Emma Gannon is blissfully childfree by choice – much like the protagonist in her debut novel, Olive. The bestselling author and podcaster reveals how her experiences inspired her novel – and shares an exclusive extract
Upon turning 30, quite naturally a lot of conversations with friends started drifting towards motherhood. Some friends were becoming new mothers, some were trying – and I felt like there was an elephant in the room – before I started telling everyone I didn’t think having children was me. I guess I’d never thought to say it out loud before, even though I always knew deep down I would be childfree by choice.
So I did what most writers do, and turned to Twitter to source some case studies and interviewees around the topic. I found myself getting lost in a sea of emails with brilliant childfree-by-choice women who immediately made me feel less alone.
These were childfree-by-choice women who felt like they were ‘having it all’ without kids. Although on the whole these women felt happy, unapologetic, joyful and fulfilled by their choices, I couldn’t help but notice that childfree by choice still felt largely unseen (in the media, books, films), and these women were regularly judged and pitied by others. They’d get a lot of : ‘Who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?’ or ‘Aren’t you worried you’re being selfish?’
It prompted me to write my first novel, Olive, with a childfree-by-choice protagonist at its centre, something I’m really proud of.
Before you grab a copy, here’s your exclusive Olive extract:
Time ticks on frustratingly slowly. I’m still waiting for the purple line to become a little clearer. I bring the test up close to my face. My eyes cross over and blur. Why do seconds seem so stretched out when you are waiting for something important? Bea always tells me to ‘zoom out’ when I get too overwhelmed with daily life.
‘Like you would do with your fingers on an Instagram photo, Ol, just breathe and use your two fingers to adjust, in and out,’ she’d say. I often get so anxious that I can’t find a logical way out of my own muddled-up thoughts, like a spider spasming in its own cobweb. That’s why looking at the sky and out to the sea scientifically relaxes humans – because when we look into that deep, deep blue we realize we are insignificant specks.
I sometimes find my brain racing around and around like a merry-go-round, and I feel like I’m going to be sick but can’t find a way to jump off safely. Breathe. Zoom out. Switch to bird’s-eye view, Olive. Breathe. It is OK. This is a Sliding Doors moment, but whatever happens, it’ll be OK.
I hear Bea shuffle out from her cubicle, the door gently closing. When I eventually emerge myself, the door accidentally slams loudly behind me. I look over at Bea, who has red cheeks with mascara-stained tears streaking down them.
‘You OK?’ I ask.
‘It’s … negative,’ she says, sniffing.
Oh … shit. She actually wanted it to say she was pregnant? Are those tears of disappointment?
I look down at my hands cupped around the pissy plastic container. ‘Me too. Negative,’ I say. I can’t help but sound relieved. I think of Jacob then, and I try to imagine what he’d say. If I tell him.
Two women, one result, two totally different responses whirring around in our heads, I can feel them clashing in the air. I thought we were in this together, Bea and I; I thought we wanted the same thing. We always do. I feel my utter joy and relief deflate slightly. I’m well and truly off the hook – not pregnant! Yes! We can carry on living our sweet, sweet lives. Wahoooo!
But I can’t bounce up and down, I have to pretend to look sad now. Also: Bea’s reaction has really knocked me for six. How did I not know she was trying for a baby? We know absolutely everything about each other?
Pfft. This is ridiculous. We don’t want kids. We’re only in our early twenties. And I thought Jeremy was away all the time for work. She’d be really screwing herself over if she got pregnant now. We haven’t even been out of university that long, and there’s so much time stretched out ahead of us to do big crazy things before we settle down.
We have parties to attend, careers to smash, hangovers to indulge in, impromptu cinema trips and dinner parties to throw. I have a work acquaintance who has just had a baby and she says that even a trip to the cinema costs her over £50 because they have to book a babysitter on top of the tickets, snacks and car parking. Is this really what we want, so soon? Our lives to be put on hold?
After a slow afternoon back at work we go to a small bar just off Soho Square – we both need a drink after all of that lunch-time palaver. We order a bottle of rosé. Then another one. After that we end up in a dingy basement club nearby, where the barman gives us a free bottle of champagne – I lied and said it was Bea’s birthday.
‘This is the silver lining eh, Bea – if you’d had a different result you wouldn’t be able to drink this delicious ch-champagne!’ I slur, sloshing my glass around.
‘Oh sshhhh,’ she said, smashing her champagne flute into mine. Luckily they were plastic.
Part of me wanted to ask her about the test, her disappointment: why a baby now, Bea? And why couldn’t you tell me? But the bigger, more selfish part of me kept quiet.
* Olive by Emma Gannon will be on sale from July 23rd and is published by Harper Collins
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