Coming Down to Earth with Novelist and Mother Who Makes, Matilda Leyser
Transcript from The Second Chapter podcast episode, released 02.August.2023
This transcription was automatically transcribed and may contain typos and errors
[00:00:00] Kristin: Yay. The Second Chapter is back. I'm your host Kristin Duffy, and I'm thrilled to be here for season 10. My month-long break turned into two months, but only because I was busy practicing what I preach, living and working my multihyphenate own second chapter as an actor and producer, and then taking a few days of actual rest.
But I couldn't stay away for too long because I'm always so excited to speak with women who have changed their lives and their careers after 35. So I'm thrilled to be back here with you doing it. This week's guest is quite the multi-hyphenate herself with multiple life changes and currently several simultaneous careers.
When I read about Matilda Leyser's book, No Season But the Summer, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. It's a novel that combines the Greek Persephone myth with modern-day England climate change, and ultimately a story about mother-daughter relationships. When I heard that it was also part of her second chapter story, I couldn't wait to chat with her, and I'm really excited she's here with me today.
Matilda is a theatre maker, writer and artistic director of mothers who make. Prior to becoming a mother, she worked for 10 years as a circus aerialist, collaborating with diverse theatre and dance companies, and making her own work. She came down to Earth in 2008 and became an associate director with Improbable.
She became a mother in 2012 and considers motherhood and her writing to be far more dangerous endeavours than being a circus aerialist.
[00:01:25] Matilda: This is unfair. I've spent 10 years in the air and I come down to earth, take up writing, and I get a serious arm injury.
And I couldn't type, I couldn't do it. But it was the best thing that could have happened to me because it meant I had to really slow down.
I had to realise that writing is actually a creative activity. I still associated words with the academic and not really realised that I could treat an empty page, like an empty rehearsal room.
[00:01:52] Kristin: Hi Matilda, thanks for joining me,
[00:01:55] Matilda: Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
[00:01:59] Kristin: and how are you doing?
[00:02:00] Matilda: Kind of struggling with being between chapters, to be honest, holding many different roles and threads and challenges. But I'm very glad to be on a podcast called The Second Chapter. I was actually counting up while not sleeping in bed last night.
I think I'm on my fourth chapter. But really, really glad to have the acknowledgement that life can have more than one story in it.
[00:02:27] Kristin: I, I mentioned all the things that you're doing and have done in the intro, but I wanna read this quote that I got from your website, which is, I am many different things at different times and sometimes several at once, which I think embodies, even though I call it the second chapter, most of the guests that come on the show, because it's very rare, even though it might be a very definitive, I was this and now I do this for my job or in my life. I don't Think any of us really hold one or two roles.
[00:02:59] Matilda: No. and even when you've moved on from one identity, it, it also carries on, even when you, for me, for example, I spent 10 years being an aerialist, and I, that's very present with me even in this chapter that I'm just completing now. I would say
[00:03:15] Kristin: the reason that I know you and have asked you to come on is I saw that your book No Season, But the Summer was coming out. I was incredibly excited about the story, but that kind of takes me back to your beginnings, which I know you had, what you say was a house that was propped up on books as well as bricks.
So tell me about your childhood growing up with words.
[00:03:40] Matilda: Oh. So I was born in a little village called Islip. Literally born. 'cause my mom spanned an interesting generation where she had to fight to have her first child in hospital. 'cause that was not the done thing then. And by the time I came along and her youngest child, she had to fight to have me at home.
'cause that had the cultural shift had taken place in that span of time. So I was born in Islip, in Oxfordshire. To two medieval historians. And we now we're a family of, so my parents had four children. My eldest brother is also a medieval historian. And then my sister is a very high powered scientist.
She was at Cambridge for many years, even Dame. Um, So a very academic-heavy household.
And, Yeah and a dilapidated house that I think in some instances was literally held up with books as well as bricks. There were certainly tables, shelves certain furniture items that were, the legs.
The legs were replaced with books. And that was that was work, you know, that was all, the kind of enormous privilege that comes with growing up within Oxford as home and the [00:05:00] challenges of the weight of that. And it took me a long time and a whole life chapter of 10 years being a circus aerialist to find my way, my own way back to words in that wasn't academic
[00:05:16] Kristin: The aerialist thing.
I know from reading about you that you went to school or went to university to actually study words,
but then afterwards ran away to the circus. Now in my mind, that's something to become an aerialist, I imagine, lifetime of training and bravery and 'cause I think it's scary.
