Emma Murray's The Juggle a humorous account of the frustration of motherhood

If you’ve ever despaired at the school WhatsApp group, worried about who you would bump into at the school gates or struggled to juggle the demands of work and family life, then Emma Murray’s achingly funny novel about life as a modern mum will make you grin with recognition. Jenny Lee speaks to the Dublin author

Dublin author Emma Murray admits to drawing some inspiration from her own life for The Juggle
Dublin author Emma Murray admits to drawing some inspiration from her own life for The Juggle

JUGGLING is something working parents have had to do even more during this past year as the restrictions of Covid-19 merged home and working lives.

Although written before the onset of the global pandemic, Dublin author Emma Murray’s latest novel, The Juggle, encapsulates the pressure cooker of impossible expectations which modern motherhood presents.

The Juggle tells the story of mother-of-one Saoirse, who is just about holding it all together – combining part time work with the school run – while her husband David gets to focus on his career. But when David loses his job, everything changes.

With no hesitation, Saoirse suggests that she take on the role of main breadwinner. After all, how hard can it be?

But there’s a problem with keeping too many balls in the air – eventually one is bound to drop.

Amid the laughs, the novel is filled with many poignant and thought-provoking moments as Murray explores many facets of modern-day life: negotiating school gate politics; pregnancy; miscarriage; redundancy and adoption.

Murray, who grew up in Malahide, in north Dublin, says the theme of The Juggle and it’s prequel Time Out is essentially about “romantic relationships, family dynamics and most of all female friendships”.

“Women are all very vulnerable when the kids come along and I think having a sympathetic ear and a non-judgmental person to chat to is absolutely paramount,” she says.

A mum to two girls, aged 10 and eight, Murray admits to drawing some inspiration from her own life, including what can sometimes be the infuriation of class WhatsApp groups.

“We hit a new low when lockdown first happened last year and the class WhatsApp group went absolutely bananas with hearsay and conspiracy theories – just really negative stuff. Then someone sensible suggested we keep the group for home school tips and it calmed down. So I haven't had to leave – yet,” she says.

She also brings her personal reflection of an early miscarriage to the novel.

“I had a miscarriage myself at 10 weeks a number of years ago and looking back upon it I realise I should have gone a bit easier on myself," she says.

“Women have a tendency to pick themselves up and carry on, but miscarriage has a massive impact on you and you don't see the effects of that until much later.

“So I wanted to get the message across in the book that women should treat miscarriage like a physical and emotional significant event in their lives and give themselves a chance to grieve and recover.”

Like herself, Murray’s protagonist Saoirse is a writer – penning a novel about motherhood, while supplementing her income as a ghostwriter.

After a career in banking and ghost writing non-fiction books in the areas of business and psychology, turning 40 was “a wake-up call” for Murray who decided the time was right to fulfil her dream of becoming a novelist. She wrote 10,000 words about becoming a mum and a three-book publishing deal followed.

“It took a lot of courage because it is equivalent of putting your heart and soul out there for people to stamp on if they choose. But it’s been so lovely to be able to immerse yourself in your own little world that you have created,” says the now 44-year-old.

Within The Juggle, her protagonist Saoirse finds herself writing a book for an eccentric entrepreneur, whom Murray says is “a very extreme version” of her former clients.

“You do get people who have great plans for their book and you have to manage their expectations a little bit when you know their ideas are not going to be a number one bestseller,” she laughs.

Murray currently combines her fiction writing with co-authoring academic textbooks, including some on entrepreneurship, which provided her with vital research for her character of Sebastian Fox in The Juggle.

“I am really interested in the psyche of entrepreneurs and I do a lot of research into how their mindset works. I drew a lot of that from my own academic research, especially the impulsive behaviour of entrepreneurs believing they can run before they walk.”

The Juggle’s cover contains an endorsement from renowned Irish women’s fiction writer Cathy Kelly, whose guidance Murray has been extremely grateful for in her journey as an author.

“Cathy is amazing. I’ve read loads of her books and am in awe at her descriptive writing and her ability to paint a scene. I’ve been very fortunate to avail of her experience and she’s really good craic too,” she laughs.

The audio book of The Juggle is read by Irish actor Caroline Lennon, best known for her portrayal of Siobhan Hathaway in BBC Radio 4's long-running soap The Archers.

“I was delighted when she agreed to do it. She’s tremendous as I have really put a lot of accents in there,” says Murray, who hopes Lennon will also voice the third book in the series, which she has been trying to write this year while juggling home-schooling.

:: The Juggle is published by Boldwood Books and is out now.