#fridayflash The integrity of skin

Sarah likes to walk around the apartment naked.

She knew a girl once back home whose father never spoke to her again once she told him she was pregnant out of wedlock. He was afraid of what the neighbours would say.

When she was twenty Sarah posed for a painter in Paris. They’d had sex afterwards but when it was over he told her it was like making love to a corpse. But you told me to stay still she thought, remembering the way he consumed her as he drew. He made her a light omelette before she left, turning it expertly in the pan until it was just firm with a liquid sheen. It was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten. He had wanted to paint her because of the way the light reflected on her exquisitely pale skin.

A man called Colm had loved her not so long ago but he’d hated the way she cracked open boiled eggs, smashing them from the top. When they first went out he made her feel she was made of glass, he always spoke to her so quietly, always caressed her with the lightest of touches, always watched her as she perched on the edge of a table in the bar among his friends, his face sliced with anxiety. When she moved he put out his hands as if to save her.

Oh but she didn’t need saving.

The first time her uncle put his hands on her where he shouldn’t she thought he was joking. He used to help her make sandcastles when she was little, pat the sand into the bucket. He wasn’t very good at it. The sand was too dry and the sandcastles spilled away, but once he’d found her a some beautiful razor shells, so fragile. He’d helped her put them carefully on top so that they wouldn’t break.

Her father had had to go out, he always had to go out. He asked Ian to stay, to mind her. No-one had minded her since her mother. Ian had climbed into bed beside her and told her everything would be fine, that she was special, that her skin was so soft, that her hands were…..Sarah wondered what her father would have done if Ian had made her pregnant. On the nights when her father was downstairs she put her hands on her stomach and whispered to it. All the phrases from her mother that she could remember. ‘There, there. Sleep tight. You’ll be better in the morning’. But that baby wasn’t true.

She used to manhandle her father’s greyhounds instead, drag them round by the scruff of the neck, tying their ropes too tight when she took them for a walk so that they were wheezing and choking by the time they came back, friction sores materializing under the hair. Her father had discovered this once and hit her around the back of the legs with his belt so that red welts came up. That was the only time he touched her, he had been sorry after. He had cooked her egg and chips.

Once the teacher made her stand outside the classroom for writing on her hand. She stood in the long slow hot corridor hearing the mumble of far away voices. She had written her own name three times on the left and twice on the right.

When she was twenty five she’d had a tattoo done just below her naval. The pain didn’t bother her. Getting it done had reminded her of her diabetic mother injecting insulin. The first time Colm saw the tattoo something changed between them. He was no longer as gentle. When he made love to her he bit her neck and she thought of the greyhounds.

The apartments are heated from a centrally regulated system. It’s spring but unusually warm and the radiators are blasting. Sarah opens the sliding door of the balcony and feels the air travel over her skin, with the light touch and sweet nostalgia of the pink blossom that still hangs on the tree outside.

The baby snuffles and mewls. Colm had taken his hands away and she hadn’t broken, although there’d been a difficulty with the birth, they’d sliced her open under her tattoo to take out the baby.

Sarah picks him up and puts his mouth to her breast, his clear, unblemished skin against hers. Outside the window a vapour trail slices the sky, its knife edge morphing to soft rings the further the trail lags behind. The baby holds her finger in his fist, traces her face with his tiny hand.  Sarah thinks of shells, she thinks of glass.

Mother writer interview: Rebecca Emin

Rebecca and Family

REBECCA EMIN lives in Oxfordshire, England, with her husband and three small children. Her first novel for 8-12 year olds will be published later this year, and she is currently working on her second novel. Rebecca enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories and is an author for Ether Books.

Tell me about your family Rebecca

I have a daughter who is 8 and sons aged 6 and 3. I also have a 15 year old step daughter. She lives with her mum but I have known her since she was 2, so she feels like part of our family.

When did you start writing and what do you write?

