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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.

Alana: Leaving the slippers at home

“I did it!”… to quote my nearly-three-year-old (a phrase only surpassed by her favourite indignant statement “I do it!”)

I’m into my third week of writing (OK, I was being very optimistic with those ten hours a week — typically, just as I get an inch, Daisy takes away a mile and dropped her lunchtime sleep the EXACT week I get childcare for Poppy!). Anyway, I’m not going to moan — Daisy is settled in playschool, Poppy is adapting to the indignation of my minor abandonment, and I’ve had two weeks of writing three mornings a week.

What have I done? I’ve set up a website (all constructive criticism welcome!), written a submission for an anthology, sent three article pitches, made contact with a new magazine, and contributed to Starbucks’ world domination (I have to leave the house when Poppy’s childminder arrives and that great American institution taking over this small Emerald Isle does the best green tea…).

I have written. I have thought. I have pondered. I feel ten feet tall. Not only am I using my brain, I’m shaking the dust off those old workclothes. Yes, I know, I’m only going to sit in Starbucks with my notebook and pen, but it’s all part of the empowerment. I dress up as if going to work…because I am. This is real. This is job. I even wear lipstick.

There is something about leaving the house having washed first and wearing clothes without an elasticised waistline that makes it feel more real. I made a decision never to write in my slippers. No slipper scrolling for me. Slippers are for slouching. So proper shoes and proper clothes it must be. And a large mug of green tea. Life is almost perfect….

Alana: A new job

Life is all about phases. Once I was the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends-highly-motivated-successful-career-girl, and then I became the sleep-deprived-slobber-covered-breeding-feeding-weary-worn-stay-at-home-mum. And now, as of tomorrow, I will become — wait for it — a PART-TIME WRITER!!

OK, the full title is full-time-mum-and-maker-of-my-husband’s-sandwiches-and-housekeeper-and-part-time-writer, but when I’m asked I might just stick to the last part. A new phase in our lives begins, and although I mourn the loss of what we have, I run full speed ahead to a new life. For three years my toddler has been mine, and we have been free, but this week she begins playschool 5 mornings a week. I have cared for my baby constantly for the precious 15 months of her life, but now I will have a childminder to look after her three mornings a week. I’m scared and I’m a little sad. But, I am going to write. I can hardly contain my joy. I burst little sniggers from my mouth. My mind jumps from list to adoringly written list to decide what shall be my first task. I feel new life breathing into my fuzzy brain. It’s only ten hours a week, but they are MY ten hours. Mine all mine. Ten hours! How many words can I write in ten hours? How many emails can I send? How many blogs can I read? How many blogs can I write? How many articles can I devise, and pitch and write and send? How much money can I earn? OK, the answer to the last question is probably not very much, but who cares? Who cares when I have ten whole glorious, gluttonous, gigantic hours to write? My ‘business plan’ shines out like gold on my pin-board and I check and re-check my breakdown of hours.

I love being a mum. It’s everything I thought and 1,000 times more. But I miss me. And for ten whole hours I get me again. So fellow writers, as you settle down to work tomorrow, feel me in your ranks…. And listen out for the sound of my pencils being sharpened. It’s the first task on my list.

Alana: The Original Women Writers

I’ve been feeling a little daunted of late. Giving up my high flying career to look after my girls seems to have morphed into a full-time child-rearing job, combined with a (very) part-time writing career, swamped by the domestic drudgery of housekeeper, cook, cleaner and general slave to everyone else’s wishes.

As I fight a losing battle for some time to call my own (having long given up on a room of my own, a desk of my own, a moment of my own), I’m afraid writing has taken the biggest hit. As I lie under the duvet desperately grasping another ten minutes of rest I console myself that I’m not leaping out of bed earlier than my sleeping angels to write, by the fact that I’m a (now pregnant with my third) hectic mother of two under three and exhaustion has won the day. I pat myself on the back for getting through the day without causing anyone any actual physical harm, and meeting my magazine deadlines. I shrug my shoulders at the long list of writing I should / could / would be doing if only I had the time / childcare / energy – my blog (once daily, then weekly, now sporadic), other blogs, my diary, my novel.