How did you do that after university and how does one run away to the circus
[00:05:42] Matilda: Yeah. So,
I did love words and stories. I still do. So I did want to, and when I was very little, I wanted to be a writer. So I did I didn't just go to university and read English literature because that was the expected path, which it was, but it wasn't, I did also want to do that. But then afterwards had, did need to do something different.
So really I say I ran away to join the circus because, it's a good line, isn't it? But really, I feel it's a bit of a cheat because I went to circus school, which, is not that, it's not really so rebellious as just running away with a
[00:06:24] Kristin: Climbing on the back of a, like a train carriage
in this romantic cinema way.
[00:06:29] Matilda: exactly.
Do that partly because I don't know if I'm rebellious at heart. I love being a student oh, a chance to go leave university and then go to another kind of school. Brilliant.
[00:06:41] Kristin: I am a hundred percent with you on that. I think if I could just study forever and ever,
I'd be the
most learned person in the
[00:06:49] Matilda: I had always done a dance and theatre alongside my academic training and actually now I look back on it. Part of what I find interesting is that circus for me is so steeped in metaphors. We, we regularly talk about juggling things, juggling different life stories and challenges balancing supporting, there's so many metaphors that are really deeply embedded in our language.
So much we barely recognise them as metaphors anymore. That actually circus is all about physically embodying. So I think that was part of my attraction to it.
[00:07:28] Kristin: coming from America originally, and a lot of listeners will be listening, we think of the circus as one thing, whereas circus here is such a different
[00:07:36] Matilda: so that's the other thing. Thank you. You've reminded me that I was gonna say is that I had the idea or was received the idea at a lucky moment. There has been a sort of tremendous cultural shift in the last 30 years around circus in the uk, a bit behind Europe really, where it has a different status again.
But it you basically where it's transitioned from a kind of seen as a commercial marginalised art form the big top model, going round, doing a glitzy act to It's been trying to get in there as a serious art form and has to a large degree, although there's still issues around its status and a kind of ongoing uneasy relationship between what it gets called traditional circus and new circus and whether those labels are helpful or just divisive.
But I the very existence of a circus school actually was part of the kind of new circus brigade. And that has really flourished since the Millennium Dome and the presence of circus within that whole celebration within the uk that a whole cohort of circus performance came out of.
And going back to your original point undermining the idea that you had to be born into it and trained since you were a toddler. One of the things that's been fantastic about the kind of explosion of circus arts in the country is the recognition that it actually.
They're both do involve a huge amount of training and at a certain level are really accessible and really empowering because actually if you just go to a, a class once a week for a year, you can do some trap pea and people find that sexy and exciting and liberating because it's still got this kind of romantic mystique about it.
And also because of the literal physical experience of pulling yourself up and holding your own weight is exciting. I think partly because of the link back to the metaphors that I was talking about that, that we live by
[00:09:39] Kristin: And I do think, I say that I find it really scary, but I've done a little bit of, silks and things like that. Let me say it a different way. I've done like aerial yoga in a very safe, easy way, not silks, but there is something incredibly empowering and about just being a little bit braver than [00:10:00] maybe I think I am.
And as someone who grew up with books and know you, I know that you climbed trees and did things like that. My, that was my sister. I was the one sitting under the tree
[00:10:10] Matilda: yeah, Yeah.
[00:10:11] Kristin: And I do have, a few friends that have done some pretty impressive things in their adulthood. So there is a real empowerment I think, as well
[00:10:19] Matilda: I think so too.
[00:10:21] Kristin: to doing things with your body that you didn't think you could maybe.
[00:10:23] Matilda: exactly. Exactly. And that you can do that without obviously there's still people who train and join Cirque du Sole or, that, that does take like full on life commitment, but that doesn't negate the experience and even output of artists working at different levels with the skills.
[00:10:43] Kristin: So alongside this, or while this was happening, you have your theatre company Improbable. Tell me about how that came about.
[00:10:51] Matilda: Yeah, so that's actually the chapter after the aerial chapter.
there was a little bit of overlap. The first show I did with Improbable, I spoke about trying to retire from the air and come down to ground, and I did about the kind of, three, three minutes of aerial in that show where I, and climbed on the set quite a bit.