I always wrote stories for fun, and dreadful teenage angst poems, but decided to try and write a novel in 2009, and that is when writing became something more serious for me. Since then I have developed an interest in writing flash fiction and short stories.

I am pretty sure that I will never go back to poetry!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

As I had my children before trying to develop my writing career, writing hasn’t had a sudden impact on an established career for me. As my children are getting older, I am very slowly finding my writing easier to fit in with our routines. The thing I find really difficult is the school holidays as I try and tell myself to put the writing on hold but sometimes my characters are not that obliging so I feel I have to write. This is hard as I find interruptions quite difficult to deal with when I am engrossed in a story.

The positive that has come from having children is that they can read my work when I write children’s stories. It is wonderful to see them reading something and then smile and say they love it.

How do you organise your writing time and space, how do you work your day, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

If I am organized, I take my laptop with me on the school run and go straight to my favourite writing spot which is a café right near my son’s pre-school. They do have WiFi there but I have deliberately not asked for access, as I find being unable to use the internet means that I write a lot more, and also being away from my house, I can more easily ignore the chores that are all around me. I write enough to make me feel satisfied for the day and then go home to do my other tasks more cheerfully.

However, it’s being organized enough to take the laptop with me. It’s been a while… so I am often at my kitchen table instead, and I never get as many words written there.

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus depending on your projects?

I readjust constantly. I tend to fit my writing into the time that my children are all occupied elsewhere, as I can’t immerse myself in my writing with constant interruption. As a result it varies day to day as my 3 year old is not at pre-school fulltime.

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

My 6 year old son is very excited about it, and always wants to read my children’s stories. My 8 year old gets a bit jealous, so I tend not to do much writing related activity when she is in the house.

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

GUILT. I feel guilty that I am not gloriously happy to “simply” be a mother and that I feel that I have to write to feel fulfilled. I feel guilty that the house is not cleaner and the laundry mountain has put down roots. But mostly I feel guilty when other people suggest that perhaps my time would be better of spent doing other things, ie that my family is “more important”. It is a difficult thing to balance.

You’ve made breakthroughs, such as your stories appearing in several anthologies, your popular short story publications through Ether books and finding a publisher for your children’s novel, why do you think these successes occured when they did?

All of my breakthroughs have happened very recently, which is very exciting and somewhat overwhelming at the same time. It’s wonderful to have stories published and my novel accepted for publication, but I can honestly say my proudest moments are when someone gets in touch with me to say they have read something of mine and enjoyed it. These are the highlights for me.

I can say without doubt that all of my writing successes have been helped along by social networking on Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogging. It is incredible how supportive and helpful people can be when they have similar interests, and I have made some great connections with people who have had a huge impact on me both as a writer and in general.

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 can only speak from my own experience, but in our house I find getting the balance difficult whereas my husband’s role is more defined. Because I am at home full time, it is naturally expected that I will do the majority of the tasks involved with running a family. The challenge for me is to fit the admin for our company and my writing into my child-free hours and still manage to keep the domestic side of things afloat. There never seem to be enough hours in the day!

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

Definitely the housework.

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

Try not to get too bogged down in worrying about the amount of time you don’t have, and instead use the time that is available wisely.

Also, accept every offer of help that you get!

Thanks for sharing your experiences here on Head above Water, Rebecca. Congratulations on your publication news so far and we wish you continued writing successes into the future!

More about Rebecca,

Here are anthologies in which her work has recently appeared, many of which are in aid of really worthwhile charities such as the UK National Autism Society and the Red Cross assistance for the people affected by floods in Pakistan.

Rebecca’s stories on Ether books (e-book stories for the Iphone and Ipod touch)

Read about Rebecca’s novel New Beginnings for children that will be published soon by Punked Books.

