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Judith O'Reilly, author of Wife in the North (September 9-23)

Author Chat

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Sep 10, 2008, 10:52am Top

Join us here to talk to Judith O'Reilly, author of Wife in the North. She'll be on LibraryThing to discuss her work and answer questions through September 23th.

Sep 10, 2008, 12:29pm Top

Hello. I received a copy of Wife in the North as part of the early reviewer program here. In the book, a lot is said regarding bullying. What have you found most effective in helping your son deal with bullying?

I dealt with it as a child, and I was wondering how you helped your son, aside from working with the school.



Sep 10, 2008, 7:12pm Top

hey Lindsey,
like any mother I hate bullying of small children. Professionally as a former education correspondent I had also heard some heartbreaking stories of people's experiences which led to kids being permanently injured and self-harming. I have also been approached my mothers for advice in the aftermath of writing about it.
I think the key to it is being prepared to make an almighty fuss. I don't think a parent should just go away because they hear a few words of reassurance from a teacher. You need to see real action and then you need to know that it is implemented effectively and consistently. Teachers can find it difficult to accept bullying goes on because they feel it reflects on the school. I don't think a mother should ever get personal about what the teachers are and are not doing and these things are always very complicated re the children doing the bullying, I do think though that mothers need to keep everyone's attention on the effect it is having on the victim (yes let's use that word) and keep jumping up and down until the school manages to put a stop to it. Also obviously it is vitally important to reassure and support your child and make him know what is happening is entirely unacceptable and will be stopped .
You will know more than most Lindsey, it is a rotten thing for a child to have to deal with.

Sep 10, 2008, 7:18pm Top

Thanks for the response. My Mom is and was a teacher at the elementary school that I attended as a child. I later learned how me being bullied affected her as a mother and teacher. I happen to know a lot of wonderful primary school teachers (due to the fact that my Mom and sister both teach elementary school), and in many cases, at least here in Michigan, the teachers can't always be as effective as they would like with regards to bullying.

I can only imagine how many times you've been approached about the subject.

Thanks again.


Edited: Sep 12, 2008, 12:40am Top

Hi Judith,

I also received your book through early reviewers and LOVED it. I was surprised because I expected to focus pretty exclusively on the trials and tribulations of moving to a new place (which I did three years ago), but was just absolutely taken in by the book as one of the truest accounts I've read of what it really feels like to be a mother. I also lived in England for two years -- I've even visited Northumberland and know how beautiful it is -- so I could totally relate the extremes of London vs. Northumberland.

The night I finished your book, my husband and I were spending our second of two nights camping in the backcountry of Wyoming as part of a week-long trip celebrating his 40th b-day sans kids. During our dinner, the sky cracked upon and dumped such vast quantities of rain as I have ever seen in my life (accompanied by thunder so loud it rattled the very ground underneath us!). I scurried into the tent, put on every article of fleece clothing I'd packed and prayed that the tiny slip of nylon separating us from flooding and certain hypothermia would somehow withstand the storm.

To keep my mind off my worries, I read the last one-third of your book with a flashlight while my husband slept. At the end, I was absolutely weeping and wanted so much to be able to tell you how sorry I am for the loss of your firstborn. I can't even imagine the courage it must have taken you to go through three pregnancies after that, but I am in awe. I was very inspired by your accounts of motherhood and the rabid love us mothers have for our kids - a love like no other. Thank you also for having the courage to write about it. I am fortunate to have had two children without complications, but I have close friends who have not been able to conceive or have had multiple miscarriages, and your book has helped me relate to their grief even more than before, therefore enabling me to be a better friend.

On a lighter note, I'm curious as to what prompted you to begin a blog, and did you ever have any idea it would take off the way it did?

All the best,


Sep 12, 2008, 7:40am Top

yes I was approached after writing the blog entries, and I did give what advice I could (for what it was worth.)And yes I do think it is a really difficult one for teachers because they are in this amazingly awkward position trying to do right by everybody, they can do the best they can and whatever they do the chances arel nobody is entirely happy by the end of it.

