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'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?