Hi Sallycand welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Secrets of Midwives!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father—hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
I suppose you could say I was born to be a midwife. Three generations of women in my family had devoted their lives to bringing babies into the world; the work was in my blood. But my path wasn’t as obvious as that. I wasn’t my mother—a basket-weaving hippie who rejoiced in the magic of new, precious life. I wasn’t my grandmother—wise, no nonsense, with a strong belief in the power of natural birth. I didn’t even particularly like babies. No, for me, the decision to become a midwife had nothing to do with babies. And everything to do with mothers.
Please share a few Random facts about this book…
- Well, it was a case of art imitating life, because I was pregnant while I wrote THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES (though, in my case—boringly—everyone knew who the father was!).
- Also, THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES took nine months to write. When asked, I always tell people I gave birth to two babies that year.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is alternately narrated by three women: a grandmother, mother and daughter. Floss, the grandmother, is wise and no-nonsense; her daughter, Grace, is a quirky free spirit; and the youngest midwife, Neva, is reticent and sarcastic.
While the three women are so very different, I was surprised to find how similar they actually were once you scratched the surface. And how much love and loyalty existed between them.
What, in your mind, distinguishes this book from other books out there in the same genre?
I think the multi-generational aspect is what makes THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES unique. I’ve read books about modern midwives and I’ve read books about midwives in times gone by—and I love them all. But in THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES, the stories of midwives, past and present, are told side-by-side. I thought this structure would make for a captivating story, but the added bonus was that it highlighted how, while things have changed over the years, the important stuff—like the wonder of becoming a mother—hasn’t changed at all.
The First kiss…
In the passenger seat of Patrick’s car, my stomach wriggled like a sack of kittens. It was hard to believe that a few hours ago, he’d offered to pretend to be the father of my baby. He even introduced himself to Gran as my boyfriend! If it was anyone else, the intent would be clear. But Patrick, the player, couldn’t be interested in me—could he?
He pulled up outside my apartment. “Here we are.”
“You never answered me before,” I said. “Why would you want to do this?”
“Would you believe I have a thing for redheads?”
I let the silence be my answer.
Patrick sighed, exasperated. “Come on, Nev.”
“Come on, what? Tell me. If you want me to say yes, I need to know why.”
“Are you really going to make me say it?”
With a flick of his seat belt, he silenced me. He took my chin between his thumb and forefinger and bent toward me. I froze, not even breathing. His lip curved up at one side. And then he pressed his lips to mine.
The world slipped away. His lips were soft but firm. Gently, he pulled me closer. Involuntarily, I moaned.
My approval did something to both of us. Patrick’s tongue slid into my mouth, and deep inside me, a fire ignited. It was like watching a movie with a foreshadowed twist; I hadn’t seen it coming, but now I couldn’t believe I’d missed it.
Did any scene have you crying or laughing (or blushing) while writing it?
I have a soft spot for the all birth scenes, but my favorite to write was Neva’s birth scene. I became so caught up that I wrote it very fast (though I had to go back and double check the midwifery details). Even to read it now, it moves me.
It was powerful to write because, during that scene, the women had to put all their differences aside. There was no snarking, no secrets, no resentments hovering unsaid. It was just the women. And in that scene, you can feel what they actually mean to each other.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters?
I love this question! Hmm, I’d probably choose the dinner at Floss’s house where she and Grace learn about Neva’s pregnancy. It’s a significant scene as it establishes the dynamic between the three women, which is the block from which the entire novel builds.
“But you can’t be pregnant,” I said. But as I reached out to touch Neva’s round wet belly, I could see that she was. And reasonably far along. Her navel was flush with the rest of her stomach. Her breasts were full, and I was certain that if I looked under her hospital top, I’d find them covered in bluish purple veins. “How . . . far along?
A touch of pink appeared in Neva’s cheeks. “Thirty weeks.”
“Thirty—” I pressed my eyelids together, then opened them again, as if doing so would render the news less shocking. “Thirty weeks?”
It wasn’t possible. Her face was fresh and clear of spots and she didn’t appear to be retaining water. Her wrists were tiny. She didn’t have any additional chins. Apart from the obvious bump, I couldn’t see a single sign of pregnancy, let alone a third-trimester pregnancy. The whole thing was very hard to believe. “But . . . your polycystic ovaries!”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t get pregnant,” Neva said. “Just that it’s a little less likely.”
I knew that, of course, but it was too much to comprehend. My daughter was pregnant. I was a midwife. How was it possible that I hadn’t known?
