BackStory: Six Questions with Grace Palmer
Author of In 1960…
What inspired you to write this ‘In 1960…’?
I was researching a story about medical research and how, historically, drug trials were not routinely tested on women, or pregnant animals. I then remembered a chance remark my mother made in her eighties. Like many women, she’d been prescribed the drug, Thalidomide, for morning sickness during one of her pregnancies, but she refused it. Checking the dates, I had a lucky escape in the womb. Growing up, I met those born with unconventional limbs. What stories might a mother tell herself and others, years later? What would she include or exclude?
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
Nuala O’Connor’s multi-layered prose surprises and astounds. Her flash fictions are complex and playful with a magnificent heart. I’ve just finished reading her novel ‘Miss Emily,’ and want to reread it to let the language soak in. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is an extraordinary historical novel, full of poetic, lyrical sentences. Her prose is a powerhouse; fluid and free. Joanna Campbell’s novella in flash in the collection, How to Make A Window Snake, is strong on character and emotion. Her work is wide ranging in tone and subject matter and the story worlds and voices she creates are unique and realistic.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I researched the medical background and websites representing the families. For decades, families fought protracted court battles with the drug company for appropriate compensation. It took fifty years before they received an apology from the drug company.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
Very little, apart from having experienced pregnancy. In this story I wanted to convey the otherness of pregnancy, the transformation and queasiness which the mother focuses on while recounting that period of her pregnancy.
What do you like most about writing flash?
Flash is precise, playful and economic. The editing process for flash is like faceting a precious stone. You chip away the excess, choose a precise word or phrase, and check for rhythm until you’ve turned the work into a jewel that sparkles, that lets the light in and the light out.
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
Facts can be slippery and tonally you need to hit the right notes, but there is freedom for your imagination to wander in the woods and go a little wild.
Grace Palmer’s stories have been longlisted for the 2018 Tongues & Groove prose poetry award and the 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize. She’s currently editing two novels. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, teaches creative writing to adults, and runs Novel Nights. Find her online at www.wordpoppy.com or on Twitter at @wordpoppy.
Image courtesy of the FDA.