If you enjoyed this mother writer interview, read more here

Mother writer interview: Vanessa O’ Loughlin

Vanessa O’Loughlin lives near Dublin. She is the founder of writing.ie the new national Irish writing resource. Vanessa started writing fiction in 1999. In 2006 Vanessa established Inkwell Writers Workshops which provides writing workshops and critiquing services to authors. She is PRO and Newsletter editor for Irish Pen.

Vanessa has had several short stories published and won competitions with RTE TV, Poolbeg, RTE Radio and Mills and Boon. One of her short stories Every Second Counts was included in the best selling Mums the Word Anthology that featured 32 of Ireland’s top women writers. In 2010 she compiled The Big Book of Hope with Hazel Larkin and The Hope Foundation.

Vanessa is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown London, and writes crime as Sam Blake.

Tell us about your children Vanessa.

Sophie and Sam

Sophie is 10 years old, and an aspiring writer, Sam is 6 and full of beans!

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

In 1999, I had a full time job in Event Management but no children. My husband went sailing across the Atlantic for 8 weeks. So at that point I had a lot of free time and an idea burning so I started to write. I established a writing routine right at the very beginning, writing every day. In fact when the bug bit, I really couldn’t stop!

Later, founding Inkwell Writers grew out of my need to learn more and improve my own writing – and writing.ie has grown out of Inkwell. The only problem now is fitting the writing in!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

The children are brilliant, they definitely don’t get as much attention as they deserve because I’m juggling everything, but they’ve grown up with it, so it’s the norm for them (that’s me trying to persuade myself). At this second, the 6 year old is shouting in one ear that he wants to go to the park, and the 10yo is in the other ear looking for a stapler. It’s Easter and even on a Sunday morning I’m trying to get everything done, so we can all go out in the afternoon!

How do you organise your writing time and space, how do you work your day, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

It’s all about scheduling and getting the most out of my time. I work when they are in school, and in the evenings (and at weekends). If my husband can do the school run in the morning I gain an hour a day which is always fabulous! I don’t have time to read the paper or watch much TV (usually have my laptop on my knee), but I do LOVE twitter.

My current goal is to write for 30 mins every morning BEFORE I do anything. If I open my email or twitter first I’m lost.

My most used phrase, is ‘I’ll be right there, give me two minutes’

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?

I find I have to react with the circumstances, a lot of what I do is online and I try to keep my mornings clear to work or write but recently with the development of writing.ie. I’ve been having a lot of meetings that eat into my non-child time and mean I have to make that time up somewhere else. Every day is different!

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

The 6 year old does get very fed up when I’m on the computer and can be very disruptive. He also yells when I’m on the phone! I can only really write when they aren’t around as I get constantly interrupted.

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

I don’t get any me time, or nearly enough writing time at the moment, but that should settle down when I get some routines in place with writing.ie.

You’ve made a full-time career out of your own writing and also out of helping others move towards publication. How did you do it?

I believe that you create your own opportunities by being open to ideas and thinking laterally. I am someone who will always push an opportunity as far as I can go with it rather than accept defeat early on. I’m a positive thinker and don’t give up easily! I think you have to create your own momentum, and open as many options as possible.

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 women have a much greater challenge because generally the child rearing bit falls to them – even if they are getting loads of help from their partners they are still the Managing Director of that end of the operation. If they have a career and are writing too, they have to do a lot of juggling. Fortunately God gave us the ability to multi task and manage our time well, although I’m not sure multi tasking is the ideal scenario (my burnt sausages are testimony to that). Mentally women have a huge amount on their plate running a household and a family as well as other activities.

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


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

Go for it! Writing is one of the most wonderful things in the world, it releases you mentally from the here and now and uses a whole area of your brain that doesn’t deal with housework or schoolruns, an area that’s available for exercise and needs it! The key is that you have to write because you love writing, not because you want to make money from it (which you probably won’t).

Having said that, today with changes in the publishing industry as a whole, writers have chances of publication that they never had before – through ePublishing, print on demand and the many online publications seeking work. It’s an exciting time to be a writer.

