Q&A With 'Someone Not Really Her Mother's' Harriet Scott Chessman

The book, "Someone Not Really Her Mother" was featured in "Good Morning America's" "Read This!" book club series.

'Reliving the Past'

The story is about Hannah, a woman who made an escape back in 1940, from war-torn France to England. As she gets older, her memories of life in America and her relationships with her daughter and granddaughters are virtually erased. As Hannah's daughter, Miranda, tries to bring her mother back into the present, she finds herself being pulled into Hannah's turbulent past.

Harriet Scott Chessman, author of "Someone Not Really Her Mother," joined ABCNEWS.com to answer a few questions about her book in the following online Q and A.

Q: What was the significance of her granddaughter Ida who is so connected to her grandmother's story? --Randi

A: Dear Randi -- I think of Ida as the one who constantly voices questions about Hannah's life, who, in a sense, wishes to inhabit her grandmother, in order to understand her. Ida is a bit like an author, searching the depths of this character she loves, and attempting to bring into words what has remained unspoken.

As a young woman and a poet herself, Ida is drawn to Hannah's poetry, which often evokes the intense love and grief Hannah experienced, especially during and just after the War. Through questions and through her cycle of poems about Hannah, Ida discovers insights into her grandmother that shed light on her own life.

Q: I am imagining that there are typically echoes of one's own personal history or memory within the pages of one's book. So, to what extent do you reveal to past and present loved ones what you really feel about yourself and them? Anne Lamott wrote to this issue in one of her books, but treated it humorously, something along the lines of [rough translation] "tell the past lover that he had a small penis." Do you find the imagined presence of readers who know you to be restrictive, liberating, or somewhere in between?

On a related note, when singing a song, to convey the most meaning, the singer is supposed to imagine the setting and the listener. For instance, "I am giving my son my best advice about relationships with women." Do you imagine to whom you are writing, and does this change from chapter to chapter? And do you actually feel that you are changing as a person as you progress through the telling of the story?

And, if the author, or at least the author's imagined voice, is a different person at the beginning compared to the end of the story, how do you edit the darn thing -- so as to keep this progression intact? I would think that, in looking back and editing the draft, one would tend to homogenize the whole thing, so that it looked more like one voice. --Alec

A: Dear Alec-- The wonderful thing about fiction is that it frees you to focus on the story you're telling. I try to imagine a reader who simply wishes to hear this story, and who isn't thinking about Harriet Chessman particularly. In other words, I imagine a reader whose presence is encouraging and liberating, so that I can spend my energy on helping the story to unfold as it must.

So, in this sense, I don't imagine my audience changing from chapter to chapter. I do, however, feel that, through the writing, I discover a huge amount, about my characters and myself, and also about this world I've created, which stands in a parallel region to the world we call the world.

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