mother

Sit under your novel in progress, lessons from motherhood

As I mother of four I am very familiar with having to wait, to rein in speed and impetus and to go very slowly or not at all while being present for my children in some way or another. Walking with a toddler or even my 5 year old now there is more standing than proceeding, where special things such as pebbledash walls and ‘baby leaves’ need to be examined, legs are short and cannot do distances at speed. I take a step forward but my stride is too long, I stop, I wait. These days we might be on the school ‘run’ and I can feel frustrated at my lack of progress with the 5 year old as I watch my older children stride ahead of us down the hill. I remember breastfeeding in particular (since only the mother can do it) as one of those experiences where it was  a question of sitting under the infant for long swathes of time (perhaps up to an hour) at each feed and all thoughts of being elsewhere or achieving tasks of any kind needed to be put aside. Right through pregnancy and right up to the late toddler years there are physical restraints, whether it’s a cumbersome body or trying to negotiate a pushchair in the town. There are things that young mothers miss; having their arms loose as they walk, walking straight out of a house without first cajoling an army, getting into a car and just driving without negotiating with a plethora of awkward straps and resistant toddlers.

This society is geared up for achievement, for awards, for the spectacular rather than ordinary mundane heroics. As writers now we need to be everywhere, building a platform, marketing ourselves, we need to keep up a presence and be productive. But what we keep needing to be reminded is that the occasions when we need to stop, sit under our book and it’s themes for a while are absolutely necessary and valuable and part of the process.

I’ve talk around this before, about how Kirsty Gunn spent seven years on her book, about incubation, the benefits of walking for creativity and so on. I’m thinking about it now as I’m looking at how I go about writing books, how expression and structure interplay, how the first excitement of an idea needs to be followed by thought and observation.

I’ll add more specifics of my own current experiences with a new project in a further post but what I will say in general is that if you come to an impasse at any stage of a project, don’t let your lack of progress dismay you, first, just sit and wait, follow your train of thought, read more things that are tangential to your work, look out the window, spend the necessary time, as this beautiful post by Kim Triedman explores, staring at trees to live ‘on both sides of the brain’.

The  children grow up in time, and your novel will too, there will be less need for stopping but the stopping has given you greater insight, added a whole new depth and dimension. Never apologise for your lack of speed.

(By the way, if any of you have joined us for the #15KinMay (which is a very reasonable/non manic wordcount target) I have now reached 10K words but many, many of these are not sections of the book per se but thoughts on what the book is. Many writers, including Irish writer Claire Kilroy who I spoke to at a writing event, say that they write many many thousands of words beyond what is required, including notes of all kinds, then they extricate the story afterwards, many of you are more methodical than that but we all need to find our own way.)

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 Writing.ie 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.

Mother writer interview: Rebecca Emin

Rebecca and Family

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

Tell me about your family Rebecca

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

When did you start writing and what do you write?

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

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

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

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

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

Definitely the housework.

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

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

Also, accept every offer of help that you get!

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

More about Rebecca,

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this mother writer interview, read more here

Mother writer interview: Vanessa O’ Loughlin

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

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

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

Tell us about your children Vanessa.

Sophie and Sam

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

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

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

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

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

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

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

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

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

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

Is it possible to maintain a balance on a daily basis or do you find yourself readjusting focus from work to family over a longer time-span depending on your projects?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think women face particular challenges in career/family life balance or is it something that both men and women face in equal measure?

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

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

Sleep!

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

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

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

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

More on Vanessa and her projects:

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

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

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

Available through Smashwords

Kindle.com ebook

Kindle.co.uk ebook

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

#Fridayflash Woman-Son

Woman-Son

When the woman had the baby boy she lay him down to sleep. He held her finger in his fist

She roars him into being. He emerges from the earth in unbridled anger, consternation.

The moon hung in velvet.

The clock was a cheap one bought in a pound store. It tock ticked. Then it stopped.

They set time by the supping of the animal at the breast. He scampered into the forest of moments mewling.

Later they repose in a pond, a black hole. Moments float in opening Os, then go.

He lay on the length of her and kept his cheek against hers. So he kept breathing, cherub breaths whishing against skin.

The boy climbed into her ear and out of her mouth. He hung claw fingered from her breasts like one of Adam’s monkeys.

He toddled, piston armed

He held her patience, love, hope, sanity, confidence, energy, fear, relief in his fist

He strode, broad shouldered

He climbed the ladder of his being. He went above her, reached for things, handed them back down.

He lay along the length of her and put his cheek against hers. So she kept breathing, cooling breaths wheezing, skin in angst.

Later they repose in a pond, a black hole. Moments float in opening Os, then go.

They loosed time by concentration on puzzles. She wandered into the forest of memories mumbling.

It was a grandfather clock. Ponderous pendulum. It never stopped.

The sun spun in silk.

The blood of men spills into the earth, a field of white headstones endures

She held his fingers lastly in her fist. He laid his mother to rest.