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Hail the peacekeepers: Putting the mothers centre stage

Hail the peacekeepers: Putting the mothers centre stage

When I decided to reimagine Romeo and Juliet and set it in a modern-day West Yorkshire divided by Brexit, I knew I wanted the mothers to be the central characters.

My teenage son was studying Romeo and Juliet for GCSE, thirty-four years after I studied it for O level, and the thing which leapt out at me was how the two mothers are side-lined. Their families are feuding, their children in peril but Lady Montague barely gets a line and although Lady Capulet has a bigger role, she appears more concerned with keeping her husband happy than supporting her child.

But in the modern-world – and certainly in my experience – wherever there are families divided and teenagers in crisis, it’s the mothers who act as peacemakers and try to bring people together to resolve their conflicts – all while trying to juggle their work and other responsibilities.

The days of making mothers merely members of the supporting cast have gone. Mothers are so often the glue that holds fragile families together.  And I knew from those around me that with families divided by Brexit, it was yet again the mothers who were attempting to keep the peace between different generations of their families, often getting caught in the crossfire in the process.

And that’s why my novel In Little Stars is told mainly through the points of view of Sylvie Mastour, a French national and university midwifery lecturer and Donna Cuthbert, a council customer service adviser who spends both her working and home life trying to sort out other people’s problems.

Sylvie and Donna come from two very different backgrounds and would seem, on the surface at least, to have little in common. But I placed the ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’ quote from the murdered MP Jo Cox at the front of the novel to highlight the fact that so often, if you look beneath the surface, there are shared experiences to be found.

The two women travel to work in Leeds on the same train every morning but have never spoken. If they had, they would discover that they are both struggling with difficult husbands, their lives have been turned upside down by the menopause and they are trying to cope with the stress of caring for elderly parents and teenage children who are in danger of going off the rails.

When the cracks begin to show in their families, they desperately try to hold things together. But what neither of them knows is that their eldest children have met at college and fallen in love – and that relationship will threaten the happiness of both of their families in ways they could never have imagined.

And the truth is that when our children are threatened or in danger, mothers find a strength that deserves to put them at the heart of a story. The Montagues and Capulets may have missed out on that, but I ensured that in Sylvie and Donna, the Mastours and the Cuthberts, have worthy protagonists centre-stage.

In Little Stars by Linda Green is published in hardback, eBook and audiobook by Quercus Books

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