Following on from yesterday’s consideration of the challenges of a parent-writer, today we have a guest post from Laura Wilkinson who’s new novel Public Battles, Private Wars about a family, and particularly the women involved at the time of the 1980s miners strike in Britain is just out. With great depth of character and dealing with the pressing issues of that difficult era as well as universal themes, this is a engaging and moving page-turner. I originally interviewed Laura for my mother writer series. Over to Laura.
Out celebrating a friend’s wedding anniversary last night, I was asked by another guest how I manage to find time to write, with two children and a part-time job jostling for my attention. ‘My house is very dirty,’ I replied, only half-joking. It’s a question I get asked a lot and one many mother-writers hear.
I am lucky. Both my boys are pretty self-sufficient; they’re resourceful and good at entertaining themselves for chunks of time. And at fifteen and ten it is considerably easier now than it was a few years back. As I write this, my youngest son is playing outside with a friend and my eldest son is reading book one of Game of Thrones (that should keep him going for while!). All well and good, but I would be lying if I said I do not suffer from heavy bouts of guilt – more often than not when I’ve lost myself in the work and rather than being absent (not physically, you understand) for two hours, I’ve been absorbed for over three. During holiday time, we have a rule – mummy works in the morning and in the afternoon we go play. However, deadlines mean sometimes these rules have to be bent, or ignored altogether.
In an ideal world, writers need space to think, as well as write. It is the thinking time that is hardest to find. When they were very small, I grabbed whatever time I could and soon learnt to write at the dining table while they played Lego on the floor. The constant interruptions were hard for all, but they soon learnt that a raised hand meant ‘give mummy a minute’ and they waited patiently as I scribbled notes that made no sense to anyone but me. They understand that Mummy quite often drifts off into a world of her own and are old enough now to joke about it. They’re dreamy sorts themselves.
Have my children suffered as a result of this low-level neglect? I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Perhaps their creativity and resourcefulness is a result of it? What I am certain of, and they are too, is that writing fulfils me, and a happy, fulfilled mother is a more patient, caring and loving one.
There are many different parenting styles and we live in instructive times – there always seems to be one expert or another telling us how best to do it. But we must find ways of parenting that work for us and our children. For some that will mean other demands on their time, other than the essential habits of care-giving: food preparation, personal care (washing, cleaning clothes) and maintaining basic levels of hygiene in the home. My own rule is to keep a clean kitchen and bathroom and ignore the rest. No one died of a dusty house.
The central character in my novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, is a young mother of four children. Mandy is a miner’s wife and stay-at-home mum. She flunked out of school after a personal tragedy and thinks she’s useless at everything apart from baking cakes and looking after her kids. She’s not, of course, and the novel follows the story of her rising star. Ironically, it is the upheaval and struggle of the landmark strike of 1984 that offers Mandy the opportunity to discover herself and her hitherto buried talents. But as she discovers a world outside the home, she is torn apart by guilt. This is especially poignant for Mandy because she believes that while her children are suffering during the strike, if the miners lose, their long-term life chances will be seriously hindered. What a dilemma. And there are plenty of other women in the book facing a similar problem. Most of the women I spoke with during my research for the novel were mothers – miners’ wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers.
Mothering and motherhood is a theme in much of my work. Hardly surprising, it’s an important part of so many women’s lives, mine included. Like many writers, much of my inspiration comes from the world about me and my own experience of it. That’s not to say my stories are autobiographical, but as a parent I am interested in the myriad pain and pleasures this role brings. How could it not slip into my fiction?
Here’s a bit more about Public Battles, Private Wars and where you can buy it.
Miner’s wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. Her future looks set and she wants more. But Mandy can’t do anything other than bake and raise her four children. Husband Rob is a good looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they live.
When a childhood friend – beautiful, clever Ruth – and her Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration, but Ruth isn’t all she appears.
Conflict with the Coal Board turns into war and the men come out on strike. The community and its way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. As the strike rumbles on relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out who her true friends are.
More About Laura
Laura is a writer, reader, wife and mother to ginger boys. After hedonistic years in Manchester and London, she moved to Brighton. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor, freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones.
Laura has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies, and three novels, with another scheduled for publication this year. Public Battles, Private Wars, (Accent Press)is the story of a young miner’s wife in 1984; of friends and rivals; loving and fighting, and being the best you can be. You can find out more about Laura and the novel, including Book Group Questions, here: http://laura-wilkinson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @ScorpioScribble