Mother writer interviews: Humanity and the imaginative hunger

Paul's Himalayan Musk flowering in my garden

And Breathe. I’ve been delighted at the interest in my series of Mother Writer interviews and how you have found them relevant and inspirational . The mothers featured are determined, hardworking, often having a wry sense of humour. They suffer guilt and it’s not always smooth. As a mum of four kids ten and under, with several writing projects on the go, I really wanted to hear from other mums as to how they coped with the juggling of their joint passions, their children and their writing careers. There are practical tips but what has stood out for me is the attitude of the mothers, their persistence, their readjustments to the reality of life’s pressures, their generosity towards not only their families but to others in the writing community when it would have been easy to be selfish, to make their writing more important than anything or anyone else. Success often is said to require singleminded determination but what I admire is the interviewees ability to pursue their writing dream while also dedicating themselves to the welfare of their children, the difficult job of physically & psychologically preparing them for the world, the day to day caring and minding that revolutionizes the life of the child and the person they become into the future.

Which brings me on to my next interviewee Christine Mosler. This particular series of interviews was to run from March to May including today and my final interviewee for this series is to be mum of four, writer and blogger, Christine Mosler. However I elected to give her the day off and to wait until she returns from an amazing trip to Mozambique with Save the Children. As Christine explains here this trip takes her out of her comfort zone but is something that is profoundly important to her to raise awareness about the lack of vaccinations available to the children there. It is bound to be an amazing but very emotional trip and it will be fascinating to hear from her when she returns. In the meantime her wonderful blog about and for families is nominated for a MAD blog award which she richly deserves, so if you care to browse her blog and vote for it in the awards that would be wonderful.

The series of twelve interviews has been wonderful and I have been asked to crosspost them on the Irish national writing resource website where I have a guest blog. So if you missed any of the interviews you can catch up with them there or else here.

I will continue to run interviews on the blog but not every week as I am focussing on finishing the first draft of my next novel The Feeling of Being (about motherhood, identity and memory). There is also a family wedding coming up which I am looking forward to tremendously.

Future interviews will be from a variety of people, not only mothers (I know some writer fathers wanted to be represented!) and on a variety of topics. Since they will be more intermittent you may want to sign up to the blog to receive notification (only if you want!) .

So time to pause and breathe and refocus. Time to be present with family, with the writing, with the causes that are important, to sit in the sunshine for moments and realise that we are pointed the right way, that a calling to be a writer is a wonderful thing.

I was listening earlier to an old interview with well known Irish writer Brian McMahon at the Listowel Writer’s Festival many years ago. He talked about the ‘obsession of being a writer’. He said that there are three hungers ‘the spiritual,  physical and imaginative hunger’. These three hungers combine at a wedding he suggests, which makes the ceremony and occasion powerful (I will soon bear witness to this!). The writer has that imaginative hunger, this desire to create. As Brian McMahon said, the writer possesses ‘a wonder in the face of humanity’. As I listened to Brian McMahon, I felt at home, as if I had found my place. He says we need to keep striving to ‘perfect ourselves as the instrument’ of this telling about humanity. It is something once we know we have to do, that we cannot give up on. What the mother writer interviews show us is how to preserve and develop our own humanity and to dwell in the thick of it alongside our writing ambition.

Writer Mother Interview: Anne Tyler Lord

Anne Tyler Lord lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, ten-year old twins, four cats and one dog. She has been a stay-at-home mom for almost a decade and recently returned to work part-time as a child and family therapist. During her time at home, she launched a writing career. Anne is currently working on a novel based on events from her family’s history on Iowa farms. She also writes non-fiction about creativity, parenting and educating gifted children and speaks at conferences.

Anne writes a regular feature on her blog, The Writer’s Life, that discusses the wild and wacky life of being a writer and what inspires creativity. Coming this summer (2011), Anne will feature a series on her blog about sustaining energy and joy in the creative process for writers. And, she will be offering online coaching to those who want to put the fire back into their writing life.

How many children do you have Anne, and what age range?

