Alana: Is writing compatible with children?
Virginia Wolf didn’t think so. She sacrificed being a mother for being a writer. And didn’t one of those early women writers actually give up her children so she could write? And can we even put down the proliferation of our best-loved Irish writer, Maeve Binchy, down to the fact she has no children?
OK, I hear you saying, what about JK Rowling? Millions of words and millions of pounds later, she’s a shining example of successfully combining motherhood and writing. Aha, I suggest. She writes children’s books. That means she probably gets all her ideas from them, and can count reading over her work as quality child time. She can even arrange playdates with Daniel Radcliffe.
A room of our own? That’s a laugh. I don’t even have a pen of my own. My office? My desk? My room? A large Orla Liely bag which contains all my current musings and laptop that I clutch to my breast looking for a quiet corner of the house. Sometimes the bag retreats to Starbucks and sets up office there. I’m a writer in waiting: waiting for the kids to sleep, waiting for the Dora half hour on TV, waiting for my time to come after everyone else in the house has been taken care of.
I met John Boyne recently. I discovered he wrote the first draft of his bestselling, multi-award-winning, Hollywood-film-showing novel, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days. TWO AND A HALF DAYS! That’s how long it takes me to scrape the Wheetabix off my laptop so I can find the delete button to rid myself of the appalling drivel I wrote the previous week in between cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping, arse-wiping, knee-kissing, jigsaw constructing, rocket making (cosmic pink with tinfoil windows), and remembering to breathe. Like all good writers, it seems I need a wife. But my kids need a mother, so what’s a woman (writer) to do??
I’ve just had to stop writing this in order to construct a rather fetching ‘tent’ in the playroom by draping some blankets over some chairs. I’m pretty sure Stephen King doesn’t have this problem. (Not that anyone is likely to want to get in a tent, no matter how pink, with Stephen King.) Still, the point is, it’s hard. I know enough wonderful women writers who are mums struggling with the same issues as me (and actually, I’m sure it’s not restricted to writers.) How do we find time to do what we love amid doing what else we love? To clarify, I mean being with our children is the other thing we love. I did not mean, and never will mean, thinking about what food to give us all, shopping for the food I’ve still not thought about, cooking the food I’m still not sure what it’s going to be — just something that starts with the left over onion in the fridge and see where my (lack of) inspiration takes me, washing up the dishes the food was not eaten off, hoovering the food off the floor, and washing the clothes that are covered with the food I’ve been thinking about all day.
How do I correlate wanting to be a full-time mum with being a full-time writer? How do I even correlate being a part-time mum with a part-time writer? I can’t, because I can never be a part-time mum or a part-time writer. Both are in my blood. Both are what I am. I cannot successfully be one without the other. If I was no longer a mum, I would have no inspiration to write. If I was no longer a writer I would be a terrible, disgruntled unhappy mum.
I don’t know if that makes me bad at both, or just in one of those places that no matter how often I ask the question, there really just is no answer.
So I’ll carry on being both, doing both, shunting one in front of the other occasionally, trying to find the balanced line. I’ve just danced with them to Abba, and read the Princess book. Again. Now they’re having tea with dad, and I’m clutching my Orla Kieley bag to my chest. My time.