Praise Of Motherhood is a different kind of book to any we have previously discussed here at Solarcide. Quite possibly, the author, Phil Jourdan, is different to any of the authors we have talked to. A writer, a musician, and a co-founder of several exciting projects within the writing community, Phil has been a very busy guy this last couple of years. As a co-founder of LitReactor and Perfect Edge Books, he’s also putting in a lot of good work for his fellow authors. He’s a funny and outspoken guy, and he’s smart. Phil is a keen opponent in just about any debate within the field of literature.
Phil has chosen an interesting style for his memoir. The timeline isn’t particularly linear, and there is a large amount of speculation and projection on his behalf. These tools he has chosen to use work well. They help us get a true grip on his mindset, and for such a short book it is impressive how much of a portrait he manages to paint.
The book is very sad at times. Read the first chapter for a good example of how well Phil can handle sensitive and painful matters. He does this many times along the journey. So yes, the book is rather sombre in tone. However I have to insist that a sob-story is not enough to make a book on its own, after all, these days who doesn’t have a sad story or two to tell? The magic ingredient for successful tear-jerkers is an ability to make a complete stranger genuinely care about the author’s memories. Memoir needs to be absorbing. It needs to be challenging. On top of all that it has to compete with the entertainment value offered by the ever-expanding realms of fiction.
Praise Of Motherhood does all of those things. It’s a fast read and a raw one. It really will stay with you.
Recently we got chance to catch up with Phil and he answered a few questions about his book and his other recent projects.
Good day, Mr Phil Jourdan. So, recently you’ve been promoting a different kind of book to the other authors we’ve interviewed here at Solarcide. Praise Of Motherhood is a memoir dedicated to your late mother, who, as people who read the book will agree, was a very interesting person. If you don’t mind going into this, at what point in the process of grieving did the desire to write this book arise? Or did you always know you wanted to write about her?
I started writing something the very night she died. That something ended up being too personal and crazy and agonised. I can’t even bring myself to read it nowadays. It’s painful to remember all of that. But the night she died I was already trying to express myself in writing. The book was very different at first: pages and pages of improperly punctuated despair. It was only a couple of years into the thing that I realized it was shaping into something coherent.
It seems the sudden nature of your mother’s passing might have affected the way the book was written and there are parts that are speculative on your behalf. Were these passages themselves a kind of healing mechanism for you? The extrapolated conversations?
They didn’t help me heal. They did, however, help to make sense of things intellectually.
I have a bit of trouble accepting the idea of “healing” after someone’s death. I don’t want to be healed, but transformed. I’m not going to recover and be the exact same. The passages I think you’re referring to — long aimless conversations in the book recorded with perhaps suspicious lucidity — were condensations of bigger talks I had with my mother. And yes, a lot of it is speculative. I’d say at least half of the book is fiction. I don’t mean that I’m lying in the book, but that I had to adopt the structure of a loosely-assembled novel to make the book work. So certain associations that the reader might make between events would find no basis in the factuality of, say, an accurate biographical account of the author Phil Jourdan. I simplified, trimmed, hinted, even invented outright in the penultimate chapter, when my mother returns to life. Emotionally, the thing is entirely true. And the basic facts are all correct, as far as I can tell. But that doesn’t mean absolutely nothing was lost in the “novelisation” of the messy story.
I suppose the ultimate question to ask regarding this book is whether or not the endeavour has been successful. I think all would agree that losing a loved relative is always going to be amongst the most painful experiences that life has in store for us, so do you, as a writer, feel this experience of capturing your memories of your mother and collecting them into a literary album the way you have, to have been a benefit to you whilst facing the world after your loss?
Yes and no. Yes, certainly, I love being able to help the people around me remember my mother the way I remember her. My father, my sister, my doctor — the people who read the book all agree it’s a fair portrait of a wonderful lady.
But no, in the sense that I’m not going to get her back. And I wish I could. No matter how accomplished a particular scene might end up feeling to me in later years, I imagine the book as a whole will always seem incomplete, not-enough, not-that. If only I could meet her again and ask her to read it, see what she thinks.
How has the public response to the book been? This kind of book seems uncommon amongst the smaller presses and the online writing communities. What kind of feedback have you been getting?
