An Interview with Melanie Golding

Dani Hedlund (DH)

What inspired you to write Little Darlings?

Melanie Golding (MG)

It was inspired by the folktale that it’s sort of based on. But it was also inspired by my theory about that folktale, which is that the folktale itself would have once been an explanation for post-partum psychosis. Before we knew about psychiatry and such, there was still post-partum psychosis—just nobody knew what it was. So, stories explained elements of life that people didn’t understand. 

DH

Are you inspired generally by the changeling myths? 

MG

There are changeling tales in every culture—Ancient cultures and living cultures—and I found that really interesting. It made me think it was more than just a Welsh folktale. It’s actually something that occurs on its own in human society. 

DH

Your main character, Lauren, gives birth to twins, and in the first few chapters of the book, she talks about the kind of motherly love that overwhelms you. What was it like to get into your main character’s thought process through that kind of lens?

MG

The idea that you will have this rush of love and look at the baby and think, “I’m in love” is almost a folktale in itself. I know attachment is a gradual process. I’ve had conversations with psychologists about attachment. Everyone experiences it differently, and I know a lot of women who have had that gradual process. They’ve looked at the baby and thought, “It looks like an alien.When am I going to feel this hearts-and-flowers thing that I’ve heard about?” For a lot of people, it never happens. Obviously you love the baby. But you’re expecting it (the love) to look different than it does. I would probably say this is an example of a modern folktale. As a story that gets passed around, that isn’t necessarily true but it kind of explains something. 

DH

We experience Lauren’s very negative and painful birth in terms of how much her body is destroyed and how tired she is. But when her friends come over and ask how it’s going, she sugarcoats it. This perpetuation of the myth—keeping motherhood glorified—is fascinating.

MG

Before I had kids, I’d heard those sugarcoated stories. I’m convinced that people shield you from the truth if they think you can’t handle it. When I was pregnant, I spoke to a woman from my anti-natal class that had just given birth and she had been induced. I asked, “Oh, what’s that like?” She said, “It’s all right.” But when I was induced, it was awful. And when I spoke to her afterward, she said, “I didn’t want to tell you how bad it was going to be.” I find it interesting that people assume you don’t want to know, that somehow a bad experience can be made better if you don’t know it’s going to be bad. I don’t believe that myself.

DH

Pretty early on we see that there is possibly something quite nefarious happening. These elements of folklore and horror start seeping into the realistic prose. How did you merge the two genres?

MG

I think I always wanted it to be a realistic book. So I set out to write it as if the folktale was a real thing that happened. But I also set out to write it as if it was a theory about post-natal psychosis. I was holding these two things in my mind almost the entire time. In a way, I didn’t really have a genre in mind when I started. It was just a case of “I’m going to tell a story in the way it needs to be told.”

DH

In this novel, the reality is almost ambiguous, but you make a clear case for both sides. We have the shadows on the recording, we have those bits of cloth in the woods, the indents where someone could have stood, but we can also chalk some of it up to Lauren experiencing prenatal psychosis. What was it like for you to keep those two sides balanced? 

MG

The finished product is the end product of quite a long process. It’s kind of like a puzzle. I think you have to keep it in mind really, the whole time when you’re writing as well. I really wanted an ambiguous ending. I hope I’ve allowed the readers to decide whether it’s one way or the other. In some of the early reviews, people have said, “Oh it was definitely this!” or “It was definitely the other,” and that pleases me. I want those two people to get together in a room and discuss.

DH

Almost everything your protagonist experiences is anxiety-ridden: sleep, breastfeeding, conversations with her husband. You really zoomed in all of the aspects that can build a perpetual feeling of anxiety. How did you do that?

MG

In terms of her relationship, most of the things that happened to Lauren are things that have happened to people I know or things that happened to me in bad relationships. The husband is tired, and they can’t bear to be tired, and there is so much more that I could have put in, but it’s all based on real things that I’ve heard happened to people. It is quite anxiety-inducing. But also, when you’re in that state—when you’re really tired and sort of vulnerable—you just accept those things. 

