My friend and much-loved Western Australian author, Sara Foster, visits the attic today.
After writing six bestselling psychological suspense novels, Sara’s latest book, The Hush, is a near-future thriller that has been garnering critical acclaim around the country. Sara wrote this story as part of her doctoral studies at Curtin University, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to the attic to talk about her book and the way mothers are depicted in literature.
Rewriting the Maternal Voice in Fiction
I don’t remember the exact moment that sparked the idea for The Hush, but it was somewhere in the midst of those woozy days of new motherhood, when the dreamlike presence of a brand-new tiny human was also provoking a raw realisation of my immense responsibility to her; that her little body was entirely dependent on my attention, my alertness, the quality of my reactions to her needs.
As my days moved between exhausted bliss, preternatural anxiety and bovine-like practicality, I sat for hours with a baby at my breast and a book uncomfortably positioned behind her on the feeding cushion. I was drawn to the fast-paced popular fiction of the time, the young adult novels with dynamic heroines that were storming the bestseller charts: trilogies like The Hunger Games, Uglies, and Matched, to name but a few. This was partly because I wanted fast-paced, exciting reads to counter my sleep deprivation, and also because I was curious about why these books were appealing to so many. And, probably because I was still adjusting to my new enshrined and yet enslaved role in another human’s life, I began to notice something curious about the genre. That, despite these young female protagonists’ drive to fight for the lives they wanted and sometimes save the world, none of their positive attributes seemed to come from their mothers, who were invariably missing, whether emotionally or physically, temporarily or permanently.
And so, as I gazed into the future and imagined how my own relationship might develop with my daughter, and realised how much I wanted to protect her and energise her to live fully and authentically as whatever kind of woman she wanted to be, I began to wonder: What does it mean if novels present teenage girls with regular renderings of dead, depressed or ineffectual mothers? If this fiction is speaking to them so vividly about the possibilities for young women, what is it also telling them about mothers and motherhood? About their own potential future?
And I knew I wanted to write a different kind of story.
It took me so long that my baby was almost a teenager when The Hush was finally published – and in the meantime I’d had another little girl who sparked a new fervour of questions and reimaginings as I wrote. It took me six years of doctoral study into gender, motherhood, feminism and culture to construct the themes of the fiction as I wanted to – working part-time because, as a mother of two, I couldn’t sideline the practicalities of my roles as both income-earner and mother to immerse myself full-time in this passion.
Obsessed as I was with the research into the impossible, idealistic portrayals of motherhood that all mothers are asked to live up to – the splitting of the self that a mother-woman experiences as a never-ending rupture, delivered in competing cultural visions of how she should exist – I was also living the research and struggling to combine my work with being an available, hands-on mum.
Over the years, I dug in, and The Hush slowly emerged, with a central mother-daughter story, told, importantly, from both points of view, and with a background chorus of relatives and friends that enfolded the main characters into a much larger female-centric narrative and celebration of all the wonderful things that women bring to even the most arduous life circumstances.
I didn’t just write this novel for daughters, I wrote it for women of all generations, so they would have something to read together. I wanted to offer up a narrative that doesn’t steal the story from one woman in order to give it to another, but tries to represent women’s experience across the mythical lines that are laid down to divide us.
And so I hope that while The Hush looks unflinchingly at the ideologies and circumstances that silence the complexity of female voices and experiences, it also brings forward the knowledge that beyond all this, many women are still breaking down the bias and uplifting one another, while moving ever onward, together.
I’m thrilled to offer a copy of Sara’s book, The Hush, to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on this blog or any of my social media posts about Sara’s novel.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Friday, 1st April (no, it won’t be an April Fool’s joke!), and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.