Writers in the Attic is back for 2020! I was actually planning on taking a break while I finished my second novel, but Covid’s thrown all our 2020 plans into disarray!
Authors rely on book tours, writers’ festivals, library talks, workshops and book clubs to help publicise their books, and with the cancellation of all live events, it makes it harder to get noticed. So my aim for Writers in the Attic this year is to help spread the word about some of these newly published books.
To kickstart the year, I have a fabulous debut author from Perth.
I’ve come to know Suzy over the past couple of years through a group we both attend and, late last year, I read her book, The Place Between, which she completed as part of a PhD in creative writing. It’s a fabulous genre-bending, intergenerational tale that examines mothers and motherhood, and asks the question, How well do we really know our mothers? More than that, it’s a story of forgiveness and a love letter to all mothers.
Suzanne Moore began her professional career as a veterinarian but, in 2004, returned to university to study creative writing, obtaining a PhD from Murdoch University. She has a special interest in women’s narratives and time theory, and her novelette, The Station, was published in Tincture in 2013. Her novel, The Place Between (Journey to Words Publishing), was published in March 2020.
Suzanne lives amongst the trees in the Perth hills, where she juggles two small children and a household of geriatric pets. When she isn’t writing, you can find her snowboarding in Japan with her family.
Writing Mothers: Living in The Place Between
The Place Between began as the creative component of my PhD thesis in creative writing and ended up in a wholly unexpected (personal) place of comfort and forgiveness. In its early form, this novel had to work double time. It needed to be a story in its own right, but it also needed to address a bigger, theoretical question around writing practices. My focus (or so I thought) was looking at theories of time to explore different ways of writing women’s lives in fiction. What I didn’t know, was that I was really writing a book to help me make sense of my own experience of the fraught, wonderful and exhausting world of motherhood.
At the time I began writing The Place Between, I was in the thick of it. I was six months pregnant with my first child and also processing the change of identity from veterinarian into mother and student. I no longer vaccinated puppies, repaired ruptured cruciate ligaments or removed corn cobs from Labradors’ intestines. Gone were the 2 a.m. caesareans and emergency call outs. Instead, I was a mother at home pursuing a PhD in creative writing (in that order) and my new roles came with a raft of practical and emotional challenges.
I decided early on in the process that mothers were going to be a central theme of my work. Specifically, I wanted to write from within motherhood, as this part of women’s lives is often conveniently glossed over in the stories we are given. But as I wrote, I struggled with striking the right tone in the portrayal of the mothers in my story. I constantly asked myself—how do I write about motherhood without either glorifying or disparaging it? Is there a ‘real’ to write about? Motherhood is, after all, a complex and infinitely variable experience that no one story can encapsulate. In the end, all I could do was write my own version and hope that others found recognition within the pages of my book.
I’m not shy in admitting that I found the transition into motherhood difficult. It wasn’t that I struggled with the day to day aspect of caring for children in a practical sense. As a vet I was all over ‘husbandry’ practices for young mammals, but in the world of raising children I found myself flailing in a new and foreign landscape. I struggled with the relentless repetition and lack of validation afforded to the daily life of being at home. I no longer knew who I was or where I belonged. My identity had been flipped on its axis and I found myself alone all day, every day. I became a physical and emotional mess.
Many times during these early years of motherhood and study I found myself unable to cope. I took extended periods of leave from university to focus on looking after my family. Then I began to resent the constant neediness of my children and the demands of running a household. Yet, when I returned to study, I was guilt riddled and unproductive. Work didn’t provide me with the break I thought I needed and I was being pulled between two versions of myself—doing justice to neither. The dreaded double bind.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that this state of ‘in-between-ness’ and shift in identity informed The Place Between, though I didn’t realise it at the time. My protagonist, Sarah, undergoes a similar transition from doctor to full-time mother and finds herself floating in unfamiliar and frightening new territory. She seeks affirmation from the world around her that she is a good mother, a good member of the community and a valued professional. She struggles with confidence, despite being highly educated. She doubts her relationships, despite the love and support that is clearly offered to her.
I realise now that I explored the ways in which I felt silenced and overwritten by my new identity through the characters of Beryl and Lillian. By contrasting their experiences as mothers across different generations I could help Sarah (and me) understand her own feelings and misgivings. I also wanted to find a way to give the other mothers in my story their own say in a world where older women are often spoken for by their daughters, where mothers are displaced by their children. To give voice to the desires women hold for themselves (that I held for myself) outside of the role of carer and nurturer. During the many years I spent writing this book I discovered that writing women’s lives links past and present, history and memory. The Place Between is as much Beryl’s story as Sarah’s. As much Lillian’s as Beryl’s. As much mine as complete fiction.
Despite its origins in confusion, trauma and struggle, The Place Between evolved from a mechanism to vent my frustrations into a love letter to mothers and motherhood. It’s a story that recognises that this is a role that isn’t always good, fun, fulfilling or positive while trying not to diminish the value and joy that accompanies it. I sought to write value into women’s domestic lives while recognising their individual needs outside of them. I wanted to celebrate the bonds between women and generations. To remember that we are all connected to histories known and histories lost and add a small pebble in the growing wall of shared stories about women’s lives. And finally, to forgive myself for finding motherhood so hard.
Suzanne has donated a signed copy of her book to one lucky reader!
So, if you’d like to win a copy, comment here (or on the posts on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram), and let us know which era in time you’d like to escape to.
The winner will be drawn randomly on Friday, 17th April, 12 noon WST.
I’m looking forward to reading your answers!