DH

Harper, the detective, is a secondary narrative that readers follow. Talk to me about developing that character and why it became such an important element of the book.

MG

I didn’t necessarily think I was going to be writing a detective. She didn’t exactly walk fully-formed onto the page in the way of Harry Potter. I got to a point in the narrative where I needed someone to help the reader work out what was going on—and there wasn’t anyone. 

At the time, it was a very claustrophobic world, basically just Lauren and Patrick. So, Harper came in about halfway through the process and then the book just took off. In a lot of crime fiction, characters hardly ever do office work. It is an interesting contrast. I knew there was a lot of red tape and budget monitoring, but I thought it would be interesting to try and write a realistic police officer, someone frustrated, who prefers being on the front line to this kind of job, which offers better pay but isn’t as interesting.

DH

When we talk about genre bleeding into Lauren’s narrative, we see a bit of it in Harper as well, what with her strange intuition about things. Talk to me about the decision to weave that element into her narrative.

MG

I wanted her to have, not exactly a superpower, but a supernatural-like ability to read people. I wanted her to know when people were lying and when they weren’t. When I first wrote her character, there was a lot more of that in there. It’s still there, but it would have been too easy for her to work out what was going on if I kept it to that extent. Basically, she’s just very good at telling when people are lying. She’s got a natural ability. 

DH

Your writing is beautiful. It’s very easy to digest, but there’s a beautiful flow, that’s melodic in a way. Is that your natural writing voice? Did you have to sculpt it? 

MG

I try to be clear at all times. I really want people to understand the meaning of what I’m trying to say. It’s about choosing the right words but also the words that I like. I’m trained as a musician and I guess I’ve always written lyrics, so the music of reading and writing has always been something I’ve noticed. I enjoy reading things because of the way they read, not necessarily because of the story sometimes, which is likely the musical side of me. The voice takes practice. They say you have to write a million words to find your voice and I definitely have done that over the years. It’s one of those things that is difficult to know how it evolves. 

DH

Talk to me about the process, from the moment you got the idea to the finished manuscript.

MG

I went to do a Masters course in creative writing because I had done loads of other writing that hadn’t gotten anywhere. On the first day, I had an idea for a novel I was going to write, because they told you to come to the course with an idea, not with a novel that you wanted to improve. 

At the time, I was writing a short story for a local competition and they were doing eerie evening and as I was looking through all my photo booksI found Eggshells, and I thought “That would probably make a good short story.” I started writing it and one of the tutors in my course said to me, “Oh no, that’s a novel actually, what you’ve started there.” That was in September 2015, the first day of term. The first 60,000 words were written during it, and then I finished it afterward, in February of 2017, and I got an agent in May. Then we went through edits and it sold in November. 

DH

Talk to me about how you found an agent. Did you do a typical querying round or did your MFA help you out? 

MG

The Masters course publishes an anthology and sends it out to agents. There was somewhere around 50 people in my course and we all put 2,000 words in this anthology that was sent out. Every agent that got a copy of the anthology was invited to an event where you could meet with them. The idea was that, if they liked your writing, they would come and find you to talk about it. 

As soon as I finished my novel, I started sending it out to agents. The event was in May and I started sending it out to agents in February because I’d finished it by then. I sent it to a few agents, maybe five, and one agent asked me to rewrite it and resubmit it. So I did that. 

When I resubmitted it, though, I also submitted it to Madeleine Milburn, who was my dream agent. I thought, “I’m going to send this to Maddie and just see.” She sent me an email really early in the morning on a Sunday saying, “I’ve read the first bit of your book. Can you send me the rest?” 

