wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Archive for the category “Writing Mothers series”

Writing Mothers: Jo Case

Journalist and author Jo CaseFor a while last year, Jo Case and her book Boomer & Me seemed to be everywhere. An excerpt in the Good Weekend. An evening talk at the NSW Writers’ Centre. When I read her memoir, I was impressed, both with the story she told, and in her style of writing. It’s an unusual memoir with its pared-back, unsentimental analysis. I didn’t know much about Asperger’s when I began reading it, and I still had a lot of questions when I finished; I think one of the strengths of the book is that Jo doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

I enjoyed, and cringed alongside, her honest and often funny appraisal of what motherhood is meant to be about, as she feels her way through it. I loved that she is not the domestic goddess type (at one point she tidies the house by throwing everything in garbage bags in a frenzy) and is happy spending whole days lying down, reading (guilty, your honour). But it intrigues me that, being messy in the home, doesn’t extend to the workplace. Both Jo and I are also editors (Jo is senior editor at the Wheeler Centre). I’ve been thinking about this. Perhaps, amidst the chaos, it’s comforting to be able to wrangle words and get them into order…

After reading Boomer & Me, I commissioned Jo to write the feature article for Newswrite (the magazine for the NSW Writers’ Centre that I edit) about revealing the self in memoir. Little did I know, that she agreed just days before being asked by The Australian to review my novel just_a_girl. So there we were, in contact regarding editorial stuff, but she had a little secret she was keeping from me. Thank god it was a decent review! The writing community in Australia does feel like a small town, sometimes.

I spoke to Jo about writing memoir, expectations to be a ‘good mother’ and what the future holds…

When you were pregnant, what were your expectations regarding having a baby and writing? Were you planning to write after the baby was born? Were you planning to write at all?

When I was pregnant, I think I was just concerned with getting through the experience and managing a baby. (I hadn’t planned my pregnancy and my relationship was precarious — I’d split from my partner a few days before I found out I was pregnant, and we got back together during my pregnancy.)

I starting writing book reviews for the trade magazine Bookseller and Publisher while I was pregnant — the first place I ever got my reviews published. And when I was pregnant, and later when my son was a few months old, I went back to uni part-time to do a Communications course, majoring in writing. So while I didn’t consciously think about it, I guess writing was both on my mind and being practiced.

What was it like in reality? Did you get any writing done in the first year after your baby was born?

I wrote a couple of short stories and some uni essays, as well as some book reviews for Bookseller and Publisher. I got a part-time job one day a week writing annotations of books for DW Thorpe (now Thorpe Bowker), the company that publishes Bookseller and Publisher. My son’s father and I broke up when my son was nine months old, so I wasn’t really doing any of that more personal project-based writing. It was mostly work or study-based.

As a working mother, do you find it difficult to sit down and write? Or is it the opposite? Are you more creative, as you have less time, and have to be super-disciplined?

I do find it hard to find the time to sit down and write — though actually, it’s less about making time (which I can do) than about making the headspace to start something new. When I was writing my book, I was able to immerse myself in it and write. Starting it was hard; I think I was held back by an anxiety about creating something bad. But once I was into it, I could slip in and out of the writing, and was more at ease (if not entirely) with the idea that what I wrote would, at first, not be terribly good. I am lucky in that my son, who is now 14, is pretty good at entertaining himself. I was often concerned about ignoring my family to write, but I’ve come to the stage where, if I follow my son into his room to spend time with him, he gently (or not so gently) suggests I go find something to do. Which is strangely freeing.

At what point, did you start thinking about shaping the life around you into Boomer & Me?

Jo Case, Boomer and MeMy publisher, Rose Michael, approached me after reading an essay I had written in the Age about my son, football and Asperger’s — and a couple of opinion pieces I’d written about motherhood. She asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book on these themes. As it turned out, I had, but I had never quite had the confidence to believe that my desire to shape my life into a book was anything other than narcissistic .(Doesn’t everyone think they can write a book?) I had started to think about writing a book soon after my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s. I kept a personal blog on an almost daily basis, at times, and I had written a lot about my experiences. I had also looked for memoirs by other parents and people with Asperger’s, and not found much that really spoke to me, so I suspected that there was a readership there. But Rose gave me the confidence to actually do something about my suspicion.

Was it always going to be memoir? Did you ever think it might be easier to write a novel?

It was always going to be a memoir. That was how it would be most useful, I thought, to others who were looking for companionship or insight into the experience of having a child diagnosed with Asperger’s, or struggling to be a ‘good enough’ mother and never feeling quite like they’d hit the mark.

