A laugh-out-loud debut that will delight fans of Liane Moriarty and Fiona Higgins, this is The Devil Wears Prada at the school gates.
Distinctly middle-class parents, Maria and Joe have committed every bit of available income to giving their daughters Kate and Sarah the best education possible, which to them means attending the most exclusive girls school in the state. But when Kate befriends the spoilt and moody Mirabella, Maria must learn to play nicely with Mirabella’s mother, Bea – the beguiling yet beastly queen of the toffee-nosed school mothers at Riverton.
A series of social blunders and intentional snubs make Maria determined to ensure Kate’s rightful position both at school and on the Saturday morning netball team, but as Maria works hard to negotiate the social hierarchy, her previously contented life with Joe falls far from view.
With her mastery of dialogue and character, Australian author Deborah Disney skillfully balances keen and witty observations about daily life with the more serious issues of schoolyard bullying and social isolation.
You will laugh, you will nod along, and you will want to take the increasingly neurotic Maria aside and point out that in all her desperate, gaffe-filled attempts to fit in with the well-heeled, champagne-swilling mummies of Riverton, she might just be risking all that she holds dear.
Never let it be said that I don’t have eclectic tastes. I met author Deborah Disney through the Book Connectors group on Facebook, liked her very much, and decided to give her debut novel Up and In a try. When I told people what I was reading, they were slightly surprised – I usually avoid anything that has any mention of school gates or might have a connection with the trials of motherhood. And when I mentioned Australia and the netball…
But they haven’t read it, and I did – and I really did enjoy it very much. My review follows below, but first I’m delighted to welcome author Deborah Disney to Being Anne…
Welcome to Being Anne, Deborah – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi Anne, thanks so much for having me! I am a (relatively) new Australian author. My first novel, Up and In, which you have so kindly reviewed for me and featured here today, was published by HarperCollins in December 2014.
Australian netball mums… not a subject that would usually draw me to a book, but I really enjoyed it. What would you say it’s really about?
You’re very clever, aren’t you? That’s exactly it – I have used the school mum/netball mum setting as I thought it would provide lots of opportunity for humour, but the story could have been told just as easily in a different setting. I needed a group of women from different backgrounds who were thrust together by circumstance and forced to get along, and having witnessed a fair bit of comical behaviour on the netball sidelines myself, I thought it would be perfect. Up and In is really about how important it is to stay true to yourself and your own values.
I know you’re the mother of two girls too – how much of you is there in Maria?
Well, Anne, Maria does have my sense of humour … She is also very observant like me. But Maria couldn’t be just like me because I needed her to go through this period of gradual enlightenment about what was really important to her, and – happily – I already have that awareness. Maria needed to be really bewildered. There are two scenes in the book that are based on real events that happened. One was when Kate didn’t receive an invitation to a party, and Maria – fearing that they had somehow not received the invitation by accident and would appear like rude people who just didn’t show up – felt that she had to mention it to the party girl’s mother. Yes, I did that! When I finally realised that my daughter hadn’t been invited on purpose – I was pretty mortified!
And (whispers…) have you come across many Beas?
Absolutely! These sorts of women are everywhere – not just hanging around the school gates or the netball court sidelines. I am often confounded by the sort of behaviour that some women engage in – thus the inspiration for the book!
Do your daughters’ friends’ parents avoid you now?
Haha! Actually, now you mention it, I don’t think the mother whom I had confronted about the party invitation has ever spoken to me since the book came out … :-O
There are some great discussion questions at the back of my copy. Which is your favourite – and tell me what you think…!
I like the question: At what point, if any, can Maria truthfully say she doesn’t care what Bea thinks of her?
I think that even at the end of the novel, even after all this wretched woman has put her through, Maria is still a little concerned about what Bea thinks. I think, though, that that comes more from a place of true compassion – and finally being true to herself as a kind-hearted and decent woman – rather than from any further need for acceptance. Some readers have suggested that they would not have been able to react as Maria did in the end, and some have suggested it showed weakness, but I believe it shows a real strength of character and that she has finally risen above it all.
Tell me more about your path to publication… I know you used to be a litigation lawyer, did you always want to write?
