Month: March 2011

Writing – what you can do with the wind behind you

I often write about the challenge in finding the time to write. However there are times when the wind is at your back and you find yourself at exactly the right mental place and physical time

There are times when you begin to write and keep on writing, when a story appears almost fully formed in one sitting. It seems almost magical.

I participated in Nanowrimo twice, where the aim was to produce 1667 words per day for a month. On some days it was torture trying to stir up the words, on other days my fingers flew over the keyboard.

This morning just after I woke I wrote a blog post (on flash fiction!) in half an hour. On another occasion a similarly length post took me two hours. Sometimes it is the material that suits you. Perhaps without even knowing it you have stored up a whole lot of information and associations about a particular topic or relating to a particular germ of a story. There are times when you seem to find a key to a whole lot of subconscious associations or a significant memory that comes alive when juxtaposed with some new information and suddenly there are a whole lot of words coming fast one after the other.

Sometimes it is the time of day or year that suits. Certainly many of us experience a surge in energy at this time of year as the days get much brighter. I am a morning person and combined with that transition state between dreams, imagination and reality, it is for me, an ideal time to write. For others whose body clock favours evening time more, they may write late into the night.

Sometimes everything clicks and we don’t really know why but if possible we need to look at the times when we feel the wind in our sails and really get going and ask ourselves why, what, when, how and perhaps who. When do we feel drive and inspiration generally and is it possible (and it isn’t always) to free up that time. If we can, we might do as much writing in one hour as we will in a whole other afternoon.

Have you ever had the experience of having the writing wind behind you? Is there a particular time of the day, year or even in your life when things flowed. Can we help it happen again or is it just one of those elusive things? What do you think?

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Writing Rejection​, Obstacles? Try to look at now with hindsight

Sometimes I feel like a fraud, on this blog telling people it’s possible to write with four young kids and all the other stuff that happens because sometimes it isn’t that possible or only just about by the skin of your teeth.

(Excuse me, I need to go and help the three year old….)

Where was I? Actually I’m lucky today because the eight year old is at a friends but the ten year old was diagnosed with Aspergers last year and his homework usually takes ages and the six year old is a great reader and loves to read whole chapters to me.

At the moment I have several projects on the go. A literary novel that needs some good scaffolding and forty thousand more words, a flash fiction project that is a third of the way there, a fun sci-fi housewife thing that I’m editing and a short story collection that could do with a shine and a polish, and a few short pieces for radio that need to be completed. All I need is time. Ha ha ha.

I recently applied for time in the form of a grant which, although was a long shot, would have enabled me to spend more time at writing. Disappointingly I discovered today that my application was not successful and although I’m sure there will be other possibilities it did knock me back. Family circumstances mean that I’ve been less able to put much time towards writing lately. I’ve worked hard in the past couple of years, eking out time in the mornings, doing two novel writing months to produce 50000 words each time. And while it’s lovely to see the Spring settle in, mother’s know that the summer means that kids are need entertaining and looking after for longer.

Here comes the pep talk bit.

The truth is somewhere in the middle a friend said. While it is true that I may have finished more books by now if I had more time, I may have applied for an agent, even been successful if I had the chance to put in a killer query, would I really have been happier. Yes.

No, hang on….

What I want to tell myself and you that we need to look back at now and see..

(hang on I need to make a snack for the kids…)

we need to look back at now and see our current situation, if we can as if with hindsight. For example these are some of the things I might tell myself if I came back from the future:

‘The book is much better two years later than it would have been if I’d finished it then’

‘I’m a better writer now, I wasn’t ready then’

‘I’m much better placed now, mentally and practically for publication, marketing etc

Traditional publication is slow, it didn’t matter that I took some extra time to get things right.

I’ve made better decisions about my writing than I would have back then.

With success becomes responsibility and that can be a headache too.

‘I’ve realised I didn’t want to be a writer at all, I much prefer being a second hand car saleman’

 

Maybe not the last….

 

I certainly don’t believe ‘there is a reason for everything’ – I think the world is a rather chaotic, chancy but sometimes serendipitous thing, the grass is always a little bit green where you are already and a little bit worn and patchy on the other side.

However this pep talk I’m giving, (and it’s really to myself) should make me think about what advantages I have now; artistic freedom, freedom from deadlines and marketing circuits, all my children close at hand, the cheerleading of my lovely real world and online friends, some solid successes in the short story world. I also need to realise that opportunity and success can also have their own drawbacks. The truth is somewhere in the middle. So once the disappointment fades let’s see where the truth about our writing lies and proceed on.

 

Mother Writer Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel Bloodmining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life,  is to be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton.