A steady stream of ice water dripped off the table’s edge, landing at Neva’s feet. The way she stared at it, you’d think she’d never seen water before. “Your table’s going to stain, Gran,” she said slowly. “Have you got any paper towels?”
I stared at her. “Paper towels?”
“I’ll get the paper towels,” Mom said. “Grace, take Neva into the front room. I’ll make tea.”
What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?
When all is said and done, THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is a book about family: what makes a mother, what binds family together, and the role of biology. If there is one thing readers take from this book, I hope it is that families are not about DNA, they are about love.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2015?
I recently delivered Book 2 to my publisher, currently titled The Things We Keep. It is a novel about a man and woman in their thirties, both with early-onset dementia, who find love in the residential care facility where they live…right before they lose their memories forever.
I am currently working on Book 3.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Print copy of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES
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I arrived in Conanicut Island at a ten to eight. Gran’s house, a shingle-style beach cottage, was perched on a grassy hill that rolled down to a rocky beach. She lived on the southern tip of the island, accessible only by one road across a thin strip of land from Jamestown. When I was little, my parents and I used to rent a shack like Gran’s every summer, and spend a few weeks in bare feet—swimming at Mackerel Cove, flying kites, hiking in Beavertail State Park. Gran was the first to go on “permanent vacation” there. Grace and Dad followed a few years ago and now lived within walking distance. Grace had made a big deal about “leaving me” in Providence, but I was fine with it. Apart from the obvious fact that it meant Grace would be a little farther away from me and my business, I also quite liked the idea of having an excuse to visit Conanicut Island. Something happened to me when I drove over the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge. I became a little floppier. A little more relaxed.
I stepped out of the car and scurried up the grassy path. I let myself in through the back door and was immediately hit by the scent of lemon and garlic.
Grace and Gran sat at the table in the wood-paneled dining room, heads bobbing with polite conversation. They didn’t even look up when I entered, which showed how deaf they were getting. I wasn’t exactly light on my feet lately.
“I made it.”
They swiveled, then beamed in unison. Grace, in particular, lit up. Or maybe it was her orange lipstick and psychedelic dress that gave the effect. Something green—a bean, maybe?—was lodged between her front teeth, and the wind had done a number on her hair. Her bangs hung low over her eyes, reminding me of a fluffy red sheepdog.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said.
“Babies don’t care if you have dinner plans, Neva,” Gran said. A smile still pressed into her unvarnished face. “No one knows that better than us.”
I kissed them both, then dropped into the end chair. Half a chicken remained, as well as a few potatoes and carrots and a dish of green beans. A pitcher of ice water sat in the center with a little mint floating in it, probably from Gran’s garden. Gran reached for the serving spoons and began loading up my plate. “Lil hiding?”
Lil, Gran’s painfully shy partner of nearly eight years, was always curiously absent for our monthly dinners. When Gran had announced their relationship and, as such, her orientation, Grace was thrilled. She’d yearned her whole life for a family scandal to prove how perfectly tolerant she was. Still, I had a bad feeling her avid displays of broad-mindedness (one time she referred to Gran and Lil as her “two mommies”) were the reason Lil made herself scarce when we were around.
Gran sighed. “You know Lil.”
“Mom’s not the only one who can bring a partner along, Neva,” Grace said. “If you’d like to bring a guy alo—”
“Good idea,” I said. “I’ll bring Dad next time.”
Grace scowled, but one of my favorite things about her was that her attention span was short. “Anyway, birthday girl. How does it feel? The last year of your twenties?”
I speared a potato. “I don’t know.” How did I feel? “I guess I’m—”
“I’ll tell you how I feel,” Grace said. “Old. Feels like yesterday I was in labor with you.” Grace’s voice was soft, wistful. “Remember looking down at her for the first time, Mom? All that red hair and porcelain skin. We thought you’d be an actress or a model for sure.”
I swallowed my mouthful with a little difficulty. “You’re not happy I followed you into midwifery, Grace?”
“Happy? Why, I’m only the proudest mom in world! Of course, I still wish you’d come and work with me, doing home births. No doctors hovering about with their forceps, no sick people ready to cough all over the precious new babies—”
“There are no doctors or sick people at the birthing center, Mom.”
“Delivering in the comfort of one’s own home, it’s just . . .”
“Magical,” she said, with a smile. “Oh! I nearly forgot.” She reached for her purse and plucked out a flat, hand-wrapped gift. “This is from your father and me.”
“Wow . . . You shouldn’t have.”
“Nonsense. It’s your birthday.”
