With her latest novel The Baby Group out now – and a brilliantly spooky short story in this week’s My Weekly! – we chat to Sunday Times Top 20 best-selling author Caroline Corcoran about the book and her life as a writer.
When did you first start writing fiction?
As a teenager, when I tried to rip off The Babysitters’ Club with a series called The Sports’ Club. I know, genius. I’ve always played around with fiction, though, and started a lot of stories over the years.
About 11 or 12 years ago I wrote a short story for a magazine I was working for and turned that into a YA novel, which I did discuss with a few agents. It was never published, though; I don’t think I believed in it enough.
When I started writing Through The Wall, I had a strong feeling that was different because I believed in the story so much.
What inspired the idea for this book?
This sounds really weird but, erm, the TV show Orange Is The New Black. I know, The Baby Group is not about prison; bear with me. I thought the premise of that show, when something you did in your past – when you were radically different to the person you are now – comes to your door and shatters your present, was fascinating.
For a while I had been mulling over how to explore that and then at the same time I was on maternity leave. I kept thinking about how maternity leave means you spend all this time together with other expectant mums while barely knowing anything about each other as women, as people, only as mothers.
And I thought that an NCT group was a potential gold mine for a psychological thriller. The extreme closeness, the fast-tracked friendships, the closed group, plus a lot of dark humour…
As soon as it popped into my head, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was so happy my agent and publisher liked the idea too because I was already writing it in my head.
Tell me a bit about what you hope readers will love about The Baby Group.
I hope they’ll love that while a psychological thriller so its full of twists and turns and should make your heart race, it’s also – like Through The Wall – an emotional novel. At its heart are characters and relationships.
A lot of the themes are universal, too. What happens to Scarlett – a sex tape of her being distributed to pretty much everyone she knows – might be unusual, but what the book looks at at its core isn’t. It explores what makes a friend, identity, new motherhood, misogyny and double standards, our public versus our private personas, how we change and evolve throughout our lives … universal themes.
Oh, and I also hope they’ll love shouting at some of the characters when they are truly unlikeable! I do enjoy exploring the more grimy end of human beings: envy, judginess, bitching… It’s fun to write.
Yes! It was a strange thing to me, as my first novel Through The Wall was called that from the very beginning. They were the first words I wrote on the page. But The Baby Group followed a different path. I was reading Fleishman Is In Trouble when I first named it, which I think had some impact structurally. I called it Scarlett Is Shamed; it was kind of a nod to The Scarlet Letter, with what happens to Scarlett being a modern day shaming.
Neither my editor nor my agent felt it worked as a title. So we got to Such Good Friends which I loved because it dripped with sarcasm. But then it was pointed out that it doesn’t necessarily translate in those few seconds that you look at a book on the shelf.
In the end it was decided that the book’s USP was this focus on the NCT group and so The Baby Group was, erm, born. Apologies – accidental pun.
What tips would you give to aspiring novelists?
Write whenever you have a window – even if it’s 20 minutes on a train. Use 10 minutes at the dentists’ waiting room to do some character work. I think for most people if you wait for a time when you have long, full days to get started on a novel you’ll be waiting forever so just get going. It’s far easier when you’re into it than when it looms large, still to be started.
Oh, and the best tip someone ever gave me was to never stop a writing session at the end of a chapter. Stop in the middle, so picking it up again doesn’t feel daunting.
How did you feel when you heard the news that your first novel had been accepted for publication?
Honestly? I felt like I really wished that I could get the episode of Paw Patrol onto my TV quicker, and have a couple of Inspector Gadget arms to to turn the bath water off and tend to the pesto pasta.
I was home alone with my toddler and trying to convey to my agent that this phone call was changing my life, even if I was going “Yes, yes, the episode with the pumpkin”. Thankfully I have an awesome agent, Diana Beaumont, who realises work and parenting are not mutually exclusive and is used to the background juggling.
The Baby Group by Caroline Corcoran is published by Avon in paperback, RRP £7.99, and available from Amazon.
Look out for an exclusive chilling short story by Caroline in this week’s My Weekly, dated October 27!