On writing and raising children

It’s been quite a while since I posted here and for good reason. I’ve been making a concerted effort to bring many of my projects to completion. My novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities about the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and two women who need stories to survive is on submission, The Exhibit of Held Breaths, about an unusual exhibit and its effect on a town and its curator is in final revision and I am about to begin adding words to another exciting project (a novel based on a flash fiction. The flash fiction has just been accepted for publication by the fabulous Stinging Fly.) The latter is a project that allows me to write in a more visceral, lively and poetic way in a book filled with heart and humanity but looking into the psychology of both loneliness and evil.

Good things have happened writing wise, a shortlisting for the Over the Edge prize, inclusion in the Stinging Fly as I’ve said and also the Arena/RTE experimental fiction anthology New Planet Cabaret. I have at least another five books on the boil in the back of my mind, some begun already. Janet E. Cameron is asking whether you can have children and write and she wants your views. My succinct answer is that it is possible but it takes much longer and its particularly difficult to keep whole novels in your head. I’ve been trying to find out how other writers I admire managed to write fine books and have a family, A.S. Byatt is one. She had four children, – one tragically died aged 11 in an accident, a grief she naturally carried wIth her.

In a biography by Pauline Holdsworth for the Pensilvania Centre Byatt’s struggle to write the books she wanted to write, trying to fulfil both literary ambition and personal desire is demonstrated with reference to one of her earlier novels

Holdsworth says “On an essay on her first unsure protagonist in The Shadow of the Sun, Byatt wrote, “I always knew, as my heroine didn’t, that I must contrive to work (to think, to write).” Through two marriages and three children, (one had died in an accident) she continued to work. It wasn’t until age 54 that she experienced what she called her happiest moment. “I found myself alone in this house, and there was total silence, and the sun was absolutely blazing, and I walked up and down the stairs absolutely boiling with the sense that I belonged to myself, and could finish any thought.”

This I do find is my greatest struggle, to keep Head above Water now that my four chlldren are between 5 and 12 means not the physical hands on minding of infants but still the emotional energy, mental agility, persistence, cheerleading and constant regrouping of optimism and organisation in order to tend to the physical, emotional, organisational, psychological, spiritual needs of these children, one with Aspergers, to keep them on the right track. As every parent knows, September is a demanding month, getting everyone readjusted to the school routine. (This year my eldest had the new challenge of secondary school.) The mental and emotional energy required might sometimes have been put into writing. And yes I get energy and affection back and experiences and understanding of the core human things, love, self-sacrifice, human development, nature, nurture. There is always clamour though, it’s difficult to have your own thoughts as a mother, difficult to think new things and let the mind wander far. Writing takes far longer and there is always a sense (shared by writers in all circumstances of course) that you could have done more, reached further.

I will persist. I will create spaces, I will find the canvas of dark and quiet at 5am and use it. I will sit down when the children are at school and drink coffee and scroll through my document, letting both infuse into my system until I can create more. It is a much slower walk but it’s a walk, I’ll keep moving.

I’ll post next on the things I’ve been doing since the summer to create more headspace and finish those books.

In the meantime, here’s a link to a wonderful contemplation by Marc Nash of the relationship of Fiction to Reality (as compared to Art’s relationship.)  One of the themes of The Exhibit of Held Breaths is how an appreciation of Art might change a person’s view of life and reality, I’m also fascinated by our modern world and how our reality is mediated by the media and social networks. Marc Nash,(whose latest book An Eye for an Eye for an Eye is just released) makes some very interesting and important points about where fiction currently fits into that.

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10 comments

  1. When my daughter was tiny, I commenced writing my first novel as an adult. if she had a nap, I wrote. When she went to playgroup I wrote. But I had only one.
    When she was older, I was still in my long hiatus of “I’m not a writer any more,” and she was 14 when it all came back. I remember that moment of having the house to myself, until 3.30 when I needed to start getting dinner ready for when she got home from school.
    The ability to distance the self from family demands is not commonly given to women, and I think we do have it harder for all sort of reasons.

  2. Great post, Alison, and I can relate with my 3 at similar ages, I don’t find I have long between questions or demands when they are all at home. And then of course you have to have the motivation to actually write when the moment is right too. Having all the circumstances lined up in the right way at the right time is quite limited. I’m sure this doesn’t make sense but I’m also sure you’ll know what I mean.

    I’m so excited for you that your writing is going so well and you have made such progress with your novels. Well done!

  3. As a father to four children under five, one, plus one, plus a third who came as twins … mission nearly impossible I think if writing were included comes to mind. Keep going they do eventually grow up … the parent’s administration service is life long! now in their thirties … but still run out of money, have you got our birth certificate, send this … do that etc etc … keeps us as parents all young I suppose … at least we still talk to each other when many do not so we could not have been such bad parents after all … Alexander from Allrighters and Ywnwab!

  4. So many excellent points! Trying to keep up the energy and stay motivated without going insane by the snail’s pace are what I struggle with daily. Congratulations and best wishes for your many wonderful projects!

  5. This article really caught my attention as I am struggling with the same issues right now. I recently gave birth to my second child (now 10 weeks old) and I have a 2 yo who attends pre-school three days per week. I find my problem now comes in being able to write while breastfeeding and juggling all the necessary chores and logistics. Oh, and then of course making sure I sleep and eat in between everything else! Still, am rather proud that I just published my fourth novel… ; )

  6. I too have 4 kids and struggle to fit my writing around their routine and a full time job. I had four kids under five, they are now aged 1, 3, 4 and 6. My four year old has (Classic) autism, which as I ma sure you know with your child, makes life a lot more interesting. We always need to think about his routine and keeping everything as stable as possible for him.

    I have a good routine going with writing now, and can average about 1500 words a day, including a few small sprints while at work lol.

    I am sure you will slip into the route and find a way to make it all work. :)

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