Sean and Sophie

I have ten year-old twins, Sophie and Sean. Sophie is an aspiring writer who loves Sci Fi and fantasy. And, Sean, is an aspiring graphic novel writer and illustrator who loves all things adventurous. My husband is our tech guy and lovingly supports our careers.

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

Although I wrote nonfiction and technical research in my career before kids, I began writing fiction when my twins were about two years old. Or, I should say, my desire to write fiction began at that time. I refer to it as my writer interruptus phase.

I remember reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She talked about how she wrote productively when she had an infant, and I marveled. I wished I could do that, but I was just beginning to write and find my voice. I didn’t feel like a writer, but every phase in a writer’s life is important, even the difficult times. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Today, I am continually adjusting my writing times and projects as our lives change. I am learning to be more flexible with the ebb and flow of our lives.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I had children later in life (age 35), and I decided to stay home. Although I was physically exhausted much of the time, my mind had new freedoms. In a strange way, my overwhelming life of caring for children also supplied me with the energy and passion to start writing.

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 definitely adjust over a longer time-span. I prefer (and only feel capable of) focusing on three to four big things at once. I have chronic pain conditions and recently went back to work part-time in my career. I had to slow down in other parts of my life. This meant less blogging and online time to have enough writing and family time during the transition.

I always have plans in the near future to be able to use my super powers to multitask. I have just misplaced my magic wand. Taking it day by day has been the best plan for me.

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

There have been moments when my children felt I was on the computer too much. It can be hard to quit writing when the muse is animated. But, I have been sensitive to their needs and moved most of my writing time to mornings, school time and weekends.

At times, I involve my kids in the writing process. They have helped with research when a project interests them, and they follow the adventures of some of my characters and give feedback. They joined me for NaNoWriMo this past year and it was exciting to see their love of writing grow.

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

There are too many voices in my head competing for attention. The voices that start sentences with, “You should…” are the most annoying. I often have to remind myself to back away from the monkey mind and relax. This allows my character’s voices to come through more clearly.

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

Housework and cooking. I manage my fair share (sort of), but luckily my husband cooks and does housework. Maybe he will find my magic wand next time he cleans up.

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

As mothers, we care for our children, home, career, and a bazillion other things. Often we put ourselves last, and hunting for time in our schedules to write is a never-ending task. But I have learned a secret that seems counter-intuitive. In addition to the managing my schedule, I give even more attention to filling my personal fuel tank of life happiness and joy.

States of mind such as guilt, procrastination, burn-out and even constantly being stuck in the mode of Mama Task Master can arise out of the feeling of lack, when something is missing in our lives. It is easy to assume that finding more writing time will solve the problem. However, it may not be our busy schedules, but rather emotions that are overwhelming us. These negative feelings take a lot of energy to maintain. Often, this experience is what can derail our writing life and cause blocks.

The solution is to fill our fuel tank with activities and events that are rewarding and embrace every moment of fun (don’t think about other tasks, or that you should be writing). We all strive to work hard, but don’t forget to play hard, too.

Your children will show you how: Get messy, laugh, dance to music, go places, get lost, play with you kids and smile at their beauty, curiosity and goofiness. One activity I do with my children that has spanned over several years is a regular story time when we create characters and stories. This has lead to many art projects and plays.

Your personal fuel tank of happiness and joy is the same place where creativity springs forth. When your tank is full, writing time appears and is much more productive and creative. Fully engaging in creativity and fun with my family has been the best cure for my guilt and episodes of writer’s block, and has been a source of great joy and inspiration in my writer’s life.

Thanks so much Anne for that wonderful interview and all the best with finishing your novel which sounds really interesting.  I met Anne through twitter and I must say that as a person and also through her wonderful writers_life site both I and many other writers have found her to be a very inspirational and encouraging woman with an energetic and happy personality.

You can follow Anne on twitter @AnneTylerLord or her excellent @writers_life twitter handle and #writerslife twitter stream or her website which focuses on writers health and happiness as well as showcasing some of Anne’s writing.

