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Posts from the ‘Alison’ Category

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? Read more

Writer Mother Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Editor’s note: This interview is generously cross-posted from Alison Wells’s Head Above Water.

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel, BloodMining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life, will be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton, England.

Tell us about your children, Laura.

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space? Read more

Writer Mother Interview: Sally Clements

The following interview is cross-posted from Head above Water.

Sally Clements is a mystery and romance writer who lives in Celbridge, Kildare, Ireland. Her novel Catch me a Catch is published by Wild Rose Press. The novel is up for the Romantic Novelists Association’s, Joan Hessayon Award. Sally’s novel Bound to Love was also recently published by Salt publishing’s romance e-publishing imprint Embrace. Her children range in age between almost 18 and 10. When not writing she is usually to be found driving Mum’s Taxi!

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

I always loved writing, and did it for my own pleasure and satisfaction until about four years ago, when I decided to be brave, really write, and show it to other people. Terrifying, but satisfying!

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Well, my children were past the toddler stage by the time I started. Before then, I found it impossible to devote the time to it.

How do you organise your writing time and space, Sally, do you have a routine?

I have a desk, and an office. I retreat there every morning when the children are in school, and write until school pick-up time. If the children are busy doing homework etc., I usually manage to fit an hour or two in the afternoons between school runs!

Is it possible to maintain a balance between writing and family/home commitments on a daily basis?

I’ve claimed the mornings as writing time. I maybe shove in a load of washing before I start, but leave the housework to the afternoons, when I’m out of the office and buzzing around. If I didn’t, there’d be no time for writing at all. Half terms, school holidays etc., are difficult!

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

They’re sort of resigned to it. I think now since I’ve been published, they realize that I’m not just avoiding them, but actually doing something. Read more

Mother Writer Interviews: Jane Rusbridge

[This article is generously cross-posted from Alison Wells’s blog, Head above Water.]

Alison Wells: My four children are between 10 and 3 years old. As a novelist and short story writer, I was interested to find out how other women writers with young children manage their writing time and find creativity among chaos. In this series of interviews we hear from writers from Ireland, England, France, the US, and Australia who are at various stages in their writing careers.

Jane Rusbridge lives near in a tiny village in the South Downs, West Sussex. She has been Associate Lecturer of English at the university in Chichester for more than 10 years. Her debut novel, The Devil’s Music, was published by Bloomsbury in 2009 and was longlisted for this year’s International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Bloomsbury will publish a second novel, Rook, in 2012.

How many children do you have and in what age range?

I have three daughters: Katie, 28, Stephanie, 26 and Natalie, 22, and also a stepson, Sam (25) and a stepdaughter, Rose (22).

Had you established your writing regime before the children or did it happen alongside them?

I was a primary school teacher, but went back to university in my late thirties when my youngest started school because I’d always wanted to do an English degree. That’s when I started writing. I loved every aspect of the degree: books, books, books! It took 6 years, part-time; studying had to fit around work — I ran my own preschool group for four year olds — and the children. My divorce happened during that time, which was unsettling for the children, so I didn’t use any form of childcare. The children were all teenagers by the time I’d finished. The degree was something I was doing just for me, my dream, so everything else always took precedence.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

To begin with, any writing had to fit into ‘spare’ time, squeezed in between work and family commitments. With 5 children this involved quite a bit of juggling and sometimes months went by when no writing got done. However, winning the university prize for creative writing was a big turning point which gave me enough confidence to start to send work out. Gradually, writing became more than a ‘hobby,’ more than just ‘fun.’ It got serious! All the same, writing was still something I did only for myself and so always came last on my list of priorities. The Devil’s Music took a very long time to write: 7-8 years at least.

How have you organised your writing time and space?

