being married for so long provides great balance. I have the very great privilege of seeing strong male and female takes on life, these prove inspirational.
The theme of unexpected relationships changing one's life trajectory plays a significant role in the book. Have you ever had an unexpected relationship that changed the course of your own life?
I have been very fortunate to have had relationships that have changed the course of my life. Meeting my husband and then us living abroad for a time is a good example. Something I would not have done on my own. Whilst abroad we met an American couple, became great friends which then led to us travelling with them in the states. Sometimes it is only when we look back at events that we truly appreciate just how the course of our lives can change by a single encounter. Having children after close to twenty years of being married sent us on another trajectory... the biggest, most thrilling and certainly the most long term adventure.
Your protagonist, Sal, uses her pregnancy as an opportunity to take charge of her destiny. What message do you hope this narrative sends to modern-day readers?
I like to think Sal's story is a great message to the modern day reader that "all is not lost" and often when you think something is negative or even frightening can so often become an opportunity for change and positivity. In Sal's case great love, empowerment and a fresh perspective on life.
With "Mother’s Love" being set in a small-town doctor's surgery, how did you approach creating the backdrop and ambience of this environment?
The small town doctors surgery featured in Mother's Love was inspired by an actual surgery remembered from a long time ago. It was in a small market town where I lived. I often walk past the house even now, though it hasn't been a surgery for a very long time, returned to its original splendour as a family home. During its time as a surgery I remember vividly once seeing a lady trying desperately get a beautiful Silver Cross pram up the stairs and through the front door...another scene inspiration.
You've said that everything inspires you. Outside of people-watching, what unexpected or surprising sources of inspiration played a role in crafting "Mother’s Love"?
Mother's Love came to fruition thanks to the global Covid 19 pandemic. The idea had been floating around in my head for an age and thanks to the various Lockdowns I was able to sit and write, uninterrupted. Having time to ponder, quiet time at that (children online schooling was a godsend) I was able to revisit so many memories.
Many authors have rituals or habits that help them get into the writing groove. Do you have any particular rituals or a favourite writing spot?
I do believe you need to write something every day even if it is writing lists, daily notes, reminders...whatever. I am fortunate to be able to write anywhere and have been known to write on planes, trains, coaches and in the car but one of my favourite places was poolside whilst staying at a stunning villa in the Andalusian mountains..perfection. The only proviso I do require is quiet or perhaps soft music in the background.
With the range of emotions and events Sal goes through in the novel, was there a particular scene or moment that was especially challenging or rewarding to write?
There were many scenes that were both challenging and rewarding whilst writing Mother's Love. My personal favourites are the birth of Sal's baby which i was keen to express the terms of endearment and language of two different generations, I found this particularly rewarding when completed. Not wanting to give the story away too much..a scene that involved the death of a character was challenging as I was able to really visualise the event and feel the emotion of the characters involved (hard to write when you're crying) which I hope came across in the writing.
Lastly, now that "Mother’s Love" has been published, can you give us a hint about what's next for you? Is there another project on the horizon?
15) I am now working on my next book which is a whole new genre again. I'm loving this new direction for my writing and it's a genre that's a favourite of my sons' they are particularly keen to see this one published.