Did you have a diary or journal where you noted down things in your life, or were you able to recall events as you started writing?

I was lucky: I had diaries, a blog and many, many emails back and forth to people in my life. All of these things made it much easier to reconstruct and reflect on the past, and to find details to make it come to life and give it texture. I’m especially lucky that I am a magpie for dialogue — I like to write down what people say.

With your book, a memoir of motherhood, it’s quite different to tackling a novel (in some ways it’s the same). How did you draw the line — in terms of what to write about, and what to keep to yourself?

I did what I call ‘write hot, edit cold’. In other words, I didn’t really censor myself as I wrote, but I thought carefully about what to leave in and what to take out when I redrafted and edited the book. I wasn’t too worried about what to write about myself; my main concern was protecting the confidences of others in my life. I drew the line at reporting conversations in a doctor’s office that went inside my son’s head, or revealing other people’s secrets. That said, I also made sure, before I agreed to write the book, that I would reveal my own flaws and insecurities. I don’t believe it’s worth writing a memoir if you’re not prepared to reveal what goes on under the surface of your life, or to take some risks. The trick is to make sure that the risks are ones you can live with.

The book really moved me, in the sense that it’s about you as a mother trying to meet (often unrealistic) expectations, and often you feel you have come up short. This balancing act, and tension it creates, is deftly managed in the writing. How difficult is it to be honest about motherhood, when you feel like you don’t live up to what’s expected?

It’s really hard to be honest about my own failings as a mother — well, it’s hard, but it was also a relief. By laying out all the things I felt held me back from being a ‘proper’ mother, I came to the realisation that the most important thing is that I’m there for my son in terms of emotional support, making sure he’s fed, clothed and housed, and that I nurture the person he really is. I show him he is loved, that I value my time with him, and I take an interest in what he’s interested in. I still feel guilty that I don’t cook every night, that the house is often messy, and that I don’t make the easy connections to other mothers that I see happen in the schoolyard, but I know at heart that it’s better to fail at these things than at the things I actually do well. Writing the book helped me to come to this conclusion.

Some of your dealings with other mothers bring about the most painful (and, at times, excruciatingly funny) moments in the book. Do you think that things have shifted these days and there’s too much pressure to be ‘appropriate’?

I suspect there’s always been pressure to be ‘appropriate’ — when I was growing up, there were probably higher expectations than there are now. And I think mothers have always judged each other. I think what’s changed, perhaps, is that there are so many different versions of what a ‘good mother’ looks like, and the different camps fiercely patrol and defend their own territory. Because if being a good mother can look nothing like you, what does that mean? Does it mean YOU’RE the bad mother? I think we all need to learn to be more tolerant of people who parent differently to us, and accept there are lots of ways to do it ‘right’.

One of the key aspects of the book is your son’s (and possibly your) diagnosis as being on the Asperger’s spectrum. Like you, as a reader, I felt torn between the desire to label behaviour, and the desire to seek joy in things just the way they are. Since writing the book, has knowing the diagnosis changed your lives in a substantial way? Or has it in the end just involved more questioning?

It’s hard to say. Sometimes I do worry whether the label is limiting — and you need to be vigilant against letting it impose limits, or make it easy to give up, because your Asperger’s means that’s something you don’t do well. But it can also be an explanation why certain things don’t come naturally, and a reminder to work on those things. It’s also been a passport to a community of like-minded souls. And understanding Asperger’s has helped with self-knowledge, which is always valuable. You can’t decide to change, evolve, or stay the same without knowing that there is a choice and what that choice means. There is always questioning, too. But I think anyone who is Asperger’s, or has Asperger’s traits, will question pretty much everything anyway.

I love the intimacy of the relationship that you recreate with your son: the way you watch Simpsons on the couch, read and discuss books, the toilet humour, the half-cooked cakes you bake for his birthday. As a mother who likes nothing better than lying on a couch all day and reading, I really enjoyed how you negotiate these spaces together happily (even though you forget to pick him up from school one day because you are engrossed in a book, but even that made me laugh with delight — oops). You mention early in the book that many of the problems your son encounters happen outside the home. Do you think your mothering style is just naturally aligned with him, and that teachers/schools could be more flexible to accommodate?

I think that my son and I are very much alike, and so we naturally suit each other. We can go to a café and read magazines or newspapers together in silence and be very happy, or watch a 30 Rock marathon for hours. But there are other factors. School is an institutional environment built to suit the average, whereas home is an intimate environment built to suit the individuals in it. Schools can be more flexible (and my son’s high school is) in helping to provide time out for when Aspie kids lose their tempers or have emotional meltdowns, and similar measures. I think schools are getting better as they learn more about Aspergers. But not all of them.