About 10 years ago, when the house was still filled with teenagers, my husband bought me a shed which we put at the bottom of the garden. I painted it blue. Having a special place away from the general hubbub of family life and allocated to my writing made a huge difference in two ways. Firstly, writing took on more importance — the blue shed was there for only one reason: for me to write. Secondly, the walk down the garden to my shed removed me, mentally, emotionally and physically, from the house where there was always washing to put in the machine, food to cook, family mess to tidy. Once I was in the shed, I was there to write and think; nothing else.

These days, with the children now adults and only Natalie living at home, I am able to devote much more time to writing and writing-related activities: research, organizing and travelling to events, social-networking. My writing career is pretty near the top of the priority list now. I teach much less, just the occasional freelance workshop and only part-time at the university. Nevertheless, it’s easiest to manage everything if I stick to a routine, so I set aside big chunks of time — whole days — for writing. A novel is a very big ‘thing’!

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?

Family life is very important to me — my children all live close by and we see all lot of them. I do manage a balance but perhaps because writing is (mostly) unpaid work and it’s also work from home, there’s still that difficulty of writing not quite being considered a ‘proper’ career in other people’s eyes in the way a 9-5 office job would be. When I had small children at home I used to welcome anyone dropping in for tea or coffee at any time — not now! I’ve had to be firm with friends and make that clear. Not always easy! Quite a lot of compromise is necessary: there’s a tension between wanting to spend more time writing and the need to spend time with family and friends or to carry out practical tasks involved with running a home. I do much less housework than I used to. If I need a mental break from writing I’ll get the Hoover out or clean a bathroom — but writing takes precedence. That’s a reversal: writing used to be left until housework and everything else was done.

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

They’ve always been supportive, even when they were tiny. We’ve always read to them a lot so they all value books and stories. They were very excited about my novel being published — I think they thought I’d suddenly become famous!

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

The desire to write, to talk or think about my writing all the time, is very strong, but I’m aware it’s also pretty antisocial. I censor myself sometimes, so that my husband and the children don’t get bored with me wittering on. Luckily, because I teach creative writing, that’s a good outlet for lots of talk about books, reading and writing.

What was your proudest moment?

My proudest moment was a couple of weeks after I sent out the manuscript for The Devil’s Music to three agents: two of them phoned to say they were interested. I cried!

At what stage of your writing and family life did the agent representation for The Devil’s Music happen and what was the build up to it?

In 2006, I had a lucky year and I won prizes in several short story competitions. A chapter of The Devil’s Music was published in the Children’s Voices issue of Mslexia and editor Jill Dawson made some lovely comments about my writing. However, after almost 5 years, the 80,000 words I’d written of The Devil’ Music were still all over the place. I began to think maybe I couldn’t write a novel after all.

By coincidence, or perhaps synchronicity, one of the prizes I won was an Arvon course, tutored by Jill Dawson, with her friend Kathryn Heyman. On this course we were asked to set ourselves a series of goals to achieve within a certain timeframe. I gave myself one year to finish The Devil’s Music, or accept I was a short story writer, not a novelist. Kathryn Heyman liked what she saw of TDM at Arvon and offered to mentor me.

Gut instinct told me this might be my lucky break, that this could be the time to give writing priority in my life. By this time, two of our children were at university and, although the others were still at home, I was no longer tied to school runs and after school activities. My husband had started to do a lot of the cooking. I made two big decisions: to take six months off work (I’m an Associate Lecturer at Chichester University) and to spend a chunk of my savings on a mentor.

I’m so glad I did. In 2007, before my one year deadline was up, not only was The Devil’s Music finished, but two of the three agents I sent the manuscript to, phoned to say they were keen to take it on. This was my most joyous moment — and exciting beyond words! Every morning for weeks I woke up not quite believing it was true, and walked around with a big grin on my face.

Devil’s Music took almost 8 years to write. How did you hold onto the story of your novel and maintain the drive for that particular novel such a long period?