But essentially I spent my 10 years in the air which was fantastic. And because circus was fashionable and on the Up, opened up extraordinary opportunities to perform, at the National Theater The Globe at Klein born Opera. But ultimately also frustrated me. It started closing down the doors because of the. Assumptions, which I was busy trying to undo, but couldn't undo them fast enough around, around circus and circus performers. And the kind of often circus became like a thing that you know, when I collaborated with theatre companies we were the sexy, clever thing that was brought in to spice up the show, but had a kind of marginalized and different segregated status from the actors who were still were the ones that got to say the words.
[00:12:03] Kristin: That's the thing is you're talking about these metaphors and things like that, and you can show them, but I can imagine that you want more than just, you are an actor, you're a performer. You're not just someone to come in and go, watch me, climb up a rope. It's really sexy.
[00:12:18] Matilda: yeah. So I got frustrated by that, by how some there, there was an assumption that, some, I heard a director once saying, oh, she's really quite intelligent for an aerialist, that kind of really base level
[00:12:30] Kristin: Nice. Thank you.
[00:12:33] Matilda: assumption. and I did an audition once with Mark Rylance, who was amazing. But I remember him saying to me, giving me the note to think of the text like a rope that I followed. And I didn't say to him at the time 'cause I was far too intimidated and, actually it's the other way round for me.
The words were what I started with, so I need to think of, it's so all of that. And I started realising that I was although it seems daring and exciting, it's easy to hide behind the skills ultimately 'cause you can, it's like an amazing party trick.
You can climb up a rope and hang upside down and do a twirl. And actually what I was always interested in was vulnerability and that it stopped feeling vulnerable even though I was 10 meters in the air, it wasn't really vulnerable. So at that point I knew I had to come back down and face the fact that I come from a family of Oxford academics and I love words well as moving that.
So I came back down and the first job I got oh, I know what I did. Sorry. I also ran away. I ran away from the circus. 'cause of a comment a director I was working with made I went and did the absolute opposite of, I did an MA in European classical acting, Which was really outside my performing identity going and doing like a classical acting training felt really excitingly outside of the frame of my identity.
But I guess was a reaction to what I was just talking about with the ariel, where I was like, damn it, I'm gonna go and do this actor training that all these actors who get given the words have done.
[00:14:14] Kristin: how did that lead to Improbable
[00:14:16] Matilda: so I did that was the drama, the then drama center, which is now sadly closed down. But and that kind of led me back to words. And then there was a job, there was a job that they were making a show at the time improbable called Panic about the Great God Pan. So another ancient Greek myth reappropriated or explored 'cause that's what my novel is about as well. So they were making show called Panic and they were looking for some nymphs. It was a show with Phelim McDermott as the Great God Pan. And they were looking for three women to to obviously not be backing singers, but also be[00:15:00] to, because of the way that Improbable works actually to be instrumental and in the devising of the show.
And I auditioned for that. I say auditioned with quote marks, which you can't see 'cause you're listening because the way that improbable auditions is not like any other company that I've worked with. And um, it is a good story because one of the first things that they said to me when I went into the sort of interview audition was, this show is really a show about trying to get ELA, a new girlfriend. And, I said at the time sorry, I, you can't gimme the part then 'cause I'm taken 'cause I was with someone. And lo and behold cut to, I am now married to Fela McDermott. So it, the show worked
[00:15:44] Kristin: The show worked on several levels.
[00:15:46] Matilda: on several levels. It worked. Yeah.
[00:15:50] Kristin: And you've obviously become a big part of the company and everything as
[00:15:54] Matilda: yeah, apart from marrying em, I also really fell in love with their way of, apart from falling in love with him. I fell in love with their way of working and so I am now an associate director with the company and their practice and work has become really central to mine.
They're really core to the next chapter that's coming up.
[00:16:12] Kristin: all along the way, were you sort of writing, 'cause I know it's not just about the book that now exists, but snippets and blogs and
And, all the things were, was it all sort of a device thing or were you writing along the way? I guess is the question
[00:16:26] Matilda: What, writing the book along the way, or Writing.
[00:16:29] Kristin: just in general was, were the words coming out
[00:16:32] Matilda: so actually for the 10 years that I was in the air I didn't write much, although we'd been moving house and um, people used to write so many letters, including me,
[00:16:45] Kristin: I do have old letters that like actual
[00:16:49] Matilda: we used to do this as a way to communicate with each other.
[00:16:52] Kristin: It seems so weird. It doesn't seem weird, but it seems so impossible that was a thing in my lifetime.
[00:16:56] Matilda: I know, exactly. So I guess I did write during that time 'cause I wrote letters to people, but I didn't really write. I, and that was part of what was shocking and wonderful when I came and did that m a in European classical writing and not writing. There you go. It was acting for me. It was a reconnection to writing. 'cause I started noticing that I was writing really enjoying writing extremely long notes to my student, fellow students.
