Questions for reading group discussion on Sleepless Nights - chs. 1-20:
1. Q goes to a party held by a work colleague in the first chapter of the novel. What do you think she feels about the office culture? Have you visited with work colleagues soon after a baby's birth? If so, how did you feel about them? Did you feel an outsider or glad to be taking a break?
2. Q and Jeanie are sisters - but one is close to twenty, the other to thirty. What are their priorities? How are they different? Are these differences caused by age or by personality?
3. Jeanie and Dave have been together for a year. What are Dave's strengths as a person? Why is Jeanie in this relationship? What does it tell us about her?
4. Q and Tom are adjusting to parenthood in the early chapters of the novel. How are they coping? Do you think they're doing a good job? Have you or a friend had to make this transition? What effect do you think it has on a couple's relationship? On their feelings about work and career?
5. What do you think Tom feels about the possibility of his sister-in-law's extended visit? About his own mother and her advice? Have you been in a situation where you needed family help when a new baby came along? How did you and your spouse feel about this?
6. Do you think Tom and Q are running away by going to Connecticut?
7. How do you think Jeanie handles Paul's arrival? What do we learn about her character in chapters 10 and 12?
8. Why do you think the novel is written in two voices? What are the differences between the two voices? How big a part does Englishness play in their characters, do you think?
9. Why do you think Q finds Alison so annoying? How do you think Jeanie feels about her?
10. What do you think of Paul's suggestion in chapter 17? Why do you think he makes it? Does he have Tom's best interests at heart?
11. What effect has the recession had on the characters' lives in the novel so far? Have you read other novels recently that reference the recession? Do you think women's novels are changing in the light of our new economic reality?
Questions for Sarah Bilston,
author of SLEEPLESS NIGHTS:
your first novel, Bed Rest, we
watched your protagonist, Q, experience the perils of a difficult
pregnancy with humor and grace.In your latest, SleeplessNights, she’s surprised to find
herself unprepared for the changes a new baby brings.What did you find the most
unexpected about the first year of parenthood?
I couldn’t believe how intense it was. Before I was a mother
I used to see new moms out and about with babies in strollers, and I thought
motherhood looked pretty easy! You had a lovely baby to hold and you got to
take some time off from work. What’s not to love about that?
Within twenty-four hours of having my first child I realized
just how hard parenting can be. I am an only child, and before becoming a mom I
was used to plenty of me-time. Of course, me-time went straight out of the
window of the delivery room. I nursed, and my daughter was quite small at
birth, so I was on a two-hour feeding schedule – which, as all nursing mothers know,
means one hour for feeding, one hour for changing, then you start the whole
thing all over again. Sleeping, eating, and showering just weren’t part of the
My oldest child also had colic, which was another big shock.
I’d always assumed that babies cried for fairly obvious reasons, and that their
problems could be quite easily fixed by a loving mother. Not true. Wall-to-wall
crying, on no sleep, was not fun at all.
your website you’re collecting stories from new mothers.Why?
I think the first year is a big shock for most moms. The
images of mothering in the media are usually of gurgling babies and delighted
mothers. But the reality can be very different. The stories from moms on my
website show just this: there are lots of different perspectives, but they all
share a common theme – wow! Who knew it
could be like this! Some of the mothers are struggling with their own
health problems, others with a child’s; some are from moms who try to find
answers in books, others from moms who try every ‘trick’ they hear from their
friends. But all of them show how strange and tricky it is to turn from ‘me’
I’m hoping that publication of Sleepless Nights
will help moms – and the media – have a conversation about the realities of
I think Sleepless Nights will
appeal to women readers and people interested in parenting especially. But it’s
also got a more serious side. I talk about the wonderful side of mothering, but
also its challenges. Some chapters are comic, but others are reflective and
one thing every new mother should know?
Don’t clean up when your kids are napping! Go to bed
yourself, or at least put your feet up… Time off is so precious when you have
small children; make the most of every second you have. You’ll be able to enjoy
your children so much more if you’ve had a little bit of down-time first.
edits did you need to make to Sleepless Nights
to make it fit into today’s uncertain economic times?
I had to change the tone completely. Last year I published Sleepless
Nights in the UK, and the tone was much breezier; it was written
before the current recession. People talked easily about money in the UK
edition, and no-one was particularly worried about holding down a job. But by
the time I was preparing the manuscript for the US market, this spring, the
world had changed dramatically.
In the US edition I’ve
tried to capture the edginess and worry of modern America. And I also had to
make some serious plot changes. For instance: originally Jeanie, Q’s
twenty-two-year-old sister, enjoys the pleasures of a summer in America after
finishing up a degree in London When I was first writing, a few months off to
‘find yourself’ after graduation seemed perfectly reasonable. But who can
fritter away a summer these days? As an academic myself, I see every day how
anxious new graduates are about entering the workforce. Jeanie’s motivations
needed to be more intimately connected to anxiety than pleasure-seeking. The
novel had to be an enjoyable escape from reality while shadowing that reality accurately
enough to maintain reader sympathy. In the end, I tied the lessons Jeanie
learned specifically to our changing economy. The career she ends up with isn’t
exactly glamorous, or well-paid, but it’s stable and fulfilling. For the time
being, for a recent graduate, that’s enough.
Sleepless Nights hits the bookshelves in the US on 11 August with HarperCollins. The novel has two heroines; the first, Q (or Quinn) has just become a mother for the first time, and is wondering what this means for her life, career, and marriage. The second, younger sister Jeanie, has come out from England to help Q in America with the new baby. At the same time she's figuring out what to do with her own life. Boyfriend Dave seems dangerously romantic, and Jeanie is not ready to settle down yet. She'd like to enjoy life a bit longer - but will the challenges of a new economy force her to hunker down?
