Kahlia Bakosi on Mum’s the Word, motherhood and the modern family

What does it mean to be a moth­er? Does it dic­tate the course of a women’s life, the choic­es she makes, who she is, or even who she will for­ev­er be? And when do a mother’s bad deci­sions make them a bad person?

These are ques­tions that mul­ti-tal­ent­ed author Kahlia Bakosi explores in her chill­ing short sto­ry, Mum’s the Word.


The sto­ry cen­tres on moth­er Natal­ie and what hap­pens when the life she has care­ful­ly built is shat­tered by the mur­der of one of her three chil­dren. But, steadi­ly, as the tale unfolds you dis­cov­er that Natalie’s life may be not as spot­less – and her love not as uncon­di­tion­al – as it first appears.

“She wants to do right by her fam­i­ly,” Bakosi tells Fringe Fre­quen­cy. “She’s one of those peo­ple who has prob­a­bly grown up a per­fec­tion­ist, some­one who always wants to be seen in good light. You know, there’s some peo­ple who can’t even cope with some­one think­ing bad of them: they always want to be in everyone’s good books. I think, Natal­ie felt becom­ing a mum was her great­est call­ing… any­thing that threat­ened that per­fect image of what she want­ed her life to be she felt she had to go against.

“So, the book real­ly chal­lenges what it means to be a mum. Do you ever stop being a mum?

“Ulti­mate­ly, it’s her dark thoughts and what guides her deci­sion mak­ing that I was explor­ing through­out the course of the book. The way in which she thinks and she ratio­nalis­es what is right for a moth­er to do. And the fact that she’s got the oth­er peo­ple call­ing her mum: does she have the same loy­al­ty to them? Because she’s the only one who real­ly seems to know the truth about where they all come from. I thought it would be quite an inter­est­ing per­spec­tive to explore.”

Mum’s the Word is some­thing of a depar­ture from Bakosi’s oth­er projects. It’s dark­er tone might appear kin to a Dre­da Say Mitchell book. Her first short sto­ry, Twice, is about how pri­vate love affairs rarely stay pri­vate in the small social world of Lon­don. But what they both share is a com­pact page length – 64-pages in the case of Mum’s the Word – and dis­course that’s free from filler.

“I’m try­ing to cul­ti­vate my own genre of short sto­ries,” Bakosi explains. “I only want to ever have six chap­ters in each of them. So, I’m try­ing to chal­lenge myself how best to tell a sto­ry. I don’t want to give too much infor­ma­tion, because I’d like peo­ple to have the expe­ri­ence where they’re read­ing the book and they ask ques­tions, and they begin to hypoth­e­sise as to what this could mean, or what that could look like.

“I quite like receiv­ing feed­back about the sto­ries and what they make peo­ple think. So, I don’t like giv­ing too much infor­ma­tion and descrip­tion in every sce­nario, because there is a lot of pow­er in leav­ing some things blank for the reader’s imag­i­na­tion to run wild with.”


Favouritism, adul­tery and jeal­ous­ly all appear to be moti­va­tions for the char­ac­ters Natal­ie and her hus­band, Michael, whose bad romance would be lapped up by tabloid news­pa­pers and screen­writ­ers eager to expose the so-called “truth” behind this failed moth­er fig­ure in the real world.

When asked who she sees her book appeal­ing to, Bakosi says: “I see the book being for any­one who wants to read a short sto­ry that is quite psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing”, with a brief chuckle.

“Right now, the majority of people are in fractured families, or modified families, or various variations of the nuclear family. So, I thought that was an interesting topic to dance around in the book” – Kahlia Bakosi

“I real­ly like watch­ing things that are based on real life sce­nar­ios, but they’re real­ly unbe­liev­able. So, when you hear a mum could kill her kid and put the remains in the freez­er that makes me think: who are these peo­ple, and how do they blend in with the rest of us, who wouldn’t do those things?

“So, things like that inter­est me in regards to how mul­ti­fac­eted we can be as peo­ple. How we can appear to be one thing, but we lock our doors when we come inside, and then we’re free to be who we real­ly are. Those kinds of things real­ly intrigue me.”

Through the course of writ­ing the book, Bakosi tri­alled pas­sages of it on her eldest sis­ter, Clara, who had just become a moth­er her­self. “I thought it would be real­ly inter­est­ing just to see if she’s all in her feel­ings, because of hor­mones, or if she was actu­al­ly going be like, ‘this woman [Natal­ie] is filth!’”

Macabre and unset­tling, Bakosi agrees that her lat­est book is a med­i­ta­tion on motherhood.