But now I must confess to being shamed. I’m reading a book called Can Any Mother Help Me, about a group of women in the 1930’s who were stressed and bored and isolated from marriage and motherhood. In those days you gave up your job when you married and raising a handful of kids by yourself was the norm. One day a lonely woman wrote an ad in The Nursery Times asking if any other mother could help her. She was desperately lonely and isolated, and needed creative interaction. She got so many replies from so many women around the country they decided to set up their own secret magazine. They all took anonymous names and wrote articles about their lives. Taking them through their child-rearing years, through the second world war, through marriage breakdowns and life’s highs and lows, these women found solace in their writing and their friendships. The magazine – called CCC (Co-Operative Correspondence Club) – lasted for over 55 years.

Their lives where often harsh, and many had been educated but forced to become nothing more than domestic drudges after marriage. They endured bringing up their children alone and in austere circumstances during the war and they fought their own battles to find identity, creativity, and achievement. They were brave, funny, witty, enduring, strong and smart. They worked much longer and much harder than I do, and they still found time to write. For 55 years these women literally wrote the story of their lives, weaving a weapon against boredom, domestic drudgery, marriage and motherhood. Life gave them something to write about, and their writing gave their life meaning.

It’s 5.30 a.m. and I’m writing. And it feels wonderful. Thank you Creative Construction – a little modern CCC.

Alana: A room of my own

Thanks for your comments… know you’re right about my terrible (terrific) two year old… just thought I’d share a recent blog I wrote on how to write and be a mum…

Rooms of our own

Women didn’t even have the right to vote when Virginia Woolf first voiced our need to have our own piece of space in a Room of Our Own. A hundred years later and feminism has taken us beyond Virginia’s wildest dreams I imagine. Back then as a single woman, she was refused entry into a library without the escort of a male gentleman. Today there are few, if any, buildings we cannot stride into, and even have the chance of running should we so desire or work hard enough. However, one thing remains the same. How many women – and us mothers in particular – have a room to call our own? A space that is ours? A refuge from the hurly-burly tumble of motherhood?


I for one don’t have a room of my own. Not any more. Not one room. Not even a cupboard that locks or has room enough for me to hide inside (believe me, I’ve tried!). I have two daughters under two and a half years of age, and by two my eldest had discovered the delights of trying on my new red suede high heels (scored before I’d even worn them), could reach into the drawer and unzip my make-up bag, (I won’t go into the implications of liquid blusher on a cream carpet) and stand on the windowsill to reach across my dressing table to pull my necklaces and beads off the rack. But it’s not just the physical assault on my belongings, the loss of scared things that are mine (as every mother knows – a two year lives by the motto, what’s mine is mine, and what’s everybody else’s is mine too). It’s that little pocket of solitude, that tiny oasis of space, that miniscule crevice of peace, a place to run screaming to and slam the door shut should the desire overwhelm us. My daughters have it. My husband has it – an office at work, a shed, the study. Even the damn cats have it. But somehow between being a child and having a child, I lost the right of privacy.


When I was young I had my own bedroom. Poster laden walls and heart patterned curtains with secret hiding places for furtive writings and diaries stuffed with longing. As I grew up and chased life in a tirade of exciting adventures I had many rooms, in many houses, in many towns, in many countries; rooms that, when all was said and done were mine to close the door on, and say goodbye to the world. And then, when I had wilted, recouped, rested, regathered, I could throw open the door again to say hello to world, myself intact and recovered.


I only ever actually owned one of those rooms – well, three to be precise if you included a bathroom and kitchen/lounge area – and that was the best room of all. Mine, all mine. Well, mine and the cats. I can still just grasp that glorious feeling of how good it was to wake up on a Saturday morning, the blinds still down and hiding me from the outside, the door still bolted to keep me safe inside, as I languished indulgently in my space, alone to decide how the day would proceed, with space to just be. But no sooner had I secured my room (s) of my own, than I invited someone in to share it. Our love took over and we moved on to own multiple rooms together in a sorry house that whispered of many stories untold. Now I own several rooms, but none of them are mine; no part my husband doesn’t share (and clutter), no area my daughters don’t ransack. I don’t even close the toilet door anymore – that intimate moment of privacy too has been stripped away by an insecure toddler. And since giving up my full time desk-job to look after the family and pursue a freelance career, I no longer own an office where people would knock to enter and I could choose to welcome them, or not.


Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change one second of motherhood (well, ok there are about 30 seconds I might exchange) but here I am. 37. A mother and writer. And for the first time in my life I have no room to call my own. I write at the dinner table amid dollops of baby food and smidgens of egg yoke and between piles of ironing. I was deliriously happy recently when my husband grudgingly allowed me to store some old crockery in the shed so that I could have a whole half cupboard of the dresser to store my laptop and writing. A whole shelf! Who needs diamond rings when you can have a whole shelf, I ask you? When I surveyed a bunch of mum’s recently about their thoughts on motherhood, one of the strongest moans was lack of privacy and personal space. And I don’t think we even dream of anything grand. All I want is a little corner of the house that belongs to me; a place where all my piles of ‘stuff’, and notes, and ‘things’ can congregate together in harmony. I’d like to feel I belong, rather than have bits of me scattered around the house in every available recess like a hobo in my own home.


But for now I suppose I must create my own ‘room’, my thinking and writing place. My solitude must take place amid the hectic squealings of motherhood. My creativity must fight its way through the mundane acts of domesticity. I must claim my room where I can; in my head; in the car as I wait for the lights to change; in between the nappies and the boiled eggs and soldiers; in bed as the moon recedes and little voices have yet to break the silence of the morning. And maybe one day I will have a room again; one that’s just mine. With a door. A soft door that’s knock is mild and not intimidating. A gentle knock that I will gladly say ‘come in’ to. Because I can.

Alana: Introducing myself!

Thank you for the invite to join this wonderful group of writing mums. I feel like I’ve just walked into a room of old friends having just been on a holiday with a bunch of strangers. At last, people with my problems – and my ambitions! Thanks for the invite Miranda, and if it suits everyone, I’ll bring along a bottle of wine, put on my Abba CD and kick back with you girls for a while.


I’m a mum of two from Dublin, Ireland – one is 2 and a half and the other is 10 months… yes i know, I’ve told my husband he’s not allowed to even pass me on the stairs for at least another year…


I gave up my high-octane job after I had Daisy, and despite loving being her mum, i morphed from being the workaholic Iron Lady to the housework weary Ironing Lady. So I began to write. Ironically having kids has allowed me to fulfill my lifetime ambition of being a writer. I now write regularly for parenting magazines (although that makes me sound like a full-blown freelancer – the reality is I write when they sleep, and when I can’t sleep) and am attempting my first novel (note the optimistic use of ‘first’!).


Some days… most days.. I feel like a piece of my daughters’ playdo – uber elasticated for easy pulling in every direction, and maleable enough to morph into different shapes when the demand requires – mum, wife, cleaner, cook, writer, daughter, friend, mum, secretary, engineer, mum, daughter-in-law, mum, neighbour, houseworker, shopper, planner, mum, hugger, play friend, teacher, ……. me?


Every second of every day has a specific task dedicated to it – the nano-second my babes are down for their lunchtime nap (my greatest achievement was getting them to sleep at the same time!) I’m at my computer writing until the first squeak on the monitor pulls me back to the day job.


My novel takes a back seat so much of the time, it might as well be in the car behind. My mum and my husband tell me to slow down, and calm down, and sit down, and MOST IRRITATINGLY OF ALL tell me not to push myself with the book. I need to rest. Yes i do. But i can’t rest for needing to write another line. I have to get off chapter 5 for god’s sake – it’s been 4 months!


I have the same angel / devil on my shoulder arguments as you Miranda – should I rest and forget the burning (more like smoldering) passion in me, or do I plough ahead and write the damn thing? Every day when I’m beyond myself with exhaustion after another interrupted night (we’ve all been sick pretty much without break since the week before Christmas) and I look enthusiastically at the computer but gaze longingly at the sofa, I can hear Oscar Wilde sidle up to me and whisper his famous quip: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.” Clearly he was a man. With no kids. I write standing up, on the loo, in the bath, in my head as I wait for the traffic lights to change and in between verses of the Wheels on the Bus.


Anyway, I’ve turned into one of those irritating people who turn up at a party and hog the floor. Just wanted to say I’d love to join your group, I understand, empathise, and share your struggle and hope we can all get a few words written in the next wee while. Every little helps….

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