I feel like I need an update: of what happens to you and your son during the teen years. Are you interested in writing more about your lives in the future? Or fiction perhaps?

I won’t be writing about my son in the context of Aspergers again: I’m finished with that. It was a positive thing to do, but emotionally wrenching too. If I include him in personal writing again, it would be on the margins, and I won’t go beneath the surface of him as a character. He’s a teenager; he needs his privacy. Fiction is a possibility I’m toying with, though not quite about us.

WANT TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF JO CASE’S BOOMER & ME? ENTER MY JUST_A_GIRL BOOK-HAMPER COMPETITION

HAVE YOU READ JO CASE’S BOOK? OR OTHER MEMOIRS ON MOTHERHOOD THAT YOU HAVE ENJOYED? WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS…

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to check out other interviews in my Writing Mothers series (including Anna Funder, Kirsten Tranter and Annabel Smith)…

Advertisements

Writing Mothers: Annabel Smith

Author Annabel Smith

Author Annabel Smith

Novelist Annabel Smith is a writer who kind of slipped by me. I’m not sure how this happened (but she has blogged extensively on it).

I read her first novel A New Map of the Universe earlier this year as if I was in a fever. The language is at times extraordinary. The opening scene where the lovers trace maps of stars on each other’s bodies is *sigh* so erotic, in the best shape of the word, that I felt like I might dissolve. It’s a book about abandonment (something that, as a writer, I identify with strongly), and about mothers who disappear (slowly, slowly). It’s a daring and transcendent debut, packed with emotion and punch.

I read her second novel pretty much immediately, intrigued by her ability to manipulate me as a reader (in a good way) and pluck at my tender bits and vulnerabilities.  Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot is also assured but completely different in tone, a signal to me that Smith is quite an exceptional writer in the Australian cultural landscape. With this book, I think she deserves to be considered on the international stage (many Australian writers other than Peter Carey should be there). Beautifully structured, pared back in style, it’s a contemporary novel about technique as much as plot, about how words are shaped. As a family negotiates feelings around a brother (or son) in a coma (you can throw away all the cliches too), Smith negotiates how memories are formed and relationships battered by seemingly small misunderstandings — miscommunications and withdrawals — that grow into obstacles almost too big to crawl over.

Annabel Smith, A New Map of the UniverseI’ve got to know Annabel (virtually) in the past year. Her debut novel was published by UWA Publishing, like my own. And since just_a_girl was published she has been quick to review it and give feedback, helping me over initial hurdles. She invited me to contribute to her Which Writer For a Day collective blog (with other WA writers) and to think about my favourite book for her ‘Friday Faves’ series. She taught me the importance of writerly communities, and helping each other out online in innovative ways. I was also fascinated by her latest project, The Ark, a digital narrative that pushes the boundaries of fiction — I look forward to seeing it in final form.

Here I speak to Annabel about motherhood, writing, and writing mother characters in her fiction.

When you were pregnant, what were your expectations regarding having a baby and writing? Were you planning to write after the baby was born?

I prepared for pregnancy as I prepare for most things — by reading about it. What I read led me to believe that my baby would usually have 3 naps a day, adding up to 3 or 4 hours in total. Based on this information, I expected I might be able to spend perhaps an hour a day writing.

What was it like in reality? Did you get any writing done in the first year after your baby was born?

My son was colicky and difficult to settle. He had an abnormally short sleep cycle (only 25 minutes as opposed to the average 45 minutes), and never napped for more than 1 cycle. The time it took to settle him was often longer than the duration of his nap and was horribly stressful. I felt that getting him to sleep was one of my primary functions as a mother and I was failing horribly at it. Often by the time he fell asleep I was completely strung out, and there were a million things to do around the home, so writing didn’t get a look in. I didn’t write a word for the first six months after he was born and I felt incredibly frustrated and resentful about this. Eventually, we worked out a routine where my husband would look after him for half a day each weekend and I would spend a few hours at the library working on my book.

Did you find it difficult to sit down and write? Or was it the opposite? Were you more creative, as you had less time, and had to be super disciplined?

I was amazingly productive. My writing time was so precious, I didn’t waste a minute. I would sit down at the desk and barely look up for three hours.

Did you find the experience of motherhood starting to seep into your characters? Into the way you portray people?