Tell us about your children, Laura

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space?

I work four days a week, so on these days I tend to write in the evening, once the boys are in bed. 9pm to 11ish, sometimes later, depending on how it’s going. I have been known to rise early, 5am, and write for a couple of hours before the rest of the house wakes up, though this is hard during the winter months. I don’t manage this every day, but I aim for three or four evenings/mornings a week.

On my ‘free’ day I write as much as I am able. On good days, I can write for two or three hours, take a short break, and then carry on for another two. Then it’s time to get the kids from school. Other times I find it much harder to get going, and then I might go for a walk, or pop out to see a friend, and then come back to the work. I cherish this day and I guard it ferociously. No visitors, no housework, no shopping. Writing.

I’m workman-like in my approach. I aim for 1,000 words each sitting. Of course, I don’t always manage this. Some days I might churn out a mere 400, but on others I might reach 3,000. It’s a productive week if I manage 5,000 words. My pattern is that I start slow (and yes, it can be extremely painful) and pick up momentum as I go on.

For first drafts I write on a laptop in bed, often in pyjamas, or slouchy clothes. A bed is a place for dreaming and passion. Perfect for first drafts. When I’m editing I’m at a desk on the landing, or at the dining table, in a straight backed chair, fully dressed, blusher and mascara on. Editing is business-like and often cruel. As you will have gathered I don’t have a room of my own; I would love a writing shed, or office. Twitter is my favourite new online habit and I have tweeted about this, demonstrating severe shed envy. I live in hope.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

The nature of children and family life requires a degree of flexibility, so, yes, I do readjust my focus periodically. The ease with which I achieve this depends on the stage I’m at with any given piece of work. Long haul projects like novels require momentum, especially when creating a first draft, and breaking the rhythm makes picking it up again difficult. I speak from experience here. Usually, editing comes with deadlines. Writing is a craft, and requires regular practice, so while we all have to adjust to life stuff that comes our way, my motto is to write as often as possible. That said, when the boys are sick, or need extra emotional input, it’s difficult to write and I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t during times like this.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

My eldest is proud, I think. He will ask about the story I’m writing, often presenting some penetrating and challenging questions, and he’s pretty excited about my first novel coming out. My youngest hasn’t shown too much interest. He knows Mummy reads and writes ‘all the time’ (I bloody wish), and often picks up whatever I’m currently reading and flicks through the pages and asks if my books are as long. When I reply that they are, he sighs, shrugs and wanders off. I suspect he thinks I’m fibbing. Perhaps once my debut is out, he’ll believe me!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and your work?

Practically, it’s time. There’s never enough of it. I wish my sleeping habits were like those of Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership she claimed to sleep for only three hours a night. Unfortunately, I need seven or eight to function. And there’s the need to make money. A private income would remove the need for paid work, and then I could spend everyday writing. Bliss.

Emotionally, I suffer Guilt, with a capital ‘g’. For not playing with the boys more, for daydreaming when we’re together, for not baking beautiful cakes, and so on. But most mothers I know, writers or not, feel guilty. On the plus side, my boys are very good at entertaining themselves. Having a dreamy, distracted mother has made them resourceful and independent.

You’ve had success with having Bloodmining accepted for publication, why do you think your breakthrough happened when it did?

The first short story I wrote won a (minor) competition and was published. My youngest was three. This gave me a misguided opinion of how hard it was going to be. Years later I realized just how lucky I’d been. I began my first novel when my youngest was four and my eldest nine. It took two years and several drafts to complete. Proper authors – people who had masters’ degrees in creative writing and even had books of their own published – were encouraging, and so I entered some debut novel competitions. While I was waiting for the results, a period of around eight months from entry to final announcement, I wrote a second novel.

To my surprise I was shortlisted in two novel competitions, one of which I went on to win. Back in November, when I received the call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williams that won, not you,’ call. It never came and, slowly, I’ve come round to the idea that it’s going to happen.

The children were settled at school and content during this period. In September last year they both changed schools and it’s not been an easy time, emotionally, especially for my eldest who started senior school. During this period I completed another two drafts of my second novel, though I’ve not been as productive as I’d have liked. Things have settled down now so I’ve started a third novel, as well as getting a submission package together for novel #2 and working with my editor on BloodMining.

In all honesty, I have no idea why it happened when it did, and I guess you could say that it happened because I was persistent. A writer needs to be tenacious.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance?

