motherhood

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

Advertisements

How to write when kids just fight and other stuff

School’s out in this house and my eldest son whose twelve and a half has ‘graduated’ from Irish primary school so a nice sense of achievement and moving on.  In terms of keeping my ‘Head above Water’ writing wise I’m doing my best to get up in the early hours before the kids wake to work on my next book The Exhibit of Held Breaths (which I’m really pleased with so far, hurrah! 90,000 words, 2nd draft).

Still I’m thinking of writing a book called How to Write when Kids just fight in honour of the summer holidays and writing parents. My daughter tried to give me the old writing guilt-trip ‘but you were on your computer’ even though she was quite happily playing with her brother at the time. I’ll stick to the early morning mostly though and no-one will even know I’m a writer. I’ll have nice scones baked by the time they get up in the morning and…ah forget it, let’s just see how it goes!

During the week I spotted that Adam Byatt has been doing lots of posts on creativity so do check out his blog.

And Number Eleven is a wonderful new lit mag venture (now on Issue two). They’re eager to get feedback and build up a following so do check out their latest issue and like them on Facebook. They are open to submissions. Their online publication is very stylish and if you look carefully you’ll see they published one of my stories (and the title of my short story collection on submission) Random Acts of Optimism.

See what you think of my new post on writing.ie. It’s all about how we need to write the book that is right for the time in our lives. Sometimes our ambition might be beyond what we can manage or we might change how or what we write depending on what the circumstances of our life are.

I say “Write to take yourself away from the quicksand of your own life, where you cannot see out or through or write through your life, autobiographically to find an angle, a perspective that can help you tell both the story of yourself and the story of people in situations like yours, help you find that chord that resonates.”

Read the full post here and leave a comment if the post makes sense to you. Thank you!

Tomorrow I’ll have an interview with the fabulous flash fiction evangelist and organiser of National Flash Fiction Day Calum Kerr who’s launching a new flash fiction collection called Lost Property. It’s a very interesting interview about how flash fiction has contributed to his writing life so come and see tomorrow.

Now I’m off getting kids to camps and taking the youngest to the park to teach him to ride a bike without stabilizers.

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.)

#fridayflash Tales of monsoon and adventure

She woke to the sound of the monsoon drumbeat and all she could think was ‘my sheets!’ She had left them on the washing line all night. She had stepped out into the garden before going to bed and the air was so starched linen clean that she’d stopped – the dusk against her cheeks – and taken in a cool breath. She had spoken aloud ‘They will be alright’. The stars winked.

When she went back into the kitchen the milk was still left out on the table, the butter unlidded, knives and forks at cross purposes, splotches of Rorschach sauce across the tablecloth in which she saw an octopus. The tarot of her son’s collector cards scattered on the floor told her that there would be an arduous task ahead but that she would triumph over adversity.

In the bedroom her husband slept open mouthed, agog at his dreams. A fly buzzed against the side lamp, sleazily addicted to light. He rose and hovered over her husband’s face and oh, she feared for him. She made a SWAT team out of the many facets of her love. But she couldn’t stand his snoring. When she knew he was safe, she went to sleep in the spare room.

There was a ‘less-of-the-old!’ woman who lived on a shoestring budget and had so many children that she had a difficult time fitting in all the lunchmaking, drop offs, pickups, activities, homework, bedtime routines, behaviour management with the requisite reward and sticker charts, naughty steps, timeout, privilege curtailment, grounding, not to mention all the cajoling, counselling, clothing and the cooking of large tender casseroles and quantities of broth and porridge. How she longed for a magic porridge pot that would continue cooking until the town was filled up and people could only trudge in its gloop instead of racing about trying to get places, get ahead of themselves so they could see their space-time anomalies coming back richer, happier, more productive.

And the children. There was so much hothousing going on that many of the children she saw these days were round and redfaced like tomatoes, ready to split at any minute.

She unwrapped her Mummy self from the sheets in the spare room and went to bathe in clamour.