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotI was writing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot then. After my son was born I wrote a scene in which my protagonist Charlie goes to see his mother, and talks to her about his feeling that his brother was her favourite child. She reveals that it was in fact the opposite, and shares her guilt about this feeling. Parental guilt is something you can’t imagine if you haven’t had children. I’d heard people speak about the feeling that they were constantly doing something wrong, or letting their children down in some way and I’d think, just let it go, stop beating yourself up about it. Then I became a parent and I experienced it for myself and I understood how it gets hold of you. So I wouldn’t have thought of writing that scene unless I had experienced that.

Did having a child mean you had to go back and rewrite or change characterisation (of mothers or other characters) in any ways?

Not that I remember, although having a baby also affected my memory really badly so it’s hard to be sure!

In your novels, mothers are often seen as difficult to reach or disappearing slowly out of grasp. Is this a common thread in your work?

It isn’t always easy to see the threads in your own work because often they seem to be driven by unconscious impulses. My first two novels both focus on the idea of communication in families — things that need to be said and aren’t, things that shouldn’t be said but are. All sorts of the relationships are fractured, not just those between mothers and children. But when I think about it more carefully, in my third novel The Ark (to be published in 2014) I have a character called Ava, who has a nervous breakdown, and worries about the impact of this on her 8-year-old daughter. And my current work-in-progress centres on a cult built around a woman known as ‘la madre’ which means ‘mother’ in Spanish. So perhaps it is an idea I feel a need to keep exploring in different forms, but it is not deliberate.

Mothering can involve managing many conflicting emotions. To what extent do these emotions transform or play a part in your writing?

What a great question. But also a difficult one to answer. I have certainly had many conflicting emotions as a mother and perhaps more extremes of emotion too. I had post-natal depression so some of the lowest times of my life have been since the birth of my son. The silver lining of this, for me, is having more compassion for others, especially people suffering with mental illnesses. I think if a writer has compassion for their characters, the reader is more likely to as well, even the difficult characters. So I hope that my experience with depression has helped me to write characters with more depth, and characters who readers might be able to feel sympathy for, even if they are behaving in ways that are hard to understand.

Both your books challenge the idea that motherhood and nurturing come naturally. Your characters struggle with grief and detachment. Do you think these are feelings many women negotiate but feel uncomfortable talking about?

Undoubtedly. I think there’s a terribly repressive culture which perpetuates the myth that all women are natural mothers and that motherhood is the most wonderful thing that can ever happen to us, and this culture makes it difficult for women to express their true feelings about motherhood which are often ambivalent and complex. I think this culture is changing, which is great to see, but it still has a long way to go.

Annabel Smith’s novel Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot has been nominated for the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award, to be announced at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow night. Good luck, Annabel, and I’ll keep you posted.

THIS POST IS PART OF THE WRITING MOTHERS SERIES: You can also read interviews with Anna Funder, Debra Adelaide, Susan Johnson, Kirsten Tranter, and many other wonderful writers

WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU A WRITING MOTHER – OR IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING MOTHER CHARACTERS? HOW DO YOU HANDLE IT?

Meet the locals: author Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell

Simmone Howell’s recent YA novel Girl Defective is a smart and punchy coming of age tale set on the meanstreets of St Kilda. In a record store owned by her dad, Sky negotiates love, loss and a little brother who always wears a pig mask.

Simmone’s narrative voice (in whatever character she is writing) is the kind that you long for, so strong it becomes a part of your own interior monologue, and changes how you see the world for a while. Her dialogue, description and humour are fresh and seamless. Her rapid fire delivery floors you. I’ve read a lot of YA fiction recently and this book stands out in the genre (or any genre, really).

As it happens, Simmone is also a local (for the moment, anyhow). I first saw her on stage at Castlemaine Word Mine, hosting a session with Martine Murray and Sally Rippin, and we recently did a session together (with Ellie Marney) on teen fiction. 

Here I speak to her about writing, nostalgia and folk music …

When did you move to Castlemaine? What drew you to the area?

I moved here in 2008. I wanted to try living in the country and Castlemaine had good coffee, plus a cinema and a train to Melbourne …

How does the area inspire your own writing?

I’m yet to see if the area has inspired my writing. I’m not sure that it does except for the fact that I walk a lot more than I used to and as a result have more ‘forward thoughts’ … but I also seem to have less time to write them down. And I spend a lot of time dreaming of escape.

How does a writer survive in Castlemaine? Do you do other work as well?

I do a little freelance writing stuff here and there, and I run creative workshops with Lisa D’Onofrio. I live lean and am nearly always thinking of finishing a Grad. Dip.

You seem to be drawn to YA fiction, novels with strong and humorous young female voices. Does the teen voice come naturally to you?