I’d love to able to say that the pressure facing both sexes is equal but I can’t. It’s a fact that women still do more than their fair share of childcare and housekeeping. But we can’t blame it all on the fellas. We take on too much. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, many of us (I include myself here) are reluctant to let go of these responsibilities, to trust that men can do them as well as we can. It’s a rare relationship where the split is even. Perhaps gay women manage it. I’ll ask a friend about this.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

Housework. I was never much cop at the domestic: cleaning, home decoration/making beautiful, cooking. But no one died of a grubby house or the odd take-out, did they?

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career?

Write. Forget ironing. Don’t give up the day job (at least until you’ve the three book deal with the six figure sum) , your kids won’t thank you if there’s no food on the table.

Thanks so much to Laura for telling us about her experience of being a writer mother. We wish her tremendous success with her new novel Bloodmining and look forward to it coming out in the Autumn. For more news on her novel and other projects visit Laura at her blog Sting in the Tale or follow Laura on Twitter. We’ll be sure to catch up with her again here when her novel is launched.

If you enjoyed this peek into the life of a writing mother, please check out the other interviews in the series.

#Fridayflash Elsewhere

I haven’t managed to participate as regularly as I’d like in #Fridayflash for the last few weeks, but I miss it. This week I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a flash of 300 words, substantially lower than my usual. It was a fabulous exercise, especially in the final edit as I chose the words that really could go. The story has a common theme but see what you think.

Then there was the night we waited for the shooting stars. ‘I’d love to see an eclipse’ he said. He had a habit of letting his mind wander to the other- wanting something that wasn’t there.

When we cohabited he said we should have married in Gretna Green. When we moved into a house on the northside, he said the southside would have been better.He played the piano but thought maybe it should be the saxophone. When he made love to me he called her name – although I never corrected him. In the deli he wished he’d chosen the egg mayonaise instead of the chicken.

He was a teacher, it was the one thing he was sure of. He’d followed in the footsteps of his father. He leapt lightfooted through his lesson planning, felt that his marking was the marker for the rest of his students’ lives. The red squiggles and symbols were road maps for their future endeavours. He was firm, encouraging. The students loved him back.

We were having a picnic one day in the park. He wondered whether we should have gone to the beach instead. It was so hot. I longed for icecream. He leapt up suddenly and crossed the lawn. I was lying face down on a blanket. When I looked up I could see the lean, lissome torsos of long girls; long legs, long hair falling across the face. I lifted my head too late. I couldn’t see where he’d gone.

It said in the paper that he and a pupil eloped. I had a mental picture of him cupping her face with his long piano fingers and drinking her in. She was underage of course, the parents filed charges. He got a custodial sentence, in a prison elsewhere. He’ll never teach again.

Mother writer interviews: Sally Clements

 

Sally Clements

Sally Clements is a mystery and romance writer who lives in Celbridge, Kildare, Ireland. Her novel Catch me a Catch is published by Wild Rose Press. The novel is up for the Romantic Novelists Association’s, Joan Hessayon Award. Sally’s novel Bound to Love was also recently published by Salt publishing’s romance e-publishing imprint Embrace. Her children range in age between almost eighteen and ten. When not writing she is usually to be found driving Mum’s Taxi!

When did you start writing? Had you established a writing rhythm or career before or did it happen alongside the kids?

I always loved writing, and did it for my own pleasure and satisfaction until about four years ago, when I decided to be brave, really write, and show it to other people. Terrifying, but satisfying!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Well, my children were past the toddler stage by the time I started. Before then, I found it impossible to devote the time to it.

How do you organise your writing time and space, Sally, do you have a routine?

I have a desk, and an office. I retreat there every morning when the children are in school, and write until school pick-up time. If the children are busy doing homework etc, I usually manage to fit an hour or two in the afternoons between school runs!

Is it possible to maintain a balance between writing and family/home commitments on a daily basis?

I’ve claimed the mornings as writing time. I maybe shove in a load of washing before I start, but leave the housework to the afternoons, when I’m out of the office and buzzing around. If I didn’t, there’d be no time for writing at all. Half terms, school holidays etc are difficult!

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

They’re sort of resigned to it. I think now since I’ve been published, they realize that I’m not just avoiding them, but actually doing something.

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother,your writing and other tasks?

I should do more housework. More cooking. And I always feel guilty that I’m not with the kids every hour. But I think it’s a good message to send your children, that you’re interested and involved with something apart from the family.

What have been your proudest achievements?

I think my proudest moment was when I first finished a novel in 30 days in national novel writing month. Up till then, I didn’t know that I could write 50,000 words, and the sense of achievement for me was really exhilarating. I also felt fabulous when I received a glowing email from Curtis Brown, saying they loved my writing. Unfortunately not enough to take me on, but it was a watershed moment for me, after a raft of polite refusals.

