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Mother Writer Interview: Hazel Gaynor

Editor’s note: This interview is generously crossposted from Head Above Water.

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 preschool 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 preschool 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 e-mails 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 roller-coaster 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 e-book!

Hazel’s blog: Hot Cross Mum
Hazel’s e-book:
Hot Cross Mum: Bitesize Slices of Motherhood (based on her blog — check it out!)

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