How do you find the mother characters in the fiction books that you read? Are they believable, loveable or not true to your own experience? In my novels, I’ve used mothers and complicated family relationships to both move the story along, and to explain the motivation and difficulties of the other characters.
Complicated Family Relationships
I’ve always been interested in complicated inter-family relationships. In many of my books, both the father and the mother characters have a significant role to play in the stories. If you’ve read The English Heart, you know that Kaisa’s father is frightening, but at the same time a supportive presence in her life. I have to admit that this character is largely based on my own father. The book is, after all, a quasi-memoir of how I met my Englishman. 😉 In this novel, the mother figure is more distant, mainly because she lives in Stockholm while Kaisa is studying in Helsinki.
In one of my earlier novels, Coffee and Vodka, all the family relationships are complicated – it is a family drama after all.
The Mother in The Island Affair
In my latest novel, The Island Affair, Alicia’s mother Hilda, has quite a large role to play in the story. Alicia both leans on her mother for support, and worries about her.
Because Hilda is far from perfect. Her driving is erratic, her money affairs disastrous and she drinks too much. She has a terrible temper but at the same time, she is worried about Alicia and fiercely proud of her.
All Hilda wants is for Alicia to be happy and so she cannot help but interfere. Her English language skills are limited so she finds it difficult to connect with Alicia’s husband, Liam. I used this lack of communication as a way to show Alicia’s displacement and shine a light into the rift between Liam and Alicia, which doesn’t help them share the grief they carry about their son.
All in all, Hilda is a complicated character with a secretive past – and present. We know that she moved from Helsinki to the Åland Islands when Alicia was a baby, but we know very little about her husband, Alicia’s father. Quite soon after arriving on the Islands, she meets and marries Uffe, a local farmer. Today, Hilda owns a fashion boutique, but its finances aren’t what they should be.
I am now writing a sequel to The Island Affair, where I will shed a little more light into Hilda’s past. The new novel, with a working title, The Winter Island, will be out late fall. Watch this space!
Inspirational Mother Characters
While writing The Island Affair, I was inspired by two works.
Firstly, I completely adored The Affair, a Netflix show which aired a couple of years ago. I wanted to write a Nordic version of the show, but the mothers in that story were also inspiring.
First, there’s Alison, a grieving, damaged young woman. Then there is Helen, the jilted wife and mother of four children. Finally, there’s Cherry, the mother of the Lockhart family. Cherry is the matriarch, the one who is desperately trying to keep her family together through the many tragedies that befall them. None of these women is perfect; they all have their faults, but ultimately they are all strong. They are survivors.
The second source of inspiration was a novel, The Anniversary by Hilary Boyd. In this book, the now separated parents, mother, Stella, and father, Jack, are still grieving the loss of their young son nearly 30 years after his death.
There are also tensions between Stella and her daughter that both have to put aside due to the imminent arrival of a second grandchild. Stella’s life is further complicated by the proximity of Jack and the looming Anniversary.
I found this book an incredibly wonderful portrayal of the complicated mother-daughter relationship, as well as the description of a deeply buried grief. If you haven’t read this brilliant novel, I highly recommend you do.
Books for Mothers
If you are still to celebrate Mother’s Day (we had our Mothering Sunday in March in the UK) and are stuck for ideas on what to get your (complicated) mother, I don’t think you can go wrong with a book. Here’s my list of five best books for mothers.