My first novel, Catch Me A Catch was sold to The Wild Rose Press last year, and came out in July. Seeing my cover and realizing that the dream was coming to life was great! This book is a contender for the Romantic Novelists Association’s Joan Hessayon Award, and I’ll be traveling to London in May for the prizegiving. I’m nervous, but so glad to be there, whatever the outcome!

Last week I received the first paperback with my name on the cover. Bound to Love was published on Valentine’s day by new e-publisher, Embrace Books.

How do you think you managed to create the momentum to make these breakthroughs?

I’m always learning. Constantly taking courses, and reading books on craft. I write all the time, and I think that this has built up a head of steam which keeps me going forward.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

I think men and women face it in equal measure.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

I think I’ve realized that if you want it, you have to pursue it. You have to put in the time for your writing, and balance the feelings of guilt. My children and my family are the most important elements of my life. They always come first. But making time to write comes a very close second, because it gives me such joy to write and really fulfills me. It’s not so much about being published, as it is about writing a better book every time. And feeling pride in myself for doing that. Oops, I haven’t answered that question, have I? The thing that had to give is housework, and gardening. I need to do more – always need to do more!

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career.

However much time you can winkle do! There’s always an hour or two available and if you can earmark that as your time to write, do it. Also, it’s really useful to get together (I do it online) with like minded writers. You’ll spur each other on, share information, and challenge each other. I have a crit group called the Minxes of Romance, and together we all help each other. We have a blog: http://www.minxesofromance.blogspot.com

Thanks so much to Sally for sharing her writing endeavours and achievements with us and we wish her alll the best for the Joan Hessayon awards in May.

Further information and links to books.

You can find out more about Sally on her blog Love and Chocolate.

Sally’s Publications

Catch Me A Catch, an e-book available from Amazon.co.uk , Amazon.com or the The Wild Rose Press.

Bound to Love, e-book and paperback available from Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com and Salt Publishing and paperback to order in all good bookshops.

New Beginnings: a collection of 3 romantic short stories, available from Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com ,Smashwords, and all e-retailers.

Imagination and Reality

Go outside and eat a leaf, tear off your clothes and swim underwater, stick your fingers in mud, stand at the edge of a crevasse and feel yourself sway, in summer, autumn cram strawberries, raspberries, blackberries into your mouth, see the stain on your fingers, eat carrots whole from the ground, lie in a darkened room with your favourite song blaring, dance until you sweat from head to toe, in winter make angel patterns in the snow, feel frost in your teeth. Stand in wind, rain, sun, turning your face upward, outward.

When we read, we read in a dream. We make places in our minds, we create the vague outlines of characters, scenes. At present I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, a strange and at times infuriating book ‘almost certainly a masterpiece’ it says on the cover. It is written in the manner of a dream, those sequences that lead one to the next without satisfying resolution, companions are left in mid-event, journeys are endlessly impeded, truncated, thwarted and then distant places are suddenly in the same building. The main character is omniscient, as we are in a dream, we are in the dream, but we are the dream’s ineffectual creators. We try to do things and don’t quite succeed, although we are aware of an underlying plot thread, a narrative stream, a place where we want to be taken.

In dreams we might feel emotions strongly, wake up due to sorrow, ominous prescience or fear but the feeling of a dream is not like reality, the feeling I have spoken of of rain, air, mud, water, life. But when we write, we try to make things real, to evoke colours, characteristics, hair, lighting, mood but when we read, we read in that same sketched reality as a dream. We travel, this time following that unspoken narrative stream that the author has created, this impetus that we sense is underlying, that by convention we hold to exist. But is it convention or something more fundamentally and physiologically essential? Because when we dream we tell ourselves stories, and we know instinctively that it is a story shaped thing, a thing with a purpose, even if we never get there. So in fiction we make the shape of stories, we follow a forward momentum and like Ishisguro’s dream-like work we can subvert expectation, we can undo all the doing, we can draw places that are like reality but are never quite so, or we can undo reality by coming very close and then veering off into speculation or seeing the world through the eyes of a unique and original character who’s vision we struggle to comprehend.

As writers we are often closed off to the elements, often to interactions, we dwell more in the life of the mind. We try to evoke life while we watch the grass from inside the windows, hear children shout on the street like distant nostalgia. But we try to make paths through the soup of the subconscious, through the maze of memory, the endless byways of association, to make meaning out of the waterfall of human perception, culture, context, history.

And for readers read books become like half-remembered dreams. The successful ones ring true, this nodding resonance, we found a mirror for ourselves, be it old, cracked, mottled. We go out into the sun and in our subconscious we find an archetypal meadow which segues into a post apocalyptic town in which we are constantly searching. We sit in a chair in the summer sun and doze and dream of ourselves in the chair, the book fallen from our hands.