Good feedback, mainly. A lot of people read it but don’t “get” why I wrote it the way I did, with all these narrative fractures and ellipses and all that slightly experimental stuff. I don’t feel I owe them an explanation, but I do sympathise. It must be a weird book to read if you pick it up expecting a straightforward memoir.
There’s been some very kind feedback from certain publications around the web, and my live readings have been good, too — mostly the people who approach me afterwards are those who have lost a parent and can relate.
This is a book, in the end, that makes more sense when you’re trying to forget and remember all at once the ghost of a loved one. I can’t blame some readers for not seeing why it was written as it was — it’s a book from a particular place for a particular audience.
You’ve recently been reading from the book live, how has that been? Something that stood out to me is that usually at this kind of gig an author is reading fiction to their audience, whilst you are reading something far more personal. Is it hard for you to stand in a stage and tell a room full of strangers about your mother and your memories?
It’s not pleasant. To be honest, I don’t enjoy reading from that book in public. It makes me feel depressed afterwards, and then I have to meet the public. It’s taxing. However, the response is often good, which shows that even when people are taken off guard by how personal what you’re reading is, they will still learn to take it in and give it a shot. Still, yeah, reading this to strangers is hard.
In addition to your more conventional writing, you are part of a band, Paris And The Hiltons, in which you write the lyrics. How much difference is there between the way you plan and draft the lyrics to a song compared to, say, a chapter of a book or a short story?
When I started the band in 2007, it was this kind of silly, badly produced rock with idiotic lyrics: “It’s just like circumcision: just a matter of precision.” That kind of thing. I didn’t put any thought into lyrics back then.
In the last couple of years I’ve taken songwriting more seriously, but the lyrics remain a problem. I don’t care about them, usually. For our third album, Reading Journals, I based the lyrics for most of the songs on the William Faulkner novel, Absalom, Absalom! and that gave me a place to start from. That was the first time I really tried not to cheat my way out of writing decent lyrics: just write about stuff that happens in the book, or at least about things that are implied in the book.
Then I do stuff like Souls out of Erebus, a stand-alone metal dubstep track where I just sing out parts of the first Canto by Ezra Pound. It’s a good way to memorise excellent poetry. I did the same once for TS Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”…
As well as been busy promoting your own work, recently you have been involved in projects to promote other people’s writing. As a co-founder of LitReactor. and Perfect Edge Books. you have found yourself now working more and more in an editorial capacity. Is this something you have always been interested in doing? What are your personal goals for these ventures, and is there anything you are particularly excited about for the future?
Oh God, don’t call me an editor. Publisher, talent scout, enabler, whatever, but not an editor.
Here’s the thing about editing: I dislike it. I don’t enjoy submitting, say, an article for a magazine and seeing how the editor changed some things to “strip down” the writing and make it more journalistic, for instance. I don’t want to inflict that on others, even though I concede it’s often necessary.
For Perfect Edge, my ambition is to release books by authors who aren’t necessarily established but who could be if given the chance. I don’t make big editorial requests — if I like the manuscript as it came in, I’m not going to tamper with it myself: I’ll let the copyeditor do his work after the author submits a final manuscript. If I feel that a submission is good but could use some work, I probably won’t accept it. The authors I’m approaching know what they’re doing most of the time. They don’t need me to interfere with their work. And if we agree that there’s significant editing to be done, they’re welcome to find someone external to Perfect Edge to help them out, and then they can show me. That’s happening with one of my authors — her manuscript was great, but she decided to take another 8 months or so to rework it. I love that kind of initiative, that independence. I see that becoming more important as self-publishing turns into a real threat for traditional publishers.
As for LitReactor, I’m happy with its success. I haven’t been directly involved with any editorial stuff (I do write some articles for it from time to time) but they’ve worked things out nicely. I think the system works. Dennis and Kirk are the real leaders here, my part was more important at the start of LitReactor — I don’t involve myself with the daily running of things.
As for the future: right now I’m focusing on finishing my next book. It should be finished this year. I hope…
Many thanks for your time, Phil, and we wish you all the best with your adventures!
See a video of Phil reading live here.
Find Paris And The Hiltons online here.
Find Phil’s blogsite, Slothrop, here.
Read Phil’s contribution to Nova Parade, the Solarcide anthology, right here.