Working on something as large scale as a novel, with only squeezed-in bits and pieces of time for writing fitted between work and children and running a home, is undoubtedly hard in many respects, but I needed to take that long to write The Devil’s Music. Even when you’re doing something else and not consciously thinking about writing, what you’re working on never leaves you, does it? It’s always ticking over in your unconscious, at the back of your mind. I only discover what I am writing ‘about’, and the best way to tell a particular story, through a long, cyclical process of writing, redrafting, researching and redrafting — a slow process for me, whether I have time to write or not. I did sometimes think I wasn’t going to manage it, that life would be so much easier if I gave up trying to, but the initial desire to tell the story of the little boy at the centre of The Devil’s Music never went away; he haunted me.

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?

Certainly my generation of women, born in the 50s, faces more challenges than men when it comes to balancing writing and family commitments. Perhaps it’s a generalization, but there’s still the expectation that women should take the burden of responsibility for childcare and domestic chores.

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

I used to do a lot of gardening and decorating and cooking. Now I don’t! For the past 4 years or so my husband has done all the cooking — but then he is MUCH more interested in food than me. I’d eat boiled egg and toast every day to save valuable writing/thinking time. I do, when he’s away. When the children were younger, being a ‘good’ mother often seemed to include aeons of time revolving around food: I’m glad not to have that anymore!

What would you say to parents who want to write or further a writing career?

If writing is your passion, it’s very important to give it space in your life — important for you, and for everyone around you. If there are ‘sacrifices’ (money, time, friends even), only you can decide if they’re worth it.

More information on Jane and the Devil’s Music.

Jane’s novel the Devil’s Music was recently brought out on ebook. The book has received fabulous reviews.

Thank you so much to Jane. I wish her continued writing success. Find out more about Jane at her author site and about her novel The Devil’s Music. Facebook page: The Devil’s Music Facebook.

Writer Mother Interviews: Maria Duffy

[This article is generously cross-posted from Alison Wells’s blog, Head above Water.]

Alison Wells: My four children are between 10 and 3 years old. As a novelist and short story writer, I was interested to find out how other women writers with young children manage their writing time and find creativity among chaos. In this series of interviews we hear from writers from Ireland, England, France, the US, and Australia who are at various stages in their writing careers.

Maria Duffy (pictured with her family at right) from Dublin, Ireland is a mum (or mammy!) of four children: Eoin, 14, Roisin, 13, Enya, 9 and Conor, 7.  She writes women’s fiction and recently signed with Curtis Brown agent Sheila Crowley. She has had stories published — in A Pint And A Haircut and in a US anthology called Saying Goodbye and she blogs fabulously for Hellomagazine.com, interviewing celebrity tweeters.

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

I’ve always been interested in writing but never did much about it. I was always the one to write the silly poem when somebody was leaving their job or celebrating a big birthday. I suppose I always wrote bits and pieces but never really had the confidence or belief in myself to take it any further. When the children were very young (I had four under six), I began to write a novel. It was a revelation to me because I fell in love with the art of bringing the characters to life on the page and exploring their lives. As the children got older, I began to write more and now couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

I would probably say it’s had a good impact. Before I had children, I had a fulltime job in the bank and worked long hours. When I had my third child, I gave up my job to stay at home with the children. It was really only then that I began to explore the idea of writing more seriously. If I’d stayed at the bank, I probably would have always written but not to the extent I do now.

How do you organise your writing routine and space?

I have a pretty good routine these days. It was certainly more difficult when the children were younger and I always had at least one of them at home with me. Now that they’re all in school, I drop them off at 9:15 am and the day is mine until I collect them at 3 pm. Although I write from home, I discipline myself to look on it like any other job and force myself to ignore the piles of ironing and the layers of dust on the furniture! I used to find this difficult and I’d often lose a whole day of writing because I’d decide my house was filthy and I just had to clean it! These days I tell myself that if I was out of the house working at another job, the housework wouldn’t be done so I close my eyes, step over the pile of washing and go and write! The other thing I’ve learned to do is to say no to offers from friends to go for coffee or shopping. I have a number of friends who have young children and we used to spend long mornings putting the world to rights over coffee. Now I just tell them I’m working and either catch up with them in the evenings or weekends.

