Sarah Crossan: ‘People say they don’t approve of books about affairs’

Women in particular have been judgmental about her story of an extramarital affair

The title of Sarah Crossan’s first novel for adults is taken from an American nursery rhyme, Here Is the Beehive. It’s a counting rhyme, but like so many fairy tales and nursery rhymes for children, it has an underlying aura of the sinister. “Here is the beehive,/ Where are the bees?/ Hidden away where nobody sees.”

What is hidden away in this novel is a three-year affair between two people who are married, Ana and Connor, and who both have children.

Crossan is a former Laureate na nÓg or Children’s Laureate, and the author of several award-winning books for young adults, including Toffee and The Weight of Water. News last year of her first novel for adults attracted attention due to the professionally vague wording that publishers love of a “six-figure-sum” – but not the exact sum – attached to the deal.

It’s her first novel for adults, although she has wanted to write one for some time. What held her back? “I made the assumption that writing for children was what I knew, but of course I know adults as well. I do think there is still a snobbery, including among writers who don’t write children’s books, about children’s writers. That we are not as important.”


Written in the blank verse that distinguishes some of her other books, Here Is the Beehive starts with an ending. It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that Connor is dead when the novel begins, as we learn this on page two. He has very recently died in a road accident, leaving behind a wife, three children and his secret lover, Ana. It’s a gripping, voyeuristic-feeling read that gallops along.

Hidden relationships

“I wanted to write about grief,” Crossan explains by phone from her home in England. The plot for the book came via a friend. “I have a friend who was in a secret relationship, and the person she was in the relationship with was in an accident. She made over 80 calls to him before she got hold of him. She said to me, what would have happened if he had died? Nobody would have known about her. She realised then that this relationship had to be over for her.”

After Crossan heard this story, she did some of her own research by conducting straw polls among friends. She asked them if they knew of women who had been in a similar type of hidden sexual and romantic relationship. It turned out many of the women she asked had themselves at some point been in those relationships.

What does she think her character of Ana is looking for?

“She is looking to find herself again; who she is outside motherhood,” Crossan says. Ana has two small children. “There is a lot of judgment on women who take on the role of motherhood. And women always have to make choices between work and family.”

Connor also has children, but we don’t get inside his head the way we do with Ana’s. “We are all looking for love and belonging. Connor sees her in ways her husband has stopped seeing her. It happens in a lot of relationships.”

Early readers have been posting reviews on social media, and Crossan has been surprised to see how judgmental women readers in particular have been about her fictional story of an extramarital affair.

Cheating women

“People are saying things like: ‘I don’t normally approve of books about affairs.’ I wonder if that reaction is about being confronted by the voice of a woman having an affair? Is having an affair still seen as something threatening? No matter how liberal we feel we might be, there is judgment, and women saying, I hope I am not going to be the woman who is cheated on, in the way Connor’s wife is.”

Crossan was born in London, grew up in Ireland, and moved back to the English capital as a young adult. “I was always having to explain my Irishness to people. There would be a real investigation; people would ask me if I was really Irish. My Dad is from Donegal. I had never questioned my Irishness before. I felt like, if I’m not Irish, then who am I?”

Crossan now tells those who ask that she is an “Irish Londoner”. “That’s who I am. I don’t think anyone else gets to tell you who you are.”

There will be a second novel for adults, as she signed a two-book deal. Crossan is fascinated by the biblical character of Mary Magdalene, and says she wants to write about her some day.

“I’m interested in the idea of the fallen woman,” she says. “Of the woman who expresses her sexuality outside marriage. Men aren’t judged in the same way when they do that, are they?”

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan is published by Bloomsbury Circus