Bits and pieces and congrats

Just heard the fantastic news that Maria Duffy, my first mother interviewee has signed a two book deal with Hachette Ireland. The first book, “Any Dream Will Do”, will be published in November 2011. Huge congrats to Maria! Delightful to hear such news. Maria, like me is the mother of four and if you haven’t already, you can read all about her writing and family juggle here.

In other news Catherine Ryan Howard who had a self-publishing success story with Mousetrapped has just released a step by step comprehensive guide to Self-Printing and every thing that goes along with it. Her blog is already a mine of information but this book collates that information and adds to it and includes tips on things you didn’t know you had to know. Read about it here.

And finally I attended a conference last week on digital media. What really came across is that whatever the digital media, the format  or the type of information that is being shared, the key element is always narrative, the ways in which we want to tell our own stories. Read more on my latest blogpost on The Stories we will tell ourselves into the future.

Writer Mother interviews: Nichole Bernier

Nichole Bernier is a freelance writer based in Boston, and the author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, to be published by Crown/Random House in early 2012. She has been a contributing editor with Condé Nast Traveler magazine for 12 years, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, Men’s Journal, Child, Boston, American Way and This Old House. Her family lives west of Boston, and she can be found on Twitter at @nicholebernier.

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

We have five children, four boys and a girl: 10, 8, 5, 3, and 21 months.

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

In a way, it was both. I’d been a magazine writer and editor for years, then went freelance after I left New York and got married. Shortly after my third child was born, the monthly column I’d been doing for years as a contributing editor was discontinued to make room for a new feature. I was disappointed, but also knew I’d been coasting unchallenged for some time, and that I should try something new. A flyer came in the mail for fiction classes at a local writing center, and I had an Aha moment. I started a sample chapter based on an idea that had been haunting me since the terrorist attacks of 2001, and I just never stopped. I took the babysitting time and evenings I’d been devoting to my freelance articles, and gave half over to the novel. It was a leap of faith, but also a growing obsession.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

One big change is that I used to travel for magazine articles, and that doesn’t happen as often or as easily. Another is that I don’t have a desire to be on staff any longer; I like the flexibility and independence of working for myself. But the downside of that flexibility is that you usually aren’t writing when an idea actually strikes you, so you have to find creative ways to save your thoughts. Being a mother has made me a lot more disciplined, because you have to take advantage of writing time when it comes, and I can’t procrastinate deadlines until the last minute, because you never know what might get in the way. All-nighters aren’t a viable option anymore. Oddly, I’m hungrier about my writing and more ambitious than I’ve ever been, which is a funny thing in the thick of the little-kid years, not what I expected to feel.

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?

Flexibility is the only thing that’s fixed. I have a beloved sitter three afternoons a week, but that time also goes toward doctor’s appointments, activities and carpooling, and the occasional freelance article.

I don’t really have a dedicated writing space. I used to write at home, but I now that there isn’t a young infant in the house I don’t feel I have to be on premises, and I usually go to the library or coffee shop. The generic noises there are less distracting than the sounds of my own home, probably because I’m not emotionally invested in them. There’s also something about being part of the hum of the world that I like when I’m writing. When it’s too much, I go to the library.

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?

It’s always in flux, depending on where I am in my manuscript (waiting for comments from my writer’s group, agent or editor) and in the family schedule (holidays and birthdays). If I’m in an intense phase of revisions, my husband occasionally takes over solo duty with the kids for a weekend and I slip away somewhere to work. That’s a completely different writing experience, a timeless place, totally indulgent.

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

They are very supportive. The older three get it, to varying degrees, that I’ve written something that will be in bookstores next year. What’s real and exciting for them is the extent to which they’ve become involved in the writing life, and meeting writers. I belong to the literary blog Beyond the Margins, started by a dozen of us in Boston a year ago, and we have monthly meetings at my house. The kids look forward to these meetings, as well as book parties and readings we host sometimes. It’s personal for them, the people behind the author photos. Being a writer isn’t just a vague concept.

What do you find most challenging in juggling your role as a mother and writer practically, emotionally, and mentally?

In practical terms, it meant years of giving over babysitting time to something that may or may not pay off financially. That was a hard adjustment after 15 years as a paycheck writer.

