The Making of Her
Given her background, living with and listening to relatives across the generations tell stories, it is no surprise that Bernadette Jiwa was drawn to write an intergenerational story in THE MAKING OF HER. The story begins with Joan, firmly ensconced in a comfortable life when she gets a letter from Emma, the daughter she and her husband had given up for adoption years earlier.
The introduction of a new family member puts pressure her marriage and her relationship with another daughter. Jiwa discusses the writing of the book, available August 9th, and the advice and inspiration she got along the way.
AUTHORLINK: Tell me about your apprenticeship as a creative writer. Your bio mentioned you were “born into a house with no books and a home full of stories.” I love that. What did you learn about storytelling from those stories?
” I learned to listen to the cadence of the grown-ups’ talk…”
JIWA: When I was a child, stories were shared over cups of tea around the kitchen table. Our family lived with my grandmother and uncle in a tiny two-up, two-down, house. I was the eldest child surrounded by four adults. I learned to listen to the cadence of the grown-ups’ talk and their stories about ordinary, everyday happenings. Listening as a skill is important to a writer and I didn’t truly understand how that might pay off in my writing life until I began to write dialogue for the first time in THE MAKING OF HER manuscript.
AUTHORLINK: Did you have a formal mentor in school who offered writing advice that has stayed with you? If so, please share it with our readers.
JIWA: While I did have some wonderful teachers in junior school, I didn’t have any writing mentors in high school. I attended a Catholic, all-girls school where we were pigeonholed from day one—not just according to academic ability, but according to social class. My aspirations were tempered to fit my origins. My writing mentor, Seth Godin, arrived much later in my life, just as I turned forty. He’s given me (and others) plenty of sage advice, chiefly: “You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.”
AUTHORLINK: James Dickey said the idea for Deliverance came to him as a vision of a man standing alone on top of a mountain. His job was to get the man off the mountain. Where do stories come from for you—image, first line, character?
JIWA: The stories I’m interested in hold the past up to the light. They tend to be society stories sparked by something that actually happened to someone.
AUTHORLINK: Where did the idea for The Making of Her come from?
“History can repeat itself if we let it.
JIWA: THE MAKING OF HER was inspired by a true story I’ve wanted to rewrite for years. A dear friend was given up for adoption in England by her Irish mother in the 1960s. Her parents returned to Ireland, got married and had more children. My friend reunited with her parents more than twenty years ago, yet her siblings still don’t know she exists. Like many families of that generation, they were kept apart by a legacy of shame, unable to divulge their secret and unravel the past. This story and stories like it are not something that happened in the dark ages or in isolation. And we still live in their shadow.
When I read brilliant novels written by contemporary female Irish writers, I didn’t recognize the Ireland where I grew up only thirty years before. It seemed that the stories of a generation of women were in danger of being forgotten or erased from our literature. And yet, it’s because of the stories, sacrifices and pain endured by previous generations, that happily, these extraordinarily talented young women have the freedom to tell a different story today. However, progress is not linear. History can repeat itself if we let it.
AUTHORLINK: What authors and stories influenced your writing of these stories?
JIWA: I’m inspired by the themes in the writing of authors like Margaret Atwood and Kristin Hannah, the brilliant characterization of female protagonists by Elizabeth Strout, the raw truth in the dialogue spoken by Roddy Doyle’s characters and the page-turning plots of Celeste Ng.
AUTHORLINK: Mothers hold so much responsibility and are the canvas on which everyone in society projects their ideals. Talk about the experience of exploring these ideas on the page through Joan’s story.
JIWA: When I first began writing the novel, I thought I’d tell the story from the adopted daughter’s point of view but quickly changed course when I realized it was the mother’s story arc that was the catalyst for everything that followed. I wanted to understand how Joan and women like her were oppressed by a patriarchal society and by what Margaret Atwood describes as “enforced childbirth”.
AUTHORLINK: How long did it take you to develop and shape The Making of Her?
JIWA: I worked solidly on the first draft of the manuscript for a year before I was satisfied that it could be a novel that might see the light of day.
AUTHORLINK: Joan’s journey is complicated by the past and family secrets. Talk to me about how you approach character development and the specific choices you made in reference to the challenges Joan faces.
” My approach is to put characters, including Joan, in a situation where they have a choice…”
JIWA: My approach is to put characters, including Joan, in a situation where they have a choice about how to act or react and to see what happens. I don’t exactly know what the characters I’m writing will do in advance until I put them on the page and envisage them in that situation.
AUTHORLINK: What were the greatest challenges when writing The Making of Her and how did you overcome them?
JIWA: One of the biggest challenges for any writer is understanding how to make characters believable. I overcame this challenge by working with trusted editors who stretched me.
AUTHORLINK: Talk to me about your revision process when working with your editor. What sort of changes did you make? Any tips on revision for apprentice writers?
“Writing is an act of faith and love.”
JIWA: Editors are some of the most undervalued professionals. The best editors don’t prescribe changes, but instead, invite authors to dig deeper. I was lucky to work with more than one editor on this novel. My brilliant editors were curious, asked great questions, and invited me to do the same at every step during the revision process.
Writing is an act of faith and love. Eventually, we have to show our work to someone we trust to help us take it to a place we couldn’t reach alone. My advice is to find an editor who believes in the story as much as you do.
AUTHORLINK: You created and lead The Story Skills Workshop. Can you share some of the advice that you give to your students about what makes a good story?
JIWA: Stories are shaped by a change that happens when a character is faced with a choice. If the character doesn’t change in some way, then the story falls flat.
AUTHORLINK: Discuss what you are working on now.
JIWA: I’ve just started working on another society story. It’s early days, so I can’t say much more than that because I still don’t know what the story will become.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bernadette Jiwa was born into a house with no books and a home full of stories, in Dublin, Ireland. She migrated to the UK in the 1980s, raised three sons with her husband, and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is the creator and leader of The Story Skills Workshop — a program that has taught thousands of people to harness the power of their everyday stories.