The Writing Life of: Tina Baker
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Tina Baker. Tina will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her first book ‘Call Me Mummy‘, which was released on 25th February 2021, and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Tina Baker, the daughter of a window cleaner and fairground traveller, worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years and is probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV. After so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it and won Celebrity Fit Club. She now avoids writing-induced DVT by working as a Fitness Instructor.
Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to become a mother. Despite the grief of that, she’s not stolen a child – so far. But she does rescue cats, whether they want to be rescued or not.
1) Did you enjoy writing when you were a child?
I always loved writing as a child. I clearly remember learning to write. I’d put random letters together and pester my dad to tell me if it ‘said a word’. When I accidentally spelled ZITA – my aunty’s name – I was thrilled!
I wrote poems and stories at school, although I never showed anyone as being labelled a teacher’s pet was bad news back then. I got into fights about it.
2) Which author shaped your childhood?
Along with Christopher Robin and Toad of Toad Hall, I was obsessed with reading the things I shouldn’t be reading – my dad’s Harold Robbins, for instance. I read The Carpetbaggers and Virgin Soldiers when I was seven or eight. Obviously, I didn’t understand most of it, but I think that had a bigger impact on me than the books for children.
3) What motivated you to begin your first novel?
I’d always wanted to write a novel but had never given myself the time. When my dad died, I decided I had to do it. Life’s too short. I did an MA in Creative Writing at City University and wrote a novel about a girl growing up in a circus – my gran was a trapeze artist.
On that course, one of the tasks was to go somewhere you’d never been before, so I went into a branch of Mothercare. As I’d failed to have a child, despite fertility treatment, I’d never set foot in a shop like that. I had a full-on sobbing fit. It was so painful. That was the seed of the idea for Call Me Mummy.
4) Do you plot your book, or are you a pantser?
I can’t plot to save my life. It feels totally false for my writing. I am beyond amazed that my Editor, Viper’s Miranda Jewess, has spreadsheets! I have to lean into a story and feel that things happen organically. Sometimes I do know how I want it to end, but by the time I’ve got there, even that might change.
5) What is your average writing day?
Even before lockdowns, I didn’t really have a routine as my day job as a personal trainer varies according to my clients, but I try to write at least a little every day. I try to give myself at least two writing days a week and then write around other commitments.
I’m probably best mid-morning after the coffee’s kicked in and before I have to go for an afternoon nap! Teaching my fitness classes in the evening means I don’t write afterwards as I’m too tired.
I write on the kitchen table (our only table), fighting off interlopers! (Pictured, Bertie Buggerlugs keeping my keyboard warm.)
6) What is the best thing about being an author?
I still find it amazing to think of myself as a published author! I found it hard to say’ I am a writer’ even when I worked as a journalist, which I did for decades. In my mind, authors are amazing ethereal mystical creatures who waft into soirees to dispense deep thoughts and magical words. They look a little like owls with sparkly fingertips and wild hair. Especially the boys.
I have cultivated this look with my own wild hair, sparkly nail polish and big glasses.
Publisher – Viper
Pages – 384
Released – 25th February 2021
ISBN-13 – 978-1788165228
Format – ebook, paperback, hardcover, audio
THIS MOTHER’S DAY YOU WILL CALL HER MUMMY
Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want. Except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But foul-mouthed little Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.
As Tonya fiercely resists Mummy’s attempts to make her into the perfect child, Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, Kim begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.
Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…
CALL ME MUMMY. IT’LL BE BETTER IF YOU DO.
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7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
If I was a better writer, I might write about things I’d need to research, but I already had direct experience of feeling desperate for a child and fertility treatment. I just had to lean into the dark side a little more, because I’ve never actually stolen a child. Honest!
My mother was a rather tortured Catholic, so I had that in my own background. And I know the locations in the book very well. I taught Zumba on the Andover Estate where Kim lives, and I taught fitness sessions at the Finsbury Park Mosque, where her friend Ayesha worships.
8) How long did it take to go from the ideas stage to writing the last word?
It took two years after the initial idea to start because I was writing the circus novel for my MA. Once I started writing Call Me Mummy, I completed my first draft in a year. It took another year to go through the process of edits.
9) What made you choose the genre you write in?
I honestly didn’t choose Crime. I did the Literary Novel MA rather than the Thriller MA. I guessed Call Me Mummy was a psychological thriller, but I hadn’t read very much crime fiction so wasn’t at all sure. Now I’m in the Viper’s nest. I’m full-on noir!
10) How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?
Mummy doesn’t have a name, other than Mummy because she’s so obsessed, that’s her entire identity. Kim is after my first friend from home, Coalville in Leicestershire— a neighbour who started school at the same time as me.
11) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Kim is a working class woman who gets a rough deal from the press because she doesn’t conform to the ideal of what a mother should be. A woman who swears is judged more harshly than a man. But where I come from, swearing is a form of punctuation and can even be affectionate.
Mummy is a nice middle class woman on the surface. She speaks so nicely. She’s had elocution lessons. But she’s pushed over the edge by her desperation for a child.
Despite being polar opposites, it turns out that the two women have more in common than anyone could imagine.
12) How did you feel when you had completed your book?
I felt antsy when I’d completed the novel. I was anxious about the next step— sending it off to agents and the inevitable rejections. (I’d sent my first circus novel to at least 50 agents!) But I had a YES quite quickly with Mummy.
Then I felt anxious about the edit and when it would come out – it took so long! Originally Mummy stole the child from a branch of Mothercare, but that went bust before the book was published so my opening scene had to be changed.
To be honest, I’m pretty much anxious all the time, no matter what stage of the process I’m at.
1) Do you have a favourite quote you live by?
Just do it! – Nike.
And, from The Handmaid’s Tale – Don’t let the bastards grind you down!
2) Do you have any pets?
I am that woman with cats. Currently four, although it’s only a matter of time before someone else needs me to ‘rescue’ another one. I once fostered a cat who promptly had a batch of kittens in my husband’s overnight bag. (The bag I’d told him to put away that very day!) I still have two of them and rehomed the others.
In alternative life I’d be in the country with alpacas and dogs and three-legged goats and wombats. It’s my unfulfilled mothering gene!
(Pictured, Pinky-Snowdrop, Tiger-Pansy, and Bertie the Emotional Support Kitten, who’s no longer a kitten and, quite frankly, didn’t provide that much support! Not pictured, Splodge Statham who I couldn’t get to pose with the others because, you know, herding cats!)
3) What’s on your current reading list?
Black Drop, an historical thriller from my Viper sister Leonora Natrass. I don’t read much historical fiction, but I’m really excited for that. And anything from Douglas Stuart, who broke my heart with Shuggie Bain.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what would you be doing?
I’d really like to play Mummy, but if you insist on a cameo, I could be the Family Liaison Officer and build up my part. However, if I cast who I want to cast as Steve (Tom Hopper, from my home town of Coalville in Leicestershire— he’s like a younger Tom Hardy), I’m definitely going to play Kim. But I’d need a lot of filters or CGI!
5) If you could travel to the fictional world of any book for the day, which would you choose?
I’d love Narnia, but I’m always cold so the island of Lord of the Flies after the lads had been rescued.
6) There’s a penguin sitting in your writing chair, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Save me from all these bloody cats!’
Of course, I would hoist him up by his flippers and whisk him away. Because you always p-p-p-pick up a penguin! (Retro joke.)
I would like to say a big thank you to Tina Baker for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.