Thanks to Vanessa for filling us in on her busy and diverse writing career. Her positive attitude is inspirational!

More on Vanessa and her projects:

Writing.ie is a new, comprehensive national writing resource with advice, interviews, competitions and forums for writers.

Inkwell provide critiquing, editing and manuscript assessment services and a free newsletter. They also run one day intensive fiction writers workshops facilitated by best selling authors and have directly assisted over 50 authors to get published.

Vanessa has just brought out a brilliant e-book of writing tips from her workshops called Writing to Get Published: Bringing the Dream Alive

Available through Smashwords

Kindle.com ebook

Kindle.co.uk ebook

Or as an iPhone/iPad app published by Collca (their first non history app)
Blood Red Ink is Vanessa’s crime writing blog under the pen name Sam Blake.
If you enjoyed reading this there are more mother writer interviews here

#fridayflash Sidings

Eleanor ran for the train, in her minds eye it slid away down the track, smooth treachery.

But the doors slid shut behind her and she felt the metal under her feet. She swayed between carriages.

Her slower self was panting on the platform. The one who had not really wanted to come.

The passengers were orderly and quiet, their faces contemplative. There were no lads with cans banging against aisle passengers. The seat received her thankfully, yielded. She sighed at the sidings, decommissioned carriages crumbling.

Eleanor had found out about the funeral accidentally, a chance phonecall to an old friend who knew about tax laws. It was years since she’d seen Kevin. How would she ever have known? It was the kind of news a mother would have passed on, if she’d been around, lowering her voice when she explained the circumstances.

Of course her Dad knew the family but it wasn’t Kevin he remembered. But Kevin had always been there. Kevin was always at the front gate. Kevin had pulled her pigtails when she was five. Kevin had robbed a necklace from his sister and given it to her when they were both eight. He had kissed her on the head age nine when they were playing catch but he said it was accidental. He had challenged her to a spitting competition when they were ten and she was pretty sure she won. When he was fifteen she ran into him down at the park mitching school. The park was by the river and over the river spanned an old railway bridge. There were gaps between the girders you could see the water through.

They climbed the barbed wire and the fencing onto the bridge. ‘I wonder if it’s safe’ Eleanor had said to him, rubbing her finger into the rust. ‘Could we fall through?’ ‘With any luck’ he said. He was funny then although he never smiled. His hair was new romantic, fell over his eyes.

She’d looked at the water and wondered what it was like to be dead. ‘Not all it’s cracked up to be’ said Kevin as if he’d heard. She had thought she and her father would move when her mother had been killed. Everything had been a reminder, the cups, the clothes pegs on the line, valance sheets, a certain kind of tinned sardine. Breakfast time, Sunday lunch, the hour after she came home from school, the spot on the street where it happened. There was no avoidance. Perhaps her father preferred it like that. He always spoke about her as if she was on her way home, as if all her actions were in the continuous present. ‘Your mother likes the flower beds that way’ he used to say, every time they walked up the drive in springtime.

And Kevin. He was never just himself was he? She was never going to say no when he wanted her to go all the way in her single bed the nights her dad was out at what he called his committee meetings. He held her so tight that she thought she would smother. He kissed her fingers and limbs and she fed from his lips and it was the only time that she completely forgot. He always kept his eyes shut.

The train lurched through points. She opened her eyes and the sun had escaped the altocirrus. It seemed now that people were talking, smiling, moving, all activity.

It was a short journey from the station to the cemetery. But she only just made it in time. Later she thought she would go and visit her mother’s grave, note the decreasing gap between her mother’s final age and her own lifespan.

Her mother was walking home from the shops that day, a Saturday. A Saturday in April with the blossom out on the trees and a sense of beginning.