Yes! Even when I write an old man character he manages to sound like a 15-year-old girl. (This could be a problem …)

You’re a writing mother. How does having a family influence the way you work? Your characterisation?

Having a family means I have more resources in one way – I am constantly being pulled into the child’s perspective and I think it also makes me very nostalgic about my past and the feeling of time passing. I think being a parent has made me a nicer person. Not sure if that helps with the novelling though.

Girl DefectiveYour new novel, ‘Girl Defective’, seems to be about the importance of preservation (records, St Kilda’s iconic buildings) and an embrace of the vintage. Do you collect things? Are you drawn to record stores and op shops?

Yes and Yes. I have always been a collector and a cataloguer. I also love to throw things away and then mourn them.

‘Girl Defective’ has a wonderful sense of place. Why did you decide to set it in St Kilda?

I lived in St Kilda for a little while, and it was also the land of my teenager dreams. It always seemed like a mythical place to me – like Australia’s version of Los Angeles where everything is surface and the darkness is never far away. I love the history of St Kilda and the geography. I’m not sure if I would live there again so it was great to be able to live there vicariously through Sky.

Sky seems to be a girl coping in many ways on her own, with a lot of responsibility (her mother is absent, her dad relies on her to look after her brother). Do you think she is essentially taking on the parenting role in the narrative?

Yes. I think responsibility is one of the themes of the novel. Put baldly like that, ‘responsibility’ seems to be quite a boring theme, but when I was writing I was thinking a lot about the roles that people take on, how we can fall into them without wanting them, and then, sometimes surprisingly, be good at them.

You’re currently working on your latest novel. What’s the process? Do you research extensively? Or do you hit the ground running once you’ve found a character?

No research unless I really have to. I’ve been quite good about writing forward. With Girl Defective I remember I changed the tense about fifty billion times, re-writing the book each time … with my current manuscript I’m playing around with the voice. I’ve been writing it in 3rd person, but now I think I’d quite like it to be in 1st. Basically my process is to write something and then at a crucial point in the narrative go back to the start — this way it takes me years to finish.

Are you a writer who likes to stick to a routine, who finds comfort there, or do you embrace spontaneity?

I would love to stick to a routine, but I seem unable to. My only routine now is that I use the software Freedom which allows me to turn off the internet.

You’ve worked in other genres including an award-winning screenplay. What drew you to film, and how does writing a short film differ from narrative fiction.

I love films. I spent most of my teen years lurking at the video store slowly working through actors and genres … the short film Pity 24 came from a short story which was basically an oral biography, so in that instance there wasn’t a lot I had to change. (The film is like a fake documentary, though not a ‘mock’ documentary because no-one’s being mocked in it … I think there’s a difference.)

Actually I find screenwriting really challenging. I would love to adapt one of my books but think I might need a bravery injection first.

You’ve been successful in exporting your fiction internationally. Do Australian writers in YA stand a chance in the US market?

Definitely. There is a lot of love for Australian YA in the US. Margo Lanagan, Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Marcus Zusak, John Marsden — the big names here garner a lot of respect there. Very generally speaking, I think they love the ‘direct’ Aussie voice. My writing has been called things like ‘unvarnished’ and ‘raunchy’ in the US and for some reason it feels like a compliment!

You have recently hosted a local radio show, Folkish on Tuesday mornings (currently in hiatus). What are your top 5 folk tracks (at the moment)?

Simmone’s earlier novel Notes From The Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for YA Fiction and the Gold Inky in 2007. The short film Pity24 won an AWGIE for screenwriting.

A UNIQUE VOICE IS SO IMPORTANT IN FICTION … WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS — WHO MANAGE TO CREATE A VOICE SO MESMERISING THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO LET GO?

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO MEET LOCAL WRITERS JON BAUER AND ADAM FORD …

Writing Mothers: Wendy James

Author Wendy James

Author Wendy James

One of the great things about writing a blog is the comments you get from readers, introducing you to new writers working in similar areas. Wendy James is a writer who, somehow, had flown under the radar for me. Short stories. Novels. She’s produced an impressive amount of work including Out of the Silence, which won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. But I’d never heard of her. When I started immersing myself in her books, I realised it may have been a cover issue. I judge books by their covers. If a book looks too saccharine or girlie, I tend to shy away. If it looks like a family saga, I get nervous.