Mother writer interviews: Jane Rusbridge

Jane and family

Jane Rusbridge lives near in a tiny village in the South Downs, West Sussex. She has been Associate Lecturer of English at the university in Chichester for more than ten years. Her debut novel, The Devil’s Music, was published by Bloomsbury in 2009 and is currently longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  Bloomsbury will publish a second novel, Rook, in 2012.

How many children do you have and in what age range?

I have three daughters: Katie, 28, Stephanie, 26 and Natalie, 22, and also a stepson, Sam (25) and a stepdaughter, Rose (22).

Had you established your writing regime before the children or did it happen alongside them?

I was a primary school teacher, but went back to university in my late thirties when my youngest started school because I’d always wanted to do an English degree. That’s when I started writing. I loved every aspect of the degree: books, books, books! It took 6 years, part-time; studying had to fit around work – I ran my own preschool group for four year olds – and the children. My divorce happened during that time, which was unsettling for the children, so I didn’t use any form of childcare. The children were all teenagers by the time I’d finished. The degree was something I was doing just for me, my dream, so everything else always took precedence.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

To begin with, any writing had to fit into ‘spare’ time, squeezed in between work and family commitments. With 5 children this involved quite a bit of juggling and sometimes months went by when no writing got done. However, winning the university prize for creative writing was a big turning point which gave me enough confidence to start to send work out. Gradually, writing became more than a ‘hobby’, more than just ‘fun’. It got serious! All the same, writing was still something I did only for myself and so always came last on my list of priorities. The Devil’s Music took a very long time to write: 7-8 years at least.

How have you organised your writing time and space?

About 10 years ago, when the house was still filled with teenagers, my husband bought me a shed which we put at the bottom of the garden. I painted it blue. Having a special place away from the general hubbub of family life and allocated to my writing made a huge difference in two ways. Firstly, writing took on more importance – the blue shed was there for only one reason: for me to write. Secondly, the walk down the garden to my shed removed me, mentally, emotionally and physically, from the house where there was always washing to put in the machine, food to cook, family mess to tidy. Once I was in the shed, I was there to write and think; nothing else.

These days, with the children now adults and only Natalie living at home, I am able to devote much more time to writing and writing-related activities: research, organizing and travelling to events, social-networking. My writing career is pretty near the top of the priority list now. I teach much less, just the occasional freelance workshop and only part-time at the university. Nevertheless, it’s easiest to manage everything if I stick to a routine, so I set aside big chunks of time – whole days – for writing. A novel is a very big ‘thing’!

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

Family life is very important to me – my children all live close by and we see all lot of them. I do manage a balance but perhaps because writing is (mostly) unpaid work and it’s also work from home, there’s still that difficulty of writing not quite being considered a ‘proper’ career in other people’s eyes in the way a 9-5 office job would be. When I had small children at home I used to welcome anyone dropping in for tea or coffee at any time – not now! I’ve had to be firm with friends and make that clear. Not always easy! Quite a lot of compromise is necessary: there’s a tension between wanting to spend more time writing and the need to spend time with family and friends or to carry out practical tasks involved with running a home. I do much less housework than I used to. If I need a mental break from writing I’ll get the Hoover out or clean a bathroom – but writing takes precedence. That’s a reversal: writing used to be left until housework and everything else was done.

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

They’ve always been supportive, even when they were tiny. We’ve always read to them a lot so they all value books and stories. They were very excited about my novel being published – I think they thought I’d suddenly become famous!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother, your writing and university work?

The desire to write, to talk or think about my writing all the time, is very strong, but I’m aware it’s also pretty antisocial. I censor myself sometimes, so that my husband and the children don’t get bored with me wittering on. Luckily, because I teach creative writing, that’s a good outlet for lots of talk about books, reading and writing.

What was your proudest moment?

My proudest moment was a couple of weeks after I sent out the manuscript for The Devil’s Music to three agents: two of them phoned to say they were interested. I cried!

At what stage of your writing and family life did the agent representation for The Devil’s Music happen and what was the build up to it?

In 2006, I had a lucky year and I won prizes in several short story competitions. A chapter of The Devil’s Music was published in the Children’s Voices issue of Mslexia and editor Jill Dawson made some lovely comments about my writing. However, after almost 5 years, the 80,000 words I’d written of The Devil’ Music were still all over the place. I began to think maybe I couldn’t write a novel after all.

