Considering how much I loved Maame, I was so so excited when I received an email asking if I wanted to interview the amazing, Jessica George! So The Black Book Blog is over the moon to share that we spoke to the talented, Jessica George, about her debut, Maame.
I loved every minute of this conversation and at one point, I’m sure we digressed and were chatting about other things. Regardless, thank you so much Jessica for taking the time out to speak to me and for WearMedia Hive for organising this interview.
Maame (ma-meh) has many meanings in Twi, but in my case, it means woman.
Meet Maddie Wright.
All her life, she’s been told who she is. To her Ghanaian parents, she’s Maame: the one who takes care of the family. Her mum’s stand-in. The primary carer for her father, who suffers from Parkinson’s. The one who keeps the peace – and the secrets.
It’s time for her to speak up.
When she finally gets the chance to leave home, Maddie is determined to become the kind of woman she wants to be. One who wears a bright yellow suit, dates men who definitely aren’t on her mum’s list of prospective husbands, and stands up to her boss’s microaggressions. Someone who doesn’t have to google all her life choices.
But when tragedy strikes, Maddie is forced to face the risks – and rewards – of putting her heart on the line.
But will it take losing everything to find her voice?
This book spoke to me on so many levels. It was warm, heavy and light all at the same time. You’ll end up falling in love with Maddie, the protagonist, and rooting for her throughout the novel. There’s no doubt that you’ll end up hooked and not wanting to put this down as you go on this journey with Maddie.
A beautiful coming of age novel that was written so so well. For a debut novel… I am astounded.
As I mentioned before, this interview digresses a lot and there are times where we fall into conversation without even realising but I’ll do my best not to make it too long!
When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
Jessica: So this was…hmmm…I always forget the age so I have to do it in university years.
So I did a year of International business at 18 because I wanted to go into a more financially stable career. And people would say to me that International Business is a degree used in many areas so I thought I’d just do that.
I did it for a year and I hated it.
I absolutely hated it.
It was just so soul less! I remember being on the train and thinking, “Ok I’m not going back for a second year,”. And at the time my mum was like “Well you have to go university for something! You need a degree in something!”
So I thought “Ok well I love books so I’ll do English Literature!”
It was during my first year of university that I started writing with the intention of getting published. So I think I was 19 going on 20.
Me: Gosh I could imagine just how difficult that was. English was a tough degree to manage as it is so to write on top of that deserves all the praise!
What was the inspiration behind Maame?
Jessica: So I lost my Dad to complications of Parkinson’s Disease in 2020.
Me: I’m so sorry.
Jessica: Thank you. And I started writing diary entries as it was my first real moment with grief and it was this really overwhelming grief. So I just started typing on my computer what was happening day to day, how I was feeling and how I was trying to process things. And then because I’m used to writing to get published, Maame is actually the sixth book I’ve written as the five before didn’t go anywhere, so when I saw that I had pages and pages of feelings, I just thought why not try and see if we can make this into a story. That’s when I started to create these characters and fictionalise it a bit because the diary entry was 10,000 words.
Now it’s like 70,000
Me: Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that. It sounds like writing this book was almost like a process/journey that may or may not have helped a little bit?
Jessica: Yeah it did. It was a very cathartic experience. I mean it was a bit difficult during the editing process to re-read certain scenes. But in the end I felt so great about it…so much better and happier than I’d been when I’d been trying to write out my diary because there’s so much you process when you’re creating these scenes, characters and storylines.
How long did it take you to write your first draft?
Jessica: The first draft took 6 weeks but it was only that short because it was 40,000 words. So it wasn’t even a full manuscript.
Me: Oh wow, so 6 weeks for the first draft and then-
Jessica: Yup, I mean there were so many drafts afterwards. I have an agent who’s hands on editorially and we spent about 8 months editing together.
Then when it went to the publishers, I spent another 8 months editing as well.
Were there any scenes that were particular hard to write?
Jessica: All the Maddie and Dad scenes, I think. The truest part of this story for me is Maddie’s relationship with her Dad as it echoes my own with my Dad.