Wendy (as she explains later) has been punished by the publishers when it comes to covers. Her covers and titles are misleading. Rich, energetic and punchy, her text is intricate and soars off the page; the covers don’t reflect this. Reading her books has taught me about my own prejudices when it comes to reading and genre. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Kirsten Tranter

Kirsten TranterSydney-based writer Kirsten Tranter has published two novels in quick succession, The Legacy and A Common Loss, to international critical acclaim. While she has written widely about the trials and tribulations of writing a second novel, the setting of A Common Loss (the neon streets of Las Vegas) has distinguished her writing from other Australian contemporaries.

Angela Meyer, from Literary Minded, described the book’s appeal:

The complexity of Vegas — where people dream, work, gamble, are seduced, marry, play, and drink themselves to death in giant rooms under flashing lights — is the perfect setting for this book about a man, an intelligent man, an academic, who realises he’s not as aware (or even self-aware) as he thought he was. Eventually, in Vegas, he begins to see behind the surfaces to the wear and tear. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Susan Johnson

Susan Johnson

Author Susan Johnson has recently published her novel, My Hundred Lovers.

Susan Johnson is an author of seven novels, and also non-fiction, and has recently released her latest, My Hundred Lovers. She blogs regularly on all aspects of writing and the process of launching her book.

I remember reading an early work of hers, Flying Lessons, and revelling in its fierce characterisation and descriptions of Queensland. She was always a writer who excited and challenged me, and I kept an eye out for her latest works.

Susan describes Flying Lessons here:

The book, set in Australia, has two heroines, modern-day Ria Lubrano and her Edwardian grandmother Emma James. Ria Lubrano, who “came into the world with bones plotting mutiny”, suffering from a literal and metaphorical film over her eyes, is vegetating as a jingle-singer, a voice without an identity or even a complete song, her sense that life is just “a series of disengagements”. She is preoccupied with the loss of her brother Scott, who has drifted out of touch with his family and turned by degree into a missing person. She is also engrossed by the story of Emma, who married a Catholic boy and was renounced by her archetypal disciplinarian father. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Allison Tait

Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro

Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro

One of the first bloggers I discovered as I was searching for writings on motherhood and rural life was Life in a Pink Fibro (see Top 5 Rural Blogs), Allison Tait’s wonderfully poetic look at family life. I fell in love with the design and her clarity of expression, and her ability to turn everyday moments into memorable prose. I learnt a lot about blogging from reading her carefully managed posts.

Allison also manages to write fiction (at night) with a novel to be published in 2013, and has co-authored the book Career Mums for Penguin. I chatted to her about balancing a busy writing career with raising children.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

I started my blog, Life in a Pink Fibro, in January 2010. My boys were six and three when I started. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Debra Adelaide

Debra Adelaide, author, The Household Guide to Dying

Debra Adelaide, author, The Household Guide to Dying

When I first read The Household Guide to Dying it felt as if the writer, Debra Adelaide, had somehow stepped inside my head for a while and borrowed my voice. Even though at the time I had no daughters, and I certainly wasn’t dying of cancer, the words felt like they were mine: effortless, flowing, perfectly formed, and delivered with precision timing (at certain key points).

There was nothing sentimental about Delia Bennet’s experience of confronting death. It was head on. Even funny. (I got the same tragi-comic feeling reading Sarah Watt’s exquisite contributions to Worse Things Happen at Sea, the memoir she wrote with husband William McInnes, when she was approaching her final days with courage and quiet humour.) Delia plans for the important things. Like how to teach her girls to make the perfect cup of tea. Like whether she is going to fit in her coffin and whether she should practise before the final day comes. Read more…

Writing Mothers: Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

The blog Miscellaneous Mum, created by Karen Andrews, is one of my favourites. It manages to encompass the detailed trials and tribulations of daily life with a family, great reviews of books (including Stasiland by Anna Funder, interviewed here) and news of her life as a writer.

She even started the ‘1001 Books to Read Before You Die’ challenge.

(The weird thing is, I started this in a blog, too, many moons ago — before I saw hers. I got about five books in. It was so long ago I can’t even find my own blog using Google. Ah well). She’s doing better.

She also somehow manages to hold down a desk job (a great one!) as program manager of the Emerging Writers’ Festival that begins in a couple of weeks in Melbourne.

Her blog’s subheading — ‘Trying to find the objective correlative, everyday’ — has kept me thinking for months. It seems exactly the right phrase to describe her type of writing. While many mother-bloggers keep their posts raw and emotional (which I enjoy too), Andrews’ style has an austerity and sophistication that suspends and transfixes you.

In the upcoming edition of Newswrite (June–July), Mandy Sayer writes about this term, the objective correlative, in relation to Hemingway and Chekhov:

Chekhov, also a playwright, was a master at using objective external details, coupled with understatement and irony, to convey complex emotional states. This rendering of the internal through the external, the subjective through the objective, is a technique T.S. Eliot later described as the ‘objective correlative’.