In mental terms, it means finding the discipline to work when you have the time. The faucet has to go on and off based on the family schedule, not the ebb and flow of your ideas or mood.

Emotionally, it’s meant sometimes curbing the inner toddler that wants to throw a foot-stomping tantrum about not being able to write as much as some other writers do. Spending all day on revisions, or traveling for conferences or retreats—those aren’t things that happen easily with family life. That’s when I have to go back to square one and remind myself how lucky I am to know what it is I love to do and pursue it, because many people never do.

Your book The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D will be published next year by Crown/Random House and you’ve had a healthy career along the way, how did this come about for you?

There are happy successes and milestones in magazine writing—things like awards and promotions—but they were different from the relief and euphoria of getting an agent and selling a book. Writing the novel was like going into a long dark tunnel, isolating and with little feedback. After four years I got an agent, and a year after that we sold the book — those were huge, after so much time invested. But getting an extremely thoughtful three-page rejection letter from an agent who called it a “near miss” felt like a breakthrough, too. In writing you have to take encouragement where you can, and recognize incremental victories.

 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?

That’s a hard question. I think the struggles of balancing family life are felt by both men and women who share homefront responsibilities in a significant way, and I know men who write at home while doing the school bus meet-and-greet thing. Writing fiction isn’t terribly lucrative for most people, and when you have family responsibilities, it can be hard enough to justify time away from the family for writing, and then there’s the uncertainty and guilt of not knowing whether it will even sell. At least I felt that way. Others might be better at valuing it as an avocation whether or not it leads to publication.

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

You have to pick and choose the way you spend your time. I have a theory I call Three Things. Once you have kids, you can pick maybe three-ish things that get to be yours and yours alone. If you work outside the home, that’s one big thing. If you exercise regularly, that’s another. If you knit or belong to a book club or hold a board position at the kids’ school or adore reality TV, there you go.

After I had my fifth child, exercise went out the window. I used to be a regular runner, but I no longer made it enough of a priority. I could whine about it and say there aren’t enough hours in the day. But in the end it’s about choices, and if there’s something I’m not making time for, I have to be honest with myself about what else I’m doing.

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

You have to make your writing the absolute best it can be, and find folks who will help you get it there. Find a handful of like-minded writers who will be supportive and honest. Then revise, revise, revise.

When you’re ready to send it out into the world, do your homework. It’s so easy now to learn about agents and editors and the query process with all the resources online. On Twitter, for example, you’re hearing query preferences and pet peeves right from the horse’s mouth.

Network on social media. Write essays, articles, blogs, clever email, anything that’s a limbering-up exercise to keep your thinking process sharp and your creativity going. But don’t let that become so time consuming that it usurps the actual writing you want to see published.

Then get thick skin and be persistent and find a way to keep up your stamina through the rejections. You’re not rejected until you’re rejected a LOT. There are as many reasons for rejection as there are Eskimo names for snow. You just have to find that one agent and editor with whom your story resonates, and who can bring it out to the world.

Thanks Nichole for a really insightful, pragmatic and very inspiring interview. What you have achieved is amazing and I wish you tremendous success with your book which sounds enthralling. I can’t wait to read it. If you want to find out more about Nichole read her blog.
Nichole is also involved in the excellent literary blog Beyond the Margins, I highly recommend it for original and clever articles.

If you liked this interview, read more of the series here

Write for the joy of it baby!

We chose it. We want it. We can’t be doing without it. We wake up in the night or early in the morning with ideas spinning. We pace like tigers when kept from it by normal life. We do it.

And on days when all our stars are in alignment, when the keys to our subconscious have been turned, our fingers fly on the keyboard or our pencil scratchings make a frantic rhythm on paper, when we are surprised by ourselves, by the marvel of the humanity we write about, it is a wonderful, a joyful thing.

There’s so much talk now of being published, of rejections, submissions, of word count, of writer’s block and muses doing a runner, of not being able to find the space, the place, the time, the rhyme, the reason, it being the wrong season.