At the graveside she recognised almost everyone. Neighbours she hadn’t seen in years, people who were kind at the time, the girl who married Kevin when she got pregnant. Eleanor avoided looking at the coffin. Instead she saw the young boys, they could have beeen Kevin, all over again, Kevin trying to put frogs down her back in the school yard. Kevin trying so hard to say sorry when they were both thirteen but not being able. A man stepped forward to take them by the hand, Kevin’s brother, so much older than when she saw him at the court.

Kevin and his brother had been showing off to each other, took their father’s car. Kevin had been in the passenger side. The side that struck her.

He’d only mentioned her mother once after that, inadvertently. He said that she made the best ham sandwiches. That he could never eat a ham sandwich now without remembering.

Kevin’s brother looked up from the lowered coffin, his tears close but unspilt. He glanced at her but there was no recognition, no remembrance. Kevin had once told Eleanor that he loved her. But she didn’t know if he was joking. She probably loved him too but that was immaterial.

Eleanor returned on the train without visiting her father. The altocirrus triumphed, the windows were fraught with rain. Tears mixed with her own reflection. She kept fixed in her mind the rusty train bridge and the water swirling under. The trains lurched at the points, swung away from the rotten sidings.

Writing Scenes – what is the perfect snapshot?

Recently a photographer came to take a picture of my children to accompany an article for the newspaper in which I had been quoted. He took many, many pictures, altering the configurations and the props. In the end, two photographs of the very many were chosen. The photographer had created far more material than he would eventually use but this gave him a choice of the best for his purpose.
Then today I noticed this wonderful tweet from @johannaharness (http://www.johannaharness.com)
I’ve rewritten this last scene 5 times now. It’s like rearranging furniture in a room. I have to move it to see if it’s right. #amwriting

From this tweet it sounds as if Joanna approached the scene from different angles, or shifted the emphasis slightly each time.
One suggestion when writing a scene is to write it from each of the protagonists point of view to see the different nuances of the scene and what is most important to each of the characters. Of course you will probably have already have chosen a particular point of view for your book but what you reveal about a situation should always be done against the counterpoint of what you don’t mention or what the protagonist does not find noteworthy. A child might have noticed the cup cakes piled high on the table, her father the new ride on lawn mower through the open door, her mother the droop of the hostesses mouth. Or there may be somebody present who should be noticed or spoken to but isn’t. Now we want to know why.
As Claire King’s excellent article on the intent of writing explains it, everything we write should mean something, should add layers.
Whatever view you take in a particular scene tells the story in a particular way, suggests something. We come to know and love the style of certain film directors who choose particular unique ways of telling stories using different angles, shot types, character juxtapositions and cutaways to significant objects.
Our material is words and characters too, how we place them, the way they speak, the objects we conjur. Some of this, as for film directors, is intuitive and becomes a refined skill as we improve as writers. But it’s important to keep in our minds the visual, mental and emotional consideration of which is the best snapshot of the scene we are presenting, which material is vital and which should be left behind.

Mother Writer Interviews: Claire King

Claire King’s first novel The Night Rainbow will be published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2013. She lives in France where she also works and runs a gîte. She has two daughters Amélie, 5 and Beatrix, 3. She is currently Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine.

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

I’ve been writing for a long time, but really, the successful rhythm and the serious approach to writing only came alongside my children. When my youngest was two, that’s when I really got on a roll.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I went through a long hiatus when my first child was born. Having a baby, far from the support of our parents, took every last drop of time and then some. Of course writing had to go, goodness some days we barely managed to wash and eat. But in the long term, as a result of having the girls, my time management and the way I set priorities definitely improved. And eventually I was managing to fit more quality writing into my days than I had before.

I recently took up the role of Fiction Editor for The View From Here literary magazine. It seems crazy on top of the load I already have, but I see it as an investment in the future. The work that I do currently is interesting, challenging and has allowed me to live where I do, but it does take me away from my family. I would like to be here for my family more often and so am nudging my career in the direction of more literary pursuits!

