A Look Behind The Book With Isabella Davidson.

IsabellaDavidsonPhoto2For years she wrote the popular but very much anonymous blog, Notting Hill Yummy Mummy, which gave a rather tongue in cheek peek at the glamorous, competitive and often bizarre world of the super rich of west London.

That changed when her first book, The Beta Mum: Adventures In Alpha Land, came out and she had to reveal herself as Isabella Davidson – not just to her readership but also to her neighbours and the school gate mums she sometimes wrote about.

In my latest Behind The Book post I was thrilled to be able to ask Isabella about what it was like to be thrust into the spotlight in such a big way (she was featured in the Times and other newspapers as well as on TV and radio) together with picking up some tips for bloggers hoping to become authors.

When did you start writing? Was it with the blog or even before that? Was it your dream to eventually publish a book?

I have always written, ever since I was a child, whether short stories in class or in my diary. I also took a creative writing class during university but having my work read and critiqued in class when I was 18 was quite hard to take in. Then, I went back to writing when I started my blog, which was a fun and creative outlet for me at the time, but my dream was always to write and publish a book.

Would you say blogging helped you, aside from subject matter, with your book?

Blogging has been a huge help for many reasons. Firstly, it forces you to write even when you don’t want to, but it also helps you hone your craft. As they say, the more you write, the better you get at it, so writing blogs is a way of writing which contributes to your writing skills. Of course, when people complimented me on my writing, it gave me confidence to think that perhaps I could write a book. And having a ready audience helps. You know that at least a few people will read your book!

You gave up your anonymity when you published your novel. What was that like? Was it a big decision to take? Was there any fallout for you?

It was a big decision to come out in the open. Originally, I wanted to publish my book under a pseudonym and keep the blog anonymous. But when the Times asked to interview me, I didn’t have much choice, because they wanted pictures of me (a massive two page insert of me in my house!) so I asked my husband if he was ok with it, and when he said ok, that was the end of my anonymity. Mostly, people have been very supportive and encouraging of my book, but they also said I was very brave. I am sure a lot of people have been talking about me and my book when I’m not there. There has been some fallout, but truthfully, not with any of my friends, who all know who I am and know that it was a bit of fun. It’s mostly people who don’t know me that have taken their distance, or people who are scared that I am going to write about them or expose their life or lifestyles. I keep it all anonymous and tongue and cheek and it’s not meant to be taken very seriously, but I understand that not everyone will be happy with what I have done.

Not only did your book get a lot of publicity when it was launched but so did you. I’ve seen some beautiful photos of you reclining on a lovely white sofa. Was that difficult to deal with, especially having been anonymous? Had you expected it? And did you get any help with managing it?

I knew that when the Times article came out, it would cause a stir, I just didn’t know how much. From there, I went on to be interviewed by The Daily Mail and went on TV and radio, but it was an intense period of time. I was being interviewed on a regular basis and it takes time and effort to prepare for the interviews and to look ‘good’ and to be ‘on’ all the time. It was quite draining. I didn’t get help with how to answer controversial questions I was asked, but I did in the end get some help with the PR because I couldn’t do it on my own. It was a lot of work. I am glad the publicity has died down somewhat and I can go back to my normal life without having people coming up to me and saying they saw me in the papers. In the process, I realised that I am a lot more private than I thought. I thought I would enjoy all the attention but after I while, all I wanted was some peace and quiet.

image1Your fabulous book follows the story of Sophie Bennett who arrives in London fresh from Canada and is thrown into the outrageous, entertaining but also sometimes quite cruel world of the Alpha Mums. I felt genuinely sorry for Sophie but by the end of the book I also (surprisingly) had some sympathy with the Alpha Mums. I think it would have been easy just to cast them as the bad guys and leave it at that but you made them very 3D. Was that important to you? 

Yes, it was important that I make them realistic too. I didn’t want my readers to think all these mums are horrid and evil, because for the most part they aren’t. There are a few exceptions like Kelly, that really exist, but most of the mums are absolutely lovely and nice. But there would be no story if everyone was nice! So I had to pile on the horridness. There is a lot of competition though, and that’s just very true in London in general or any big city. New York is 100 times worst. I also believe that most people are 3D characters and have reasons for acting certain ways, whether because they are unhappy or insecure or just negative people, so I try to understand the motivations behind people and try to have empathy towards everyone.

