Beth Morrey joins Zibby to talk about her second novel, Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, which is also known in the UK as Em & Me. The two discuss how Beth’s habit of worrying helped shaped this story, who she called to help write (and actually produce) the song in the novel, and why she believes teachers are so special. Beth also shares what her experience was like working in the TV world and how that inspired her podcast, One Torn Every Minute.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Beth. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Delphine Jones Takes a Chance, or as it’s known in the UK, Em & Me.

Beth Morrey: Correct. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Zibby: I really like Em & Me. Not that I don’t like this. Why the different titles? What happened?

Beth: My publisher in the US probably knows better than me. I trust them when it comes to marketing. They just felt that was a better title for the US market. I think, from what I’ve heard, that US readers prefer titles with names in, the full name. That’s what I gather. They felt quite strongly that that was a better title for the book, so we went with that.

Zibby: Huh. I actually started my own publishing company. We have books coming out starting in January 2023. I’m thinking to myself, really? I don’t think we have any names in any of our titles. Uh-oh. All right, well, we’ll store that little nugget away. Anyway, please tell listeners about this book. What is Delphine Jones Takes a Chance about? How did you come up with the plot, the narrative, the whole idea for this book? Go.

Beth: It’s about a struggling single mother called Delphine Jones whose life was derailed as a teenager. Things went off track. She had a lot going for her, but things went wrong. It’s about her struggling to build a better life for her and her daughter Em, but also, the flashback, the secrets and things that she did wrong that caused her life to derail in the first place. As to where the idea came from, it’s so hard. I’m sure you know with the authors you work with, there’s no —

Zibby: I shouldn’t even ask that question.

Beth: — one thing. It’s so many different layers and experiences. I wanted to write about education as a power to transform. I was very interested in single mothers because I admire so much what they do. I wanted to write a companion piece to The Love Story of Missy Carmichael that dealt with different themes but also offered a similar experience. It was lots of things coming together.

Zibby: Wow. I feel like her life gets derailed — not derailed, but I think one of the pivotal moments, of course, is the loss of her mother at a young age. Actually, right before you, I interviewed a woman named Jane Pek. Right behind her was all this bicycle equipment. I was like, “You know, you have to be really careful because the mother of a dear close friend of mine from a previous book just got into an accident.” I am joking, but I’m not joking because they become so real to me. I was so heartbroken. I hope that’s not giving too much away. It didn’t come that —

Beth: — No, it’s not.

Zibby: Right? It’s not that far into the book. I feel like I could say that there’s mother loss in this story. It felt so real and so sad, how one moment, whether it’s loss or something changing in your life — one moment, she’s planning her afternoon with her girlfriends. This and that is really important. The next, nothing is important. Everything has changed just like that. Have you had moments like that? Are you interested in just exploring the effects? I feel like we’ve all had moments that are sort of bifurcating our lives in before and after in some way.

Beth: I really wanted to explore that idea. I’m a chronic worrier. I’m often thinking about life turning on a sixpence in that way. I did want to explore it. When we’re talking about inspirations, there was this viral clip that did the rounds a few years ago. It was an American clip, actually. It was called The Race of Life. They lined up a load of young people for a race for a hundred dollars, except that if you had certain things in your life that happened to you, you’re allowed to step forward. If you’d had a private education, if your parents were still together, if you’d never been hungry, you were allowed to step forward. At the end of the stepping forward, they were, right, we’re going to run the race. You’ve all got a chance. Obviously, the people who’d had the advantages in life had a much better chance of winning the money. That really struck me. I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who started the race out okay, but then things kept happening to her to pull her back. It seemed to me that a hugely significant thing would be the loss of a mother, an absent parent, and another parent who’s absent as a result of that loss. In a way, she’s missing two parents. That just seemed to me to be a profound thing that would derail someone and mean that they couldn’t take the opportunities in life that might otherwise be there.

Zibby: The conversation that she has with her dad at the end where he’s like, “You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to get out. Don’t have the same thing,” it was so moving that he knew all of it. He was fighting. He was trying. It’s not always what you see on the outside. All the interior life of people and what they want and then what they’re capable of at different times and how much love can conquer all, in a way, oh, my gosh, really, really meaningful.

Beth: Thank you. I think Nathan is a bit of a divisive figure. I think it would be very easy to be quite exasperated with him and quite frustrated with his inability to function, but I never particularly wanted it to feel one-handed in that way. I wanted there to be a bit of balance. While you can think of him as a little bit weak, at the same time, he’s just incapable. He’s by grief. There’s nothing he can do about it. I wanted it to be a kind of mix of how you feel about it. You should feel a bit ambiguous about him.

