Laura Wilkinson

Public Battles, Private Wars – Writing, Motherhood & Laura Wilkinson’s new novel

public battles draftFollowing 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.

cakes 2

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.

Yorkshire 1983

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.

Amazon UK

Amazon.Com

Accent Press

 

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

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Review of Bloodmining by Laura Wilkinson

BloodMining 600 With the emotional resonance of a Maggie O’ Farrell and hints of Ishiguro’s Never let me go, Bloodmining is a vivid and believable rendering of a familiar but crucially altered near future.  A compelling debut novel from Laura Wilkinson that I read in one sitting, this is well worth the read.

Over the course of the novel we develop great sympathy and affinity with the characters: Megan who must chart her past to save her child’s future, Elizabeth, whose story is both shocking and profoundly moving as well as Megan’s colleague Jack North who introduces resourcefulness and humour to a difficult quest. I enjoyed Megan’s tough exterior which is paired with a fierce love for her son Cerdic who develops a life threatening hereditary illness.

What Megan learns as she tries to find a suitable donor for her son’s treatment is central to the plot and there will be no spoilers from this quarter. We visit two eras, near future and a future right on our doorstep, although one I hope we do not witness. But that’s as far as I’m telling. I strongly urge you to find out for yourselves, Wilkinson’s prose is light, clever and accomplished, the story structure elegant and effective and her descriptions utterly evocative and riveting. She explores  ethical dilemmas and decisions that are close at hand.  If you want a book to grip, shock, surprise and satisfy you, with plenty of discussion for reading groups this will not disappoint. Bloodmining deserves a wide readership and recognition and I look forward to more from this author.

***** 5 stars

Bloodmining is published by independent small press Bridge House.

You can buy it here on Amazon or Barnes and Noble  or for the Kindle

The Tuesday Interview: Laura Wilkinson Author of ‘Bloodmining’.

In March earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Wilkinson, mum to two boys for my mother writer series. In November 2010, Laura, who grew up in a Welsh market town and currently lives in Brighton won the debut novel competition run by independent publishers Bridgehouse with her novel Bloodmining.

Bloodmining was launched last month and has been very well received. I ask Laura to tell me more about the novel and her experience of writing it.

Can you give us an idea of the story of BloodMining?

Certainly. Primarily set in Wales in the not-too-distant future, it’s about a mother, Megan, whose son is diagnosed with a terminal, hereditary condition. A condition passed down the mother’s line. Buried family secrets are revealed during the search for a donor to save his life and Megan finds out that she isn’t who she thought she was. The themes are: what makes a parent – biology or culture – and identity – who we are, where we come from, how important that is to us or not.

What gave you the inspiration for BloodMining?

It started with a news piece on the BBC website. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and then a fictional character appeared, started talking to me, and the dilemma she faced. I wrote a piece of flash fiction and showed it to my sister Helen, who’s studied for an MA in Creative Writing and like me has worked as a journalist, and we both agreed that it didn’t work as a piece of flash, but as the germ of an idea for something much bigger it was quite a good one.

Laura Wilkinson launches her debut novel

 

It’s a very unique story. How much would you say your own background fed into the novel?

Very little. I’m a mother myself, but thankfully I have two healthy boys; to be faced with Megan’s problem is every parent’s worst nightmare. So, there’s little of my own story in BloodMining. However, it would be fair to say that my life experience influenced the exploration of identity in the novel, and what it means to be a parent. As a child I knew little about my biological father; he died when I was five years old. My memories were scant and somewhat vague, gleaned mostly from photographs and the odd conversation with my mother and grandparents. Always the ‘good’ girl I sensed that to ask too much would be courting trouble. It seemed that to attempt to dig deep upset my maternal grandparents, and to a lesser extent my mother. I was in my teens before I knew the truth about my father. And many years passed before there was a meaningful conversation about him. But after my mother talked about her first husband, my father, and the subsequent letter she wrote to me – a love story, a beautiful eulogy to his memory, and testament to the enduring power of love, through life and death – I felt more complete. Knowing where I came from was more important to me than I had realised. And I wish I’d had the chance to get to know him a little.

How did you approach writing the novel? What the story very clear from the start or did you discover new strands as you went along?

The simple answer: no! I began with a character clutching a baby and it grew from there. I’m not much of a planner, more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. I knew that there had been a terrible tragedy to get this character to this point, but what it was I had no idea. As I got to know the character, Elizabeth, the catastrophe happened. I discovered it as Elizabeth did, and after this I started wondering about the baby she loved and what kind of person she would grow up to become, and what her relationship with her mother would be like, and I was propelled into the future with a grown up Megan. As for the supporting characters… well, some of them began as instruments of the plot and then morphed into real, three dimensional people in their own right (at least I hope so!) and one of them – Jack – became so important that he transformed into a lead with a story strand of his own. For me, to date, a more organic approach works although I suspect that I have to do a lot more rewriting than those authors who plan.

What was the most challenging thing about writing the novel?

Completing the first draft, perhaps… to start writing a novel is pretty easy, I think. I know a lot of people who have started. Finishing is another matter entirely. But then again, even once you have your first draft of 100,000 words plus, the job has only just begun – unless you’re Faulkner, who claimed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks and not altered a word of it. For most of us, there’s the lengthy task of finding the beating heart of your story, shaping it into something compelling. I wrote numerous drafts of BloodMining.

Your novel came to the attention of Bridge House and has recently been published by this small press? Were you surprised that it won their Debut Novel competition?

Yes, definitely yes! In the six months before the call from Bridge House I’d been shortlisted in three competitions and had a couple of near misses with agents. So I’d consigned BloodMining to the ‘failed first novel’ drawer and got on with writing my second.

How has the launch of the book been? Has it been what you expected or what has surprised you?
Amazing really. And wonderful. Having my work out there, knowing that it is being read by people, complete strangers. Becoming published is daunting because it’s a bit like exposing your inner self in public. And it’s little scary because whilst I know that BloodMining will not appeal to everyone, of course I hope that people will enjoy it and get something from it. To answer the second part of your question: I had no expectations, although the response so far has been SO much better than I anticipated.

You are a mum of two boys and have managed to fit writing in around motherhood and working. What does this achievement mean to you in terms of how you see yourself as a writer?

For years now, about six, I’ve taken the work seriously. I’m disciplined and I work hard at the craft. Of course, I’m still learning and I hope I never stop, but having my first novel published has given me some confidence, though I recognise that I’ve been incredibly lucky too. It has vindicated the hours and hours and hours I spend writing, when I could have been cleaning or cooking or hanging out with my kids more.

Where do you see things going from here writing wise?

In all honesty? I have no idea. I’ve completed my second novel and I’m about to send that out into the world. I’d like to attract an agent if possible, though it’s tough out there at the moment. Not that it’s ever been easy. And I’ll keep writing. The loose idea for my third novel is there; I’m spending time getting to know the characters, and in the New Year I aim to dive right in. As I said, I’m not much of a planner – I prefer to find things out as my characters do.

Where can we buy Bloodmining?

Online at BridgehouseAmazon, Waterstone’s, WH Smith, the Book Depository and many other virtual stores. It is also available in ‘real’ bookshops, though distribution isn’t widespread. You may have to order it if you want to support your local independent store.

Congratulations to Laura on the publication of her debut novel and thank you for a fascinating and inspiring interview. All the best to Laura in her continuing success as an author.

Find out more about Laura and Bloodmining on her website.

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.