“I think so. I think, even watch­ing my sis­ter, who’s just had a baby – the first out of my two sis­ters to have a kid – just see­ing how dif­fi­cult it actu­al­ly is in per­son. But then, in con­trast, Beyoncé’s just giv­en birth to two human beings, and she’s doing pho­to shoots, and we don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get the image of her look­ing tired at 4am side of it all. So, as a reg­u­lar per­son, you’re con­front­ed with all these images of all these celebri­ties who can have their baby, and snap­back in two weeks and be wear­ing a biki­ni. And even what is pro­mot­ed on Mother’s Day – flow­ers, choco­lates and thank yous – but it’s not “thank you for…”, and then list­ing all the var­i­ous things that a moth­er would do, or has done.

“And I think also, in being a mum, I mean, I’m not a mum, but from what I’ve been research­ing and see­ing, there seems to be this ele­ment of… not guilt, but you feel indebt­ed to your child, because, ulti­mate­ly, they didn’t ask to be here. So, you do every­thing in your pow­er to ensure that they’re safe, that they’re alright, but also that noth­ing that could ever harm them ends up harm­ing them.”

“I just feel compelled to tell stories. I like describing things. I like entertaining. And, more importantly, just my type of voice in storytelling… that kind of voice that is young and modern, yet very London” – Kahlia Bakosi

Bakosi’s own expe­ri­ences as a school teacher in south Lon­don also informed her writ­ing when it came to the dynam­ics of the mod­ern family.

“Being in a school envi­ron­ment, the mix of chil­dren that are gath­ered into a class­room: you have so many dif­fer­ent home expe­ri­ences. It was real­ly inter­est­ing to me to ask a class, ‘how many of you live with both of your par­ents?’, and two chil­dren put their hands up. And just com­ing to hear var­i­ous break­downs in fam­i­lies generally.

“I think the dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly dynam­ics that exist now prob­a­bly would have seemed alien many, many years ago. They have just become the norm now.

“I don’t think I know many peo­ple who don’t have a half-sib­ling or who live with both par­ents. Those things are a pleas­ant sur­prise when I hear them. Because, right now, the major­i­ty of peo­ple are in frac­tured fam­i­lies, or mod­i­fied fam­i­lies, or var­i­ous vari­a­tions of the nuclear fam­i­ly. So, I thought that was an inter­est­ing top­ic to dance around in the book.”


Bakosi’s Mum’s the Word was self-pub­lished elec­tron­i­cal­ly and in print last month. The response from read­ers has been pos­i­tive, and Bakosi says a few book clubs have also enquired about it.

Next up, Bakosi says she’s plan­ning on writ­ing a sequel to Twice.

Book writ­ing is only one part of her cre­ative pur­suits, how­ev­er. Orig­i­nal­ly study­ing to become a play­wright at the Roy­al Cen­tral School of Speech and Dra­ma, Bakosi describes her­self as “a cre­ative that loves writ­ing in any for­mat”. She has writ­ten a play, called Bot­tle Up and Explode, which is due to be per­formed at The Court­yard The­atre in Octo­ber. She is also screen­writ­ing for a web series. And, some­how, has also find­ings the time song­write and col­lab­o­rate with the south Lon­don music duo that defies labels, 808ink.

Just a few things going, then. But book writ­ing it seems will always be a favourite medi­um of hers.

“I just feel com­pelled to tell sto­ries,” says Bakosi, when asked what dri­ves her to write. “I like describ­ing things. I like enter­tain­ing. And, I think, more impor­tant­ly, just my type of voice in sto­ry­telling, I guess, is what I haven’t nec­es­sar­i­ly always seen in books.

“That kind of voice that is young and mod­ern, yet very Lon­don. And not so… ‘In cot­tage, far away, Helen and Miri­am were drink­ing tea…’ You know, that kind of a thing? I like to offer some­thing that peo­ple can relate to.

“That’s what I found as feed­back for my first book. I had a lot of peo­ple telling me they lit­er­al­ly couldn’t put it down, because they were on the phone to a friend, giv­ing them all the gos­sip – they just couldn’t drop the book. So, that makes me want to write even more, and keep peo­ple entertained.”

With her sure­foot­ed desire to express the exchanges and nuances of mod­ern life through her work, Bakosi is forg­ing her own path in the cre­ative world. One which is fuelled by her proac­tive atti­tude, her embrace of inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing and her rela­tion­ship with her supporters.

“I under­stand that my work won’t be for every­one, and I can accept and appre­ci­ate that. But I think the peo­ple who like my stuff will grav­i­tate towards it, so ulti­mate­ly, that’s who I’m writ­ing for, and that’s what com­pels me to write.”

Mum’s the Word by Kahlia Bakosi is out now. You can order it here. To keep up with all of Bakosi’s cre­ative pur­suits, fol­low her on Twit­ter and Insta­gram.

Images: Josh Allen (main); Han­na Hilli­er (body)