While the joys of parenthood can sometimes be a mixed blessing, the impact of childlessness on a relationship – when it isn’t a matter of choice – can be devastating. This is the tricky subject which Scunthorpe-born author and actress Carrie Sutton explores in her new book Plastering Over the Cracks.
Written in the first person, the novel is presented in diary form from the point of view of a young woman who is going through IVF treatment.
The narrative examines the way in which she and her partner struggle to come to terms with their situation and how it begins to have an effect on all areas of their life together.
“I feel that modern relationships – especially with regards to women, children and careers – are very interesting, but complex and tangled,” says Sutton. “I think there are a lot of expectations put upon women – getting the work-life balance right is really difficult.
“When I started to think about writing the book I was watching a couple of friends in their thirties going through quite nasty divorces – one had children and the other didn’t and the one who didn’t said she felt as though she had now missed her chance to have a family.”
Partly based on Sutton’s own experiences, Plastering Over the Cracks is a very candid, courageous and unflinching look at the fall-out of dashed hopes and shattered dreams.
“This was a book I needed to write,” says Sutton. “In a way it was both cathartic and painful. My own experience of IVF was very different from how it is packaged – it is sold as a modern medical marvel but the truth is that the odds are not great at all. In reality it is very brutal, emotionally and physically. For some women it works but for many it doesn’t. You feel totally hollow at the end of it and no-one is there to pick up the pieces, whether your partner is supportive or not, because no-one else can really relate to it.”
Sutton says that she hopes that the book will be helpful to women – and men – who have been through a similar experience and while she didn’t want the story to have a conventionally happy ending, it does ultimately contain a message of hope.
Writing the novel allowed her, in a sense, to let go of some of the pain of what she had been through herself.
“There is a point in the book where the main character says she is transferring the pain to the page. And I felt that – I could give all the pain to a fictional couple. It was so awful, and that was my way of coping with it.”
Her training as an actor – she has had a very successful career in the West End and has worked with a number of theatre companies including Northern Broadsides – has also informed her writing.
“The job of acting is to explore relationships and when it comes to writing you can create those characters and say what you need to say through them,” she says.
“Actors often use the theatre – and it’s the same with writing – to get rid of painful feelings and to make something useful or positive out of them in some way.”
Her first book After the Break-Up: A Girl’s Guide, a light-hearted self-help manual, was similarly inspired by experiences in her own life, charting the events in the year after she split up with her husband. She is currently considering a few ideas but her next writing project could be something completely different. “I am a big fan of Philip Pullman’s books and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so I’d be interested in having a go at young adult fantasy fiction,” she says.
“I definitely need to write and I enjoy it. It’s something I have done ever since I was a kid and I will always make time for it. Even when I am in a West End show, you’ll often find me in the dressing room writing.”
• Plastering Over the Cracks, published by Big Finish, £8.95. www.bigfinish.com