By coincidence, or perhaps synchronicity, one of the prizes I won was an Arvon course, tutored by Jill Dawson, with her friend Kathryn Heyman. On this course we were asked to set ourselves a series of goals to achieve within a certain timeframe. I gave myself one year to finish The Devil’s Music, or accept I was a short story writer, not a novelist. Kathryn Heyman liked what she saw of TDM at Arvon and offered to mentor me.

Gut instinct told me this might be my lucky break, that this could be the time to give writing priority in my life. By this time, two of our children were at university and, although the others were still at home, I was no longer tied to school runs and after school activities. My husband had started to do a lot of the cooking. I made two big decisions: to take six months off work (I’m an Associate Lecturer at Chichester University) and to spend a chunk of my savings on a mentor.

I’m so glad I did. In 2007, before my one year deadline was up, not only was The Devil’s Music finished, but two of the three agents I sent the manuscript to, phoned to say they were keen to take it on. This was my most joyous moment – and exciting beyond words! Every morning for weeks I woke up not quite believing it was true, and walked around with a big grin on my face.

Devil’s Music took almost 8 years to write. How did you hold onto the story of your novel and maintain the drive for that particular novel such a long period?

Working on something as large scale as a novel, with only squeezed-in bits and pieces of time for writing fitted between work and children and running a home, is undoubtedly hard in many respects, but I needed to take that long to write The Devil’s Music. Even when you’re doing something else and not consciously thinking about writing, what you’re working on never leaves you, does it? It’s always ticking over in your unconscious, at the back of your mind. I only discover what I am writing ‘about’, and the best way to tell a particular story, through a long, cyclical process of writing, redrafting, researching and redrafting – a slow process for me, whether I have time to write or not. I did sometimes think I wasn’t going to manage it, that life would be so much easier if I gave up trying to, but the initial desire to tell the story of the little boy at the centre of The Devil’s Music never went away; he haunted me.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

Certainly my generation of women, born in the 50s, faces more challenges than men when it comes to balancing writing and family commitments. Perhaps it’s a generalization, but there’s still the expectation that women should take the burden of responsibility for childcare and domestic chores.

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

I used to do a lot of gardening and decorating and cooking. Now I don’t! For the past 4 years or so my husband has done all the cooking – but then he is MUCH more interested in food than me. I’d eat boiled egg and toast every day to save valuable writing/thinking time. I do, when he’s away. When the children were younger, being a ‘good’ mother often seemed to include aeons of time revolving around food: I’m glad not to have that anymore!

What would you say to parents who want to write or further a writing career?

If writing is your passion, it’s very important to give it space in your life – important for you, and for everyone around you. If there are ‘sacrifices’ (money, time, friends even), only you can decide if they’re worth it.

More information on Jane and the Devil’s Music.

Jane’s novel the Devil’s Music was recently brought out on ebook. The book has received fabulous reviews.

Thank you so much to Jane for talking to me here at Head above Water. I wish her continued writing success. Find out more about Jane at her author site and about her novel The Devil’s Music.

Facebook page: The Devil’s Music Facebook
For more mother writer interviews see here

Writing: Time for a break?

So we’re not aspiring writers, we’re writers, so we write whenever we can. If we have a full time job we get up early or write into the night. If we stay at home with children we write when they are napping or happily occupied or in preschool or gone to bed. If we go out to work and have children we write from under a six foot pile of laundry with the dust bunnies for company, and sometimes we’re so tired we don’t know if anything is making sense.

Then life happens, other stuff, financial worries, work commitments, sick or anxious children, ailing relatives, a death or a report of one, something close to the bone or joyous events that need our time and attention.  These things affect both men and women but I think women try to hold everything in their heads all at once and may find it harder to switch between roles. Sometimes there are just too many directions. Is this why there are more major male novelists? It’s a controversial thing to ask and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. Are novels just too big a thing to keep in your head alongside all the micromanagement of life that women do? Does it take longer for women to reach the 10,000 hours of practise it takes to become an expert? Do women on average ultimately write less novels or have less ‘head space’ in which to incubate their novels.

Are there times, in particular for juggling women, but for all writers when you need to stop writing? Are there times when you are going through the motions and producing word count but your work lacks direction, depth, layering, association, all the things that can make a good novel or story great? Are there times when you need to just live, or just live and keep your mind open as the writing circulates in your subconscious?

Writing, do we need a break from each other sometimes? From the treadmill word count achievement, from the blogs and the flash fiction and the competitions and the myriad online publication options. Do we need to just sit somewhere, stare at the sun on the grass or into the fire to the bright flicker of flame and the roaring red core or just visit our relations, talk to our children, catch up on our day job, organise the laundry, have tea, go to bed early, read?