I wrote lately on my blog for about finding the book that YOU want to write, about finding the things that fire you up, that you gather and adore, that make you hot under the collar, of finding the hot coil in the furnace of the way YOU see the world and brandishing it, making your marks on the page, your brand (not the marketing one!) on the skin of our culture.

Write for the joy of it, for yourself firstly, then for a reader, someone intimate your book will sit close with later, you will tell them the way you see the world, humanity and they may sit head bent close to yours, to your book and understand or see something new or different they had never thought of before. Or you may reflect something back to them that is dear and intrinsic and spark of the joy of recognition in them.

Whether it’s Marc Nash‘s feats of erudition and word love, or Penny Goring’s unparalleled linguistic gymnastics, or the sparkling characterizations and life in a moment of Tania Hershman, Claire King, Martha Williams, A.J Ashworth, or the lovingly crafted slices of humanity of Rebecca Emin, Jane Rusbridge, DJ Young or the startlingly slightly surreal and fabulous creations of Rachel Carter, Kirsty Logan and Elizabeth Baines; these writers demonstrate to me through their work, and by presenting it to us in such a marvellous manner, the intrinsic joy of language, of creativity, of humanity and the world itself.

Like you all I get fed up of it. Sometimes writing is like the holy grail. To get to it at all, I need to negotiate the jungle of domestic life, climb mountains of tiredness and self-defeat.  But I want to remember the moments when a idea flashes, when a juxtaposition of words seems just right, (like when I came up with the title Origami Flamingos for one of my flashes!) when a story makes sense, the accumulated moments later when it lives and lingers and means something to others. I don’t know what else to say. We must stop sometimes and try to remember the spark, why we cannot walk away.

Mother writer interviews: Karen Collum

Karen Collum lives in Brisbane, Australia. She was a primary school teacher before she became a mum. Since the birth of her eldest son in 2005, she’s been a stay-at-home mum and now happily calls herself a writer. She’s a mum to four kids under six, with her baby girl arriving in December 2010. Karen has always had a love for words but didn’t quite believe that she had what it took to be an author. She was wrong. Her debut picture book, SAMUEL’S KISSES was launched in December 2010 and she has since had another picture book published, FISH DON’T NEED SNORKELS. A third picture book will be released in 2011 and a junior novel in 2012. Karen is active in the online kidlit community and is the co-convenor of the Twitter-based picture book chat group #pblitchat.

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

I have 4 children. My eldest son (Possum) is five and a half, my identical twin boys (JJ & Moo) are 3 in May and my baby girl (Miss H) was born in December 2010.

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

I didn’t start writing seriously until my eldest son was a toddler. It was while I was at home full-time with him that I decided to take the plunge and give this writing thing a go. It’s the best professional decision I ever made.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

My children are the inspiration for much of my writing. As a children’s author, it’s crucial that I’m in tune with children and how they think. I love watching my kids and seeing the world through their eyes. We lose so much of that wonder as we grow up and I want to capture the innocence and magic that children inherently possess

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?

Once I’m past the newborn baby stage, I’ll go back to getting up early to write before everyone else is awake. We’re pretty strict on wake-up times at our house, so the boys don’t get up until after 7am. My usual habit is to get up at 5am and work for a couple of hours in the beautiful peace and quiet. I used to write late into the night but found that doing so affected my ability to sleep – I couldn’t turn my brain off! Getting up early also gives me a sense of accomplishment for the day. I feel like I’ve had my writing ‘fix’ and can then focus on being a mum for the rest of the day.

As for writing space, my husband works from home as well which means we’ve run out of rooms! My office is at one end of the loungeroom. We’re about to move, however, and I’m hoping we might find a house where I can have a space all my own.

The other practical things I have done that have made a huge difference to the time I have to write is to create a roster for meals and for cleaning. I clean two rooms of my house a day and that way there is always somewhere that is neat, tidy and sparkling clean. Otherwise I can find myself feeling overwhelmed, which isn’t good for my creativity. The same applies to cooking. Knowing what meals I’m cooking ahead of time means that I’ve got all the ingredients on hand and I’m not panicking about what to have for dinner at 5pm when the kids are starving. I often cook the evening meal in the morning when I’m not so busy and pop it in the fridge. Being on top of the cooking and cleaning frees me up mentally which in turn means I’m better able to write and be creative.

