Authors Emily and Jane Urquhart on why mothers know best

On motherly advice, baby-bolstered confidence and why family dynamics are the root of literature

authors Jane and Emily Urquart

Jane Urquhart photo, Mark Raynes Roberts.

This spring, the Urquhart family has two new books to celebrate: Award-winning novelist and officer of the Order of Canada Jane Urquhart recently released The Night Stages, her long-awaited eighth novel. Her daughter, Emily, has just published Beyond the Pale, a work of non-fiction that centres on her own daughter’s experience with albinism. In time for Mother’s Day, we chatted with the literary duo about why moms always know best.

How did your mom influence your career, Emily? Did she give you any advice?

Emily: It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be a writer. In some households, it wouldn’t have been seen as a viable occupation, but it was always encouraged in my house. With my first book coming out, it’s been nice to have my mom to call and ask things like “Which page of the book do I sign my name on?” She has a huge wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to the practical and creative sides of writing.

How has being a mother shaped your writing?

Jane: I didn’t really begin to take myself seriously as a writer until I had a baby. You can’t be a child when you’re responsible for this adorable, vulnerable little thing. I somehow got my nerve once I became a mother.

E: My first book was inspired by the birth of my daughter, her diagnosis and everything that went along with it. [Being a mother] has taught me a kind of time management I didn’t even know existed. I’m more perceptive and empathetic — I can look at situations and people with a perspective that I wouldn’t have had access to before.

Why do you think family dynamics provide such fertile ground for storytelling?

J: Whether it be blood family or one that we choose, family is the most intimate part of our lives and, therefore, the most emotionally transferable. Narratively, I’d never reproduce my own life, but I still have to have some inner knowledge of what a circumstance might have felt like for me to write about it in an emotionally true way.

E: It’s one thing we can all relate to. The stories families generate are of interest to everyone.

What does knowing our family’s stories add to our lives?

J: In a way, it’s the root of literature — even Homer and Shakespeare were talking about families. Knowing our ancestral backstory is an ancient need for human beings. I think it adds a layer of meaning to your life.

E: Family stories give us a sense of security — not just in book form, but even the ones you share around the dinner table. Having knowledge of your past gives you a sense of belonging.