How much of the story was autobiographical? Is it really like that? And which side are you on?

Everyone thinks the story is autobiographical, but it’s not. People come up to me thinking I am like Sophie and are almost disappointed that I’m not. I am not Sophie in many ways, she is shy and reserved and that’s certainly not how my friends would describe me. I have lived in London for 15 years so that’s also very different. I used the set up of Sophie moving to London to really show an outsider’s point of view of London. I am probably more Alpha than Beta in the end as well… But I’d like the Alphas to be kinder to each other and not to take it all too seriously. Some parts of the book are influenced by real events that have happened to me or to people that I know, but mostly it is all fiction and fictionalised. The plot and all the characters are fiction and not based on any particular person.

Can you talk about how you were published? Did you submit to agents/publishers or were you discovered? What was the process like? How was it seeing a copy of your book in the shops for the first time?

My road to publishing in the end was very much my own path. I was first approached by an agent through my blog, (but he turned it down later) so that’s when I started thinking seriously about writing a novel. I then went on the Faber Academy novel writing course and wrote my novel that year. I did approach several agents and publishers, but after a few months, I decided to do it on my own terms and sent my manuscript to Silverwood, which is an independent self-funded publisher that I found through another writer who had done the Faber course as well. These days, there is more than one way to get your book published and I didn’t want to wait one and a half years to see if I could get a traditional publishing deal. Luckily, I already had a platform and visibility through the blog, which got me the Times interview. In the end, for me, I just wanted to see and feel my book in my hands, which was a wonderful thing. And having it all over the Notting Hill Bookshop window was pretty cool. I couldn’t have asked for a better place for it. But doing it on your own is so much work, so you need time and dedication and determination to get your book out there. Neither path is easy, but as they say in writing, you need perseverance.

You have lots of strings to your bow but I know you worked a medical doctor for a long time. Would you ever write about your experiences of that profession, either as a book or for newspapers and magazines?

Interestingly, I don’t have a need to write about medicine or being a doctor. When I was a doctor, I did quite a bit of medical research writing but for my fiction writing, I want to create a world outside of medicine. I can’t see myself blending those two worlds, which for me is a serious world (medicine) and a creative world (writing). I would love to write a book about Vietnam one day though (I am half Vietnamese).

How do you find time to write along with family life and all the many other things you have on your plate?

That’s a good question. When I was writing my novel, I dedicated that year to writing and said ‘no’ to coffee mornings, lunches, events and working out and spent my days between school drop offs and pick ups writing. Also, I need the mental space to get involved in my story and in my characters, so it is usually a solitary time for me. I didn’t do much blogging during that time. Then after the book was published it was about doing interviews, being on social media and doing blogger outreach and interviews, so it’s been a lot less about writing recently. Right now, I’m also enjoying doing book events, I had a book reading and signing last week and I have another one next week – and that’s also quite time consuming! But you have to find time and to prioritise if you want to write a novel. That meant while the kids were at school, after they went to bed, and sometimes when we were on holiday.

Is there another book in the pipeline? Can you talk about what you’re working on now?

I am not quite ready for my next book yet. I still need to digest this one and still need to do a bit of work with this one. There is a potential project with this book that is rather quite exciting, and if it took off, it would take up most of my time for the next year or so. But the chances that it will happen is 1/1000 or less so I think I can still keep dreaming. It’s always good to have a dream and a goal though, so that keeps me going.

Any tips for fellow bloggers interested in writing a book?

My writing tutor told me that the most important thing was ‘tenacity.’ As a writer, you have to have so much perseverance, dedication and determination. Of course talent helps, but what sets a writer apart is their hard work: to sit on that chair and write every day, to finish that book, to edit, edit, edit, to send it to agents and publishers, to accept rejection and to just keep going until one day you may get to see your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore. It is incredibly hard work, but to succeed, you need to work harder than anyone else and never give up.

