Candice Brathwaite is the founder of Make Motherhood Diverse – a platform that’s challenging the stereotypical narrative of motherhood. She’s also a presenter and a writer and her book, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, is out this week! The book - part memoir, part manifesto - is a powerful challenge to narrow mainstream depictions of motherhood and a call to mums like her to take control, scrapping the parenting rulebook to mother their own way. From black British mothers who may feel unseen and overlooked to those who need to challenge their ideas about what the term ‘mother’ means to them, this is a book that will undoubtedly change the way we talk about motherhood in the UK.
Ahead of publication on May 25th Candice generously took a few moments to have a virtual chat with Noor about the book and her writing, mothering and being.
Let’s start with the here and now - How are you feeling just now?
Really hopeful actually. Of course I’m very tired, although I can’t think why given that we are still on lockdown and I cannot actually go anywhere but I’m a mother of two and there is a level of exhaustion that comes with the daily monotonous tasks.
Myself and partner haven’t had a moment to ourselves for almost three months - I guess that would tire anyone out. But aside from that, hopeful. Even this scary, strange period must pass. I believe that.
You are a very well-established social media influencer, what made you turn to writing?
That was always the plan. I used to work in publishing just before the boom of ‘the influencer’ and ascertained that one way to make a publisher to take you seriously was to grow a firm social media following. I am a writer and orator before I’m an influencer. So I would say I turned to influencing not the other way around.
Publishing’s a funny game eh? I Am Not Your Baby Mother is such a hugely important book and will hopefully spark some long overdue conversations - what inspired you to write it?
To be honest it’s the book I didn’t want to write! But time has taught me that the book you must deliver will haunt you until you give in. Once I’d relented, it kind of just fell out of me. So I don’t think I was inspired, I was more the passenger in a really fast car going to one destination. It had to be written. Can you believe that in the parenting/motherhood literature space, this is the first of its kind in the UK?! This is the first time we’ve allowed a black woman to share her motherhood and parenting experience and have a major house back that idea. I often remark that this is a book that quite like a child I know I will give up for adoption, I haven’t allowed myself to be come too attached to it nor it’s outcome. It may be written by me, but you could’ve got many south London raised black mothers to pen this and the stories would have aligned somewhere along the lines. I’m just the vestibule.
Sadly I can believe it’s the first of its kind, publishing in the UK being as institutionally racist and sexist as any other industry! It does feel like the last few years have seen something of a shift and as booksellers it’s thrilling to see books likes yours reach our shelves and the readers we know have been waiting on them! Did you have a reader in mind when you wrote I Am Not Your Baby Mother?
Yes, I really thought about the 16 year old me. When I was at secondary school one of the most popular books of that time was called ‘The Coldest Winter Ever’ it had an almost cult like following. When I wrote this, everything from constantly reminding the reader about my south London roots to the cover design and marketing all come from thinking like that young girl. I want to be able to get this book into young hands before these girls become mothers. I think that is so important.
Once a book’s out there in the world it’s almost impossible to dictate a course for it, but was there a particular impact you were hoping the book would have?
Of course, I cannot lie, it’s important to me that the book has cultural impact. Like I said, The Coldest Winter Ever, whenever it’s spoken about in conversation with my friends almost two decades later, it still evokes emotion and passion. I want IANYBM to have that same impact. To be a cultural flag, reminding people of where the conversation about Black Motherhood was at during this time and hopefully by then (whenever that is) it becoming apparent that we have come on leaps and bounds in making sure that all experiences of motherhood are represented.
Since starting Make Motherhood Diverse, have you felt that representations of motherhood in mainstream media have changed?
Not really. People are trying. I’m lucky to be in a position where brands and businesses have seen what MMD is doing and they reach out to me to consult for their advertising but we really need to pick up the pace. There have been a lot of tv shows about motherhood and parenting of late and I haven’t seen one character who isn’t middle class, white and able bodied.
That’s so true and so demoralising! But you are opening up the conversation now, and there’s so much hope in that! What do you feel is the difference between your social media platform and your book?
