Interview with author Bethan Roberts (first published in the Fiveways Directory)
It’s the morning after the launch party of her new book, and local author Bethan Roberts confesses to being a little fatigued (not that you’d know it from looking at her; she’s fresh-faced, smiley and impeccably dressed. I like her instantly). When she presents me with a hardback copy of Mother Island I’m so thrilled I almost crack the spine and begin reading on the spot. Remembering my manners, and the point of our meeting, we begin to discuss her source of inspiration.
The story is set in isolated Anglesey, a ruggedly beautiful island where Roberts spent time as a child, but rather than focusing on the island’s history, this story observes a more contemporary, domestic issue. “When I started writing it I’d had a baby about a year earlier and I didn’t have time for the research a historical novel requires, so I decided to bite the bullet and write about what I knew: babies. I’d employed a part time childminder and I started considering what it was like to be a nanny, to love those children and every night give them back.” Pondering this whilst navigating her own fears as a mother lead her to write an utterly engaging tale which explores a darker side to childcare, and deals with what happens if the nanny doesn’t give the baby back.
“The experience of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is really what writing novels is about,” explains Roberts, as we discuss the main character, Maggie, who abducts two-year-old Samuel from his family in a misguided quest to rebuild her shattered life. Through opposing character perspectives, the novel dives into the fragile dynamics between parent and childminder; a delicate balance of authority, understanding, power and, most crucially, trust.
With Mother Island firmly on store bookshelves, Roberts must shift her focus to her next creation. But she says she’s unlikely to complete anything in local coffee shops, joking that whilst she loves “feeling connected” to the area and having a sense of belonging, bumping into friends and neighbours is a slippery slope towards every writer’s worst enemy: procrastination.
Full of endearing modesty, Roberts leaves me with a list of “must-reads” by other authors, including her recent favourite, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, hailing it a “wonderful” and “generous” book. But it’s Mother Island I’m most keen to devour, and moments after her departure I’m immersed in the first chapter. Perhaps it’s her ability to tackle uncomfortable subjects with effortless empathy, or the suspense she generates from page one, but for the next hour I’m unable to answer the phone or do anything besides let my imagination wander to that mysterious island and all the secrets it promises to reveal.