Baby talk

BUDDING NOVELISTS might not mind being compared to their more famous counterparts, but it's quite another thing when they not only beat you to publication with the same idea but use your title, too.

For Rosie Milne, novelist and South China Morning Post contributor, the pride at finishing her latest novel was tempered when she found out that British author Tony Parsons had written a similar-sounding novel - with the same title.

Parsons, in Hong Kong last year on a book tour, was asked about his as yet unfinished novel. Milne, sitting in the audience, groaned when he said it was called The Family Way and would focus on three women considering whether or not to have children. Milne had just finished her novel and sent it to her publishers as the second of a two-book deal. It was also called The Family Way, and focused on four sisters considering motherhood.

'His was due to be published in July - way before mine in January,' she says. 'He's a big author, so I changed the title.' Milne says she hasn't yet got around to reading Parson's book. And although she had to change the title - to Holding the Baby - she hasn't had to rework her story.

'Motherhood is something every single woman has to confront in one form or another,' Milne says. 'Even if the woman decides it's not for her. Men don't have to confront fatherhood in the same way. It's still a huge change to a woman's life in a way it isn't for men.'

Holding the Baby is set in London and New York, and examines the relationships and angst of a group of thirty-somethings, especially the pressures people face trying to juggle parenthood, marriage and careers. 'I'm looking at the issue of family in the modern world,' Milne says. 'How technology is allowed a place in reproduction, how marriage isn't necessarily linked to child-rearing, and how women in the west are allowed to take sexual pleasure if they want to. Nowadays, your family is whoever loves you. A family doesn't have to be one plus one and 2.4 children.'

Holding the Baby's characters include an infertile western couple who adopt a baby girl from China. Milne, an expatriate who has lived in Hong Kong for the past four years, says the inspiration for the couple came from friends, and that she couldn't have properly understood how they felt if she'd written the book in her native Britain.

'If anyone reads this in the developed world, I hope they think about babies in the developing world,' she says. 'I hope people think, 'God, I'm lucky'.'

As a result of researching for the book and being involved with a children's charity, Milne says she's more aware of the plight of orphaned babies in China, especially girls, who continue to be less valued than boys. She will donate 25 per cent of her royalties from Holding the Baby to the Half the Sky Foundation, a US-based charity that helps babies and children on the mainland who are awaiting adoption or who live in orphanages.

Lest all this make Holding the Baby sound too serious, Milne says its bright pink jacket and light style are a better indication of what she hopes will be an entertaining addition to the chick-lit genre. 'It's not an earnest book,' she says. 'It's a light-hearted read - fun and funny, I hope.'

Milne, a married mother of two, has been involved in publishing for years. In London, she wrote and edited self-help books and had a couple of short stories published. Later, in New York, she worked as a freelance editor and writer. Holding the Baby is rooted in London, but it was in New York that Milne wrote her first novel, How to Change Your Life, which followed the marital ups and downs of frumpy, self-help books editor Seraph and her ex-poet, philandering husband, Nick.

As the title suggests, Milne was influenced by her years poring over self-help manuals, which covered everything from teaching yourself bridge to flower-arranging, Buddhism and sex. 'Was my mood influenced by the books I worked on? I suspect I was probably more het up with things to do with the publishing process than the subjects,' she says. 'But I did once work on a book about Alzheimer's, and that was incredibly moving.'

Milne also wrote a couple of what she calls 'new age' self-help books, under a variety of pseudonyms. Nowadays, although she juggles writing with motherhood, Milne says she's fortunate that her husband's well-paid job means she can write every day while the children are at school.

She says she always has 'something on the go', and is revising a third novel. 'I'm in an incredibly fortunate position to be able to spend part of the day writing, but it's frustrating in that I can never sit down and write for 15 hours,' she says. 'But I'm lucky to have that time to write. Any mother, who's trying to be anything other than a full-time mother, is going to be frustrated.'

The writing of Holding the Baby was disrupted by the Sars epidemic, when the family left Hong Kong for six months, splitting the time between Sydney and Tokyo. Milne found little time to write. 'I'd never been to either city before,' she says. 'Tokyo was a big upheaval. There was a huge earthquake days after we arrived. It was deeply alarming.' Milne says her latest work is subject- rather than character-based. Having tackled marriage and motherhood, she's now turned her attention to what she sees as that other driving force in most people's lives: money. 'It's not set in Hong Kong,' she says. 'But the fact that I'm living in this city, where money rules, and I've lived in New York and London means I can see ways in which Hong Kong will influence the book. One thing that drives us is love. Another is money - especially in Hong Kong.'

Holding the Baby will be published by Pan in Hong Kong, Canada and Europe next week.