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Author QandA Fake Baby - Amy McDaid Uncategorized

QandA with Amy McDaid

READ CLOSE: If you could say something to the Amy who is just starting to write Fake Baby, what would you tell her?

AMY MCDAID: I’m not sure I’d tell her anything! She doesn’t need advice, because I know she’d learn what she needed to at the right time, at the right place in the writing process, and that she will always have something to learn, and those lessons will be precious (and sometimes painful) when this happens. She doesn’t need added encouragement either, because (plot spoiler), she is going to eventually finish the damn thing without words from her older, somewhat more haggard self either. I’d give her a hug though. She likes those. Maybe a pat on the back too. 

You have three main characters in your novel Jaanvi, Lucas, and Stephen. Tell us about how you came to see this story best served by this set of characters and what is the dynamic you see between them?

It went the other way around really, because I started with the characters, and then I heard their story. As opposed to having the story and then creating the characters to serve it. It’s kinda like getting to know a person in real life. You start off with a small detail,  like a name, and then maybe you learn something on the surface, like what they do for a job. And then you hold a conversation and if you like each other it goes deeper and you become privy to some of their thoughts. Except I guess in writing, you get to take that step further — right up to when you’re deep inside their skin. And then you hear their story. So I guess, yes, for me, Fake Baby is character-driven, so the story serves them.

The dynamic — they all live in the same city, inhabit the same space, are struggling in some way. To others, they may appear as unusual, but to me they are all, ultimately, survivors and heroes in their own right. If they were to meet, you’d think they wouldn’t get on. But maybe, just maybe, they would. 

If Fake Baby were to be made into a TV show or a film, what actors would you want to play your three main characters?

Taika Waititi, this is a direct shout out to you. Please direct the film version of Fake Baby. I trust you to make the best call on the actors. (Though I think Ryan Gosling should be slotted in somewhere, perhaps as the good-looking homeless guy). p.s. if someone out there can give me Robin Cohen’s address, I’ll send her a free copy of Fake Baby. Will throw in some chocolates. 

I always look at books as part of a wider conversation. Tell me, if you can, two or three books that you would like to see Fake Baby site alongside in conversation, books that would inform and augment a reader’s experience of your novel. 

I love that — books as part of a conversation. I’d be curious to see Fake Baby alongside Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and Eamonn Marra’s 2000ft Above Worry Level. They are very different novels, but are all contemporary with the same grain of dark funny, dealing with serious topics and mental distress while utilising humour that counteracts the bleak. They can’t and won’t appeal to everyone. The characters are polarising, certainly not always ‘lovable,’ (though I love them all with all of my heart), and their choices will be judged by society. Anyway, a good part of the reason why I chose these two books is I really like them, and I feel flattered by the idea of Fake Baby getting to hang out with them in conversation. 

What writers do you consider having had the most impact on your life, and your writing, and why? 

This is hard! I read so widely, and every time I read a book I learn something and then that’s stored away somewhere at the back of my brain, and then I move on to the next book. The books I love the most, that have stayed with me, impacted on my life, are not necessarily those I see as having had a big impact on my writing — in part because my writing is so different from theirs. I love unusual reads, the rambling stream-of-consciousness seen in Anna Burns’ The Milkman and Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport. Reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was for me, like being hit by a truck. I was devastated and cried for hours after, which had never happened to me before with a book. I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith and Bernadine Evaristo for opening up worlds. All of these books have had a big impact on my life because they’ve helped me develop empathy for someone else’s experience — which is what the best literature does, in my opinion. But again, my writing is rather different from the sweeping narratives of these writers. 

For a direct, tangible impact on my writing, I’d probably have to be a little boring and go with some writing guides. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose; the latter was suggested reading for the Master of Creative Writing. I read these at the very beginning of writing Fake Baby. Bird by Bird was important because it presented a reason to write beyond publication. And I was doing that anyway — I didn’t expect to be published at that point — but it was validating and spurred me forward. And Reading Like a Writer was great because it taught me how to interrogate my prose and specifically helped me a tonne with things like dialogue and detail. It’s a book I still pick up and read and continue to learn from.

What are you reading right now? What is next in line to be read?

I am just finishing off Ali Smith’s Spring. Love, love, love! The seasonal quartet is incredible for the speed they are produced and published to engage directly with the times. Though I’ve been a little slow getting to them! So I’m determined to read Summer as soon as it’s out. Next up — Caroline Barron’s memoir Ripiro Beach, which is getting great reviews. It’s about her near death experience after she gives birth, her journey through PTSD, and her journey of discovery into her Māori whakapapa.