 The method involves writing imagery and actions that are so precise, so resonant, that the narrator doesn’t need to state how a certain character feels: the emotions are already there, embedded in the landscape, the light, the weather, the scents, the sounds, and the silences.

To do this, everyday? I spoke to Karen about the challenges of blogging and balancing the writing with family life.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

KA: I started blogging in August 2006, when my second (and youngest) child was five months’ old.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

KA: I primarily just wanted to get my own writerly ‘voice’ back, as well as my own ‘personal’ one. I had been experiencing severe post-partum anxiety attacks and was just trying to sort myself out mentally and emotionally. Perhaps an odd choice of forum, given the public nature of blogging, but I also wanted to seek out others who’d been through the same, or even help others in their journey.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

Karen Andrews has also written a children's book, Surprise!

Karen Andrews has also written a children’s book, Surprise!

KA: It happens both ways. When the kids were younger, I admit it was more in bursts, while they played near me or during nap times. These days it’s more strategic and regimented as I’ve got other commitments (such as work and my offline writing) to attend to as well. I’ve never worked very well at night — either with writing or blogging — so I really have to manage my time during the day as best as I can. I concede this probably makes me a slower writer, but I’m saner too!

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

KA: I have been wondering more and more about my writing style in recent times. In my work (program manager at the Emerging Writers’ Festival) I come across different writers and forms all the time, and I do occasionally think, ‘Where do I fit in among the ‘scene’? I still feel young, too, in a career and chronological sense (I’m 33). There’s a tension within me that I’ve always fought: that being the need to rush and the mentality to absorb and learn from others.

In terms of standing out from the crowd, I think I have etched out for myself a sort of blogging reputation that coincides with an indie-publishing-slash-entrepreneurial-bent that is nice if — at times — undeserved! I do earn money from blogging, more than writing. That is nice, I admit, but I do remain mindful of my deep set loves and values about writing and keeping a sort of…purity of intent.

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

KA: I’ve blogged about kids since the beginning; my first post was about my daughter. It was a blog about them — although I knew it couldn’t be forever — and I’ve been slowly turning it into a blog that’s more about me, and they’re more of a reflection in that sense (although I’d never for a moment presume to say that what has happened in the past is an explicit recount but, rather, more of a subjective interpretation rendered in as nice/expressive way as I can, like other creative nonfiction does).

There are lines I’ve drawn, but that has been at the request of my husband. The kids will do the same all in good time too. I respect that. Other truths can wait for my fiction.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

KA: I have lots of favourite bloggers who are mothers who happen to blog about parenting: I think Penni Russon (eglantine’s cake) is wonderful, and I am proud to call her a friend of mine. We’ve talked about blogging a lot together. Another friend who is an excellent writer is Tiffany Tregenza (My Three Ring Circus). These are in Australia. In America, possibly my favourite is Amy Storch (Amalah).

How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

KA: It’s made me more open to the value of flash/shorter fiction for starters! It’s made me realise much quicker the greater potential an idea might lend itself to having, ie whether it would be better to make a blog post out of something or turn it into a poem. For example, a day I had at the park years ago could’ve been easy to turn into a post along the lines of ‘We Had A Crap Day At The Park – Let Me Whine About It To You’. But I knew there was more to it than that. So I turned it into a poem — and it went on to win a literary award.

This interview is part of the ‘Writing Mothers’ series. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my interviews with Anna Funder, Fiona McGregor and Bianca Wordley (Big Words blog).

Who’s your favourite blogger on parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Writing Mothers: Fiona McGregor

Author Fiona McGregor

Author Fiona McGregor. Photo: Sarah-Jane Norman.

When I started writing my first novel (for a research masters in creative writing at the University of Sydney) I wrote from a daughter’s and a mother’s perspective. I was not a mother. But I had my own to fall back on. And many others to observe. I remember asking Sue Woolfe (my supervisor) whether I needed to be a mother to fully realise such a character? No, we agreed. It may help. But a character is a character is a character. There’s much debate about whether a white writer can write a character with an Aboriginal perspective; whether a male writer can fully inhabit the body/mind of a woman; even whether a writer can capture a sense of place if they’ve never set foot there.

I understand where these concerns come from but I’m all for experimenting. Where else, but in fiction, can we start to re-imagine, re-invent lives, explore the limits of who we are. I think it comes down to compassion for characters, the ability to drill into the psychology of another person (at any moment in time and place).