And And not long after that I enrolled in A M F A in creative writing as a, because I like being a student. So then I
[00:17:34] Kristin: You're definitely proving the liking being a
[00:17:37] Matilda: excuse. I can get another qualification. I just really like it when other people hold the structure for me. 'cause a lot of the time, especially now, which is fine, I hold the structure for other people.
So it's very nice when yeah, when somebody else does it.
[00:17:53] Kristin: I, confession time. I am looking at a master's degree right now, and part of it is just to get back in a scenario where somebody else can make a few decisions for me
And I can con maybe following the structure is a better way to put it, but I'm like, oh, it would be so good just to, first I have to do this, and then I have to do this instead of, okay, which project?
How do I do it? What's next? What's first?
[00:18:19] Matilda: yeah. Just a
[00:18:20] Kristin: completely understand the idea of the container, though I'm sure that the, like you, we've talked about, the rest of life will still be going on.
Just to have some structure like that. Sounds really good.
[00:18:31] Matilda: I know. Yeah. I've set it up for myself again, actually in the next chapter. Involves a bit more of that. But, so I did, I did an M F A in creative writing and that was absolutely wonderful. It was great. And that went alongside the Improbable chapter actually.
So I'm in the process of trying to move to Kent. With our whole family where I'm doing two things, probably more than two actually. But two things I'm gonna name now one is to found a creation centre at the very wonderful boar place, which is a site in Kent.
And that will be a home for Improbable, which is something we've never had, we've never had a creative home. We've been very itinerant as a company, taking our practice out into different venues and institutions and contexts. So this is like a sort of like a final chapter for the company in terms of its bringing it home, creating a home, and bringing so that there's a legacy.
[00:19:32] Kristin: and I loved, I read your blog about. Some of the signs about what it might be, some of the signs from the universe or however you wanna say it, about what it might be. But it sounds like the vision is such a creative just a space that's not audience and show and
[00:19:52] Matilda: No, it's not a venue. So we don't want to run a venue. We want to write kind of more the European model really, which there isn't much of in the uk, which [00:20:00] is they have these creation centres in wonderful locations where there are holding space for the mess and joy and wonder of the research and the making process rather than the finished product.
And because improvisation is core to Improbables practice and to mine as well as a writer now improvisation like circus, interestingly enough, it suffers from a, has a troubled status as an art form and is often not really taken seriously. It feels really exciting and important to, to found a home for it.
And for all those artists and actors and theatre makers that don't have a home, that don't get to work in a prestigious building, but still need a space to work. So that's a big vision, very ambitious project. And then concurrently to that, my safe space, although, it won't be safe in the sense that I'm hoping it will push me, I've enrolled, guess what?
[00:21:06] Kristin: Yay. Safe space.
[00:21:09] Matilda: I, safe identity. I managed to get myself onto a PhD program, but one of those practices, research ones,
So there's, luckily at Kent University, there's a doctorate program called the Contemporary Novel Practices Research. So basically you get to write a novel and that's your doctorate.
[00:21:29] Kristin: But that's a lot of pressure to write your novel.
Your next novel, I
[00:21:33] Matilda: it's held and it's, I'm doing it part-time. I'm certainly not doing it over three years. I can't work that fast. Yeah, feels good. Feels good and exciting. And for me, like I've now when did I finish my MF at my creative writing? M f a? At least. At least 10 years ago.
So like, I've had a whole decade of not being a student. That's just too long.
[00:21:56] Kristin: It is time to go back.
[00:21:57] Matilda: Yeah.
[00:21:58] Kristin: And I think that does lead us to, when I ask you off recording what your two best creations, Other than your children Mothers Who Make, and then of course the book that led us to this conversation to begin with. So in whatever order you think is most appropriate, let me know about those.
[00:22:18] Matilda: They grew concurrently, so it's fitting that I get to name them both because I had my first child, my son Ridley in January, 2012. And and I remember quite early on he was like, a couple of months old just sitting on the bed going, how am I going to survive?
Oh, am I gonna survive?
What am I gonna do? Finding a way to sustain my creative practice output identity felt absolutely key when I became a mother.
And the kind of, I was fascinated by and distressed by the ways in which motherhood Still had so little status was still like just a mum, a sort of slightly embarrassing thing versus how hard work it was versus how political I felt it was. In the sense that I was so keenly aware that I was being this new person's like I interpreter of the world and that's a major and extremely powerful job and not simple, and yeah, very influential, in terms of the future.