I read a wonderful post lately from Jennifer New on Studio Mothers, who tells us that the ideas we have in the thick of life and cannot follow up just then are not really lost, they feed into other things or we find ideas later that are just as good as the earlier ones. In my mother writer series I will be talking to author Jane Rusbridge. In her interview next Sunday she will be telling us about the long process over several years of writing her acclaimed novel Devil’s Music in tandem with her busy life situation. And prolific author Nicola Morgan has explored whether we can still write during difficult and challenging times in our lives. Indeed we all read of people who’s writing keeps them going through hard times. We all take solace from expression or from losing ourselves in something we love but is there a time to pause?

What do you think? Are there occasions when our life needs our absolute focus or when we need to step back and stop producing so that our writing ideas catch up with us? When we need to rid ourselves of the opposing clamour from the many requirements of our lives? Or do you just keep doggedly on, putting down even a few words every day. Have any of you taken an extended break and how did it affect your writing work, for the better or worse? If you take a long break will you lose momentum or gain perspective?

My feeling is that there is a time for pause. So often it is the down times when I only have a pen and a notebook and no plans that my best stories unfurl. So we may take a break, we may go off for a while and live our lives but the writing will always find us.

Night of Women’s Prose in Irish Writer’s Centre

I received word on the following event in the Irish Writer’s Centre tonight if you are in Dublin.

From the success of the Night of Women’s Prose 2010, as part of the week of celebration for the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, The Night of Women’s Prose 2011 will take place from 7:30, March 9th in the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin. The night is supported by the Irish Writers Centre and the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, Trinity College Dublin.The pieces selected have been chosen from an open call, advertised across Dublin, for unpublished prose by woman writers. The night will offer an eclectic mix of women’s writing with themes of lust, violence, motherhood and the ever changing face of life in Ireland. It is a celebration of woman’s voice in Ireland. The night’s proceeds will go to Aki DWA – African Women’s Network of Ireland- who will be reading an excerpt from ‘Herstory’.

The event is open admission, with a charity raffle on the night sponsored by Orla Kiely.

Mother Writer Interviews: Maria Duffy

My four children are aged between 10 and 3.  As a novelist and short story writer I was interested to find out how other women writers with young children manage their writing time and find creativity among chaos. In this series of interviews, running every Sunday from March to the end of May we hear from writers from Ireland, England, the U. S. and Australia who are at various stages in their writing career.

Maria and family

Maria Duffy from Dublin, Ireland is a mum (or mammy!) of four children, Eoin, 14, Roisin, 13, Enya, 9 and Conor, 7.  She writes women’s fiction and recently signed with Curtis Brown agent Sheila Crowley. She has had stories published – in A Pint And A Haircut and in an US Anthology called Saying Goodbye and she blogs fabulously for Hellomagazine.com, interviewing celebrity tweeters.

When did you start writing Maria? Had you established a writing rhythm or career before or did it happen alongside the kids?

I’ve always been interested in writing but never did much about it. I was always the one to write the silly poem when somebody was leaving their job or celebrating a big birthday. I suppose I always wrote bits and pieces but never really had the confidence or belief in myself to take it any further. When the children were very young (I had four under six) I began to write a novel. It was a revelation to me because I fell in love with the art of bringing the characters to life on the page and exploring their lives. As the children got older, I began to write more and now couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I would probably say it’s had a good impact. Before I had children, I had a full time job in the bank and worked long hours. When I had my third child, I gave up my job to stay at home with the children. It was really only then that I began to explore the idea of writing more seriously. If I’d stayed in the bank, I probably would have always written but not to the extent I do now.

How do you organise your writing routine and space?

I have a pretty good routine these days. It was certainly more difficult when the children were younger and I always had at least one of them at home with me. Now that they’re all in school, I drop them off at 9.15am and the day is mine until I collect them at 3pm. Although I write from home, I discipline myself to look on it like any other job and force myself to ignore the piles of ironing and the layers of dust on the furniture! I used to find this difficult and I’d often lose a whole day of writing because I’d decide my house was filthy and I just had to clean it! These days I tell myself that if I was out of the house working at another job, the housework wouldn’t be done so I close my eyes, step over the pile of washing and go and write! The other thing I’ve learned to do is to say no to offers from friends to go for coffee or shopping. I have a number of friends who have young children and we used to spend long mornings putting the world to rights over coffee. Now I just tell them I’m working and either catch up with them in the evenings or weekends.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span?

I think it’s often difficult to get the balance right. In theory, I write while the children are in school and spend the rest of the day doing homework with them, bringing them to their after-school activities, making dinner, etc. But that’s the ideal scenario. As any writer would tell you, deadlines loom and pressure builds and sometimes the writing day can spill over into the evening or night. Sometimes I might be having a productive day and the words are flowing. On those days, it’s very difficult to just stop at a certain time and not do any more. Also, life is so unpredictable when you have children. It only takes one of them to have a tummy bug or a bout of tonsillitis for all my best laid plans to go out the window. And don’t talk to me about mid-term…!