Sep 12, 2008, 7:56am Top

hi julie, You can as you indicate read the book on a number of levels (hopefully it is very accessible and funny and that helps.) Some readers have read it as no more or less than my diary, that is to say the ramblings of a dissastified wingebag. And it is true I was unhappy and can moan to Olympic gold standard. But you are right, what the book is really about (at least what I tried to do) was write a book about what it is to be a wife and mother and daughter, to write a book about the compromises required by marriage, the relentlessness of motherhood, the sheer joy of motherhood, the pursuit of friendship, the nature of loss, love and relationships and family. It is more than my story. It is an Everywoman story with which women over here at least are really connecting (Cannot tell yet whether it will "translate" in America, there seems to be a bit of a struggle going on over the words I use, the rhythm of some of the writing and the format, so maybe it won't.). In the UK it was in the top 10 for five weeks, and as high as number 3 for the month between mid July and mid August. If it was nothing more than my diary, it would never have the momentum it has over here. And yet, not everybody gets that but why should they? Read it as one woman's diary or read it as a commentary of what matters to all of us. Whatever works for the reader.

Also when I got the book deal, I wanted to write a book that said something about stuff I wasn't seeing in other books - exactly what you say , how a mother feels to love her child, breastfeeding, post natal depression, stillbirth, etc. And at the risk of sounding naff, I did hope it would help other women to realise that they were not alone in their griefs and difficulties. I also hoped that it would help friends and families to understand what it was like when someone they love goes through the horror of the loss of a child.

re setting up the blog. I was genuinely lonely and had things to say and noone to say them to. Re it taking off I had no idea what would happen though I must say I realised pretty immediatly I had something and it became utterly compulsive. Try it - I would recommend blogging to everyone.
Thanks to both of you for your very kind words. I am really pleased you "got" it.

Sep 15, 2008, 10:02pm Top

Judith -

I can see how it is an Every Woman story. I have yet to be a mother, but I could very well identify with many, many things in the book. It would appear that you were successful in your intent with the book.


Sep 17, 2008, 12:38pm Top


Just to say I enjoyed your book. Discovered the blog but found it too difficult to go too far back so enjoyed reading from the beginning.

One thing I would like to know is although you don't use names, how did people feel about their lives being featured in your blog/book? Have you lost any friends because of it?

Sep 18, 2008, 2:46pm Top


I hope people don't turn off from the book because of the language. I lived in England, so of course it didn't bother me, but I still think it's important for the writer to be "speaking" in an authentic language. If I read a book by a British writer and it didn't say "crisps" instead of "potato chips" and "prawns" instead of "shrimp," I'd be annoyed. I think it's up to the reader to learn the vernacular, either by the context, or I'm sure there have to be some websites defining British English vs. American English.

It's like eating salad from a bag instead of having fresh washed leaves from the market. They both do the job, but one tastes a lot closer to the source, and is therefore more delicious even if it does require more effort.

My two cents on that one.

Sep 18, 2008, 4:43pm Top

hi Lindsey, well I'm happy with it. There is obvioulsy pressure now for a second book but If I am not equally as happy next time round, the second book just won't see the light of day.
best Judith

Sep 18, 2008, 4:52pm Top

thanks holly, yeah no point reading the blog from the beginning when the book is out there though you should know for the moment anyway the blog is continuing so if you are still interested in the further adventures of wifey, log on to wifeinthenorth.com and drop in every now and then.

People were incredibly generous and trusting. I was very aware that it is a huge thing to say to somebody "OK you can write about me in a book". When I wrote about something desperately personal like the death of my friend's son, I asked her whether it would be Ok, then I showed her the posts, only when she said she was entirely happy with what I had written, did I put anything up on the blog. When the book was ready to go away to my editor, I checked again that my friend was alright with it appearing in a book, so I tried to "carry" people with me as it were. Occasionally friends said they did not want stuff appearing and that material never saw the light of day. I am not saying there wasn't the occasional wrinkle, but I would not endanger a friendship for the sake of a few lines in a book.

Sep 18, 2008, 4:56pm Top

hey Julie, yes well there were nice moments. The US edition as you know has rather fab illustrations. The first draft of the one of the kids with underwear on theri heads came back with them wearing trousers on their heads. This was because my son had said when he was king everyone would wear "pants" on their heads.It took me a minute to figure out what was wrong with the picture.
And yes I agree re authenticity, I read James Ellroy, I do not necessarily expect to understand everything but the books are so good I am along for the ride anyhows.

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