During the slow process of writing the novel, I became pregnant and had a baby. Then another one. I started recording the day to day changes. And I realised that my mother character, while not way off the mark, just didn’t have those detailed observations, didn’t fully engage with her daughter, didn’t live her life from within. I went back and started to rewrite.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series (see also Anna Funder and Bianca Wordley) is not only about women juggling writing with motherhood. The topic can also been seen from another angle: how to write mother characters. I approached Fiona McGregor, the author of Indelible Ink (which won the Age Book of the Year award in 2011) — that features the unforgettable Marie King, a 59-year-old divorcée from Sydney’s affluent north shore who sets herself up for reinvention (and to confront her children).

Fiona, how do you go about writing a ‘mother’ character? Is it different from how you approach other characters?

FM: I don’t think it’s different in principle — a combination of imagination and empathy. I guess I attuned myself to mother-specific concerns — that is where the 24-hour job comes into play — noticing things on TV and in the paper that addressed mothers in a way that would normally not come within my frame of reference. In the same way, I was much more attuned to my sisters’ and girlfriends’ motherly preoccupations. I might do the same if my main character were an accordion player — seek that out in the world around me in whatever form.

Fiona McGregor, Indelible Ink

Fiona McGregor, Indelible Ink

I don’t and didn’t want to see mothers as just mothers — that is part of the struggle of the mother in my book, to assert an individual self, so I would have been looking at the women in my life in the same terms. I obviously thought a great deal of my own mother, but not too much, as her life and values were pretty different and I didn’t want them to overinfluence my book, my character of Marie.

Do you research — talk to and observe other mothers — or is it about intuition?

FM: Yes, I did ask my mother friends and family stuff, and pricked up my ears at mother conversations …

Also, I’ve been lucky to have experienced through the women I know and through both my blood and my queer family a really wide range of mothers. That helps.

Intuition — yes — the turning point for me, after struggling for literally years to get inside of Marie and finding it hard, was thinking about how similar I was as opposed to how different. That is one of the most important places for the fiction writer, to keep your feet on the common ground, a fellow human thing.

Also, in terms of being attuned, my reading steered towards stories of mothers, families, the middle-class.

How much influence has your relationship with your own mother affected the way you portray mothers in your fiction?

FM: I was juggling using and learning from my mother and our relationship, and also needing to refuse it because if it had overinfluenced me it would have strangled the book and the character; it wasn’t appropriate. My mother was 20 years older than Marie, and had eight kids and worked, and was a practicing Catholic. She was educated, quite erudite and comopolitan. All these things set her worlds apart. And she was incidentally intransigent in her hatred of tattoos.

I’ve realised you’ve asked about my relationship … Well, I think what we had in common with Blanche and Marie was something very prevalent to that generation — the struggle that mothers, post-war educated mothers, have where they fulfil the traditional role and get a chance at a public independent life and sometimes make a total success of that, but much more often feel a bit torn and frustrated. Their daughters grow up with much more freedom, largely due to their mother’s efforts, and when the mothers see this they are proud and gratified but also resentful, jealous, confused. They probably feel not acknowledged enough. Sacrificial lambs … A bittersweet love/hate thing. I have observed younger mothers being much closer to their daughters, much less friction in terms of gender issues, and older mothers favouring their sons. That was the case in my family and the case in the novel.

Do you think it would be easier/different/harder if you were a mother — or do you think it’s like anything in fiction, possible to be conjured?

FM: Don’t know. I have been gratified to have scores of women of that age and so on tell me I’ve ‘got it’. That’s made me happy, to have connected with them, which is also I think a case of respecting them. One thing — if I were a mother, I could not have written a book like this which sucked so much of my time, my headspace, that kept me poor too. That is the irony.

Have you read Indelible Ink or any other books by Fiona McGregor? What did you think of Marie?

Do you have a favourite mother character in fiction? I’d love to hear them…


Post Navigation

The menopause histamine connection

Explaining the link between itching, hot flashes, hormones, and menopause.

Dan Slee

Social media, PR and digital communications in the public sector from the co-founder of comms2point0

E.R.Murray

Writer, reader, lover of adventures and all things outdoors.

Kate Richards (Australia)

Writer, reader, wilderness lover, MD.

Kirsten Krauth

Novelist, Blogger, Wild Colonial Girl

Jono Lineen

writing, walking, talking

Giraffe Days

Book Reviews and Book-Related Ramblings

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story

book'd out

Book Reviews and News

looking up/looking down

an occasional blog about writing, reading and watching the world

southerlyjournal.com.au/

The best in new Australian writing

%d bloggers like this: