Inspired by some of the recent genre-defying and form-challenging writing on motherhood, friends Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell decided to take a creative risk and co-write MOTHERTONGUES, an experimental book of bio-autofiction about early motherhood. It will be published by Penguin Random House in April 2022.
The best parts of motherhood are often the enriching collaborations with other women doing the same daily labours. Ceridwen and Eliza felt that motherhood as a theme naturally lends itself to collaborative writing and creating, as a way of pushing back against the entrenched assumption that art-making must be solitary to be taken seriously.
For many years, Ceridwen has been fascinated by collaborative writing (which led her to publish this essay in the New Yorker, about writing novels as a group), and Eliza has a background in theatre-acting, which by its very nature is a group act of creation. She has always been intrigued by the Theatre of the Absurd, and together they realised that this might be the perfect lens through which to explore the fragmented, absurd, banal, totally-ordinary-yet-still-extraordinary nature of mothering young children in one time and place.
This led to them beginning to search for new forms and methods of creation that could fit within their fragmented, messy lives as mothers. They began to blend literary and theatrical influences, collecting and recombining any bits and scraps of their own motherhoods that they could salvage. There are many different performances of motherhood, and masks that mothers take off and put on strategically to survive: so they trained a spotlight on the Mother on a stage, but also wandered off into the shadowy wings, to find her shadow selves. They brought all this together to craft an experimental work of bio-autofiction: not just reinventing or reshaping with the tools of fiction their own individual experiences, but each other's.
From the start of writing together, Ceridwen and Eliza were interested in blurring the boundaries between different modes of expression: prose, poetry, theatre and song.
This is why they asked their Sydney songwriter friend, Keppie Coutts, to work with them on creating eight original songs to be interspersed throughout the audiobook, in between the textual narrative. The audiobook will not be a pale aural imitation of the physical book but will create a more atmospheric audio mood. Through music and song, they can represent some of the bursts, range and depth of emotions felt by women in the years of mothering young children in a way they can’t through text alone.
This layering of intellect and emotion, the shifting from text to song, from thinking to feeling, the toggling between the cerebral and the embodied, is exactly what is required of mothers too. In this way, by taking down the boundaries between art forms, and messing things up a little, they hope to give readers – and listeners – a richer, more complex experience.
The MOTHERTONGUES album of songs will also be available for readers of the physical book to stream for free.
We ran a Pozible crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds so that Keppie could perform/record/produce these songs for the audiobook/album (working with acclaimed ARIA and APRA-nominated composers/producers/musicians Maria Alfonsine and Damian de Boos-Smith at MADBS Composing Palace). We're really grateful to all our supporters for helping us reach our goal!