The Awkward Age sees two single parents who found love with each other attempt to bring their families together. The consequences are funny, explosive and heartbreaking.
After reading this novel by Francesca Segal I had so many questions and a head full of “what would I dos?” that it only seemed right to go direct to the source for a good old chat about this beautiful book.
I’m so excited to share her fascinating answers with you – if you’ve read the book then you will love lifting the lid further on this tangled family. If you haven’t read it, then you’re going to want to!
I also cannot wait for Francesca’s next novel, which will be a non-fiction account of her time in hospital with her premature twins. This sounds like an absolute must-read!
If you haven’t already, check out my review of The Awkward Age here.
What does the book’s title mean to you? Is it just the teens who are at an awkward age?
I had a few titles floating around but I adored The Awkward Age for precisely that reason, as you say – we always think of the awkwardness of the teen years, but there are so many awkward ages – sometimes it feels like life is just a ricochet from one to another. teenage years, the confusion of self-definition in the mid-twenties, new motherhood, menopause… I always think it’s desperately unfair that teenagers are the only ones granted the right to hormonal mood swings. Shouldn’t menopausal women get a free pass to lie in bed till lunchtime and smoke out of the window, too?
The story centres around a blended family. Do you think it’s possible to bring two families together without any dysfunction?
Dysfunction seems a hard word for it – I think creating a whole from two different halves is incredibly complicated and delicate and it is inedible that there will be points of friction where expectations, traditions, family culture etc diverge. Add hurt feelings and the trauma of whatever preceded them and you have a recipe for tension. I think building a blended family is such hard, noble, thankless, worthwhile work, and I take my hat off to those doing it.
The book starts with a perfect summary of what’s to come: “The teenagers will fuck it up.” The teens in this book are a bit of a nightmare for their parents, where did you get your inspiration for creating the two teens in the story?
It is always a great pleasure to write ‘difficult’ characters – but also I consider it a challenge to help the readers feel sympathy for characters whose choices aren’t, shall we say, always what we’d want them to choose!
The themes of teen pregnancy, choice and abortion will divide audiences, did you want to spark a debate among your readers?
I can’t think about readers when I write or I would go mad! But I love hearing readers debate the choices of the characters I’ve created – it brings them to life like nothing else.
Gwen takes a stand to do what she wants, despite everyone being against her. Even though she’s immature and a bit of a brat at times, does this actually make her the strongest character in the book?
I certainly think that some readers are frustrated by what they perceive as Julia’s weakness, put it that way.
A lot of the issues between the characters could be resolved if they would only speak to each other honestly, do you think the parents in this book struggled to communicate with their children?
I wonder if all parents and children struggle to communicate – there is and will always be by definition a generational gulf, and that terrifying tension of teenagers wanting independence while also needing the security of a safe parental berth nearby – but not too near. It is an almost impossible tightrope.
In the book Julia tries to put her own wants and needs ahead of her daughter’s demands, was she right to do this?
Oh, that is precisely the kernel of the question I was exploring and I couldn’t possibly say – I would love your readers to tell me what they think!
The book looks at the difference and conflicts between the love parents have for their children and the love adults in a relationship have for each other, Julia ultimately has to make a heartbreaking choice. Was this ending always inevitable in your mind, or did you chop and change about where the couple would end up?
I knew that this tension was the heart of the novel, but it’s true, I wasn’t sure how it would end until I knew them better. Then I saw how it had to be – it wasn’t really even up to me, in the end. They did what they would do.
Was this a difficult book to write following the success of your debut novel?
I was petrified for a long time, and there is such stigma attached to the ‘difficult second novel’. I took a long time to alight on the right idea, it’s true, but once I knew this family I wanted to spend time with them, and it became easier to immerse myself in the world of the novel, rather than thinking about the novel in the world.
What are you reading now?
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin.
What are you writing now? Will your next novel also focus on the struggles of family life?
For the first time I am writing non-fiction. My twin daughters were extremely premature, and I am publishing my diary of the time I spent in hospital with them. It is a love letter to my children, to the NHS, and most of all to the incredible group of fellow mothers I met in neonatal intensive care – clever, funny, naughty, brave women who will now be friends for life. It is about motherhood but also primarily about sisterhood, about sorority.
A huge thank you to Francesca Segal for answering my questions! I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. What did you think of the book?
The Awkward Age by Francesca Segal is the Mumsnet Book Club book of the month. There will be a web chat with the author on June 5. Find out more about the book club here.