Gran and I exchanged a look. Of course Grace had ignored the no-gifts directive. The one thing I’d wanted for my birthday. I hated gifts. The embarrassment of receiving them. The awkwardness of opening them in public. And, if it was from Grace, the pressure of ensuring my face was adequately arranged to demonstrate sheer delight, a wonder that I’d ever been able to get through life before this particular ornament or treasure.
“Go on.” She pressed her hands together and wriggled her fingers. “Open it.”
An image of my thirteenth birthday flashed into my mind—the first time since elementary school that I had agreed to a party. Maybe the fact that I was in the middle of my second-ever period and was cramping, bleeding, and wearing a surfboard-sized maxi pad in my underwear skewed my judgment. Grace wasn’t happy when I insisted we keep it small (just four girls from school) and she was positively brokenhearted when I refused party games of any sort, but she didn’t push her luck. With hindsight, that should have been my first clue. My friends and I had just gotten settled in the front room when Grace burst in.
“Can I have your attention, please?” she said. “As you know, today is Neva’s thirteenth birthday. We are celebrating her becoming a teenager.”
She looked like a children’s stage performer, smiling so brightly that I thought her face might crack into three clean pieces. I willed her to vanish in a cloud of smoke, taking with her the previous two minutes and the crimson crushed-velvet dress she had changed into. But any notion that this might happen faded along with my friends’ smiles.
“My baby is no longer a baby. Her body is changing and growing. She’s experiencing the awakening of a vital force that brings woman the ability to create life. You may not know this, but the traditional name for first menstruation is ‘menarche.’”
Panic broke out; a swarm of moths over my heart. I no longer wanted Grace to disappear and take the last two minutes—I wanted her to take my future. To take Monday, when I would have to go to school and face the fact that I was a social outcast, now and forever. To take the coming few weeks, when I would have to go about my life, pretending I didn’t hear the whispers and snickers.
“In some cultures,” she continued, oblivious, “menarche inspires song, dance, and celebration. In Morocco, girls receive clothes, money, and gifts. Japanese families celebrate a daughter’s menarche by eating red rice and beans. In some parts of India, girls are given a ceremony and are dressed in the finest clothes and jewelry the family can buy. I know for you young ones it can seem embarrassing or, heaven forbid, dirty. But it’s not. It is one of the most sacred things in the world, and not to be hidden away, but celebrated. So, in honor of Neva’s menarche, and probably some of yours too—” She smiled encouragingly at my friends. “—I thought it might be fun to do like the Apache Indians here in North America, and—” She paused for effect. “—dance. I’ve learned a chant and we can—”
I can’t believe I let it go on for as long as I did. “Grace.”
Grace’s smile remained in place as she met my eye. “What is it, darling?”
“Just . . . stop.”
I barely breathed the words, but I know she heard them, because her smile fell like a kite from the sky on a windless day. A steely barrier formed around my heart. Yes, she’d gone to a lot of trouble, but she’d also left me no choice. “Dad!”
Our house was small; I knew he would hear me. And when he appeared, his frantic expression confirmed he’d heard the urgency in my voice. He surveyed the room. The horrified faces of my friends. The abundance of red everywhere—Grace’s dress, the balloons, the new cushions, which amazingly, I had only just noticed. He clasped Grace’s shoulders and guided her out, despite her determined protest and genuine puzzlement.
But now, as Grace hovered over me, I didn’t have Dad to help me. I turned the gift over and began to open it tentatively, starting with the tape at one end.
“It’s not a puzzle, darling. You’re not meant to unpeel every little bit of tape, you’re meant to do this!”
Grace lunged at the gift with such vigor, she rammed the table with her hip. Ice cubes tinkled. The water pitcher did a precarious dance, teetering back and forth before deciding to go down. Glass cracked; water gushed. A burst of mint filled the air. I shot to my feet as the water drenched me from the chest down.
Usually after a commotion such as this, it is loud. People assigned blame, gave instructions, located brooms and towels. This time it was eerily quiet. Gran and Grace stared at the mound that was impossible to hide under my now-clinging shirt. And for maybe the first time in her life, my mother couldn’t seem to find any words.
“Yes,” I said. I cupped my belly, protecting it from what I knew was about to be let loose. “I’m pregnant.”
Three generations of women
Secrets in the present and from the past
A captivating tale of life, loss, and love…
Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva’s pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?
Meet the Author:
Sally Hepworth is the author of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES, a novel about three generations of midwives, to be published by St. Martin’s Press, NY, in Feb 2015. The novel will be published worldwide in English, as well as in France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Sally is the author of Love Like The French, published by Random House Germany in February 2014. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children.