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?

I think it’s often difficult to get the balance right. In theory, I write while the children are in school and spend the rest of the day doing homework with them, bringing them to their after-school activities, making dinner, etc. But that’s the ideal scenario. As any writer would tell you, deadlines loom and pressure builds and sometimes the writing day can spill over into the evening or night. Sometimes I might be having a productive day and the words are flowing. On those days, it’s very difficult to just stop at a certain time and not do any more. Also, life is so unpredictable when you have children. It only takes one of them to have a tummy bug or a bout of tonsillitis for all my best-laid plans to go out the window. And don’t talk to me about mid-term…!

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

Overall, they’re pretty good. They’re old enough now to understand what I’m doing and as they’re all big readers, they love the thought that I’m writing books. I also have the pleasure of blogging for Hellomagazine.com and sometimes interview celebrities. This earns me lots of brownie points with them. For example, I recently interviewed Jedward and my children were waiting outside for me. I managed to drag John out to say hello to them so I was the coolest Mammy in the world!

What do you find most challenging in juggling your roles as mother and writer?

The most challenging thing is the guilt. Although I try to divide my time between my writing and the family, I’m not always very successful at it. There are days when I plonk the children in front of the telly because there’s something I really need to get done and when a deadline is looming, I’ve been known to feed the children beans on toast or pasta and microwave sauce for days! When one of the children comes home crying because I haven’t given him the money for a school tour or haven’t signed his homework journal, the guilt is huge. Writing is one of those things that you can’t switch off from and I sometimes feel it takes over my brain and doesn’t leave room for anything else. Gosh, that all makes me sound like a terrible mother, doesn’t it? I think the most important thing is my children know they’re loved and I keep telling myself to stop beating myself up about the little things.

You’ve made breakthroughs,  such as becoming a blogger for Hello Magazine and securing agent representation at Curtis Brown. When did your proudest writing moments happen and how did you feel?

My first breakthrough came when Poolbeg showed an interest in my first novel. I’d sent them six chapters and they asked to see the full manuscript. I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful that felt, especially knowing they only ask a small percentage of people to send the full manuscript. That was two years ago and nothing came of it but it was a huge boost to my confidence as a writer and I began to think I really could make it as an author. I’ve since had a couple of short stories published and, as I already mentioned, I’m blogging for Hellomagazine.com, but my proudest moment in my writing career so far was when I was taken on by a fabulous agent, Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown. I signed with Sheila six months ago and it’s been amazing. As a writer, sometimes you feel you’re writing into the wind, with nobody acknowledging what you’re doing and not getting feedback. To have an amazing agent like Sheila who champions me and believes in me is worth so much.

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 these days both women and men face challenges in career/family life. I’ve already mentioned the challenges I face as a mother but in my situation, my husband faces those challenges too. He’s very supportive of me and my writing and he’ll muck in as much as he can to help. He works fulltime but has set up an office for himself at home in order to try to work at least one day a week from home. He does this so that he can help with the children/housework etc. and allow me to write. At times when I’m under pressure, he tells me to just keep my head down and write and he’s the one who ends up juggling work and children. I’m very lucky to have him.

(He does sound wonderful!)

Something has to give when wearing many hats. What is it for you?

Oh that’s an easy one — the ironing, the cleaning, the making of healthy dinners…! Put it this way, if I have an hour to spare, I’d rather sit and chat with the children and find out about their day rather than spend it doing housework!