Which is why I tried to put as many funny scenes as I could, just to make it easier. So if I put a sad scene in there at least I know in my head that I’ll edit something funny in afterwards.
Me: I would honestly say there was such a perfect balance between the scenes. The book takes you through such a range of emotions. Maddie’s growth just seemed so natural.
What was your favourite scene to write?
Jessica: Oh my gosh, can you believe nobody’s actually asked me this? So I’ve not even thought about it!
I liked the scene where Shu comes in with a bag from Asda and it’s full of random but wonderful things. Such as a 1kg jar of Nutella but no bread – just the Nutella. A big pot of pasta or something like that.
And they’re just sat in the garden talking and there we find out that Shu lost her grandma, who she was really close to. It was just interesting to write their two different reactions to grief.
But yeah, I loved that scene.
If you had to describe Maddie in three words – how would you describe her and do you feel like she’s similar to you in anyway?
Jessica: Gosh, Maddie is alot nicer than I am. Three words…okay I’ll go with:
Naive – because she is at the start
She’s also very kind.
Hmm…a third one…
Me: It’s a tough question!
Jessica: It is! What is the third one? You give me a third one!
Me: Erm! Hmmm, I’d definitely say naive and kind but gosh…this is a difficult one.
Jessica: Right?! There’s just so many for her!
Me: I want to say strong-
Jessica: Oh yeah!
Me: Because she was very strong. She dealt with a lot of things by herself especially shown by the google searches-
By the way, I just wanted to ask did you actually do those google searches?
Jessica: Do you mean do I Google? Or did I actually type up those Google searches?
Me: I mean, did you actually type out the Google searches and then put them in or?
Jessica: Oh no no! So some of them I’d done and reworded because I wasn’t sure about taking what someone’s said and putting it in the book. Even though, it’s online.
Me: It’s a bit risky!
Jessica: Exactly! There’s a line to it. So, for example, the reddit thread where people are all giving their two-piece. I think we’ve all seen a thread like that.
Me: Every time I would read those reddit threads, they would kill me! I could just picture it already!
If you could give any advice to any aspiring writers out there, what would it be?
Jessica: It’s definitely keep writing, which I know is a cliché as a lot of people say that.
But it’s the one I can say I’ve experienced. With six books, I’ve been writing for eight years. The only reason I got this deal is because I didn’t stop writing.
Everyone says it’s such a cliché but I think it’s very true.
You just have to keep writing.
Me: I mean I know everyone says it’s a cliché but it’s such an important one because how else are you going to get there?
Jessica: Exactly! I could say read widely or do something in your spare time so you’re not focused too much on it. But you’re not going to get anywhere if you stop writing.
If your book was a film, who would you want to play Maddie?
Jessica: Oh no! Erm…it’s probably a bit of a cheat. But the audiobook is narrated by an actress. She was in Power and so, I loved the way she interpreted Maddie in the audio book!
Me: I’ve heard the audiobook was really really good!
Jessica: Yeah people love the audiobook! The whole team loved Heather Agyepong’s voice!
Are there any authors that inspire you?
Jessica: I read quite widely which I love. I loved Candice Carty-Williams (author of Queenie), obviously. Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other), Zadie Smith…Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing) is another favourite of mine. I love reading Jessie Burton.
I’ve been into Agatha Christie for like a year.
Jessica: I know! People are like really?!
You should read a book of hers, I really love them! I’ll always be happy to read a good book! I’m just looking at my shelf now…
Me: I won’t lie, I have been paying a bit of attention to the books behind!
Jessica: Laughs* Can you see them?
Holds up the laptop so I can see the bookshelf*
Me: Oh WOW! That is honestly a dream!
Jessica: It was the first thing I did. When I moved into this place it was unfurnished and this was the first thing I put up. I didn’t even have a bed or a sofa!
Me: No but priorities are in the right place because I would have done the same thing!!
Who was your favourite character to write aside from Maddie – if you had one?
Jessica: I think the Mum is hilarious. She has many faults but she is genuinely so funny.