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 am passionate about picture books and they’re my favourite thing to write, which is a good thing as I can quickly get an idea down on paper and come back to it when I get the chance. I find writing longer works harder (although I have finished a full-length adult novel which is currently being edited) as I find I need longer stretches of time to immerse myself in the story and get back into the flow after a break. A picture book is ideal for me to dip into whenever time permits. I still feel connected to it even if I haven’t been able to touch it for a week or so. A novel is much harder to reconnect with in a short amount of time.

As for balance, I’m fairly relaxed so I take advantage of opportunities when they arise but don’t get stressed if the wheels fall off and one of the kids is sick or something unexpected comes up. I think flexibility is really important for my sanity!

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

My boys tend to come and look for me at the computer if they can’t find me!! I sometimes need to put self-imposed limits on the time I’m on my computer because it’s easy to just sneak away when the kids are playing happily. They don’t seem to mind at all, but I don’t want to miss out on precious time with them either. I often try to stay off the computer unless the kids are sleeping. Some days my self-control isn’t very good though. Like today.

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

The hardest thing for me is that I’ve always got a million more ideas for books than I will ever get time to write. Having said that, I think that would be the case regardless of how much time I had. Sometimes I think it would be lovely to go away for the weekend by myself to write, but I have a feeling if I did that I would be missing the kids and my husband immediately! The reality is that I function well when there’s a lot going on and I like the challenge of fitting everything in. I have to be organized and make my situation work for me, and most of the time it does.

You’ve made breakthroughs, such as gaining acceptance for your picture book SAMUEL’S KISSES. At what stage of family life did this happen? How did you create and maintain the momentum to make these breakthroughs and why do you think they occured when they did?

I got my first acceptance for a trade picture book, SAMUEL’S KISSES (New Frontier Publishing, 2010), when my twins were 8 months old and my eldest son was 3. It was such an exciting time. I think the bottom line for my success was hard work. Lots of it. My husband works most evenings and I had all the kids in bed by 7:30pm which meant I had the evening to myself. I put that time to good use by educating myself about how the publishing industry worked, connecting and networking with other industry people and generally trying to become an expert in my field. I’m still a long way off being an expert, but I knew enough back then to write a decent cover letter and polish my manuscript to publishable standard. I also did a lot of research on which publishers might be most suitable for the style of book I had written.

There’s the saying, “Luck is when opportunity meets hard work.” I think that applies to me, although I do think there was also some divine intervention as the editor herself happened to open the mail the day my submission arrived and personally read my manuscript. You can’t create a situation like that but I sure am thankful for it!

My second picture book, FISH DON’T NEED SNORKELS (Autumn House, 2010) came about in a similar fashion and also resulted in another picture book contract and a junior novel contract.

I think these moments came when they did because I was ready as a writer and as a person for it to happen and I’d put in the ground work. There isn’t a magic set of rules to follow, but you can do things to increase your chances of being published.

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 the difference is that women tend to create the emotional environment for the home more so than men. That means that if I’m feeling drained, worn out or ’empty’ on a soul level, the entire household is affected. When my husband feels that way he can often take some time out, but as a mum there’s nowhere for me to go to recharge. I think that’s why it’s essential to find something that fills you up. For me, it’s writing and that’s why I’m happy to get up at 5am to write. I am a happier mum and a happier person when my creative self is fulfilled. I’m also thankful that my husband is supportive and will free me up occasionally to go to book launches or writing events. Even a couple of hours every few months does wonders for my energy levels. Everybody wins when mum is happy!

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

That’s a great question. I’d like to think it’s not my ability to mother my kids, but to be honest I tend to avoid some of those really intensive parenting things that some mothers do like building a butterfly out of toothpicks. I probably take the easy option in situations like that!!