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

Firstly I’d say that if it’s something you want to do, you’ll find a way to do it. We all have to juggle things and sometimes it seems like an impossible task but once you’re actually doing it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it before. If you really want to write, look at your day and see how you could structure it to find some time to do it. You’ll have to learn to prioritize; otherwise you’ll never do it. For instance, I used to be very stuffy about my house. I probably cleaned for hours every day and loved to have a house smelling of roses! I’m not saying my house is filthy now (honestly, it’s not!) but it’s certainly not as shiny as it used to be!

Get your children to help out more around the house. We, as a family, do a clean up hour on Saturday mornings. Of course I do the necessary stuff (like wiping wee off the toilet seat!) every day but the big clean-up is left until Saturday mornings. All six of us get stuck in for an hour and I give everybody jobs to do. It’s actually quite enjoyable to have us all buzzing around the place for a while and we usually have some treats afterwards.

The other thing you can do to free up more time is think ahead about dinners for the week. I often make a few dinners at weekends and freeze them –things like casseroles or stews that can be defrosted and heated up easily. I also make sure there are plenty of snacks in the house so the children won’t go hungry while I have my head in the computer!

Basically, if you want to write, nothing should stop you; there’s always a way!

Thanks so much for your fabulous answers Maria! Wishing you every success for publication of your novel!

Find out more about Maria on her blog Writenowmom. See Maria in action interviewing the stars on Hellomagazine.com on her Stars in the Twitterverse blog.

Alison: 5 New School-Year Resolutions for Writing Parents

Although it varies by a week or two across the Northern Hemisphere, for many parents, children round about now are returning to school and the more rigid routines of school days, homework, and earlier bedtimes come into play. As parents we need to be more organised and lovingly firm with our kids as we ease them through the change.

Whether you are a going-out-to-work writing parent or a stay-at-home one or a bit of both, it’s a good time to think about your own schedule, your priorities in terms of projects that you have to complete, client commitments, and projects that capture your heart and that you want to spend time on.

An important question to ask is ‘what is actually possible?’ We can take steps to create writing time by getting up early or staying up late, by being good at using small pockets of time between chores or on commute, but believe it or not, writing isn’t everything. Our resolutions need to take account of the current demands of our lives timewise, physically, emotionally, mentally. At different phases these demands will fluctuate. All-out commitment to the cause of writing without consideration of your current situation cannot be a good thing. As children settle into school they may require more of our empathy and listening time, will benefit and feel less anxious by us just being around, taking a walk with them, creating space for communication. Later on in the year these demands may change.

But if we get a chance to write, we want it to be as fruitful as possible. I often struggle to feel satisfied with my achievements because I have several tasks and projects on the go and have not identified which need to come higher on the list. At the end of the session, which is never very long, I have achieved not much of anything as I flit from document to document, to my email, to Google etc. A simple thing, but sometimes I’m not really clear what I’m working on. Just writing that down and having a schedule will make a lot of difference.

Sometimes I come to write and just can’t get into it, I have no spark. This is often after a period where I have not had any down time, general pleasant relaxation, a walk, or sit down with a book or even an evening in front of the TV. It is possible to make writing a stick that doesn’t bear fruit because you are beating yourself with it. (Ah the mixed metaphor, my favourite beast!)

So what resolutions might be good ones for the new school and writing year?

Five resolutions for the new school and writing year

1: Write less but more fruitfully and watch more telly.

2: Pick a project, set a deadline or a mini deadline, and work to it.

3: Think each day about your current demands/desires emotionally, mentally, physiologically, socially, for family etc. and decide what is most important, what is possible, and what is necessary.

4: Take pride and joy in what you achieve even if it is less than what you had hoped — write down what you have done; it’s easy to forget.

5: Think about, interact with, and support others, friends, extended family members, and other writers; create a strong and positive network.

Goodwill and good effort for the most part come back. Writing and life energy can be created by taking care of our time, ourselves, each other.

[Cross posted from my personal blog.]

Alison: 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 forgotten 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 ‘privilege’ of hoovering or filling the washing machine.
  • My children have forgotten my name (I wish).

[Cross-posted from Head Above Water]

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