Baby Girl is my debut novel. The book is a Northern Writers’ Awards winner, Faber & Faber FAB Prize Commended and is a Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize longlisted YA novel.
Missie is a teen parent and aspiring MC, living a life of secrets, suffering and struggle within her family, while escaping by creating music with her friends.
She longs to find safety and be the best possible mum to her daughter, Chloë, but right now the only safe place for Missie is in the songs she writes to the rhythms of Chloë’s nursery rhymes playlist.
Can Missie get herself and Chloë to a place where they can survive and thrive?
Can music set her free?
Cover design – Jo Walker – visit Jo’s website here
Q & A
Why did you write Baby Girl?
I think young parents get a bad press. I work with children and young people and it’s one of the things I care most about in this world. I think young people have so much to offer and teach us. I wanted to give voice to a character not often seen in fiction and give young people the opportunity to either see someone like themselves in print, or learn more about a kind of character they may never have encountered before. I wanted to tell a story about a seemingly insignificant person, suffering terribly, who is also a warrior and living her daily life with great courage and devotion to her daughter, as any good mother would.
Why did you make Missie an MC?
I love music. With my heart and my soul. Music has saved me so many times. I also love words and lyrics and I can both write lyrics and remember lyrics from other songs really easily. I have used these talents and passions to write musicals and create other musical projects in the past. I am a massive fan of grime, rap and all lyrically clever music. Grime music is democratic and accessible, in the way it’s created. Making music, learning an instrument, getting access to a recording studio – all that can seem impossible, when you don’t have a lot. But, these days, if you have a phone and a voice, you can find a way to write lyrics, to share your songs. I love that we get to hear from a generation of voices that might otherwise be unheard. It means you find some of the most real and raw talent in that genre.
Why did you use nursery rhymes in the book?
Everyone knows a nursery rhyme. Nursery rhymes are something universal and yet something Missie can adapt and play with, to tell her own story. By using nursery rhymes that have been passed down to her, and that she is passing on, Missie is part of the musical legacy of humanity.
I wanted to show how you can always find something to create with. We all face challenges, but the impulse to live and to create can be acted upon, whatever we are facing. I also wanted to write lyrics in the book in a way that the reader would be able to understand what they would sound like, out loud. The nursery rhymes indicate that we are in a world between childhood and adulthood, which is exactly where Missie is living right now.
How did you go about writing the book?
With great difficulty! I began writing Baby Girl on my commute to and from my full-time job. I wrote the first draft this way, entirely in notes on my phone, sitting on the train and tram, as I commuted across Greater Manchester. For my next draft, I moved to my laptop. I wrote early mornings, evenings, weekends, lunch breaks, whenever I could. Within a year of starting work on the novel, I had completed the second draft, which I submitted to the Northern Writers’ Awards and the Faber & Faber FAB Prize.
And then I won a Northern Writers’ Award and was Commended in the FAB Prize! It was wonderful. Such a boost for me and the book. New Writing North and the lovely team there are some of the best people you can meet in this industry. I have had so much support from them since winning the award and I’ve also paid back by visiting schools with New Writing North and running workshops with them and I continue to be supported by them.
After winning the awards, I wrote several more drafts and worked with the expert and generous designer, Jo Walker, to commission and develop a cover. I had lots of support from friends, colleagues and especially my husband and son, as I kept going and going, until I finally published the book.
The story of writing the book is a little like Missie’s story – in terms of her songwriting. I just kept finding a way to do it. Even when I was so tired, even when I thought I couldn’t, I continued. It took three and a half years – from writing the first words, to publishing the book. I hope anyone out there, wondering whether to keep going with something they are working towards, will take inspiration from that. Keep going. Keep chipping away.
Why did you publish Baby Girl independently?
For me, it was about just that – independence. I am really used to making things happen. I work as a writer, producer, director and facilitator and I love to make decisions about my own work and I’m good at it. I wanted to see if I could make Baby Girl happen the way I wanted it to happen.
At one point, shortly after I won the award for the book, I did work with an agent and I was offered a publishing contract, but – long story short – things were not how I wanted them to be. My gut instinct, which I analysed carefully, was to do it my own way. When you sign a publishing contract, you enter into a business relationship with a publisher that will last your entire lifetime and 70 years beyond that. It just wasn’t for me.
I realised I am independent to the core. All the stories and the music, the art, the events, the businesses I like and gravitate towards are independent – big and small. It’s my automatic mindset and really suits me.
Baby Girl is ehw 003