On this site I'm collecting stories from real mothers about the first year of mothering. I'd love to hear from you, so if you'd like to contribute please either add your story as a comment (below) OR Email me at sarah DOT bilston AT yahoo DOT com. And I'll happily send free copies of the novel to the first five contributors to send along their stories. (Click on 'real life stories' at the top of the page to read stories other moms have contributed.)
"I can remember exactly when it started: the day after our friends' lovely wedding.
We had had a great weekend. Our new baby had a tiny pretty outfit and had behaved perfectly for the ceremony and the drinks and the lunch. Everyone had admired her and said how good she was. Then it began. About half past three on the Sunday she began to scream. I had never heard noise like it. She was six weeks old and up till this point had been pretty straightforward. She wasn't a good sleeper, but she was alert and cheerful, grisly sometimes, but nothing we couldn't handle. On and on she bawled, but we couldn't work out what was happening - was she in pain? No sighs of teething, was it her tummy, what? It's awful not being able to comfort your baby, but I held her tight and tried and tried to calm her. After two hours I decided something was seriously wrong; she just wouldn't stop.
So we rang NHS direct. They called back promptly and over the screaming I tried to explain what was going on. The tired-sounding doctor established she hadn't got any symptoms of illness or trauma, but I kept shouting at him hysterically: "there is something wrong with my baby!" He wearily suggested that it might be colic. "I don't think so", I replied, scornful of his trite explanation, it was clearly much more serious than that. "So take her to A&E to have her checked out". Erm, was it that bad?
I couldn't tell anymore, I was crying almost as much as the baby. We ran upstairs to speak to our landlady - a grown-up would surely know. Down she came to the flat and gently took the baby from me, speaking to her softly and kindly, "What's wrong, little girl, what's wrong?". She put her over her shoulder and patted her and the little one shuddered and gasped, hicupped a bit and went quiet. She snuggled into her neck and relaxed. "I think it is colic," our landlady said.
It was colic, as far as we could tell, either that or some existential crisis at the state of the world, and the crying didn't stop until four months. It seemed like nothing helped, so we holed up for that winter, hardly seeing anyone, never going out, listening to our baby cry. By the spring things were getting better - but by then her teeth started to come through..." (Marjorie, London)
"I recall, on my elder daughter's birth, wondering when I would start to feel like a mother. It's not that I hadn't "bonded" with her--that term seemed inadequate to describing the unprecedented closeness I felt to this beautiful, puling creature that latched on to me with such ferocity and that fit into my folds so easily. It's that "mother" seemed dependent upon a consciousness on her part that couldn't possibly have been there yet--on an ability to call me by a name that no one had ever used before.
In retrospect, the feeling came long before she used the name. I don't know exactly when, though. And it's curious to me that the explosive change that is birth--the before and after it determines in one's life--is actually far less powerful than a much more gradual development into an awareness of motherhood, or (perhaps more accurately, of what might be called 'mummyhood.'" (Maggie, Connecticut)
I was very excited to see this morning that Closer magazine gave Sleepless Nights four stars!
I'm so pleased with the cover Sphere chose for the novel - I think the purples and blues are just lovely. And I like the combination of the traditional English pram at the front and the New England village in the background.The novel is about two English girls and their experiences in America, and I think the cover really captures that transatlantic theme.
1. In a room that was about 11 degrees C, we dressed her lightly and put her in a sleeping bag, as per instructions on packet and fierce warnings about overheating/cot death. Guess what? She was freezing cold and woke through the night for 6 months of that winter (dur) 2. Decided that pramsuits and coats were ridiculous expenditures for a baby - a cardi and tights would be fine. Guess what? She was cold and wouldn't stay in her buggy for 6 months of that winter (dur) 3. Attempted to give her a bottle at 4 months - but never let her go for more than 3 hours without breastfeeding, so she was never hungry enough to take it. (Futile? I think so) 4. Attempted to put her down to sleep each night around 8ish, with the telly going, dinner cooking away, phone calls, no bath, several story books (at 3 months?!) and a complete lack of naps in the day. She didn't go. She had been tired around 6, but we had deemed that tooooooooo early, and we clearly knew best (not). 5. Had her in bed with us "just to get some sleep". She went off beautifully (probably because it was about 10 degrees warmer), but then neither of us were allowed to move/breathe in case we woke. This did not result in much sleep for the parents." (Chris, London)
I'm putting together real-life stories about the first year of mothering. Click on the blue link above to read the whole archive.
If you'd like to send me a story yourself, I'd love to read it: either add your story as a comment or write to me directly at Sarah DOT Bilston AT Yahoo DOT com. Don't worry about grammar, this doesn't have to be a work of art! I'm just interested in hearing other people's experiences of, for example,
- Sleep Deprivation
- Mother's (or father's, or sister's) interference
- Managing a marriage and a new baby
- Mixed feelings about going back to work
- The best thing about having a brand new baby.
Sleepless Nights - The Story Behind
The story behind the story:
Sleepless Nights is partly about my own experience adapting to being a mother. I have three children now, so I like to think I know what I'm doing... But when my first child came along I was completely, utterly clueless. I already had a job, I had a house, I was turned thirty; I was supposed to be a proper grown-up. But when my daughter came along I was thrown. I remember in the hospital praying that the nurse would keep on changing my daughter because I couldn't figure out which way round the diapers went. And it went on from there... So the novel is partly about the millions of small surprises, and partly about the 'bigger' issues most of us face - like, how on earth can I still have a life of my own and be a good mommy?