[00:23:34] Kristin: We were talking about that structure, and that's another thing that I don't have kids, having been involved in, nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters and, seeing so many people raised, there's not a structure. That's another place where it's oh, wouldn't it be nice if there was a rule book?
[00:23:50] Matilda: Yeah. And there's an enormous industry that's boomed out of people feeling like it'd be nice if there was a rule book.
[00:23:55] Kristin: Yeah, exactly.
[00:23:57] Matilda: 20, 30 years ago, parenting wasn't a verb. It was just a noun or a role. And now it's like a thing. You get the parenting books that you turn to, so it was all of that. And at the same time I was struck by the way that certainly there was a, an assumption that your creative practice had to be put on hold in being a mom, or that you had to drop off your kid, you had to drop your work or drop off your child, essentially. That the two were incompatible.
And at the same time, I felt the two were extremely closely linked. The language of creativity borrows from the language of motherhood. We conceive of an idea. Often people talk about giving birth to or nurturing a project. And I noticed how my children and my work required many of the same skills and resources from me in terms of sensitivity, flexibility improvisation stamina.
They literally both keep me up at night. So I was like, so I [00:25:00] was interested in that and really for myself called a kind of peer support group together, which I called Mothers Who Make, because I felt there was wasn't a space where I could be seen in both those roles, sustain both those chapters side by side.
Because literally that was the other thing I noticed was the sort of stark segregation of space on becoming a mom. That either I was in playgrounds or one o'clock clubs or spaces where the children were literally in the middle of the room. The adults were literally on the edge and nobody was interested in any other identity that I held other than my mum nurse.
Or I was in rehearsals or meetings where I was stubborn enough to bring my child, but they weren't welcomed and they certainly weren't expected. And the only identity that anybody was interested in was my professional one. And there wasn't anywhere where I could be both or be valued or visible as both.
So that felt like a real gap. Like I was like, I want that space. So that's what I created. And. Wonderfully and completely unintentionally. That's bloomed into a an international movement and there's now mothers who make groups in Australia as well as across the uk. So it's become a kind of ongoing project and for me, piece of research into how those two identities speak to each other.
And I'm just got some funding, which is very exciting to introduce the kind of forward slash into the names. So it's m slash others who make, because I've realized that the word mother is highly problematic for many people. For many reasons. And actually the thing that's at the core of my interest is how caring and creativity speak to each other and how This thing that is often marginalized from creative practice and seen as something you should leave outside the door.
How actually if we could learn from the extraordinary skills and resources that people hold in caring roles, develop and if that could feed into the cultural landscape, then I'm excited by what that might, what changes that might start to make happen.
[00:27:15] Kristin: And it's interesting you say that was completely unintentional, what's happened, but I see so many small movements that. Someone does out of a mother does out of necessity that really do create a movement. And it's just these small things that, you know, maybe because we need to do it.
And I, Sophia, I can't think of her surname, but she's an ultra runner and recently she did a race, but her child's still breastfeeding and she does these races that last, 24 hours and more. So she breastfed her daughter, her daughter, I think on the trail. And it became this thing amongst athletes that, here's this woman, everybody was talking about it, but it's it's something out of necessity, but it shows other women that like you are still an athlete or you're still a creator, or you can still be a politician.
You know what, everybody has to start accepting that, women are in. These settings or carers of any type, as you say, are in these settings and we need to learn to make our space more fluid.
[00:28:16] Matilda: yeah. Absolutely. And there is this kind of polarising of the personal and the professional that I think is profoundly unhelpful. Because the, I think everybody loses out actually. I think obviously the person, you know, the mothers doesn't get access to the profession anymore or has to upset themselves.
But also I think the profession, whatever it is, loses out. I think that obviously I have most experience in the field of the arts, but that, that landscape is poorer for marginalising those people that having to step out 'cause of their caring responsibilities.
[00:28:52] Kristin: Yeah,
there's a lot of talent and a lot of variety that gets lost.
[00:28:56] Matilda: that, and also just on a, sort of the practice level. Part of why I'm working with improv is because I feel that they implement a kind of ethic of care into how they make their shows and make their work. And that benefits everyone, regardless of their identity and background.
[00:29:14] Kristin: So I mentioned fluidity, but you said that the novel and mothers who make was happening at the same time.
[00:29:20] Matilda: yeah.
