Abigail Burdess

Author Abigail Burdess talks to us about her debut novel Mother's Day and shares the best advice she's ever been given.

Abigail Burdess has written for sketch shows including Tracey Ullman’s Show (BBC1), Watson and Oliver (BBC2) and the BAFTA-winning That Mitchell and Webb Look (BBC2), and for children’s shows including So Beano (Sky TV), The Adventures of Paddington (Nickelodeon) and the BAFTA-nominated Sorry I’ve Got No Head (CBBC). Her first novel, Mother’s Day, is published by Wildfire Books on 2 March 2023. You can find Mother's Day on our catalogue.

Who were your heroes as you were growing up?

Growing up my heroes were my big brothers, and Agatha Christie. This was mainly because we didn’t have a telly. But when we got one, I discovered Victoria Wood.

You have done lots of live comedy shows. How do you even begin to do something as terrifying as that?

I love doing comedy. Lots of people ask me if it’s scary and mostly it’s not - you’ve got some jokes which you know usually work. It does get a bit terrifying when you are performing with no script and improvising but that’s also when it’s most fun, because it’s so exciting to make up a joke with the audience. Of course there are those days when jokes which everyone was falling about at yesterday are greeted with a mutter and some concerned looks: the BAD GIG. But once you discover that you don’t actually die from those gigs they become great bonding anecdotes with other comedians.

You've written for Tracey Ullman and Mitchell & Webb. How did you find the longer form of sitting down and developing characters for Mother's Day?

Writing Mother’s Day was fascinating. I’ve written lots of other things as well as TV sketch shows - radio shows and films and plays and soaps - they just rarely got made! But this was my first book. I loved having some space to change the characters. When plotting comedy, characters often are given the opportunity to change, but fail to change. So writing something which has funny bits but isn’t pure comedy, I was let off the leash. In fact, I gave myself the challenge of seeing if I could believably completely transform a character within a single story. You’ll have to read to see if I managed it!

Can you tell Suffolk readers a little about Mother’s Day?

Mother’s Day is a thriller. It's the story of Anna, who was abandoned on a traffic island as a baby, and adopted. She’s never put down roots, so she hasn’t dreamt of having a family of her own. But then she’s mugged, and finds a clue to her identity. She meets her birth mother, and the same day, she learns she's going to be a mother too. Her mother, Marlene is eccentric, generous with her considerable fortune and overjoyed to become a grandmother. Anna's living the dream. But is it her dream, or someone else’s. Now Anna has to decide what she's willing to sacrifice for a real family - her future, her freedom, even her unborn child.

That’s the spiel. I’ve always loved films like Single White Female and Fatal Attraction. I came up with the idea when I saw a woman interviewed who’s found her birth mother suddenly on Facebook. She said “I hope I’m the daughter she’s been dreaming of all these years” and I thought, that’s a dangerous thing to think - you don’t know anything about this woman, or your birth family, or the secrets they may have. I wrote it first as a movie outline, but I didn’t sell the movie.

Later I was chatting with my friend Susie Steiner, who wrote Missing, Presumed, and she suggested I write a novel about mother-daughter relationships, so I remembered the plot and wrote the story as a book. It came out very fast. It almost wrote itself. It felt like a story that wanted to be told.

Mother's Day is a rollercoaster ride where the reader has no idea where it is going to go next which works really well. Are there any plans for a TV adaptation?

Well thank you very much. I hope it’s a rollercoaster. Yes, the TV rights have been optioned. They want to turn it into a six-part TV series, which, if it happens, would be wonderful. I’d love to have a bit more space to find out more about some of the secondary characters in the book - the TV company are keen to do that too. In my dreams it would be a kind of British White Lotus - balancing comedy and violence, and really delving into all the characters’ deepest fears.

What’s next for you?

I am finishing thriller number two for Wildfire Books - which is set in the world of stand-up comedy, and is about a comedian who is court-ordered to get sober if he wants to see his little girl. To complete Step Eight ‘Make a list of those you’ve wronged’, he hires a detective to find out what he’s been doing for the last ten years - and it doesn’t look good. I’m also writing a comedy book in our spare time with my partner, Robert Webb, which is a fun sideline to all the scary crime.

One book, piece of music or work of art that everyone should experience?

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

What is the best advice you were ever given?

"Make a decision. You can always make another one.” Like my character, Anna, I went on a scholarship to boarding school. My housemistress, Mrs Scott, gave me that advice. She was also a bit of a fish out of water, and I think she noticed I was the kind of kid who’d tie themselves into knots about things. She was a wonderful woman, and so kind to me. I still think that’s excellent guidance - it reminded me that most things can be corrected, but action is required.

Describe yourself in three words.

Bad at self-description.

Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?

I doubt they’d know anything about me! I once played a dancing snooker table. Is that a fun fact?

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