I got her one-liners from my mum. My mum’s one-liners are unmatched. So she was a lot of fun to write.
I also love Maddie’s friends Nia and Shu. They compliment each other quite well. Nia is very calm, understanding and patient. Whereas Shu is ready to fight. She’s ready to defend you with hands. Together they just work so well!
Me: You definitely need a balance of those two friends!
Jessica: Exactly! They’re perfect!
What’s one thing you want your readers to take away from Maddie’s story?
Jessica: I think one thing I want to say is that there’s no right way to grieve.
That’s something I was coming to terms with and I tried to highlight with Maddie is that there’s no correct way to do it.
When I was grieving I was trying to go through the stages and do it neatly.
But I think however feels right and appropriate to grieve is the best way for each individual.
Me: So my next question, is about Maddie and her mother. I’ve tried to make my questions very broad to avoid spoilers, which is so hard to do! But being the eldest daughter in a Black household means there’s so much that happens because as the eldest daughter we make sure it happens.
For example, Christmas presents for my parents wouldn’t happen in my house if it weren’t for me.
Jessica: I was LITERALLY just thinking of that example!
Me: Yeah exactly! It’s things like that, which are so small, but it would be nice to have a break! I think sometimes, as we can see from Maddie’s story, our parents tend to become really reliant on us. So I just wanted to ask that:
[POTENTIAL SPOILER BELOW]
If by writing Maddie’s journey were you trying to raise awareness of how potentially damaging this could be or simply showcasing what it’s like as an eldest daughter? Or perhaps you weren’t doing any of that and you were trying to do something different?
Jessica: So I was a big people pleaser. I was the responsible one. I loved when everyone was happy, even though I was falling apart trying to juggle everything.
Maddie has this moment where she breaks down because she’s been a people pleaser for so long. It’s that classic case of when you hold things too tightly to your chest you just explode.
I’ve had that moment and so it made sense for Maddie to have that moment.
It was the catalyst for her to realise. I wish it hadn’t been such a mentally draining experience to realise that you need to stop being a people pleaser. You need to stop being the responsible one at a detriment to herself.
And I’ve always said that Maddie doesn’t hate the term Maame because Maame has given her some good things.
As she’s been the responsible one…as she’s been the one to people please, she got to spend the most time with her Dad.
What people say the most when they lose someone is “Oh I wish I spent more time with them.”
That’s the biggest regret anyone could ever have. By the end, Maddie realises that she doesn’t have to have that regret because, out of everyone, she spent the most time with him.
She knew that her Dad loved her. He knew that she loved him. And so it’s difficult to say stop being the people pleaser because it’s so hard to get out of that.
If I tried to put that in a slow way this book would have been 700 pages long.
But Maddie had an awakening moment to stop doing these kind of things. Even though they’re nice things. She begins to fall apart and that’s when they stop being nice.
And so if anyone can read this and realise that all that they’re doing is a negative to them.
That’s when you take a step back.
My last question is about Maddie’s complicated relationship with her mother and do you feel like it mirrors how she views herself as the eldest daughter?
Jessica: Yes. There’s this connection between whoever’s the most responsible must be the eldest.
Because Maddie’s the most responsible, you forget that she’s not the eldest child. She’s the youngest! The baby!
But she had to grow up a lot quicker than her brother did. As in a lot of families the boys get away with the most and it’s the woman’s job to pick up the pieces.
Sometimes even I forget when I’m talking about Maame that Maddie is not the eldest. She’s the baby of the family. And it’s due to the sheer responsibility and how quickly she’s had to grow up that we view her differently.
I think if you’re a carer for your parent, you’ve already grown up because you’ve taken on that parent role. You grow up quickly because you need to.
And that concludes an incredible interview with the amazingly talented Jessica George. Thank you so so much again Jessica for taking the time out to speak to me about the wonderful Maddie.
Listening to this interview made me smile and remember just how relatable Maddie is. It also reminded me just how much I loved this book and how I couldn’t put it down!
Please do check out my full review of Maame too below:
Take this interview as your sign to find out more about Maddie!!