[00:29:21] Kristin: How were you weaving no season, but the summer into your life at this point?
[00:29:25] Matilda: Supported each other, I would say. so I did start Mothers Who Make, and the novel began pretty much at the same time because when I started the novel, I had absolutely no idea I was writing a novel. I didn't think I possibly could. When I first enrolled on as a student on the M f A I, which was pre just pre-motherhood actually.
And then I took some time out from it when I became a mom and went back to it. But when I first started that I, in coming back to words, I still have carried the burden of my Oxford academic [00:30:00] past. And I thought I couldn't write anything except nonfiction. cause essay writing was kind of what I knew best, so I assumed that's what I,
And letters. Yeah. And I had a kind of epiphany actually to weave in another live chapter. What happened when I went on this writing m f a was I got r s I, my arms started hurting from typing, and I thought it was most unfair. It was triggered because I because of my aerial. So I used to get very over-pumped forearms from climbing the rope and somehow typing triggered the same kind of response, but
[00:30:41] Kristin: Interesting.
[00:30:43] Matilda: Yeah. So I was like, this is unfair. I've spent 10 years in the air and I come down to earth, take up writing, and I get a serious arm injury.
[00:30:51] Kristin: Yes.
[00:30:52] Matilda: That's not fair. And I couldn't type, I couldn't do it. But it was the best thing that could have happened to me because it meant I had to really slow down.
I had to realise that writing is actually a creative activity. And it meant, I also realised that I could apply everything I'd learned as a circus artist and a theatre maker to my writing,
Which I hadn't, somehow or other I had still kept them segregated. I had still associated words with the academic and not really realised that I could treat an empty page, like an empty rehearsal room.
[00:31:31] Kristin: That's such an interesting way to think about it.
[00:31:34] Matilda: yeah. So that happened just before I became a mom. I started producing work that was definitely, once I let go into it and went, oh, this is also an improvisation. I don't need to have an essay plan. I don't need to. I, in fact, I, not only do I not need to edit as I go, I really shouldn't edit as I go.
The editor stays out the room, or, although that's not really possible, but, at least I play with the bringing this embracing of the unknown, not knowing what's happening. Everything I'd explored as a, as I said, on stage to the written word,
[00:32:08] Kristin: It makes me think of, this is in a rehearsal room, typically with a script, but the words get it up on its feet. You can intellectualise a script so much, but until you get it up on its feet, and so it's almost like the concept of I've just gotta let my words get up on their feet
and then I can think about them,
then I can play
[00:32:29] Matilda: Not, not think about them beforehand. Yeah. So I started doing that as a practice and discovered that lo and behold, I wasn't writing nonfiction at all. I wasn't even writing fiction. I was writing kind of quite fantastical things, is what started emerging on the page. And I developed a writing practice, which felt really akin to the rope practice.
You just turn up and write every day, just like I'd turn up and climb a rope, it, it was really helpful to think of it as the similar kind of training.
And I did a week with a really wonderful writer through my m f a called Linda Barry, who's written a book called What It Is that and she got me writing by hand again rather than typing.
And really being able to to see it as that kind of training and that the things that came out as a kind of wonderful byproduct, but not the focus. You turn up and you do the right, you do the work, you keep your hand and um, uh, the hand on its feet. So I had a word bag through the Linda Barry that I made that had, it was full of words and I would, every day I would pull out a word and I would start writing.
And one day the word said spring. And that word began what then became a novel. And I literally pulled it out as it happens. Had no idea at the time a, that I was writing a novel or that I was growing a baby. But I did grow, pull that word out the same week that I conceived my son. So the book and the baby, the motherhood did really begin together but neither of them were planned.
Like I didn't know I was making a book or a boy at that point. and as I said, mothers who make emerged from my need to keep writing once I was mothering with a child out in the world as opposed to inside me. And It did steadily support me as well as me supporting it through the writing, which happened very slowly on my children's bedroom floor over the, 11 years since then.
[00:34:38] Kristin: You talked a lot about myth and metaphor, No Season But the Summer is based around one of my favourite myths, the Persephone myth.
[00:34:46] Matilda: Yeah. Is what it began it. Yeah.
[00:34:49] Kristin: What drew you to the myth? 'cause motherhood and there's so many things around everything that seems to be part of your life that have gone into this novel.
[00:34:56] Matilda: yeah. So what drew me to the myth was the [00:35:00] centrality of the mother-daughter relationship in it. 'cause that's both the importance of motherhood in my life, but also my relationship with my mother has been Really, powerful and formative. And I lived with my mum while I was writing the book, actually.
