It’s time for another Friday Reads post and today my featured book is the debut women’s fiction novel, Spilt Milk by Amy Beashel. So grab yourself a cuppa, get cosy and let’s get chatting to Amy.
What if you said the worst thing a mother could say?
What if your husband found out about it in the national press?
And what if after all that, you didn’t regret it…?
‘My life is a tight knot I would like to undo. And, yes, there’s no use crying over spilt milk but, the truth is, I’d rather die than spill any more…’
Bea has a husband and daughter. Bea also has an appointment for a termination. Her first child changed everything – her life, her relationship, her identity. Now she has a pregnancy test and a decision to face.
This is a story about the women we (think we) know, the choices we make, the friends who stand by us and how the secrets we keep and the words left unsaid can be more dangerous than any lie we tell…
Welcome to my blog, Amy. Your book sounds fascinating, can you tell us what inspired you to write it?
Having previously written YA, Spilt Milk is my first venture into books for grown-ups. I say “books for grown-ups” because when I’ve described my new novel as “adult fiction”, people have tended to think I’m writing erotica. This isn’t something I’ve totally ruled out – my current work in progress certainly has some pretty sexy moments – but Spilt Milk is definitely not that.
What it is is an exploration of motherhood and marriage, two things which might, for many, slip together easily to go hand in hand. But truth is, romantic and parental relationships are often each complicated and or changed by the other. In mum-blogger Bea, I wanted to create a protagonist for whom the reality of mothering is very different to the imagining of it, and to examine the various reasons why that might be.
When I first began plotting, I headed down a slightly We Need to Talk about Kevin route, but I was keen for Bea’s ambivalence to be rooted in the everyday. My own experience of early motherhood was often one of stark opposites. Joy and misery. Pride and frustration. A feeling that this life-changing decision was possibly my best ever, or perhaps even my worst. I don’t think I was unique in these contrary feelings, and when discussing the highs and lows with my friends, what frequently became apparent was the nervousness many felt in having a frank conversation about something women are still told will be the most rewarding thing we ever do.
What also interested me was the sadness and sometimes fury many of my fellow mums felt about their male partners’ involvement in family life. Sure, there’d been a shift, fathers were now a stalwart presence at their children’s birthday parties for example, something which certainly wasn’t a given when I was a kid. But the job of organising that birthday party was, far more often than not, down to the woman. This was also true of making doctor’s appointments, finding a good nursery, planning meals, remembering relatives’ anniversaries, cleaning the house, researching fun and inspiring playgroups. You get the gist.
These men are good men, kind men, feminist men and yet, without even being aware of it, they – we – had fallen into stereotypes, which can leave men and children cared for and leave women… well, shattered. And perhaps resentful too.
I read a fantastic book on the subject, Fed Up by Gemma Hartley, which persuaded me the issue of domestic and emotional labour really isn’t as dry as it sounds, that this very imbalance is often the crux of many familial woes. And so, pairing this dissatisfaction in her marriage alongside Bea’s fear of a second pregnancy, allowed me to create a character who, in her own complex and sometimes flawed way, seeks drastic tangible change.
The experience of writing Spilt Milk was as contradictory as my own experience of motherhood. Endlessly challenging but studded with fulfilment, delight and surprise. It was a slog. But like labour, at the end of all that screaming what I held in my hands was something I am truly proud of. Something I love and hope readers will too.
I love you, Mabel, honestly I do, but…
Your hands, your lovely hands. We have a picture of one of them, your tiny new-born fingers gripping on to my thumb. There’s nothing original in its composition. I’ve seen enough versions of that photo with different babies, different mothers. The kind of mothers who don’t come with a “but”.
Craig told us he couldn’t stop looking at the picture when he was at work. It was one of those first evenings after his week’s paternity leave, and he’d appeared home around six, scooping you from your Moses basket and saying, in this sing-song voice I’d not heard before, how much he’d missed you. He risked glancing up from your eyes for just a second, ‘You too, Bea.’
I joked about being his after-thought. And when he kissed me then, with those lips of his that were more gentle, or less reaching, or something I couldn’t quite articulate, I yearned for the me my husband had kissed with a heat.
Was that old Bea still in there somewhere? Sleeping away the shock between my rips and bruises? Even then, I didn’t think so. Because there was this flash of Craig in the delivery room, with you curled into his chest as the midwives held onto my shoulders, urging me to push. There was more to come, they said, it’s not just the baby you have to birth, they told me. And I know they were talking about the placenta, but I remember thinking how maybe other parts of me had dropped into the bowl as I watched him holding you.
I love your hands. I love looking at the lines on them, imagining myself as a fairground fortune-teller, who runs her tips across the creases and wonders at your brilliant future. How picky in love? How strong-willed? How bound to convention? Maybe I love them because they’re a fresh start, a clean sheet without certainty.
These are the hush hush thoughts I feared would spill into your mouth through my milk as you fed during those nights we spent together in the dark. You would latch on and stare into my eyes as if you knew, instinctively, what you should expect from me. I got it, then, why secrets are things we call skeletons in our closets. Because what I thought I could never say out loud crept further from my lips into my bones, where it nestled. Silent. Gnawing.
But secrets are brittle, Mabel. Like exhausted bones and exhausted mothers, they snap.
I spoke them.
And when I did, my words – like your birth – changed everything.
What an intriguing extract! Thanks so much for dropping by and talking to us today, Amy. Wishing you much success with your writing.
Having shoe-horned the phrase “finding her own self-worth” into every possible English-literature essay from GSCE through to university, it’s no wonder that Amy Beashel is now writing books featuring female protagonists who are fiercely attempting to do just that. She likes dark stories, complex characters and hopeful (but not too tidy) endings.
Her debut novel for young adults, THE SKY IS MINE, was nominated for the Carnegie and Branford Boase awards and shortlisted for the Bristol Teen Book Awards. Her second novel, SPILT MILK, was published in 2023.
Amy used to swear that she’d never have pets or live north of London. She now lives in Shropshire with two cats, two dogs (plus one husband and two kids) and wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can contact Amy here: