How fiction can help explore feelings about mothers and daughters

Published on: 13 March 2023

Author Ruth Lauren talks about fiction mother-daughter relationships in fiction.

When I’m writing a children’s book, one of the first things I frequently have to do is ‘get rid of the parents’ in one way or another. My main character has a perfectly good adventure to have and she can’t have an adult getting in the way of it.

Many children’s books do away with the parent/child relationship altogether – they’re about orphans and found family, like Tim Tilley’s wonderful Harklights, or there are guardians who take the place of parents, as in the fantastic Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend.

But just as often, a story is about a mother who isn’t quite what her daughter thought she was. She has a secret, she has a past (Lucy Strange’s Our Castle by the Sea does this brilliantly and poignantly). She is a person, outside of the relationship with her daughter. Sometimes, like Lyra’s mother in the series His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, she is hard to like. Sometimes, she needs rescuing by her brave and determined daughter – and this is where my own book, Tourmaline and the Island of Elsewhere, lands.  

Tourmaline’s mother, Persephone, is an intrepid and resourceful explorer who has raised Tourmaline without a father, but when she goes missing Tourmaline realises that Persephone hasn’t told her the truth about the mission she was on – and she wonders what else she doesn’t know about her elusive mother. Throughout the book, Tourmaline comes to realise what life is like without Persephone there (something she’s always taken for granted) and throughout the writing of the book, Ruth Lauren (aka me) came to realise that she was contemplating her own relationship with both her mother and her daughter at the same time.

It made me wonder if perhaps readers would be doing that too. Would there be young readers who had foster mothers, adoptive mothers or birth mothers thinking about and exploring that relationship along with Tourmaline? Would the conversation Tourmaline and Persephone have about honesty and openness near the end of the book resonate with them? Could it even show them that they too could renegotiate the nature of their relationship with their own mothers?

I hope Tourmaline and Persephone can at least show that a relationship is not static. It can change and grow, become better, stronger, different than it has been before.

We all know that reading fosters empathy, that stories can allow children to explore their social and emotional life as they identify with characters’ feelings, or come to understand a perspective they may not have encountered before. That’s a wonderful thing for relating to all sorts of people, and I think it can be exceptionally meaningful when the person that a child is relating to is a mother or carer, whatever that looks like in their own lives.

Tourmaline and the Island of Elsewhere is out now.

Topics: Family, Mothers, Features


Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 16 titles.

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