She was being a really wonderfully active granny and did a lot of childcare to enable me to write. So that's been ongoing. And like many novels, it's a sort of scantily disguised memoir.
And I was, I guess what specifically drew me to the myth aside from that is the unlike many origin myths 'cause it is an origin myth.
It's an ancient Greek origin myth of the seasons. Because because Persephone goes down to the underworld. Every autumn Demeter,, the goddess of the harvest is in grief and therefore, all the leaves fall from the trees. And then because she comes back every spring, the buds return, but in most origin myths, for example you know how the elephant got its trunk? The, at some point the elephant had an ordinary sized nose and then it got stretched. And every elephant since then has already has a long trunk. It doesn't get
[00:36:12] Kristin: Right.
[00:36:13] Matilda: like every time an elephant's born. It's not okay, and now here we go.
But in this, because of the nature of the myth and the seasons I was really fascinated by its lack of closure. 'cause it's not a done deal. Like the, if you take the myth seriously, it's still happening. Every year in order to create autumn for Stephanie goes down to the underworld. And every year, in order for spring to happen, she comes back to her mother.
So I was, because of the also lack of closure in a mother-daughter relationship, I found that really fascinating. And the very first scene I wrote which has some relationship to the very first scene in the novel now, was of Persephone coming back up to the Earth and what struck me straight away was, my God, that's a heck of a commute.
[00:37:02] Kristin: I came to your book signing and actually we spoke about that because the idea of actually. Crawling your way, which, I never thought of. I have this like romanticised vision almost of what this myth is though. There's a lot of things about it that might not be so romantic.
But to think of her actually clawing her way back through the blackness of the underworld into and being, coming out to the light and, yes. Anyway
very powerful imagery to think of it in such a different way.
[00:37:34] Matilda: yeah. But it's all there, in the myth.
That thing. That's what I love about those stories that have survived in different versions for so long is that they're it yeah, it's all in there. It is something I made up and also not at all, it's all that's what the says she does.
[00:37:54] Kristin: True. I just hadn't pictured it that way. And it came out very interestingly when you did,
Something about it that, that makes it more modern is obviously that, that there is an environmental element that, it we're facing now. I know that you don't want to guide what people take out of the novel, but how did the environmental thing, how is that an important
[00:38:18] Matilda: Yeah.
obviously it's a very, it's something I, like anybody, I feel like anyone writing now can, you can't really ignore it anyway. It's, it is the sort of frame within which we're writing and living. But then also I certainly didn't intend to write a novel about the climate crisis.
That's a really terrifying idea, both because I don't feel qualified in terms of my knowledge, but also I think, literature or art that has a kind of, that is issue based Can be wonderful, but it's also really difficult sometimes because of that thing that you just named that's important to me, which is that I don't decide already what the reader or audience should take away from it.
And it seems to me that with issue-based work, you very hard not to decide, not to that, that, for that not to be a statement that I want you to go away and think this, and I don't want that. So the mother and daughter relationship was key for me, but also I realised at a certain point I needed to commit to this idea that they were living now.
And that once I made that commitment, that immediately made it feel much more dangerous in a really exciting way. Not least because, if you're dealing with that relationship now, This, given that this is an ancient Greek origin myth of the seasons you can't ignore really, really can't ignore the climate crisis.
So then that added a whole another kind of dimension to it that I wanted to explore. And then I guess the last thing that when I realised I needed to find a contemporary narrative that could match the myth I was really excited when I started researching[00:40:00] the stories of recent environmental activists.
And actually the boyfriend I was with before I married Phelim McDermott was a was up there in the trees in the Newbury protest of the nineties. So I had some personal experience of that work I um, was really drawn to how the tactics of, living in the treetops or digging tunnels had so many rhymes, metaphorically with the myth of up and down and like circus really were these larger than life. But in real life, like real life myth kind of thing. They're like the there's that famous Italo Calvino book, the Barren in the Trees about somebody that lives in the treetops. And I guess I love the idea that people really did, people did go and live in the treetops and they built walkways between their homes and it is the same impasse that drew me to circus, that all those metaphors made real.
We turn into figure of speeches and I find that fascinating.
[00:41:03] Kristin: So I ask you to do your life story chronologically, but it's also interesting 'cause the book isn't quite that way. Sort of the back and forth and the mother-daughter telling stories and.
