On Wednesday 23rd October, Pippa Grace will be launching her book, Mother in Mother, a collection of stories from over 50 women, discussing their maternal lineage and the impact this has on their own parenting. The anthology is a collation of previous art projects, including Mother in the Mother and Mothering the Mother, all created by Pippa, an artist with ” the belief that everyone has a story to tell and that the telling of these stories has an intrinsic value both to the teller and their community.”
When a woman becomes a mother, it is often a time she reflects back upon the way she herself was mothered. Our maternal inheritance from our mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and beyond can have a great influence upon the ways in which we choose to bring up our own children. Whilst much has been written about the complexity of the mother/daughter relationship, Mother in the Mother explores new territory by looking at the three-way relationship between grandmother, mother and child.One Story
What inspired you to create this book?
I work as a socially engaged artist. On Mothers’ day 2012, 9 months after the birth of my second daughter, I set up a participatory arts project for mums. The concept was to get women together, in creative, nurturing spaces where they could reflect on their journeys into motherhood and explore their relationship to their maternal lineage. I’m estranged from my own birth mother. Becoming pregnant, and giving birth to two girls, caused me to reflect a lot on my own story of maternal lineage and I felt that this subject was of interest to many women. One question that all women who got involved in the project faced at some point was “Does the way in which you were mothered affect the ways in which you parent your own child/children?”.
3 years later the project had received funding for the project form Arts Council England and Bristol City Council. Over 200 women had been involved in the project and shared their stories and experiences with me. On Mother’s Day 2015, we opened a mixed media exhibition showing photographic, film, sculptural, writing and bookmaking work created during the project. Woman’s Hour featured a piece about the project and interviewed me and some of the women involved in the project.
I created a book of photographs and stories to accompany the exhibition I felt that this book, and these women’s stories, deserved to be read more widely. So following the exhibition I applied to Arts Council England and was awarded a further grant to run more workshops, collect more stories from a greater diversity of women, and to work towards a publishing deal. This was great as it meant that I got to run workshops specifically for LGBTQ+ women, BAME women, Young mums, and women had who been adopted or who had adoptive children.
I pulled all the stories together and wrote an introduction with my personal story and motivation for running this project. Just under a year ago I started to approach publishers and had the good fortune to get a very enthusiastic response from Lucy Pearce at www.womancraftpublishing.com
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in getting your book to this point?
I think the hardest thing has been continuing to believe in myself and the project. There was a fairly bleak time I remember in the autumn after the exhibition back in 2015. All my funding had run out. I had barely any income and was just starting the new funding application. One month I was being interviewed for Woman’s Hour and loads of women were celebrating the project, the next I felt very alone, small and started to doubt in myself. I had to get through lots of dark thoughts and self-doubt to remember that the project held value for a lot of people, and was worth continuing with.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
The day I had finished writing the book I sent it out to 2 people – Lucy Pearce at Womancraft and Naomi Stadlen, best selling author of What Mother’s Do. It was a pretty chunky PDF to get through and I expected a long wait to hear anything and to have to trawl through lots of publishers. But within 24 hours I received incredible responses from both of them, Lucy keen to publish the book and Naomi to write the foreword. I got the sense that the book had touched them personally, viscerally, and that they could see its value. After months of writing and editing alone, this was such amazing validation.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned and what impact has it had on what you do going forward?
I think it’s a phrase that I came across in a yoga class – ‘No Mud, No Lotus’. Without the tough, difficult, muddy times, we don’t get to flower beautifully. This was true for myself and my story, but also for many of the women involved in the project. Some of them had been through heartachingly difficult times, surviving traumas, bereavements, abusive situations and self-doubt. And every day they continued to mother their children to their best ability, emulating the concept of the ‘good enough mother’ and providing their children with love and a secure attachment.
Going forward, I feel confident that the work I do is valuable within our society. I want to facilitate people to tell their stories, especially where their voices have been belittled or silenced. At the moment I am very focussed on working with women, and my next project is with women who have suffered sexual violence and abuse.
Have you learned anything from the process of writing the book that influences your daily life?
I guess I’ve learnt to better look after my own health and wellbeing in order to nourish myself. It’s easy to feel isolated when writing, so I try and hot desk and be around other people wherever possible. I also make sure that I don’t get too tied to my laptop. I find it vital to get out in the fresh air and do something physical every day. And I try not to neglect my sculptural practice, it’s really great to be able to create in a variety of ways.
Which female author is the most inspiring to you?
Wow, so many! I’ve been on a spate of reading Barbara Kingsolver and Zadie Smith this year. But always for me, I would come back to Jeanette Winterson. Her use of words is stunning. Sometimes just one phrase feels like it opens up a new window in my head. I remember watching the BBC adaptation of Oranges as a child, I’d never seen anything like it before. And as an adult, I’ve read and studied many of her books. I loved her recent The Gap of Time where she retells Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It contains a richness and sense of hope that isn’t always there in her earlier fiction. But most of all I love ‘Why be Happy When You Could be Normal’ for its depth of humanity.
“Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home–they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.”
“That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”
“I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”
― Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
What do you think is the best book for positive female role models?
This may seem a strange choice as there are lots of patriarchal themes, but I love the line of women in Isabelle Allende’s The House of the Spirits – Nivea, Clara, Blanca and Alba. Especially Alba who survives imprisonment and torture by recalling and rewriting the family’s story. These are women, within a deeply patriarchal society, who are voicing their own stories.
Find Pippa online at www.one-story.co.uk
If you would like to attend the launch of the book, this will be held at Colston Hall, Bristol, at 5pm on Wednesday 23rd October. Get your tickets here