How do you organise your writing time and space, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

I have no routine. I work away from home on average one week per month and there is no pattern to the timing of this. I also run our two gîtes, including everything from the marketing and website to ironing the bed linen. This is heavily seasonal, but also happens on an ad hoc basis through the year. After family, the writing fits in with all this and the last thing on the pile is housework. The children always have clean clothes but they are often un-ironed and the cobwebs often mount up.

What is important to me is my writing space, or garret. When I sit down to write I physically move myself and my computer from the place I answer emails, do the tax returns and so on. I have a small square table by our roof terrace windows. I sit there, put on my headphones, shut out the world and write.

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?

I find it easiest to keep to a kind of rhythm, setting daily goals and setting time aside to achieve them. Breaks to that momentum are pretty disruptive and it can be hard to get going again, but I have to accept that they happen. If I have a sick child then it’s time to be Mummy and too bad for the writing. I don’t ever want my children to remember a time when I was too busy to cuddle them when they were feeling poorly.

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

My children seldom see the time I spend writing, they are usually asleep, or, now that they’re both old enough, at kindergarten. Also I write on the train when I’m going away to work. When my children and I are at home together I don’t try and write. It’s no good for my concentration and no good for them needing my attention and being constantly turned away. The only exceptions are when I have a deadline (real or self imposed) and my husband is able to take care of them. Then I’ll shut myself away and explain why it’s important.

I do talk to them about my writing, of course. My children understand why I need to write. They understand that it is one of the ways I work (there are many!) and they understand that they books we all love to read are created by people who sat down to write the stories so we could enjoy them.

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

For me the hardest thing is creating my own space and time. When I’m writing I absolutely must shut myself off. I can’t have conversations or interruptions. I need a clear hour at least, without interruptions. I’ve found ways to communicate that and insist upon it. And I’ve found ways to not feel guilty about putting fish fingers on the dinner table occasionally because I’ve written in the time I could have been making a lasagne.

You’ve made breakthroughs, most particularly finding your agent and your novel The Night Rainbow being taken on by Bloomsbury, at what stage of family life did they occur, why do you think they occurred when they did?

2010 was an amazing year for me, when I made breakthroughs with both my short fiction and my novel. I was a runner up in the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010, and shortlisted in both the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition and the New Scientist flash fiction competition. I also won first prize in one of the monthly Writers’ Forum magazine competitions. The most amazing breakthrough came towards the end of the year though, when I had finished and submitted my novel and quickly found literary agent representation in the wonderful Annette Green. Annette worked fast, and by the end of the year I had met Bloomsbury and knew an offer was forthcoming. It all happened so fast in the end that sometimes I have to pinch myself to check that this is really happening. All this coincided with my youngest daughter starting kindergarten, which now frees up more time for me to get cracking on that next novel. I think the discipline that I learned during the years I had the children at home as well as writing and working is hugely beneficial to me now. I don’t waste my time, it’s far too precious, and these days I don’t have to write so late into the night, which I think my husband appreciates…

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 women are often more reticent to set time aside, more often putting themselves last. Since writing cannot often be justified as a means of making money (certainly initially) or of pleasing the family, then it can easily drop off the list. I think men in general find it easier to prioritise time for themselves, whether it’s reading a book, playing a computer game, having a drink with a friend, going to play squash, whatever. Women need to get smarter at doing that too – it’s good for us and ultimately good for our families when we create space and time for things that are important to us personally.

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

1) Be crystal clear on your priorities. Know what you need to make it work – how much time you need for family, friends, work etc and give yourself realistic achievable writing goals.

2) Have a plan for how you’re going to achieve your writing goals but be flexible and pragmatic when your plans get disruptive.

3) Tell your family and friends that you are writing and that it is important to you and not just a ‘hobby’. You need their support and to be taken seriously.

4) Get yourself some cheerleaders – network on twitter or on writing websites with people like yourself.

5) Don’t ever give up.

Thanks so much for sharing your amazing writing journey with us Claire and we really look forward to seeing The Night Rainbow coming out. Congratulations on your wonderful news!