Isabella quote

Oh, and luck really helps too, but unfortunately I can’t help you with that! What you can do though is to keep going…

 ~

Many thanks to Isabella for answering my (often very long) questions. It’s great to find out more about her and her book. I think she handled her new found fame much better than I would have done. I can’t wait to see if her exciting project comes off, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

You can read my review and an excerpt of The Beta Mum: Adventures In Alpha Land here. You can also follow more of Isabella’s adventures via her blog, on Twitter and, of course, you can buy her book via Amazon in paperback or for Kindle here.

I’ll have two more Behind The Book guests next month. Don’t forget you can now follow After The Rain on Facebook so you need never miss a post.

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Book Review (And Excerpt): The Beta Mum – Adventures In Alpha Land.

image1Navigating playground politics was one of the many things I was worried about when Freya started nursery last September.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any issues (so far). In fact, the other mums have been really lovely and nothing like what poor Sophie, the highly relatable heroine in Isabella Davidson’s debut novel, encounters.

She has been transported to the bright lights of London – something Isabella, who writes the popular blog, Notting Hill Yummy Mummy, knows a thing or two about.

After her young daughter starts at an exclusive nursery, Sophie encounters the Alpha Mums for the first time. Not sure who they are? Have a read of the blurb and you’ll see:

When Sophie Bennett moves from a quiet sleepy suburb of Toronto to glitzy west London, she doesn’t know where she has landed: Venus or Mars. Her three-year-old daughter Kaya attends Cherry Blossoms, the most exclusive nursery in London, where Sophie finds herself adrift in a sea of Alpha Mums. These mothers are glamorous, gorgeous, competitive and super rich, especially Kelly, the blonde, beautiful and bitchy class rep.

Struggling to fit in and feeling increasingly isolated, Sophie starts ‘The Beta Mum’, an anonymous blog describing her struggles with the Alpha Mums. But when her blog goes viral, she risks ruining everything for herself and her daughter. How long will it be until they discover her true identity? Is her marriage strong enough to survive one of her follower’s advances? And will she ever fit in with the Alpha Mums?

As a blogger, who occasionally writes about nursery life, the premise of Beta Mum immediately appealed to me – especially when it was clear that her posts were going to get her into trouble. I can totally see why Sophie starts her blog; it’s like a much-needed friend to talk to (especially when people start commenting).

I felt genuinely upset for her. The behaviour she initially has to contend with at the nursery gates is dreadful – it’s like being back at (a really terrible) school herself. Some of the things that happen to her actually made me cringe – and the worst part is, while it is a work of fiction, much of it is based on fact.

I think that’s part of the reason why it’s hard to put the book down. Isabella writes an eye-opening account of the (quite often over the top) lives of the super rich and their children, which also makes for entertaining reading. However, behind the glitz and glamour, the cutting barbs and backstabbing are real people with real problems and in the end I almost felt sorry for some of the Alpha Mums.

With plenty of drama and also a few laughs along the way, this book is an engaging read right from the start. But, don’t just take my word for it, scroll down for an excerpt.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £3.99.

My rating: Four stars.

The Beta Mum – Chapter Eleven Excerpt – by Isabella Davidson.

A huge life-sized, plush, golden giraffe with scattered spots stared at me giving me the eye, as if to say ‘I know who you are, Sophie Bennett, you’re not one of them. You’re one of us. You’re an onlooker.’ The winding staircase of Serafina’s member’s club had led me down into Serafina’s nightclub where I had found myself face to face with the giant giraffe.

I had read up on (googled) Serafina’s before coming; it was an exclusive member’s club costing £3,000 a year for a membership and had welcomed everyone from Tom Cruise to Prince William through its doors with three bar areas, two restaurants, one nightclub and 16 hotel rooms. The restaurant had poached a chef from Nobu and served fusion-food classics including tuna tartare, lobster tempura and black miso cod. The bar areas channelled the Dolce Vita vibe, with white-uniformed barmen, serving Martinis to show off their mixology skills and drinks made with absinthe.

