Motherlands and the Ongoing Trials of the Writer
"Writing takes a great deal of sweat. [...] It's during the painstaking redrafting process that the music of [the] work emerges."
- Underline magazine (Summer 2017/2018), Penguin
Motherlands is based on real people’s lives and history. As such, I owe it to the memory of my mother and grandmother to portray them as dynamic if sometimes flawed women of their generations. The documentation available generated myriad questions, some of which crept out of the shadows. And what I discovered was very confronting.
My grandmother's legacy to me, was a small dark stone that lodged in my heart at a very early age. It sat there silently for decades until I started peeling back the layers of our collective past. Until I discovered again, the power of that small dark stone that my grandmother passed down to my mother and then to me. It was the catalyst for our story, a saga of three generations of women spanning at least one hundred years, two world wars, three oceans and three continents. Writing this book has changed my understanding of many things. It brought insight and compassion for the motivations of others and for myself. It also brought a greater understanding of the painstaking, solitary act of writing. At times while writing this story, I felt like the doctor in Margaret Atwood’s book, Alias Grace. Brain-fevered. Bereft. And finally, relieved to have gained some insight, as are some members of the family who are now filling in the gaps.
Now that the book is written, the painstaking task of editing and rewriting is underway. Urged on by a friend who is a journalist, I had started out with no fixed destination and no clear plan. The collection of documents, photos, letters were scattered in boxes, books and random corners. The verbatim accounts and anecdotes garnered from relatives and friends bubbled up randomly. And during this process, shreds of conversation, scraps of images and memories floated to the surface. All of these needed to be confirmed and made sense of, then woven into a narrative that would accurately and empathically depict the women of my family and women of their generations, who would otherwise be ignored by history.
In a few places, instead of entirely removing text, I have cut it down and moved it to another chapter. Or the main characters have spoken for themselves through diary entries or letters. In others, I have created links and added context to emphasise the main aims of the book Finally, I realised that what had originally seemed a fairly straightforward narrative, was far from that. Clearly, if I spelt it out as plainly as I might have, it could cause a rift with a family member, that’s how deep it goes. I had no idea of all this when I started on this path.
But it has been worth it to see this work emerging, polished and sculpted like a piece of marble. Next I'll be looking for some readers before it goes to print.
On my next blog post, you will find the first chapter of Motherlands in its latest version. If you like it, I'd love it if you would buy a copy of the book. It is the story of the lives of only three women, out of countless unrecorded women and their families uprooted and displaced by history.
MOTHERLANDS - About the story
A dark stone already lay on my heart the day I slipped unnoticed into the sea. My grandmother had passed it on to my mother, then to me. Its mother-lode was abuse, war and displacement.
It also propelled my grandmother Ethel, my mother Margaret and me far from our Liverpool roots across three vast oceans and continents. This alchemy gave birth to heartbreak and resilience, isolation and connection and finally, compassion.
Written in a mix of letters, journal entries and magical realism, Motherlands is a family saga told in the voices of three generations of women, flung to the far corners of the earth. Emerging from the cauldron that was industrial Liverpool, the Bootle shipyards and the Women’s Rights movement, the story opens in 1916 during World War I. Ethel’s mantra and that of her mother, was her legacy, “A woman should always have her own money.” Traumatised by domestic changes due to her mother’s death and the remarriage of her father, she was deprived of an independent income, pushed into an abusive marriage and nearly starved during the Liverpool Blitz. She unwittingly passed on that trauma to her five children and that included my mother.
‘The ties that strangle’ best describes the events that followed. Ethel was a tiger. She alienated and manipulated her children’s partners, even her grandchildren in her mission to protect her only daughter Margaret, whom she pushed into early marriage. Married into military life after World War II, Margaret shuttled restlessly between England and Canada, dispersing her precious children on the way.
That dark stone had once more been passed down through the generations. Carrying this trauma, Ethel’s daughter and granddaughter were buffeted by ever-shifting circumstances and this brought me all the way to Australia. It was only recently that I unearthed the origins of their drama and gained compassion.
This work would sit on the shelf alongside books like Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits, Carol Shield’s The Stone Diaries, Sadie Jones’ Small Wars or even Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. Looking over my shoulder are Australian writer Charmian Clift and British authors Laurie Lee and Alan Bennet.
When I left for Australia in the early 1970s I drew no connections between my family’s origins, my life on military bases and the cultural and feminist issues I was soon confronted with. Nor did I understand the profound implications of that act on the women of my family.
COPYRIGHT: Magz Morgan 2018
"Although women and children are covered by the general legislation and included in immigration records as wives and families, they are rarely referred to specifically.” – Your Story, Our Story
“We are all foreigners. Almost everywhere.” - German bumper sticker