After she’d got the kids to school, long after she’d snuck into the bedroom to see if her husband had dined on minibeasts at all, long after she’d woke in the night to the sound of sheets drowning and felt guilt about everything, she drank a cup of coffee so slowly that the coffee beans grew back into the ground and rooted her. She remembered a day in a long life ago when the filamentous achenes of a dandelion clock scudded across a sun sodden sky. When she scooped all her whoops up and ran with abandon

Oh, oh, oh.

Her handbag was heavy with undertakings. Lists that sucked the life out.

They had played games with ropes that she could always get out of, spies and hostages, nothing sinister. They walked across the tops of gates and never fell off. She liked the adventures best.

‘Many of the men I know are former boys’ she thought as she pulled up at Tescos.

At the trolley bay she grabbed a man walking past with his jiggly fizzy toddler, kissed him on the mouth. She got the taste of the cheese and onion crisps that he was sharing with his son. They had always been her favourite as a child. Later she had switched to salt and vinegar.

The man was scratching his almost bald head.

‘You’re lovely but it’s nothing personal’ she said. She pictured him walking across the top of a gate. The toddler laughed warily.

She went inside to do the supermarket shop.

Review of Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines

Domesticity never takes place upon a large or lauded stage, it is a private, secret world whose interactions and observances are held and carried forward into ‘real life’. Elizabeth Baines’ book places the domestic in this central, core position. ‘A young mother married to a scientist fears for her children’s saftey as the natural world around her becomes even more certain. Until, that is, she meets a charismatic stranger who seems to offer a different kind of power.’

In this novel there is a sense of what was the title of Elizabeth Baines’ short story collection ‘Balancing on the edge of the world’. She subtlely elucidates the tremulous feeling and anxious vigilance of parenthood. There is the impression that threats are always close. What Baines does beautifully is to convey the otherworldliness experience of bringing up small children and their way of making our commonplace world seem bizzare. The not-quite-rightness of the eldest child Danny’s behaviour is imbued with a magical and mystical quality.

This is a book that made me hold my breath. Baine’s gift is to do the literary equivalent of revealing what is on the inside of trouser pockets during laundry, ordinary and sacred things otherwise hidden are carefully revealed. Both these secret pockets and the heart is turned inside out on reading. The main character  goes along the motorway to meet the man she looks to for direction, she stretches the domestic elastic, always travelling back again, she breaks the taboos of suburban motherhood, she risks censure but the elastic tugs constantly. She discovers what is ‘really’ wrong with her child and the threat is now tangible, accessible.

What I found extraordinary as reader and writer was Elizabeth Baines’ ability to convey so skillfully and lightly the nuances of relationships and communication, the small exchanges, the particular words of common conversation that can illuminate the character’s view of each other or irreversibly wound. As a reader it was the kind of book I have longed to read, as a writer, it is the kind of book I would dream of writing. To sum up the strength and marvel of this book is to see it like a dust mote, something mundanely domestic but magical, spinning for long moments in our consciousness.

Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines is published by Salt Modern Fiction

#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.

Confessions of a guilty writing mum

  • I let my children sit in front of the telly during the holidays for great swathes of time (never did me any harm – in fact it taught me about narrative, character, humour). They concentrate on educational programmes like Horrible Histories (surrealism, history) and Greatest TV blunders (media awareness) and Come Dine with Me (wishful thinking about dinner/cookery skills).
  • I tidy up by shoving everything into cupboards and closing the door very firmly by leaning on it. The estate agent who sold our last house told me a funny anecdote about everything falling out of a cupboard when the prospective buyers were taking a look. I wonder why he chose that story for me?
  • In times of crisis my children look for me, not in the kitchen, but in the study.
  • I’ve forgotton the names of my children (joke!).
  • I do all the housework for the day in one hour, including making the dinner. Before my husband comes home I do a breakneck tidy of the kitchen in 5 mins so that it won’t look so bad when he arrives.
  • My two year old makes his own Weetabix (awwwww).
  • I burn some part of the dinner or lunch on 50% of occasions but I always get my twitter friends to remind me when I’m grilling peppers.
  • My oven hasn’t been cleaned in 3 years.
  • In the holidays we have ‘clothes’ days rather than ‘pajama days’
  • I fool the younger children by giving them the ‘priviledge’ of hoovering or filling the washing machine
  • My children have forgotton my name (I wish).

What are your guilty secrets?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine