This one is a bit late as my head is stuffed up with a cold, and I feel like I'm coughing up razor blades. Luckily Carol Cooper has provided some great answers to these questions about her Tribute to her mother, titled My Immortal Mother. A tribute which tells the story of a complete life, it's quite remarkable. As are some of the insights in this interview. Enjoy!
1. This is obviously a very personal eulogy. When writing personal stories do you feel you have to hold things back or do you let it all out there, and is there a vulnerability involved in that?
Most of my work is quite personal – there’s often a lot of me, me, me lurking around in it, and I do think ‘letting it all out’ is fine if one is writing more for one’s pleasure, or to a loose brief, rather than for a paid commission. But I reckon that even though Tribute is personal, it’s actually one of my least self-referential pieces in that I was really attempting to get inside my mother’s head, not create a new fictional head that would have bits of me in it. I started writing it shortly after her death when I now see I was still in a state of denial. So during the process, and the recording, I didn’t feel particularly affected or vulnerable. But by the time the podcasts came out I’d moved into a different, so-this-is-really-happening-then phase of grief and have found it hard to listen to.
2. This hits the ears like a great novel, the language, the story of your mother's life so richly told. Have you thought of expanding on any of the tales or expanding the whole story for a novel?
Well, thank you. Yes, one day I will probably write a novel – my writing does come up on the wordy side after all. And there is so much to write about Mother. But I prefer writing for performance as it involves more collaboration, and is thus less lonely. Plus, you have the delicious alchemy of having an actor bring their own soul to your words and create something new.
3. Were some of the years easier to write than others? Was it difficult to not let one of them take over the story as a whole?
It was easier to write her childhood years as that felt like writing a completely separate ‘Wendy Cooper’ story, so I was able to maintain a bit of distance. It was harder to write the end bits; the bits where my mum dies.
4. Were there any shards, fragments and stories you wish you could have fitted into the Tribute?
My mother would tell me stories about her mother, the pathologically unmaternal Flora. I initially had a section about Flora growing up as an orphan in a remote convent in the Himalayas run by sadistic nuns. But that is a whole other story…
5. I'm really drawn to the humour in these tributes. I loved the moment with the sunglasses and the blanket. Was that moment always in your head to write or was it a memory that occurred to you when you reached that part of the monologue?
That was one of the Lady Bracknell-esque stories I had in the eulogy I wrote for Mum’s funeral. There are many Mum memories and quotes like that I’ve always intended to write about, so I’m so grateful to Phil for coming up with this great project that’s allowed me to give them an airing.
6. What other projects are you working on, and I know you said that My Immortal Mother was like a knot that you had to keep worrying it, does that knot permeate your other writing?
Yes, Mother is turning up all over the place. I’ve recently written a short play The Unlost, a mother and daughter comedy (starring versions of me and Mum) about death
and eternal life on the London Underground. It’s on at the Arcola Theatre, 26th March, 7.30pm, as part of an evening of short plays called On The Night. I am also devising a one woman show with the talented comedy TV actor Milanka Brooks and mother/daughter themes are creeping in to our discussions…
7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which ones have stuck out if so?
Well it’s been tricky as I’ve been wanting to avoid anything too ‘deathy/griefy’ of late. So I asked a friend to suggest the lighter/comic ones that wouldn’t set me off. I really enjoyed Eulogy for Tricia Slater and The Name on The Bench, both such clever ideas, so well executed by writer and actor. I also liked A Great Man, for the resentment the son felt for the father and the moving twist at the end.
8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?
It’s so important and we don’t do it enough. We’re so busy existing we forget we’ll all end up not existing. And we’ll watch our loved ones cease to exist. When I had my first child I was struck for days afterwards by how deeply ODD it felt. There was a bump, and then it became a life. And with this, my first really impactful bereavement, I’m finding it similarly, extremely ODD – there was this huge, long, immensely significant (to me) life and then, literally in a heartbeat, it just… stopped.
Odd, very odd. Needs to be explored.