If you want to read about Claire and browse her excellent writing articles and links to her short fiction you can find more at http://www.claire-king.com/

For more in the mother writer series see here.

Mother Writer Interviews: Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor describes herself as a ‘mother slash blogger slash freelance writer’. Her blog ‘Hot Cross Mum’ has been ranked within the top 50 UK parenting websites and has won several awards. She has appeared in The Sunday Times Magazine and on Ireland’s TV3.

Hazel writes for several national Irish newspapers and contributes to UK and Irish parenting magazines and websites. She is the featured ‘Real Mum’ in the March issue of Irish Parent magazine and will soon appear regularly on an online parenting TV channel. She has blogged for ‘Hello Magazine’. Hazel has been a contributor on the national writing resource www.writing.ie and tutors on the online course ‘Blogging and Beyond’. She is currently launching an eBook based on her blog. Hazel has two boys aged 5 and 3 and lives in Dublin.

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

I started writing after being made redundant in March 2009. With the children both being pre-school age, I made a decision to stay at home to look after them. I looked into freelance writing as a way to generate some income whilst being at home and everything started from there. I had written nothing, other than tedious management reports, up to that point!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

It has been the reason for my writing career! My children are my inspiration and the basis of most of my subject matter. If it wasn’t for them, I simply wouldn’t be writing.

How do you organise your writing time and space, do you have a routine or is it more ad hoc?

I’m not sure I could say that I organize my writing time; it is more a case of grabbing it when I can! I’m lucky to have a wonderful attic which I disappear to when the boys are both in bed or before they wake up. This is where, and when, I have done most of my writing. I think you would call it burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle!

Since September last year, I’ve gained a couple of hours during the week when both the boys are at school and pre-school and this has been great. I can see that as the boys grow older, and are both at school, it is going to get a little easier for me to have scheduled time to write. For now, it really is a case of stolen time.

Interestingly, I don’t always write at the laptop. I often scribble ideas and entire chapters in a notebook and find this really refreshing.

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?

I have to re-adjust continually. For example, during school holidays family time completely takes over. I try to get ahead of deadlines during these school breaks so I don’t have to worry about writing and can relax and enjoy the time with the boys. As a freelance writer, it’s difficult to predict when a piece will be commissioned so when I do get a deadline, I have to re-focus and get my head down. My blog occasionally gets completely neglected and as for writing my novel, I grab any time I can and try to get as many words written per day as is humanly possible. Sometimes it’s zero; occasionally it’s thousands.

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

They are both aware that I am a writer and know that I have a blog called ‘Hot Cross Mum’. It amazes me that they have picked this up through conversation! They often see me working at the computer and my eldest sometimes mimics me – he sends emails and writes on his calculator! I close the laptop down when I’m not working, so I’m not tempted to write in the middle of building a Lego spaceship! I think this is actually very important.

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

I basically end up feeling constantly guilty – about the children, the house, or my writing. I think mothers usually struggle to juggle everything in their lives without worrying that they are neglecting something, or someone. Over the last two years I have become much more realistic about what I can achieve and am better at leaving my writing when I have to, because ‘real life’ takes over. I think I would still feel the same if I had another 24 hours in every day! Of course, the boys often want my attention when I’m working – any time I am trying to have ‘me time’ will always be difficult for them to accept at the moment. As I am trying to write this, I have one child sitting on my knee asking me to put his shoes on and the other asking for a drink and both of them needing various other things – it is a fairly typical scenario!

You’ve been on national Irish TV and in National newspapers and your blog has received awards, when did these breakthroughs occur and why do you think they happened when they did?

My breakthroughs really occurred quite quickly and unexpectedly so it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. At the time I started my blog my youngest was 15 months. By the time he was 2, I’d been approached by literary agents, was blogging for ‘Hello’, had regular freelance work, was being interviewed for The Sunday Times and TV3 and had started working on a fiction novel. It was a crazy time really; trying to maintain the momentum which had started and managing two small boys; whilst still really adjusting to life at home as opposed to a professional career.