Zibby: Interesting. I feel like you mentioned a million books in this book. I just wrote this memoir. At the end, I mentioned so many books, I put a reading list. Where is your reading list? I know you have a song playlist and all that, but I need a reading list.

Beth: I should do that. I don’t know if there’s a US equivalent, but we’ve got where you can —

Zibby: — We have it.

Beth: I did one for Missy Carmichael. I should do one for this as well because it does get quite lengthy in the end. They have quite .

Zibby: It’s great. Some of these books, and Shakespeare, some of these, I haven’t read in quite some time. I’m feeling a bit shamed. Some moments, where you have Bonjour Tristesse open, all of them have such meaning. The reasons why books came at certain points were so intentional at times. Did you do that on purpose, or am I reading too much into it?

Beth: No. When books appear, generally, there’s a message in whatever book is mentioned. With Bonjour Tristesse, I think I probably googled for about half an hour to think, what would be the book that she would’ve been reading at that point? It felt really important. Some of the books, like Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, have huge importance in the kind of themes that they suggest that are aligned to Delphine’s life.

Zibby: Interesting. Wow, I love it. Of course, there’s the importance of teachers which courses through the book, and education and opportunity, the opportunity that the education alone provides, as you were sort of saying with this race, even just for your ability to feel good about yourself. Here she is, Delphine, this brilliant woman with this brilliant daughter. She’s like, it’s easy for this rich woman to say I should go back to school. I’m working at this café and this cleaning job and whatever. How do I stop all of this? I won’t give anything away. It seems so easy for people to say, oh, go back to school. Just do it part time, or whatever. You really map out all the constraints and all the things working against somebody from pursuing something maybe deep down their soul is destined to do, but then life gets in the way.

Beth: I think it is really tough. Delphine and Em wouldn’t be able to do it without teachers. I’ve got a real passion for teachers. I really, really admire them. They’re acknowledged in the acknowledgments. I feel we all had a teacher in our life, the one that we remember as sort of pulling us up and being the one that we felt connection to or that pushed us a little bit further. I just wanted to celebrate them. Pretty much, everyone in Delphine Jones Takes a Chance is a teacher. They have tremendous power and significance because I think in real life, they do as well, and particularly after the pandemic as well with lockdown. Most schools stayed open during lockdown because they were educating key workers’ children. They were doing twice as much. They were educating key workers’ children, and they were providing resources for parents at home. I just feel like we should really celebrate them and honor what they do for our kids.

Zibby: I totally agree. I feel like you had some policy suggestions in your acknowledgments.

Beth: Yes.

Zibby: “They should be funded and remunerated properly, acknowledged and championed as a lynchpin of our society. Next time you see a teacher dressed up for World Book Day, or any day for that matter, give them an elbow bump, and tell them they’re ace.” What can we do for teachers? What should we be doing? My dad has this theory that teachers shouldn’t have to pay income tax.

Beth: Wow, that’s very radical. I love it. I don’t pretend to be really knowledgeable about these things. It struck me that teachers — I don’t know about the US situation either. In the UK, they’re not paid much. The schools are under-resourced. We didn’t give them enough money to put in place all the measures that we needed for COVID. We just expected them to get on with it and to put themselves on the front line without masks and things like that. It just felt to me that they weren’t being respected and appreciated as much as they should be. I wanted to do that for a starter. I also have, in the acknowledgments there, I’ve got a big thing about teachers dressing up. Whenever I see a teacher dressed up, I cry because they don’t need to do it. It’s not part of the job description. Yet they do it. They dress up. You see them dressed up for Halloween and World Book Day. It seems to me to be symptomatic of how they always go the extra mile. They always do more than they need to do, which is why I love them so much.

Zibby: It’s so true. I cry at the end of every schoolyear with my kids as I’m hugging the teachers. There’s this one teacher that now all of my kids have had. Well, three of my four kids have had. This is my last year with her. Every time I pick up or drop off, I’m already in my head like, how am I going to separate from her at the end of this? I’m so attached myself.

Beth: In our school, the teachers are sort of like mini celebrities, all the parents pointing them out. I feel like that’s the way we should be with them, fate them as celebrities.

Zibby: It’s absolutely true. You’re absolutely right. I also appreciated the return to, basically, grade-school French in the book. I took French all through school. Now of course, I haven’t practiced it in twenty years or even more. I don’t even want to say how many years. She’s the same way. She’s getting back into it. Her stopping was quite deliberate when her mother passes away. It’s not just the language opening up. It’s so many things that are opening up for her at that time. Language, in more ways than one, I feel like are unspooling for Delphine.