I don’t let the housework go, so that’s not something that gives. I like to have my house fairly neat and tidy as I feel that the state of my house is a reflection of the state of my brain, so it needs to be organized for me to function as a writer. Perhaps I tend to invest in my writing and my online friends rather than making an effort to nurture real-life friendships. I don’t go out terribly often which is strange considering I’m such a social person. But then again, with 4 kids under 6 there’s only so many places I’d want to go!

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

My biggest piece of advice is to find a writing time that has the least impact on the family BUT negotiate to create opportunities to write as well. For me that means the early mornings when my writing impacts no-one but myself. It also means negotiating with my husband for an afternoon off every month or so to go to an event or just sit in a coffee shop and write. I think it’s hard to balance the ‘me’ and the ‘us’. Find something that works for your family and then go for it. Life’s too short and you don’t want to die wondering!!

What a wonderful practical and inspiring interview from Karen. If you want to find our more about her and her gorgeous children’s picture books, check out her website.

Find out more about Karen’s beautiful picture book Samuel’s Kisses

Find out more about Fish Dont Need Snorkels.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, you can catch up with the whole series here .

#fridayflash Anywhere but Ireland

On this singular morning, the birdsong drills and pins the world by the scruff of it’s neck.

It is easy to flee with the dawn, all impetus. The brine of the sea smells good.

The ferry cuts through the water. The land retreats.

I feel no nostalgia for round hills diminishing.

There are children’s entertainers on the boat. They are woeful. Their sing song shenanigans get me by the throat. I drink whiskey in the bar. One, two, three. I love you, you love me.

There’s always one who tries to talk, to tell a story, to make a connection. He was on the streets, made good for a while, went back to the drink, a bum in London. He couldn’t resist a look see at what the boom made of his old country but he’s happier now it’s back to the old days, the comfort grumblings of ruination, the fist in the direction of the ubiquitous oppressor, the head bent towards the snuffle shuffling of Italian-Irish handmade shoes.

I have no time for old men, looking back.

I feel no nostalgia for the faces of my children in photographs.

The hydrofoil makes good time.

When I came home – from the airport in those days – they would dance around my pockets for treats, they were always wanting something, always at me.

Deborah would be there with her mouth tight, her cheek flat against my cursory kiss, saying all the right things, an excess of manners. Had she ever writhed under my hand?

In the lap dancing club I threw fifties.

On the golf club I lowered my handicap while plámásing gombeens.

I raked it in while my gardener raked leaves in Dublin 4.

I walked away from the fella in the bar while he was still talking. Now disembarking, he’s lost in the crowd.

No matter how the plebs in the bank sing they’ll pin nothing on me.

I have a caseful of money, pocketfuls of excuses.

Like the pope they just beatified, (that was a moment of glory before the last economic fall, his visit, 1979, even I remember!)  like him, I kiss the ground when I make it in to land. Anywhere but Ireland.

If we thought that love was gone

by Alison Wells (1991)


If we thought that love was gone

that out of sweetness none remained

why should we catch the balmy air

its warm and laden music strained

upon a wise and falling light

the evening coming home to rest

the wide relentless sky still bright

like a heart stretched taut with care

then shall we find brim-comfort there

that what is now, not past is best

the full and glowing day now done.


Why should we catch the balmy air

with glee and toss it through our hair

shout and stomp and shout again

that all we want to be is here?

And yet we grip rich beauty tight

must keep this fleeting joy so rare

within our touch, our taste, our sight

but scent and sound they drag us back

to scenes of sweet and haunting pain

and put us face to face with fear

that what is gone will ever lack


Shout and stomp and shout again

that what despairs cannot be heard

Feel the sun – a love’s embrace

the breeze becomes a tender word

that soothes the soul, the heart and mind

and summer’s wealth of promise stored

makes the falling evening kind

and musings touched with warmth erase

the tracks where restless hopes keep pace

Then loss and aching quiet ignored

both strength and beauty now remain.

This poem appears in the Poetry Against Cancer book. Poetry Against Cancer is a collection of poetry from writers around the world; all the money raised from the book goes to St John’s Ward at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Haemotology and Oncology ward.

You can BUY IT HERE.