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Book Reviews Fake Baby - Amy McDaid Fake Baby - Amy McDaid Uncategorized

Book Review: Fake Baby by Amy McDaid

Penguin Random House, RRP $36.00, Contemporary Fiction

Spoiler alert – plot points are discussed in this review

Last Halloween, I tied four sparkling fake spiders to our gate, to let families on our street know that we’d welcome trick-or-treating. My husband decided this wasn’t scary enough, so he retrieved the plastic baby doll that belonged to our young children and tied that to the gate as well. That plastic doll, when it was in the arms of my daughters, was cute and sweet. Once the doll was attached to the fence, it became the opposite: creepy, unsettling, alarming. 

 The title of Amy McDaid’s debut novel, Fake Baby, brings to my mind this doll. Of course, the fake baby in the book is a doll of much grander ambition – it is made from silicone, baked and hand-painted and weighted perfectly to mimic a real baby. The doll, a Reborn worth more than $5000, is stolen by one of the main characters, Jaanvi. The doll symbolises an idea interrogated in Fake Baby: what are the differences between fakeness and reality; where are the boundaries of pretence and authenticity? The doll and the act of playing with dolls, so acceptable when we were children, ceases to be considered ‘normal’ once we are adults. What is normal, this book challenges us. What is not? 

 A trio of characters forms the basis for the story: Stephen, Jaanvi, and Lucas. Three people who behave in ways that seem unfathomable to others, and sometimes even to themselves. Stephen is the first character we’re introduced to, and it’s in his chapters that McDaid’s most confident writing occurs. Although the very last parts of his story feel weaker than the other two storylines, the whole book to me is carried by the confident, playful, free prose in his passages. Even when the storylines felt a touch forced, it was the zest of language that captured my attention. McDaid’s writing was never fussy or flimsy, and the comedy of the writing feels fun and natural. 

 Stephen’s a man battling with the memories of his father. The two other characters, Jaanvi and Lucas, are also dealing with issues around parenthood – their relationships with their parents are tense and difficult, and these painful feelings form Jaanvi’s experience of being a parent herself. She loses her son when he is nine days old, flashbacks deepening our understanding of what this loss was like in real-time. All the characters in the novel find that disappointment and hurt destroy or maim their love for their parents. In one of Lucas’s flashbacks, his mother gives his childhood puppy to the neighbours. He peers through the hedge to watch the dog grow. His mother discards a beloved family pet, and in the same way, Lucas feels discarded and forgotten as an adult. Lucas and Stephen have both been hurt by the people who created them, and this damage leaves deep scars. Lucas sums up his thoughts about mothers succinctly when he watches ducks at Green Bay beach: ‘They did such a poor job of caring for their young.’ 

 I imagine Jaanvi would be horrified to hear this idea. She’s a mother willing to do anything to be a mother, to give love. She has the hope that all new parents have: that they won’t repeat the mistakes of their parents. Her theft of the doll may be exactly what she says – a coping mechanism, but for some this behaviour strays too far from the norm. Her husband doesn’t seem to find it comforting or healing, and their relationship suffers from the aftershocks of their loss. Edith, Lucas’s pharmacy customer, offers a counter view of mothers and parents when she says, ‘Mothers do what they can do to get through,’ and this could be what Jaanvi’s trying to do – doing what she can to get through her pain, albeit in a way that seems to be teetering on the edge of what is creepy and what is cute.

 The novel seems to suggest that everyone moulds their behaviour to fit what is considered ‘normal’ by others: we put ourselves on display, and we shift and mutate our behaviour based on the response from our audience. Jaanvi’s friend Ayla performs in this way – she displays herself on social media and then can behave to please, with statistics to help her figure out what’s acceptable, and what is not. It’s the gaze of others that determines whether we are merely eccentric or if we require psychiatric care, whether we need a cocktail of drugs or if we need to be hospitalised. 

 McDaid’s language in the book flickers with an off-beat whimsy; words like ‘cock-a-doodled’, ‘hoed into’ and ‘hullaballoo’ pop up. There are other childlike nursery rhymes referred to at times; Stephen sings himself Twinkle Twinkle little star, Winnie the Pooh is mentioned as a potential wise sage, and offer a light touch in moments of darkness for the characters. 

 One scene has stayed with me, from a book packed with memorable scenes: Stephen, cradling the fake baby, singing a lullaby – rock-a-bye-baby. Two men take the doll from him, call him a ‘pedo’. Once they realise it’s a doll, they damage the doll. and burn it and break it. This behaviour feels more gruesome because the same pain, the same damage, is inflicted on real children in the same ways when they should be loved and protected. It’s this balance between grim and harsh reality and the clever playfulness of language that keeps Fake Baby ticking along, weaving through Auckland, exploring the heartbreak and the small joys of the people who live there.