By then, the anthology had gone out. I didn’t think anything would come of it, but about ten agents emailed me after seeing the anthology and asked to read it. So when Maddie emailed me, I mentioned to her that I’d already sent the rest of it to ten other agents and I was meeting two of them on Tuesday. Two hours later, she emailed me again and said, “Can you meet me as well? Can you get the early train?” So I met her first and she was everything I dreamed she would be. I met the other two agents after that, who were great, but chose to go with Maddie because she’d always been at the top of my list.

DH

You talk about Madeleine Milburn being on the top of your list. How did you decide to put her at the top of your list?

MG

She had been a foreign rights agent at a big agency and then went off on her own, and the authors she’d taken with her spoke really highly of her. The website seemed really nice, visually appealing. I’m not sure what it was about her, I just knew she would be amazing because of what the other authors had said. She represented Gail Honeyman at the time. Eleanor Oliphanthadn’t done what it has now done, but I had heard of it already and it wasn’t even out. I sort of felt, well, there’s something going on there. She’s got this amazing book that’s not even out but I’ve heard of it and I don’t even know where from. 

DH

What has it been like since then? You have a novel you’ve been sculpting since 2015 and now random Americans are skyping with you in the middle of the day. What does it feel like?

MG

It’s a lot to get used to because it’s a bit of a life change. I was a music teacher, but when I had my first child, I started childminding from home. My husband and I had hundreds of children in the house all the time. We did that for eight years and then I got the book deal and I just thought, “Well, I’m going to have at least three years, just full-time writing, to see if I can make it work.” So it’s a huge life change, but it’s all good, you know? It’s all positive.

DH

What was it like to get through that period of rejection and uncertainty with just the belief in yourself?

MG

When I trained as a musician, I did popular music as a degree. I already had those dreams of being a pop star or at least a composer. I always thought, I will write novels, but maybe when I’m a bit older and I have a bit more experience. It just came suddenly, when I felt like it was time to start writing novels. I started several novels and the first one I managed to finish was enormous, around 120,000 words. I sent that out to agents and it was rejected or had no response at all. I sort of thought, “Well, I know that I can write, I just know that I can. But I don’t know how to ‘novel.’ I know I can write sentences, but I don’t know if I can make this machine I’ve been trying to make in a way that works for me and everyone else as well.” It was kind of a mindset thing. I’ve had dreams before, but when I was thinking on it, how this agent is the one I want and she said yes, and then how I want to sell the book to a big publisher and then I did and it was amazing. But very unexpected, because I’ve always kept my expectations low. 

DH

Even for someone who aims high to get a good book deal and a movie option, it’s a pretty big step. 

MG

Whenever anyone mentions it to me I just think, “Oh my god, yes. It’s been bought for a movie.” It’d be amazing if it happened. But I also know, and this is my low expectations talking, that, “Well, they probably won’t make it because options are bought by lots of people.” When I was dreaming about things, a movie didn’t even really cross my mind. That was a total bonus. 

DH

I have an author friend that judges the success of his books not by how many languages it’s translated into or how high up on the New York Times Bestseller List it places, but whether he feels that he has succeeded in saying the one thing he set out to say with the book. So what do you think is the one thing you really wanted to say with this book?

MG

That the love we have for our children is both limitless and terrifying; while becoming a parent is without question worth the sacrifice, it may just send you mad.

Dani Hedlund

After the publication of her first novel at the age of eighteen, Dani Hedlund founded the international literary nonprofit Brink Literacy Project (formerly Tethered by Letters). Over the course of the last decade, Brink has grown into one of the largest independently-funded literary nonprofits in the nation, with bases across the US, UK, and Southeast Asia. She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of F(r)iction, an art and literary collection specializing in boundary-defying work. Since its inception in 2015, F(r)iction has risen to critical acclaim, becoming one of the fastest growing literary journals in the world. In her ever-elusive free time, Dani lectures about the ins and outs of the publishing industry, writes very weird fiction, and runs a strange little board game company called Bad Hipster Games.