[00:41:16] Matilda: Yeah. And I guess just one more thing on that, which is that, that there's a lot mythical retellings are really trendy now which is very strange for me to do something fashionable 'cause I don't normally do fashionable things. But I think a lot of those keep the characters set in the past and I'm I guess I'm interested in rather than keeping it in the past and, but telling it in a modern way, you know what the challenge of finding the mythic in the moment.
So rather than bringing the myth up to the moment, actually bringing the moment to the myth, if that makes sense.
[00:41:50] Kristin: Which is perfect 'cause as you said it's not a closed story as far as what
[00:41:56] Matilda: no, and I think it's, I, for me, I if there is any sort of political, or you should go away with this statement that I would dare to make. It's about, I think we need to recognise the mythic that is present in our everyday life. That the art isn't something separate.
The kind of dreaming isn't something that you can segregate. It's everywhere. Woven through everything
[00:42:21] Kristin: Which goes so much back to the quote about being all different things at
once that we started with. ' art, life career, creativity. It's just, as you mentioned with mothers who make just that, We're not, we shouldn't be separated.
This is professional me, this is personal me, this is creative me.
[00:42:41] Matilda: Yeah.
[00:42:42] Kristin: For someone who is worried about using words, I have one more quote out of someone who reviewed the book. This is a book to savor, to languish in the sensuousness of the language.
It seems at least that you have you ran away to the circus. You ran away from the circus, running away from words for a while. But it definitely feels like you've come back and found the respect and maybe the joy that comes with
[00:43:12] Matilda: Yeah. Yeah. Certainly they matter to me a lot.
[00:43:15] Kristin: The only thing I have, I I have a million things. I wanna go and discuss the myths of a million hours over coffee or something, but the only thing I will keep you and ask you is if you brought a quote for me today.
[00:43:26] Matilda: Oh, yes. So I've struggled with this a bit. I have to say, I'm gonna go for something that is it's not an easy like quote to attribute to somebody. but it's the thing that I was told when I first came into that Improbable rehearsal room.
What I was told when I went into the Improbable rehearsal room for the first time was there's only four things you have to do, only four things you ever have to do in this rehearsal room on stage in life. And it actually comes from the the fourfold way by Angel's Arianne, and you ready for it?
The four things are,
[00:44:02] Kristin: I am ready. This is knowledge I think I need.
[00:44:06] Matilda: Number one, turn up, number two, pay attention.
[00:44:10] Kristin: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:10] Matilda: Like in school, but listen, like really
pay attention. Number three, tell the truth. Number four, don't be attached to the results. It's number four. That's the real bummer for me.
[00:44:25] Kristin: it's the really difficult one.
[00:44:27] Matilda: Really. The others are
[00:44:28] Kristin: the others are not easy.
[00:44:29] Matilda: Yeah, the others, to do them really well is like a lifetime's practice, but but yeah. Number four, I feel you've gotta be enlightened as well,
[00:44:40] Kristin: and I spent too much of my life trying to be a perfectionist and I'm so much trying to undo all the damage that trying to be perfect
[00:44:47] Matilda: I know, but it's why it is my quote that I offer because I do find 'em really useful touchstones to come back to.
[00:44:55] Kristin: and I think there's probably a lot of people listening that will feel the same way. So [00:45:00] hopefully we won't have to wait quite as long for your next novel,
[00:45:05] Matilda: as long, but quite a while.
[00:45:08] Kristin: but best of luck with everything that's happening,
getting the space together, the continued success of mothers who Make and the continued success of No Season, but the summer.
[00:45:17] Matilda: Thank you. But I do, I just, LA last plug, I, you'll have to write a while for the novel. I do write a blog every month, so you can do that,
[00:45:25] Kristin: All the links will be in the show notes it was really great talking to
[00:45:29] Matilda: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:45:31] Kristin: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time out.
[00:45:34] Matilda: Take care, byebye.
[00:45:36] Kristin: So here's a little bonus for you. Matilda spoke throughout our episode about being a mother, but what you didn't hear in the final edit was some of her interactions with her daughter, who was very busy in the background with the important job of naming a new cat. By the time we'd finished recording, it seems that she'd come to a decision, though.
We'll have to ask Matilda if the name stuck.
[00:45:55] Matilda: (daughter) my cat, oh, the name is decided, M: What is it? ~ Artemis. It means moon, first thing, and she's a black cat, and, and I love them. And second thing, there’s a goddess called artemis. M: that’s true ~ so technically my cat is a goddess