Mother writer interviews: Colette Caddle

Colette Caddle lives in north county Dublin with her husband and two sons aged twelve and seven. She came to writing later in life after careers in computer programming and marketing insurance products. Colette sent out her first manuscript in 1997 and is now the bestselling and hugely popular author of eleven novels which have been translated into six languages. She has just finished her twelfth book which will be available in the autumn. Her latest book, Always on my mind is published by Simon and Schuster Ltd. She balances the solitary life of writing by engaging with others and chatting on Twitter and Facebook.

Tell us how and when you started your writing career Colette, did it happen alongside the children?

I started writing about 15 years ago when I was disillusioned with office life but I didn’t stick with it. I finally sent off a few chapters to Poolbeg in 1997 and on the basis of those secured a 3 book contract. My first book, Too little, Too Late was published in Ireland on Mother’s Day, 1999 when my eldest son was 3 months old. I am a morning person so would normally write all morning but with pregnancy and then a new baby, I worked when I had the energy!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Ha, they’ve taught me there is no such thing as being in control when you’re a parent! They’ve taught me that when there is a moment, I must grab it. They’ve also made me realize that I should get as much done while they’re at school as possible and enjoy their childhood and company while I can.

Where do you do your writing?

It used to be anywhere from the kitchen table, to in front of the TV, to a coffee shop to bed. Now that the boys are older – and louder! – I write more and more in my little office but until the deadline is looming, I still mostly work during school hours.

Are you successful in maintaining a balance between your family and writing projects?

I am very disorganised and easily distracted and no, I don’t have the balance right at all. With each book I promise myself that I will become more disciplined but 12 books later, I don’t seem to have managed that.

How do the children react to your writing?

They are very understanding really and also so involved in their own lives that I don’t think it impacts on them that much. I nearly always do the school runs, help with homework and do all the cooking so I am physically ‘there’ even if mentally I may be in a fictional world. They are also quite proud of me, give their opinions freely on my covers or titles, like to see their names in the acknowledgments and love it when I come into their school to give talks on creative writing.

What do you find most challenging, practically, emotionally and mentally in juggling your role as a mother and writer?

Practically? Simply being disciplined

Emotionally? Trying to keep a steady nerve – panicking and writing do not go well together!

Mentally? When there are family worries or distractions I find it harder to leave practical problems aside and immerse myself in my storyline which can be frustrating and upsetting.

You’ve become a hugely popular and bestselling novelist, at what stage of family life did your success occur?

My initial breakthrough into the writing world happened before children came along so staying focused was much easier. I have to say that seeing my first book on the shelf was a hugely emotional experience and making number one on the bestseller list made me feel very proud….but then the moment both my sons were placed in my arms for the first time still probably rate as my proudest, happiest moments.

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 harder for women from a purely biological sense in that fathers have the ability to temporarily ‘switch off’ their parental button to work whereas mothers don’t seem have been equipped with that particular button – at least, this one hasn’t!

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

Ah, now that depends on the circumstances. If all is well with the children and my deadline is looming, then they are left more to their own devices than I think they should be. If, however, they need me, the book is forgotten. Again, for me, balance is simply not always possible and I try to just accept that there are times when either my work or my family will suffer; I am only human.

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

To all would be writers: Simply to write every day, even if it’s only a little. I set myself target word counts that vary depending on the stage I’m at and that helps. I also, when I am finding it hard going, promise myself treats: a cuppa after 500 words; 10 minutes on Twitter or FaceBook after 1,000 etc. Another trick that works very well for me is that I try to finish each day in the middle of paragraph so there is no new blank page to be faced the next morning.

To parents: There may be times when you can’t write because your children are sick or you’ve been up all night and can barely focus BU you can always think and observe….never forget that!

Huge thanks to Colette for taking the time to answer these questions, especially as she has been so hard at work on her latest novel. To find out more about Colette and her books, visit her website. She would also love to hear from you on Twitter and Facebook.

Colette’s latest book ‘Always on my Mind’ is available on Amazon and don’t forget to keep an eye out for her next book in the Autumn.

If you enjoyed this interview, read more mother writer interviews here.