Since its publication in 2020, Madeleine White’s Mother of Floods continues to challenge the literary world and its ideas of women’s struggles from all walks of life. From the portrayal of women from carefully selected points of view to the publication of limited windows on the lives of women’s struggles in the world, Madeleine’s book still strives to throw the doors wide open and reveal the truth behind the narrow view shown to society.
We catch up with Madeleine, Founding Editor of Write On! magazine, published by Pen to Print, as well as contributor to the Margate Bookie live litfests and lit ‘zines, to talk about her book, her inspirations and the importance of events like International Women’s Day.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
I spent many years working in technology and international development with a focus on women’s economic empowerment and education. Having come across many wonderful stories, I started collating them as I wanted to give them more of a voice.
Linked to this was my growing despair at the cult of consumerism and individualism which impacts on how we lived with each other and the world around us. Even before Covid (I started writing Mother of Floods in 2017), it was evident that climate change, nationalistic tribalism, systemic cruelty and inequity has been causing us to spiral down a vicious circle. I felt a call to action was needed and, inspired by examples set by writers such as Coelho and Atwood, wanted to use fiction to do it.
The idea of truths shared by real women of differing cultures and backgrounds connected by a spiritual and digital world unseen was the way I found to connect it, all building a central narrative around an idea that even in the darkest of times, change is possible.
Another impetus was wanting to make a direct connection to the other flood many feel is overwhelming us now: the digital one. From this other ‘world unseen’, a tide of pixels and technologies is inundating the world we once knew.
The narrative connects these two – or even – three worlds: the world of the spirit, the ‘real world’ and the world of pixels – with the binary language drumming as the central force crossing them all. In Mother of Floods, I weave together some of the ideas from our earliest myths and legends to make sense of the inundation of a world spinning beyond our control and the cutting-edge technology many believe is partly responsible. A central aspect the plotline is that the impersonal, intangible information superhighway gets a soul, which has a direct impact on how the story develops.
How did it feel, using these emotional stories as the building blocks to your story?
Meeting the women who inspired these stories has, in turn, inspired me. I wanted to pass this on.
So often women’s stories from across the world, especially the emerging economies, are told through the lens of sexualisation, victimisation, or exceptional women putting up a ‘good fight’. Though it’s really important to hear these tales, storytelling goes way beyond this. I wanted to use the depth and richness of the history and cultures of some of these extraordinary women. I wanted to showcase how the ordinary can become extraordinary: shining a light on stories that connect us all on a very human level.
What does your novel mean to you?
Mother Of Floods is my manifesto. It’s about using digital connection to create positive change in the world we see, exploring pixels as a vehicle, as well as ‘beings’ in themselves.
I think for most writers their debut novel feels as though it shows the heart of who they are. For me, this takes on an extra dimension as, through the work I do (for example creating the Write On! suite of publications or Nina-Iraq Magazine previously), it has manifested some of the ideas I touch on in my novel.
Writing Mother of Floods as a speculative piece of fiction was the best way I knew to create a story that mattered, i.e. fulfilling what I see as the role of storyteller. The genre allowed me to reimagine how change might happen.
Based on forging new kinds of connections, the idea was to shift the focus from a dystopian and hopeless now, to a blueprint for a better world. Interestingly enough, at the heart of lockdown we all caught glimpses of the kindness, compassion and togetherness in the digital and ‘real space’ I use to bind my characters.
How else do you showcase stories like this and other inspirational tales?
Even before Covid, we were becoming digital natives. Now it seems we’re spending more and more of our time inhabiting the world of pixels. I am passionate about creating a way of frame working ways for people to share experience strength and hope with each other by using this new world, but in a positive way that contributes, rather than detracts from our lived experience.
In terms of the work I have done to practically showcase stories, I’ve created magazines, websites and most recently worked with partners to pull a podcast together. You can see some of this in Editor’s Introduction on Pentoprint.org . It will give readers a sense of how their own stories might contribute to a bigger one! And of course, the work of Margate Bookie also makes this happen.
With days like International Women’s Day on 8 March, how important is it for people to share and read stories such as these?
Facts are facts. We hear about the terrible loss of life, cases of abuse, deaths, natural disasters and climate change all the time. We are battered by them, very often to the point of hopelessness. In Mother of Floods, I have used stories that show humanity at its worst (for example: alcoholism, sexual abuse, poverty and eating disorders) and transformed them into tales of hope and vehicles that can drive change, through lived digital, physical and spiritual experiences.
There is power in the everyday. Turning real life events women and men from different parts of the world have gone through into a united desire for change, for themselves, their children and future generations is both powerful and possible.
The theme for 2022 International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias
Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively, we can all #BreakTheBias.
Using our shared stories and experiences to connect, creates an experience of truth. This is a lived truth that cannot be hidden or changed. If enough of us come together to share our stories in order be the change we want to see, then change is possible. Breaking bias means breaking through barriers of class, geography and expectation – and it’s very often the small things, the everyday, that can leapfrog the big headlines into our hearts and minds.
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Madeleine is hosting an International Women’s Day event on 10 March 2022.
Get your tickets here.
Grab your copy of Mother of Floods here