How do the children react to your writing or the time you spend on it?

Overall, they’re pretty good. They’re old enough now to understand what I’m doing and as they’re all big readers, they love the thought that I’m writing books. I also have the pleasure of blogging for Hellomagazine.com and sometimes interview celebrities. This earns me lots of brownie points with them. For example, I recently interviewed Jedward and my children were waiting outside for me. I managed to drag John out to say hello to them so I was the coolest Mammy in the world!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your roles as mother and writer?

The most challenging thing is the guilt. Although I try to divide my time between my writing and the family, I’m not always very successful at it. There are days when I plonk the children in front of the telly because there’s something I really need to get done and when a deadline is looming, I’ve been known to feed the children beans on toast or pasta and microwave sauce for days! When one of the children comes home crying because I haven’t given him the money for a school tour or haven’t signed his homework journal, the guilt is huge. Writing is one of those things that you can’t switch off from and I sometimes feel it takes over my brain and doesn’t leave room for anything else. Gosh, that all makes me sound like a terrible mother, doesn’t it? I think the most important thing is my children know they’re loved and I keep telling myself to stop beating myself up about the little things.

You’ve made breakthroughs,  such as becoming a blogger for Hello Magazine and securing agent representation at Curtis Brown, when did your proudest writing moments happen and how did you feel?

My first breakthrough came when Poolbeg showed an interest in my first novel. I’d sent them six chapters and they asked to see the full manuscript. I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful that felt, especially knowing they only ask a small percentage of people to send the full manuscript. That was two years ago and nothing came of it but it was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer and I began to think I really could make it as an author. I’ve since had a couple of short stories published and, as I already mentioned, I’m blogging for Hellomagazine.com, but my proudest moment in my writing career so far was when I was taken on by a fabulous agent, Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown. I signed with Sheila six months ago and it’s been amazing. As a writer, sometimes you feel you’re writing into the wind, with nobody acknowledging what you’re doing and not getting feedback. To have an amazing agent like Sheila who champions me and believes in me is worth so much.

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

I think these days both women and men face challenges in career/family life. I’ve already mentioned the challenges I face as a mother but in my situation, my husband faces those challenges too. He’s very supportive of me and my writing and he’ll muck in as much as he can to help. He works full time but has set up an office for himself at home in order to try to work at least one day a week from home. He does this so that he can help with the children/housework etc and allow me to write. At times when I’m under pressure, he tells me to just keep my head down and write and he’s the one who ends up juggling work and children. I’m very lucky to have him.

(He does sound wonderful!)

Something has to give when wearing many hats, what is it for you?

Oh that’s an easy one – the ironing, the cleaning, the making of healthy dinners…! Put it this way, if I have an hour to spare, I’d rather sit and chat with the children and find out about their day rather than spend it doing housework!

What suggestions do you have for mothers or indeed parents who want to write or further a writing career.

Firstly I’d say that if it’s something you want to do, you’ll find a way to do it. We all have to juggle things and sometimes it seems like an impossible task but once you’re actually doing it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it before. If you really want to write, look at your day and see how you could structure it to find some time to do it. You’ll have to learn to prioritize; otherwise you’ll never do it. For instance, I used to be very stuffy about my house. I probably cleaned for hours every day and loved to have a house smelling of roses! I’m not saying my house is filthy now (honestly, it’s not!) but it’s certainly not as shiny as it used to be!

Get your children to help out more around the house. We, as a family, do a clean up hour on Saturday mornings. Of course I do the necessary stuff (like wiping wee off the toilet seat!) every day but the big clean-up is left until Saturday mornings. All six of us get stuck in for an hour and I give everybody jobs to do. It’s actually quite enjoyable to have us all buzzing around the place for a while and we usually have some treats afterwards.

The other thing you can do to free up more time is think ahead about dinners for the week. I often make a few dinners at weekends and freeze them – things like casseroles or stews that can be defrosted and heated up easily. I also make sure there are plenty of snacks in the house so the children won’t go hungry while I have my head in the computer!

Basically, if you want to write, nothing should stop you; there’s always a way!

Thanks so much for your fabulous answer Maria! I’ve really enjoyed having you on Head above Water. Wishing you every success for publication of your novel!

Find out more about Maria on her blog Writenowmom

See Maria in action interviewing the stars on Hellomagazine.com on her Stars in the Twitterverse blog