The book is far more personal and far more…black. I often feel like my social media audience is so vast that I’m aware that I have to put on my ‘Karen’ voice to get my point across. The book is giving you everything in my black dialect. From the lingo to the mention of music and places I want people to understand the black British experience in the book. The book is also forever. Listen I’m getting old and I can’t afford to tap dance on these social media streets forever so there is a very…off the cuff way that I post. Those are my thoughts in the moment and more often than not they aren’t weighty. But I understand the book to be much more than that and so I wanted to do my best to make sure it wasn’t a flash in the pan type of offering.
There’s nothing flash in the pan about it - you have packed SO much in there. What was one of the most surprising things you learned writing the book?
How hard it was. I work in arena where it feels like everyone is an author so once the deal was signed I thought ‘pah this will be a piece of cake’ I get hot with embarrassment thinking about my nonchalant expectations. Due to the subject matter is was a tremendously confronting experience. There are hours and hours of research involved. Lots of days slamming my desk in fury at just how unfair it all is. Even though I’m excited to send it out into the world, I cannot ignore how exhausted I am.
How does it feel having this part of you out in the world - Especially given the incredibly personal nature of the book?
Nauseating but necessary. If one less black woman feels like a write off because someone has called her a ‘baby mother’ then I’ve done my job. This has come at the expense of my privacy and putting a lot of ‘dirty laundry’ out there. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
We live in uncertain times, and this is even more so the case at the moment for so many parents who must keep their children at home, and are often also trying to balance this with working and adapting to this new situation. Do you have any words of encouragement? Prepare for the time when you look back at this time and struggle to remember the strain it put on your household. The first few weeks were terrible for me. My father died of the common flu and so this pandemic has triggered me. But as the lockdown has continued I’ve tried to steer my mind towards a moment of freedom once again. I’m preparing to feel the sun on my face without the need for a mask.
oh what a day that’ll be! Looking back at the writing process, and given that the book is about motherhood, in what way were your children involved in the writing stage?
Oh they weren’t at all! LOL! Of course so much of the book if not all is based on me being their mother, so they were involved from a distance.
Well let’s talk about you the writer for a wee bit! What writers or individuals have shaped the way you write/ what you write?
James Baldwin. There is a nod to him in the title. Man he makes words dance you know? It’s like his metaphors quite literally waltz around the page, only pausing long enough to slap you upside the head and then he is off again. This body of work is not poetic at all. This was not the book that called for me to show that flair but his way of shoving the truth down your throat is something I very much admire. My father also. I used to write articles about anything and everything when I was a teenager and I would make him check them and tell me how to get better. He showed me that there is not much point being too precious about things. How can you get to the point with the lowest word count? That was always his question. And lastly my grandfather who can’t quite read at all but would buy me so many books as a child, I was the most eloquent five year old. He is the only reason this book even exists and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to tell him and show him.
Terrific! I love how they shaped your writing - How would you describe your style now?
When it’s in short form it can be very pretentious. I like to show off when it’s something less than a thousand words. But no matter the length I’m not precious when it comes to getting my point across. So I would say my style is forthright and arresting. I don’t write to make people feel good. I write to tell the truth.
That really comes across on the page. Your book is about motherhood, race, racism, parenting, British society, the media - and so much more. How did you weave all of these things together into one book?
Not with any difficulty. Seventy percent of the book is based on lived experience. I think white women do the same thing but because most everything is geared to support them, they don’t have to remark on the bias of the media etc. So because I’m writing from my perspective it doesn’t feel like I have to do any extra work. The themes naturally fell on top of one another because that’s how it is for many women who look like me.
What do you listen to when writing? Have you got some favourite background music?
Yes! I actually have a playlist on Spotify called I Am Not Your Baby Mother, it’s filled with grime, jazz, basement and hip hop. Ever since I was a kid I struggle to write without background music. I’m not precious or biased about its genre. If a beat bangs, it bangs.