Welcome to our summer book club! Books that are guaranteed to capture your attention while you sit back in the sun (hopefully!) and take a few hours to escape to a new place.
Hope you find some inspiration for your next great read!
You may have heard of Anna Whitehouse under her pseudonym Mother Pukka . She is a radio presenter, journalist and champion for flexible working through her amazing Flex Appeal campaign.
She wrote Underbelly with her husband, Matt Farquharson and it's rooted in their real life experience. It explores this crazy social media soaked world we live in and brilliantly combines the scary, dangerous hidden realities of a life lived online, with an engrossing story and complex characters you feel invested in.
A total page-turner, we loved it!
What inspired you to write Underbelly?
I was seeing so much misinterpretation online, and so much of it was between women – making assumptions about each other, writing off a 3D person based on a 2D image. That seemed most pronounced around motherhood. I wanted to investigate the cancelling, the trolling and the doxing, but also how this is affected by the impact of becoming a mum.
You wrote Underbelly with your husband, how did you go about that – did you take chapters or characters each, for example, or was it more organic?
This is our third book together, so we’ve had a bit of practice but it’s always a bit tense. No one wants to get notes from their life lobster. The emotional heart of the story comes from me, the structure and plotting from Matt – we handed bits back and forth, polishing what the other had done and in later drafts we each took one of the main characters to really sharpen their voices.
How would you describe the story?
It’s about two women thrown together at the school gates when their kids become friends. Lo is a middle-class mum, activist and minor social media influencer. Dylan is a single mum in a zero-hours job, trying to keep food on the table while fleeing an abusive past. The trouble starts when they make assumptions about each other based on superficial details and how they see each other on social media. Things then spiral from there…
In the book you explore the darker side of social media – a theme that feels so important and relevant right now. Was this drawn from real life experience?
Social media has been great in many ways – bringing people closer, giving work to those denied access to traditional jobs (often after having kids – 84% of social media ads are posted by women). But it also sees ASA guidelines ignored to flog £200 breast pumps to postnatally-depressed mothers. It has caused some to hound strangers to mental collapse and self harm. It has driven women to suicide.
Which character do you relate to most?
I wrote more of Lo, Matt wrote more of Dyl, but I relate to the pain, worries, and joys of each of them. It’s odd but these people in your head become friends who you care about.
It was also so refreshing to see different types of motherhood brought through as a theme. Is it important to you to talk about the pressures of motherhood?
It is such a transformative experience – wonderful and privileged but also desperate and terrifying. It’s something women weren’t encouraged to talk about in the past, but in the last few years women all over the world have been opening up on the realities of it all, and that can only be good.
What message would you like readers to take away from Underbelly?
To pause and consider the human behind the image.
We love your Flex Appeal campaign – if anyone isn’t aware, what is your aim with this?
This is the thing that really keeps me going: we want to make flexible working a right from day one in a job and it feels like we’ve made some real progress over the last five years.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
Yes, we’re working on about six of them, writing ideas and characters and scenes to see what works best so we can narrow it down to share with a few trusted first readers.
What authors do you always look forward to reading?
Lisa Taddeo, Zakiya Dalila Harris, Caitlyn Moran, Elizabeth Day.
Thank you so much for talking to us, Anna!
Get your copy of Underbelly here .
We'll be discussing the book over in our Facebook group , so make sure you join us there!
From a range of genres - these are the books you won’t be able to put down this summer.
We hope you find some great new reads this month, we’d love to know your thoughts.
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