OF FORGOTTEN VOICES, LOST CHILDREN and the MOTHER TONGUE


WELCOME TO THE MOTHER TONGUE BLOG TOUR!





For the next two weeks, we will be celebrating the release of Mother Tongue by Patricia Forde, a new work of speculative fiction for young people that takes up the story of Letta, a young wordsmith and one of the few remaining survivors of an extreme environmental disaster. 
In May 2015, we were introduced to a world after "the Melting" that saw little land left, and few people.We were introduced to the world of Ark, a ruthless leader named John Noa and our young heroine...and it was completely mesmerising; a book I simply couldn't put down and placed in the hands of more readers than I can remember. The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde (entitled The List in the US.) Over the last four years, while I have returned to The Wordsmith time and again, I have longed to return to that world; to discover what happened to Letta, to all of Ark in the time that passed. And now... there's Mother Tongue.
When I was offered the opportunity to join in this blog tour, I jumped at the chance and immediately arranged to do two things. First, I contacted my favourite school, St Nicholas Primary School and asked if I could come in to share a bit of this fantastic story with the 5th/6th class. Of course I needed to know what they would think, but I also contrived to place them in Lettas' position,  making them "wordsmiths"in charge of a Hedge School with the secret mission of teaching words that would have been banned in a restricted society such as Ark. The task was given as a competition and they immediately set to work creating word cards. Great care and consideration was taken to present those words which they thought would be the most useful to children creating a new reality for themselves. The results were phenomenal, as you can see by the photos included here.  
Secondly, I just had to have a chat with Patricia Forde and get some background on how Mother Tongue came into being. I also wanted her help in selecting a winning Wordsmith from all the intelligent and insightful entries in my competition. (This was NOT easy!) So armed with a notebook full of questions and a stack of word cards, off I ran for coffee, cake and conversation with Patricia Forde.
-Hi Trish. I have to start by asking; it's been 4 1/2 years since the publication of The Wordsmith, which had a rather open ending. It could have stopped there, but did beg some interesting questions about what would happen next. Did you have a continuation of the story in mind all along, or did Mother Tongue create itself later?
No, there were no immediate plans to continue Lettas' story beyond The Wordsmith. When The Wordsmith was finished and launched out into the world, it was an exciting moment, but a strange one. I had lived in that world, lived with Letta as a very real person for so long and suddenly, she was out there, gone from my care. I was grieving Letta and her world and I didn't feel I could write a sequel. As Lettas' journey broadened, and many events were happening that came into a more public view, I suddenly found I had an opening scene. Once I had that, the rest just seeped in and Mother Tongue began to evolve.
-Let's talk about some of the events. in the last 4 1/2 years, so many issues have either come to light or accelerated in awareness in the public consciousness. One of these has been the lost children of the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, particularly the investigation into the Tuam Babies. How did that inform Mother Tongue?
Letta is involved in educating the children of Ark, secretly through holding Hedge Schools, in order to give the children words; a voice. Then she discovers that babies are being taken from their families and no one knows where they are being taken or what is to become of them. The Tuam Babies scandal was very much in my thoughts when writing this. Here, just up the road from us in Galway (among many other places in Ireland), babies were being taken from their mothers' arms; deprived of any care, any advocate or any voice. Such a betrayal of trust and care...At the time, no one seemed to know what was happening to them. They were just gone.And as it as come to light, they were just thrown away as valueless. No platform. No voice. 
-Yes...I'm thinking of that one scene where Letta approaches the compound as is stuck by the utter, absolute silence. Lack of sound of any kind at the scene.
Absolutely. As Letta uncovers what is happening to the babies of Ark, there is that horrible moment of realisation that these are babies with no voice; that the intention is that they never will have a voice. And they will become completely devalued; dehumanised.
-Can you tell me a bit about the parallel between this and the now destroyed natural world of The Wordsmith and Mother Tongue? I found it striking that in the time between the two books, another book, Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Nicola Davies was published; a book which highlights words concerning the natural world that have been removed from the Oxford Childrens' Dictionary. Is this a way of removing language from children? And what does that do to their awareness of the world?
Yes, it is really shocking. They removed these words from the dictionary because it was said these words have "no revelence in the lives of children any longer." So...they just remove from the childrens consciousness by removing them from the language. And the natural world becomes of less. We take away value when when take away the name. Likewise, with the loss of language in the children (in the books), they begin to lose their value, and more importantly, their sense of their own value...they have no voice, no agency.The stolen babies, raised without language, they wouldn't even have names, so who are they? Who will they become? When Letta sees this, she feels compelled to do something, somehow. She can't stand by and let it happen!
