It's December 6. Heather Birrell, author of Mad Hope, reminds us that it takes a village.
How would you describe your story?
HEATHER BIRRELL: Funny, sad, uplifting. Definitely life-changing. Transcendent? Probably. It’s about women bonding, finding virtual respite, support and disconnect in an online pregnancy forum.
When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare with your other work?
HB: I wrote it in 2011/2012. My children were born in 2008 and 2011, so I was in the thick of growing and birthing and tending to babies and toddlers. I often felt lonely and dizzy with fatigue. I both appreciated and resented the mothering communities I discovered online. One of the voices in the story, Wings, came to me pretty fully formed. She’s a bit obnoxious—she needed someone to antagonize and someone who would push back against her. So, these voices started piping up… And then I had some help shaping them from my editor, Alana Wilcox, at Coach House Books. The process? Similar in that the story came to me piecemeal then eventually gained momentum. Different in that the form was something I hadn’t tried before.
What, for you, are the essential elements of a good short story?
HB: I look for a kind of narrative energy and charisma, which often depends on attention to language and voice. Also: a struggle to find meaning—a struggle that is not always successful or complete! I like the raggedness and authenticity a short story can provide.
Did the story require any research?
HB: I think it was more that my personal ‘research'—the mad, compulsive googling of a new mother—required a story. The ‘characters’ and notions I encountered in forums and comment sections were too various and compelling to resist. And the format lends itself well to a chorus of voices, which was appealing to me.
Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?
What's on your Christmas list this year?
HB: World Peace—and I say that with equal parts yearning, irony, and hopefulness. One Terry’s Chocolate Orange.