Books

Derry Mammy Banter TikTok star Serena Terry pens hilarious new Christmas novel

As the countdown to Christmas continues and mothers across the country are drowning in the stress of shopping and to do lists, Derry TikTok star and comedy writer, Serena Terry, encourages them to take some time out and learn to say no. She chats to Jenny Lee about her latest book, mental wellbeing and her plans for a stand-up comedy tour

Serena Terry aka Mammy Banter warns against expecting perfection at Christmas
Jenny Lee

IT'S the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it? Derry TikTok star Serena Terry, aka Mammy Banter, has highlighted the perils of the festive period and holiday stress endured by working mothers in her new novel.

"…All through the house, not a creature was stirring except for... mum!" writes the 36-year-old in the arrestingly titled The Sh!te Before Christmas.

It’s a follow-up to her debut novel, Mammy Banter: The Secret Life of an Uncool Mum, with Serena once again bringing us the story of the Gallagher family, led by matriarch Tara.

Like every mum, Tara wants a perfect Christmas for her family – but no-one else is lifting a finger and she's losing her mind. From the kids behaving badly, to a distracted husband acting very out of character, the last straw is Tara's glamorous and feckless mother moving herself back in for the holidays.

Set in Serena's native Derry city, she explains that the story sees Tara deal with personal, work and family issues, all while trying to pull off a holly, jolly Christmas.

"Tara is 35 weeks pregnant and it's four weeks to Christmas. Her teenager, Gemma, has just been caught vaping and the youngest, two-year-old Jack, is being potty trained. Her mother, who she's always had a difficult relationship with, and who left her 13 years ago for a toy boy in Spain, returns. And she's trying to finish up work before maternity leave," explains Serena about the plot of the book.

"Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill, right? Nah... Parents know that's just a myth, especially when it's mostly mums responsible for making Christmas magical..." berates Serena.

The kitchen appliance of the moment, an air fryer, makes an appearance in the novel, as does the dreaded Elf on the Shelf.

"Like most parents, they are the bain of Tara's life. At the start we are all creative, then it quickly evolves into arguments over whose turn it is to move him," she says.

Serena thoroughly enjoyed writing The Sh!te Before Christmas – even in the summer sun: "It was definitely strange writing it in the heat, but getting into the Christmas spirit was easy for me because I am a massive, massive Christmas fan."

"I'm the typical mammy who pushes themselves to ensure everybody has everything they need and has a great time. Every year I say I'm not going to do it next year, but then I do the same every single year," adds the mum-of-two, confessing that she put her Christmas tree up at the start of the month.

Serena has been very open about her own struggles with mental health, after suffering post-natal depression and the tragic deaths of her twin brothers, within the space of just eight weeks in 2019.

She set up her Mammy Banter TikTok account during lockdown in response to the endless stories of airbrushed families leading 'perfect' lives on social media.

"I was fed up putting myself under that spiral of insecurity by comparing myself to them," she says.

Serena's ability to poke fun at herself and the trials of motherhood through her videos and skits using her own Derry accent and a cast of hilarious characters resonated with followers worldwide.

She has amassed more than two million followers and yet, despite her success, remains very honest about the ups and downs of her life and mood.

"I didn't want to give people the false impression that I was a super-happy and confident person who laughs all day. So every now and again I remind them of the reality that I too go through tough days."

She also felt it important to tackle the subject of mental health in her novels.

"In the first book I explored Tara's depression and now that she is pregnant she can't take anti-depressants and she is catastrophising more. It's a fictional novel, but it's based on real life experiences and I feel it's important to normalise it," she adds.

In the same way social media presents a false sense of perfection, Serena stresses that "there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas and if that's your goal it's going to be unachievable".

"Perfection is a myth; instead you should try to aim to have a nice Christmas. Everyone around you will be happier if you are not stressed out."

In terms of practical advice, Serena advises mothers, or fathers, who are the festive organisers to "learn to say no", "ask for help" and "try not to get into debt".

"If you are a 'yes' person it will only add to your anxiety in the run up to Christmas. We all want to help others and donate to charity, especially at Christmas, but don't feel guilty about not being able to, there's only so much you can do."

Caring for her own mental wellbeing, Serena got involved in cold-water swimming, after reading that it leads to a boost in serotonin production – the chemical in the brain that can affect mood.

She set up the group, Waves For Mental Health in Derry, and is proud that the 300-plus membership has evolved into a supportive holistic support community.

"As well as weekly cold-water dipping, which is the best thing I've done, we do other activities too, such as couch to 5k, roller-skating, crochet and we have a healthy eating WhatsApp group. It's turned into this beautiful community and I've made friends for life."

Whilst Serena is grateful for everything she has achieved in 2022, including a cameo in the last episode of Derry Girls, she is looking ahead with optimism to new creative opportunities.

"At the moment I'm doing a few scriptwriting courses online and would love to get into screenwriting next year. I've had some interest from America in adapting the book, so we will see what happens," she enthuses.

Following on from her first ever stand-up show at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she will also shortly announce her own Serena Terry UK and Ireland comedy tour.

"I'm going to call it Socially Media. It will be everything I talk about in my videos but in a more free form, as a stand-up routine. I'm really excited because, unlike Edinburgh which was very last minute, I've plenty of time to work on it as it won't be until early summer," she teases.

As well as some seasonal Mammy Banter skits in the pipeline over the next couple of weeks, after a hectic Ireland and Britain book tour Serena is looking forward to taking her own advice and enjoying some downtime. "And preparing for my Sh!te before Christmas of course," she giggles.

The Sh!te Before Christmas is published by HarperCollins and is out now.

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