-Let's talk about Letta. She such a fabulous character! Brave, bold, determined and intelligent, with real heart and inner conflict. And in Mother Tongue, we see a real change, real growth. Can you talk about what has happened to her; what informs her actions at this stage?
Letta is a reluctant activist. In many ways, she's just a young girl and really shouldn't have to do any of this. But she's found herself thrown into this horrible situation where the adults are either doing nothing (out of fear or a sense of hopelessness) or they are the ones actively creating these disasters. Letta knows that it is her future at stake; the future of all the children of Ark. She has taken action in the past, doing the best she can; but she has made mistakes; caused the deaths of others...and this plagues her. But she has to do something. This caused some conflict for me, as I was writing her story. I believe that childhood is a sacred time and it is our job as the adults to guard this time; to let them be children. It was awful to watch Letta step forth as an activist on her own, without support and stewarding from adults that respected the youth, energy and future. But what choice did she have? As with the young people involved with the climate crisis action, we (the adults) have not and are not doing enough. What choice do the have?
-And as for the 'bad guys'; in Mother Tongue, Amelia comes across as much harsher, much more dangerous than even John Noa in The Wordsmith! Noa was operating under very specific, clear governing principles. He took them far too far, but you could understand where he was coming from. Amelia on the other hand; reason seems to have been lost. She seems to be running on some sort of obsession...
Amelia was John Noas' partner, loved him completely and believed 100% in what he was trying to accomplish. Amelia put all her support, all her heart into Noa. She sacrificed everything for him...and he betrayed her. He took everything from her; he killed her sister even though Amelia was certain that, for her, she would be spared and then, in the end Noa himself died (at the hands of Letta, her niece), which becomes another betrayal again. Noa left Amelia to deal with all of this on her own and she realises the ideal cannot be sustained and she is alone. She's broken, but she's strong. Amelia realises she has played her cards wrongly, and there is no going back, but she becomes completely obsessed with the idea of controlling people, so they cannot rise up.  Amelia is a hollowed-out person...she's a bit like the DeathEaters in Harry Potter.
-In Mother Tongue, while creating one of the best books I have read since...well, since The Wordsmith; you're dealing with some very complex issues and feelings; many of which can be very unsettling. It seems to me that  these are the very things we often try to shield our children from;  death, manipulation and abuse, mental illness, obsession, wanton destruction of the environment, of life... How do you feel about presenting difficult issues to children? Can we or should we protect them from these things?
Well...we can try. And we do try, but we fail. The thing is, children are well aware of these things and they are deeply affected and influenced by so many awful events and ideas. We owe it to them to discuss these issues. We need to value that opportunity to be present to their thoughts and feelings; their concerns. Children have very fresh and original ideas. They actually come to difficult concepts and issues with an openness and we need to hear them...really hear them. It's urgent to let them know, with honesty, that we are here for whatever dialogue they need to have. And I think it's very important for us, the adults; the ones who are supposed to be 'in charge' to hear and appreciate their knowledge; their stories. We may learn something far more valuable than we have considered in the past.
Thank you for this chat, Trish. And thank you so much for another incredible journey with Letta. Your books always take my breath away.
I hope those of you reading this have found it as interesting as I have!
Now...as I mentioned earlier in this post, I had asked Trish to help me decide on a Winning Wordsmith. It was a very tough decision. The kids from St Nicholas Primary, Waterside 5th/6th class are all so creative, insightful and imaginative...frankly I wish I didn't have to chose. But someone has to win a signed and personalised copy of Mother Tongue. After a lengthy deliberation, numerous whittling-downs and runners-up....the winner is:

FIONN DAHLER!
Congratulations, Fionn! Your prize is on its' way to you in the extremely near future!
And to all my loyal readers, I strongly suggest you run to your local bookshop (or check the link to Little Island Books below) and pick up your copy of Mother Tongue. Whether a young person or someone much older, it is a story you will never forget!
Don't forget, there are two whole weeks worth of wonderful, insightful blogs available for your enjoyment. Please, come along...you'll love it and you won't even have to leave the comfort of your own home. You can find us all on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, #MotherTongueBlogTour; and the poster above with direct you to the various sites hosting the tour.
(Check out my review of Mother Tongue as an earlier post on Fallen Star Stories; also now available to read on the Irish Authors...page.)
That wraps up my offering on the #MotherTongueBlogTour. Thank you so much to Little Island for including me. It was such fun, an absolute delight and, I hope, a fascinating experience.

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