The nightclub had an upscale, louche, bordello-like feel to it, in keeping with its location, the old respectable (or rather unrespectable) red light district in Mayfair. It was dark and windowless, with its burgundy walls draped with red velvet curtains. On my left stood a glittering bar where late twenty-somethings with youthful aspirations were dressed to impress and stood drinking champagne and colourful cocktails adorned with edible flowers. On my right, I saw some familiar faces from the nursery pick-ups and drop-offs heading towards the direction of a private room.

I squeezed Michael’s hand as we walked in their direction. My heart pounded just a bit faster than I wanted it to and my social anxiety increased with every step I made towards the private room. I wanted to be anywhere but here, ideally sitting in front of our TV with my Roots sweatshirt/sweatpants combo or in front of my laptop, hiding behind a screen rather than exposing my vulnerabilities to the Alphas. This was not the usual parents’ evening in the school gym with soft-drinks-and-pizza-slices.

That night, Kelly wore a tight, cerulean, asymmetrical, skin-tight dress, and Becky wore a wrap dress with what looked like a flowery red, pink and purple print. I sidled up to them, seeing no other familiar faces and since they were standing next to Michael.

‘Hi, it’s nice to see both of you again. I wanted to ask you about the winter fair and how I could volunteer,’ I said to both of them.

Kelly’s face looked blank, not registering who I was, despite having met numerous times.

‘Hi Sophie,’ Becky said. ‘We are planning on sending out an email about the winter fair in the next few days,’

‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you at all, Sophie darling.’ Kelly’s face now showed some recognition. ‘You look completely different in a dress and heels. You look … taller … and prettier. Don’t you usually always wear jeans and converse?’

‘Yes … but I thought I should try to “Keep up with the Cherry Blossoms Mums” tonight.’ I tried to crack a joke, which clearly went over their heads, as they continued to look at me as if I were commenting on the weather.

‘You should dress up more often, Sophie, you look so much better in a dress. And you should wear make-up. It really brings out your eyes,’ Kelly went on. ‘And it’s nice to see you wearing proper shoes. We’re a bit too old to be wearing Converse, don’t you think?’ She gave me her pursed, condescending smile.

What I really wanted to do was roll my eyes at her, but I decided that it was too early in the night to start making enemies. Instead, I gulped down my champagne and took another one from a passing waitress.

‘Kelly, I love your shoes!’ Becky exclaimed, looking down at Kelly’s shoes as if they were made of gold, diverting the conversation away from my apparently underachieving daily dress sense.

‘Oh, thanks, Becky,’ Kelly contently smiled. ‘They’re Zoe Phillips.

‘Who’s Zoe Phillips?’ I shyly asked, feeling ignorant.

‘You don’t know Zoe Phillips?’ Kelly looked at me incredulously and patronisingly, wide-eyed, with faint disdain as if I had admitted to never having heard of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. ‘They’re Jimmy Choos but better. And much more exclusive. She’s the hottest shoe designer right now. I had to wait four weeks for them to be made – bespoke – and to have my initials inscribed in the sole. Just in case I lose them.’ She laughed. ‘Do you know she’s going to be a Cherry Blossoms mum soon? She has a 1-year-old and lives in Notting Hill, so it’s really close to her.’

‘I live in Notting Hill.’ I said, trying to make up for my embarrassment.

‘Oh, I lived in Notting Hill once, but it was too dodgy. I realised that I am an Upper East Side girl at heart,’ Kelly said. ‘So now I live in Kensington and I feel much safer.’

Kelly couldn’t help herself but to criticise every word I uttered. I took another sip of my champagne and then moved on to a Martini to assuage Kelly’s criticisms.

Thank you to Isabella for letting me read her book and include an excerpt here and also to the lovely Clare from Mud and Nettles for putting us in touch.

 

We’re All Going On A Spring Holiday.

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Actually that headline is misleading because only Freya and I are going away while poor old Mark has to stay at home (I’m pretty sure he’s looking forward to some “me time”).

I was tempted by a last minute deal (and by last minute I mean yesterday) which was too good to resist so my girl and I are off to the beach (please keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain too much).

Hope you all have a good weekend. See you next week!