mother writer interviews

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

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.

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.

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

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