BackStory: Five Questions with TM Upchurch
Author of There Will Be No Lace
What inspired you to write this piece?
I was researching 20th century adoption, reading about a “mother and baby home” that operated from the late 18th century to the 1970s. Unmarried, pregnant women, isolated by stigma and poverty, were taken in by religious institutions where they were made to do menial work under punitive conditions, while their babies were taken away for adoption.
The mothers’ fear and loss must have felt debilitating, but a few fought back and managed to keep their babies. I tried to bring aspects of this to the story, I wanted the young mother’s warmth and defiance to show through, and her continuing love for her child.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I thought about including other girls in the story, perhaps a group of unmarried mothers being herded into institutions (to reflect that this happened to a lot of women), but decided to keep it simple and retain a sense of isolation.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
I’m a mother. I wrote this piece shortly after having a baby, and edited it while he snuggled under my chin.
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
I love it when fiction offers insight into unfamiliar lives, allowing us to explore other cultures or experiences. Historical fiction takes us to worlds we can no longer visit, and introduces people we can’t meet, who face challenges that we might struggle to imagine. I particularly love the little details that tell us we’re in a strange land: brooms, milk buckets, ink bottles and warming pans.
By the same token, writing about the past is really tricky – I remember drafting a story set in a 1960s kitchen, and having to consider whether linoleum had been invented yet, whether they would have a vacuum cleaner or a Ewbank, and whether kettles would be wired or on the hob? Lots of research for a snippet of atmosphere. At least flash fiction, which leaves a lot of detail to the reader’s imagination, is relatively forgiving. I have huge admiration for authors of historical novels.
We are open to imagined and alternate histories as long as each story rings true of itself. How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
I need a story to be consistent more than I need it to be real. If we’re purple space druids who can fly, that’s fine – I’ll fly. But a 19th century priest riding a 20th century bicycle needs an explanation, or to get off and walk.
That said, as a reader (or when I watch films), I suspend my disbelief right at the beginning and just let the story carry me. I’m here to enjoy the ride.
TM Upchurch lives and writes in a small house overlooking the Atlantic. Her fiction has been published in print and online, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and HISSAC short story competition. She is currently working on her first novel. She tweets as @tmupchurch and blogs at www.tmupchurch.com.
Image from Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery (New York, 1836).