Beth: Yes. It unlocks a bit of her memory, a particular thing. When she and Letty speak French, it’s an intimacy between them. They can say things in French to each other that they couldn’t say in English, which felt really important to me. That said, I fondly imagined I was really good at French. Not fluent, but fine. I can do this. I wrote it all down. Then when we were doing all the copyediting and stuff, I had to check it. I got my husband’s niece on board, who is French. It turned out my French isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was. She ripped it apart. We had to put it back together again. It was a lot harder than I imagined, but I’m really careful. I hope readers will understand that they can read it and they’ll either understand it because it’s basic enough or it’s translated immediately afterwards to explain. Also, there’ll be the odd words that you don’t know as a reader that maybe Letty explains. Then you’ve learned a new word in French, which is quite fun. I learned pouffiasse, which I think means floozie. There’ll be the odd word peppered throughout so a reader can be enriched at the same time as Delphine.

Zibby: I’ve already forgotten the first word she teaches. Dishy, maybe? Was it dishy?

Beth: Yes, Emmanuel Macron is dishy.

Zibby: There we go.

Beth: I’d forgotten that word as well. That’s terrible. I will have checked it. I will have checked the .

Zibby: Great. See how much I learned. I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest this, but is there any hope of a novel about Em as she grows up?

Beth: I never think about sequels particularly. I always think it’s done when it’s done. Em was conceived as a sort of modern-day Matilda, Roald Dahl’s Matilda. She’s quite manipulative and ruthless. I twisted it a bit. There’s also mentioned, a kind of eeriness, like a slightly supernatural thing, which was a reference to Matilda. Now that you talk about it, the thing that I would explore, probably, is Em’s relationship with Dylan. I’m not sure how long that relationship would last, but I’m interested in it because he’s not her father. They get on okay. He’s her teacher. I’m quite interested in those slightly unconventional relationships between people who are kind of at odds. Hence Delphine’s friendship with Letty, who she would never particularly be friends with and starts with an element of self-interest. I suppose, yeah, I could explore Em’s .

Zibby: It’s kind of like a Nick Hornby-ish relationship, except with girls.

Beth: That’s the greatest compliment to me because About a Boy is one of my favorite books of all time. I just love that book. It’s wonderful.

Zibby: Amazing. It was so good. I had him on this podcast. It was such a crazy —

Beth: — He’s the dream.

Zibby: Also, you then wrote a song that is performed by this fictious band. That was so cool. Do you write lots of songs, or was this a one-off just to be funny?

Beth: It was mad. I couldn’t quite let the story go. I’d been thinking about that song, which appears as a snippet in the book. I just thought, I wonder if I can carry on the song. I wonder how the whole song would look. I wrote the lyrics. Then having wrote the lyrics, I thought, well, it be quite interesting to see how it sounds. I have a songwriting friend who’s in a band called Sugarcane. I said to him, “I wonder if you could write this. I want it to sound like a mix between Norah Jones and Édith Piaf.” He really took that and ran with it. Then he had a friend who’s a vocalist who had a beautiful voice. She sang it. Then he’d arranged it. Then we had a friend who was a music producer who put it all together for us. It was just a really fun and slightly bizarre thing to go with a book. If you want to hear Delphine and the Tiny Pennies in , there you go. It’s there.

Zibby: I loved it. It was so satisfying to read the book and then find something in real life to echo the book. It was very cool. Wait, just switching gears for a second, you have a hilarious podcast called “One Torn Every Minute” — not “One Born Every Minute” — “One Torn Every Minute” about the actual nuts and bolts of the indignities of having children, essentially. Tell me about the podcast. Why? Tell me all about it.

Beth: Why is a really good question. It’s because when I worked in television, after I’d given birth, I’d pitched a show about childbirth. I never got it away because it’s kind of grim and niche. I thought when I’d left television, podcasting is such an egalitarian world. You can just do stuff. I had a few friends in the comedy world I knew who had stories to tell. My husband is a podcaster and producer himself, so it was an easy setup. Again, it was just like the song, really. We thought we’d just try it. I interviewed a series of women about giving birth. It’s nothing else apart from that. It’s not about parenting or anything like that. It’s just about getting pregnant; once you’re pregnant, what that’s like; and then, as you say, the nuts and bolts and episiotomies and placenta delivery and guts and gore of the birth process. It’s kind of playing a bit for laughs. There are poignant moments in it as well. Mainly, it’s reclaiming the process through laughter and ridicule because a lot of it is a ridiculous process. I love it because every story — you get similar elements, but every story is different. Every story is fascinating, what happened to women. I really enjoy doing it. I might do another series if I can nail down a few more women.

