Thanks again to Gransnet and to Sarah Haywood. Another happy reader here
First of all, as others have already said, while you can’t judge a book by its cover, this one certainly deserves a mention: a beautifully produced hardback, a joy to hold and read. I love the blooming cactus artwork and the attractive calligraphy. Well done, Two Roads.
As for the story, I didn’t immediately take to Susan: she comes over, at least initially, as judgemental, intolerant of others’ failings and apparently lacking in any warmth or humour, although I did like her independence and determination. As the story continues however, I was drawn in and, eventually, warmed to her and grew to care that all should turn out well for her.
Overall, I found The Cactus to be a funny and insightful story, well written, imagined and observed. It is also a deep, sometimes dark depiction of sibling rivalry, changes in society’s acceptance of teenage pregnancy/unmarried motherhood and the hopelessness of thinking you can control everything in your life.
The supporting cast is well written too: Kate the neighbour, who had a lot more to her than Susan suspected; Rob the gardener, whose persistence was admirable; the awful Aunt Sylvia; Richard, a male version of Susan.....but for whom I did feel a pang of sympathy, as he was so effortlessly replaced by Rob.
One niggle: others have already commented on the use of the word Mom. It jarred a bit with me too. And, while I was almost persuaded by Mapleleaf’s explanation (Birmingham pronunciation), the first time it was used was by Tom (p.7), a new admin assistant in Susan’s London office....?
Finally, quite a few similarly impressive debut novels have featured in the Gransnet Bookclub of late. Many of them, as with this, arose out of Creative Writing courses.
So...I’d like to ask Sarah what prompted her to decide to quit a legal career and write a novel?
And what impact(s) did her Masters have on her writing?
I'd also quite like to find out how Susan copes with motherhood so hoping there might be a sequel at some point?
Writing a novel was something I’d wanted to do for as long as I can remember, but it didn’t feel possible when I was working full time outside the home. When I had my two sons, I took a career break. I was living in Liverpool and working in Manchester at the time, which wasn’t conducive to looking after very young children. I decided that, before returning to my legal career, I would give writing one serious shot. I completed a one-year Open University creative writing course, then chose an MA which required me to submit a full-length novel. I can’t say that the MA had a significant impact on the style or substance of my writing; I was very fortunate that my tutors and fellow students liked the early chapters that I workshopped and gave positive feedback. The main benefits of the MA course for me were, first, having a deadline, which stopped me prevaricating; and secondly, being in a supportive and encouraging environment which gave me the confidence to persevere. I’m delighted by the number of people who’ve been asking about a sequel. I’m currently working on something unrelated to Susan, but I certainly haven’t ruled it out (see earlier answer)!