Mother’s Day is almost upon us and to mark the occasion I have another Accent Press author over, the delightful Kate Glanville. Mother’s feature heavily in Kate’s novels and she’ll talk about them along with other fictional mothers and some real-life ones too! Take it away, Kate.
‘Writing about mothers,’ I replied.
He looked disdainful. ‘What do you know about mothers?’
I suggested that as I have brought up three children I might know just a little bit. I also reminded him of the relationship I have had with my own lovely mother for the last forty-eight years and the fact that the three novels I’ve had published all feature mothers as important characters.
He shrugged and asked if I’d made any flapjacks.
Mother – it is a soft, soothing word, suggesting affection, love, nurture, wisdom, and reliability. Surely a mother is someone who should give support and administer kindness to her children at all times of the day and night- a benign figure of authority, self sacrificing and generous as well as an inspirational role model – probably running marathons, participating on The Great British Bake-Off, ideally a CEO of an internationally successful, environmentally friendly company (so successful that her hours are short and she is always able to pick up her children from school) or at the very least she is a member of the PTA. A good mother prepares wholesome family meals to be eaten together round the table, she has glowing skin and shiny hair and an immaculately tidy house with children trained to clear away their own Lego and wash the dishes while cheerfully singing songs from musicals!! Oh, and a good mother never ever raises her voice – apart from joining in with loud renditions of Climb Every Mountain!
Oh dear, that doesn’t sound like me at all! Or any of the mothers I know – but then what do I know about mothers?
I do know that mothers feature in some way or another in many works of fiction. A whole spectrum of motherly behaviour from absolutely perfect to downright demonic!
In literature mothers come in many shapes and sizes, physically and metaphorically. I’m sure there have been very few absolutely perfect mothers in the history of mankind although there have been quite a few in literature: gentle (slightly saccharine) Marmee in Little Women, Molly Weasley competently holding her large family together in Harry Potter, and my own doyen of perfect motherhood – Caroline Ingalls, the devoted, ever resourceful pioneer mother in Little House on the Prairie.
There have also been some horrors too: Jeanette’s rigid, Bible bashing mother in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, the dissatisfied, egoistical Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary and the horrible Mrs Lennox in The Secret Garden – who cruelly refuses to see her daughter Mary as she finds her too ugly.
The mother has been an endless subject of fiction for millennia. So many possible variations on the theme – so many inadequacies to explore!
In my first novel, A Perfect Home, I wanted to write about a mother who is trying her best to fit the stereotype of ideal mother and wife but feels trapped within her role. Though Claire clearly loves her children the emotional abuse she suffers in her marriage leads her to have to decide whether she can sacrifice her children’s home for her own happiness. Claire is plagued by self-reproach and guilt – a mother’s worst weapons against herself. In the end she realizes it is not the physical home that binds her family together and she is able to embark on a new life with her children which serves to strengthen both her bond with them and enables Claire to become a strong, self sufficient woman.
In the beginning of the novel Claire’s own mother cannot understand the choices her daughter has made. She expects Claire to fulfil the political and academic ambitions that motherhood and lack of education have denied her in the past. Her daughter’s domesticity is a constant disappointment. A chance accident enables her to embark on a new life of her own and is able to separate her aspirations from her daughter’s, enabling mother and daughter to develop independently.
My second novel, Heartstones, had that great literary stand-by – a beautiful, lovely, caring but conveniently deceased mother. This enables the main character, Phoebe, to set out on a perilous personal journey and make numerous mistakes without the support, sympathy – or criticism – from a mother figure in the background. During the course of the novel Phoebe finds her grandmother’s diary and discovers a long-held secret that changes everything that Phoebe thought she knew about her adored grandmother and the family she comes from.
I also explore the subject of a perfect mother with a dark secret to hide in my latest novel Stargazing. Nesta is a wonderful, feisty, matriarch in her sixties (my favourite of all the characters that I’ve written so far). To her children, especially her daughter Seren, she is perfect. A classic, baking, gardening, chicken rearing maternal paragon. All her life Seren has worshiped her mother, so much so that she even lives next door! She aspires to be like her in every way. When Seren’s father leaves Nesta for a younger woman Nesta’s past begins to catch up with her and Seren’s life is thrown into turmoil. Seren’s own past has secrets too and Nesta has to realize that she hasn’t always been the good mother that she thought she’d been for her daughter.
It can be very easy to use mothers as an excuse for bad behaviour or unhappiness, in fiction and in real life! I hope I manage not to overly dwell on ‘the sins of the mothers’ in my writing. As I mentioned previously, self-reproach and guilt are easy weapons to beat ourselves with. Society is also quick to criticize and condemn mothers; the media is particularly harsh.
Being a mother is by no means an easy job! I know I have made many mistakes. I often imagine my children, as adults, with some earnest therapist asking ‘And how did it make you feel when your mother did/ said/ didn’t do that?’
Indeed they already seem to take great pleasure in listing the things I have done wrong – such as constantly being late to pick them up from school, forgetting to buy tomato sauce, not going to one sports day (out of twelve!), getting drunk at a children’s Halloween party and dancing on the table to Abba songs with my friends (all other mothers – all also drunk!) What can I do? The damage is done!
I often find myself questioning my own conduct as a mother, holding up those literary examples to analyse my behaviour– am I being too much like Emma Bovary? How can I be more like Caroline Ingalls? A good friend recently suggested I should aim for something in the middle – between the two.
Harry is back, opening all the empty biscuit tins, sighing about the lack of food.
‘Found anything out about mothers?’ he asks.
I smile benignly and try to channel Mrs Waterbury – E. Nesbit’s lovely mother from The Railway Children. ‘Yes, Darling. I think I have. Only in fiction can mothers be perfect. In real life we’re always going to get things wrong and blame ourselves, but most of the time we’re only trying to do our best.’
Harry shrugs again. ‘So you haven’t made any flapjacks yet?’
My internal Caroline Ingalls smoothes down her apron while Emma Bovary eyes up the gin.
Kate Glanville was born in West Africa to Irish parents. Kate now lives in the village of Bethlehem on the edge on The Brecon Beacons National Park with her three children, four cats, a crazy dog, a rabbit and three sheep . She graduated with a degree in fashion design at Central St. Martins and worked in the textile industry before becoming a ceramic artist. Kate’s tableware designs have been sold in shops and galleries all over the world including Liberty, Conran Shop, Fortnum & Masons and Fired Earth. Among her many customers Kate has produced ceramics for The Prince of Wales, Madonna, Roger Daltry and Robbie Williams. Despite a successful career as a visual artist Kate has been writing stories since the age of eight! A Perfect Home (published in 2012 by Penguin US under the name Kitty Glanville)and Heartstones are her first two novels, both published by Accent Press in the UK and in Germany and Norway. Stargazing is published by Accent in the UK in 2016 and also in Germany. Kate is currently working on her fourth novel.
Thanks so much for coming over, Kate. Now back to that kitchen!
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