Anne, I was extremely fortunate. I submitted a few chapters to HarperCollins via their weekly submissions portal and within two days they had responded to me saying they wanted to see the whole manuscript. At that stage I didn’t have a full manuscript so I had to get to work and write one. They were extremely supportive of me as I continued to write and within less than 9 months from when I started writing it, I had a contract with HarperCollins for it to be published. It was an absolute dream run and I have probably been forever spoilt for all future submissions! Writing is a true passion. I have always loved it, and the idea of getting to do it as a job is intoxicating.
There was a lot about Up and In that reminded me of Liane Moriarty – particularly Big Little Lies – with its eye for character development and domestic detail. Does that comparison give you pleasure? When someone says “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
Oh – well that is just about the best compliment you could pay me! I love Liane’s writing!! Admittedly, prior to being published, I had only read her very first book, Three Wishes. I’d read it probably ten years earlier and had forgotten all about it. But, she (unwittingly) played an enormous role in my book getting published. A friend of mine read the first chapter and said it sounded like Liane Moriarty. At the time I really didn’t know who she was but I went home and googled ‘Liane Moriarty publisher’. A result came up with HarperCollins in the heading. So I jumped to the conclusion they were her publisher and then I googled them and found out about their online submissions portal. It turns out she isn’t published by HarperCollins at all, but it got me to where I needed to be! Since finishing writing my book, I have read The Husband’s Secret (which I loved) and I am reading Big Little Lies at the moment. I decided not to read it before finishing mine because I worried that it might leave me self-guessing myself and my own writing voice – especially as it is also a ‘school gates’ novel.
And are you working on a second book?
Yes, Anne, I am. I am hoping for it to be finished in a few months and I’m looking to an end-of-year publication date. This one takes a poke at another one of those difficult relationships we find ourselves being forced into having – the in-laws relationship!
Thanks so much, again, for having me, Anne! I have so enjoyed connecting with you!
It’s been an absolute pleasure Deborah – as was reading your lovely book!
My thoughts on Up and In
When I was weighing up whether to buy and read Up and In, I went looking for reviews. And when I saw a quote from Holly at Bookaholic Confessions – a reviewer I always trust – I was swayed:
‘I am so excited that this is Deborah Disney’s debut novel. It’s accomplished, compelling and one of those novels that will tug at the heartstrings one minute and have you giggling the next. Warm, extremely well-written and a complete delight to read. If you’re looking for a light, funny, yet insightful novel then congratulations – you’ve found it!’
And, do you know, she was absolutely right! Beautifully written, with the most wonderful characters, often laugh-out-loud funny but also very touching and affecting, this was a book I really enjoyed. In some ways it was outside my experience, but in so many others it wasn’t at all – because which of us hasn’t sometimes felt that sense of social isolation when everyone but you seems to belong? It’s about being true to yourself and your own values, knowing what’s important and what really doesn’t matter at all, but it’s also great fun.
The mothers – Maria included – are quite wonderfully drawn, and the author has a great touch with dialogue. The humour’s always there, but sometimes just underneath the surface when Maria or her daughter suffers another setback or putdown, and your heart aches for them. And Bea really is truly horrendous – very true to life, and so fascinatingly awful that you just can’t take your eyes off her. On the surface this might be a light read, but it touches on a lot of universal truths, and handles them really well. Holly was right, you know – it was an absolute delight to read.
Australian author, Deborah Disney, practised as a litigation lawyer prior to finding her true calling in the school pick-up line where she started typing a little story on the notes app on her iPhone one afternoon. That little story turned into a book, and before too long that book turned her into a published author with HarperCollins.
Deborah is Wife to a patient and understanding man, and Mum to two school-aged daughters and one Border Collie, all of whom take turns at being her favourite. The two things she values most in people are kindness and humour. And when they praise her work. Which she finds both kind and funny, as she can’t imagine writing novels ever feeling anything like work.
Deborah’s first novel, Up and In, hit the bestseller charts on both Amazon and iBooks and has enjoyed international acclaim. Deborah is currently working on her second novel, which is about in-laws.
You can connect with Deborah anytime on Facebook – her page is creatively called ‘Deborah Disney Author‘