At the basis of it all is purely and simply the fact that I loved what I was doing; above all else, it was that pure love of writing which kept me going and pushed me to drag myself out of bed before anyone else woke up, and kept me tapping away late at night while everyone else slept. I think I’m extremely lucky to have found something I love doing which I can combine with being at home with my children.

I’ll never forget Martin King standing in my kitchen interviewing me about my blog in front of a camera crew; nine months previously I didn’t even know what a blog was!

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 it is increasingly something being faced in equal measure. Traditionally it has always been the women who reduce their working hours or give up their careers for their families. The recession is changing that; as many families don’t have a choice as to who goes out to work. I think it will take another generation before there is really any equality between men and women in balancing career/family life.

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

Honestly? I think it is my ‘leisure’ time which has been sacrificed. I don’t lounge around on the sofa channel-surfing and I, equally, don’t go to a gym or go running. I now regard my ‘free time’ as the evenings after the boys are in bed and I use that ‘free time’ to write – sometimes I write for pleasure (i.e. my fiction novel) and sometimes it is for work (i.e paid articles etc). Oh, and I’m sure my sanity has been left well and truly behind somewhere along the way!

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

My main suggestion would be to just ‘do it’! There will never be enough hours in the day or the ideal set of circumstances to start writing in, so I would say grab any opportunity you can and dive in. I honestly cannot emphasize enough how unprepared I was, in many ways, to start a writing career, but I have stuck at it and have discovered something I love by doing so. I would also encourage anyone to start interacting with other writers; via Twitter, via blogs or via writing communities such as writing.ie. These have all been a tremendous source of support, friendship and opportunities for me.

What a fantastic interview Hazel, thanks and we wish you success with your multitude of headwrecking endeavours in particular your new eBook (details below!)

More of Hazel elsewhere

Hazel’s blog Hot Cross Mum

Hazel is very excited to have recently launched her eBook, ‘Hot Cross Mum: bitesize slices of motherhood’, which is based on her blog. Do check it out!

Read more mother writer interviews here

#fridayflash Spun

He remembers Sarah spinning, her arms outstretched on the strand. The sepia sky, whirligig in the wind, her hair spread with static, her toes making a hole in the sand. So long ago that it might be a story he has spun for himself, a consolation.

Last week she made spun sugar with the twins. Flicking the strands over the handles of saucepans so that it made a mesh that glistened. The girls became ensnared in bright threads, that dangled from their hands like phosphorescent stalactites. They wanted to hug him, to wrap him up with their sweet ropes but he backed away. The phone rang in the office.

He used to go to Funderland as a teenager, he loved the spider armed rides that flung him into the air and rotated at head spinning speeds. It was the thrill of it. His brother Mark and his best friend Freddie with their faces peeled back with the centrifugal force of an anti-gravity machine.

In the new casino, he watched the croupier cast the ball onto the roulette wheel. He kept his hand in his pocket. He knew what was going to happen even as the wheel spun. He should have known what was going to happen to his property portfolio a long time before the world stopped turning. When Sarah had finished cooking with the girls, the pristine, granite topped kitchen had been in a state, he didn’t know if it could be undone.

His grandmother’s house even further back in time, not sepia but black. Soot on the ceiling, spider webs in every corner, the same tales spun over and over. He was only five. She rolled a pound note into his fist. He thought he was rich. He kissed her skin and it was the same texture as the pound note. Eddies in the water, fishing with his father, rumours of whirlpools in the rivers of his childhood.

Wheel spin after an argument with Sarah. The Porche chasing away his fears momentarily. He went to the harbour. From the end of the pier, the water was so black, he couldn’t see into it. Further down the coast a Ferris wheel sedately turned. There would be a wonderful view of the lights from there.