Zibby: I love it. It’s almost unthinkable that these things happen to us. We pretend we’re all modern and dressed up. The world is spinning so — everything goes so fast. We’re all doing all these jobs and running the world and all this stuff. Yet at our most primal, this is what we do, is birth more people for the world to continue. Yet that’s the part that gets pushed down. It’s embarrassing. We don’t discuss it.

Beth: It’s about forty-five minutes where you can just stop and go, no, this is exactly what happened to me. I’ll say whatever I like. I’ll tell you all the gory bits. We’ll really stop and analyze it from every angle.

Zibby: It’s really traumatic for some women. It’s a trauma that they have to get past. Some of the childbirth stuff is just out of control.

Beth: I’d be careful about that with my interviewees because finding the funny in it — I probably wouldn’t interview someone who’d found it tremendously traumatic. We have a fair degree of trauma, but it’s largely people who feel a bit more comfortable about the process. It’s not for everyone.

Zibby: No. It’s hilarious. I love it. I’m like, that is genius. That’s just so great. I love podcasts that — just like what you’re saying, it’s like, oh, look at this. Why not? How cool. Tell me about all your TV stuff. Tell me about you and the TV world and development and the ideas that don’t get made and the ideas that do get made and all of that.

Beth: I’ve sort of left it behind. Occasionally, I write treatments for production companies, which is always good fun, dipping my toe back in the water. I did it for twenty years. I was basically a developer, so I came up with ideas. I’m trying to think of formats that have been over in the US. Some of them will just be UK-based. I don’t know if Secret Life of 4 Year Olds ever made it over to the US. I don’t think it did. That was basically like a reality soap opera set in a nursery of four-year-olds. It was great. That’s a very well-loved show in the UK. It’s kind of unusual that I would’ve developed something that, in the UK, is really successful and everyone watched because mostly when I say what I developed, people go, no, I’ve not heard of that one. I developed a show called 100 Year Old Drivers, which is, as you could guess, people still driving aged a hundred. They’re all brilliant characters. It was a bit hair-raising watching them drive. Then I developed a show called Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, which is where kids who are seventeen, eighteen going to Ibiza for the first time are spied on by their parents. I’m not proud. It was really good fun. I loved it. I loved the people. I guess I’d kind of come to the end of what I could do in telly. I was quite ready to move onto something else, so it was quite useful that the publishing stuff happened.

Zibby: You put that aside. That’s when you wrote your first novel? You just decided to go for it, and here we are now on the second?

Beth: A bit of crossover. I was on maternity leave, so that’s how I managed it. We put our son in nursery two days a week. I managed to carve out the time. Otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve done it. It was incredibly difficult with a full-time job and children. It was really hard.

Zibby: What are you working on now? What’s your next thing?

Beth: Talking of plate-spinning, I’m writing my third book, which is about that. It’s about a burnt-out TV executive who just stops one day and decides to do something totally different and go rouge and then gets into a lot of trouble as a result. I just delivered a first draft to my editors.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Beth: As we know, first drafts are very near the beginning. I’m looking forward to all the work I have to do.

Zibby: First draft is a major, major milestone, so that’s great.

Beth: It is, fun milestone.

Zibby: Do you have a working title, or can you not share?

Beth: It’s called Clover Stops. I don’t know if that will be the end title or not.

Zibby: It’s a good title. I like it.

Beth: That’s my working title.

Zibby: See, you got the name in there again. I’m going to go back changing all our titles today. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Beth: Firstly, if you are writing, then you’re a writer. It doesn’t take anybody publishing you to make that more true. It is true if you write. A key thing is to just keep going. Keep going to the end of the draft. Keep refining. Keep querying. Keep submitting. I think a lot of what happens to authors comes down to luck and timing. You never know whether if you send it to one more agent or write more one draft, whether that will be the difference between you not getting a deal and you getting a deal. The resilience that you need, which I have from working in telly and getting rejected all the time, I think is a real quality that people need. Stick at it, would be my advice.

Zibby: Love it. Beth, thank you. Thank you for chatting today. Thanks for bringing us Delphine and Em and your crazy cast of characters, the passion for education and schools and books and reading, which I share. It was really fun to read. Thank you for putting up with all my technical issues at the beginning. Thanks.

Beth: Thank you very much.

Zibby: Have a great day. Thanks to your husband as well.

Beth: Thank you. Thanks very much. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts