wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Archive for the tag “work life balance”

Beyond the Mummy-Dictator

Disciplining your children, dictator-style.

They say that moving house rates up there with divorce or the death of a loved one in terms of anxiety stakes. I always thought this was a bit much. I’ve moved many times and it’s just a case of chucking everything in boxes, right?

But this time was different. And it seemed to integrate all of the above. There was both the grief (from saying goodbye to close friends) and the conflict (near-divorce at any rate: we all have different notions on how to pack a box). Moving interstate to regional Victoria with two little kids was tough going. For starters, we made decisions last minute. VERY last minute. We didn’t really anticipate a whole backyard of things that we didn’t want to keep — still on the lawn before the final house inspection. On our last day in Sydney we drove one hour to Campbelltown to stay overnight at a motel, just to feel we had at least started the journey.

No matter how many times I read Buddhism for Mothers, at times of tough-going I revert to Mummy-Dictator instead: you will do as you’re told. And helpful parenting tips like putting my hands over my ears and repeating ‘I can’t hear you’ in a mantra (I swore I would never do that). McCool (at three and a half) has decided the best option to get what he wants is just to scream at a very high pitch for a long time and not to eat anything at the dinner table unless he is spoon fed. Luckily GG (at 14 months) is gurglingly happy no matter where she eats or sleeps and just fills the days with delight. She is just taking a few steps at a time.

Sarah Napthali, Buddhism For MothersBut we have safely landed in Castlemaine. The house has a view from every room that doesn’t feature human-made structures. You can do a bushwalk up the dirt track at the end of the street to Poverty Gully (the writer’s life?). Big rabbits play in the backyard and we suspect a wombat or two. It’s cold but cosy. McCool can do a circuit around the backyard on his wheelie. He’s started child care right away where they serve hot vegetarian meals (good luck to them with that). He keeps saying, ‘This is my last day at child care’ and ‘When are we going back to my Sydney home?’ but he’ll get there. He sneaks into bed beside me every night (each night it gets earlier), his fingers like iceblocks. There’s a gently emerging humour. The other day in the shower he said, ‘Are you washing your turkeys?’ I couldn’t work out which body part he meant (probably best not to know) but I think it’s the first time we have both ended up in hysterics at one of his jokes.

I love the peace of the place already. The vibrant community that I hope to join (shyly). Facebook makes it so much easier for people like me. The Castlemania Group offers the chance to ask any question about local life and be swamped with friendly responses. There’s music playgroup. A lunch each week that welcomes locals. Nude drawing classes. Lots of yoga. And, most importantly, great places to eat. I look forward to slowly getting to know the town and finding the space to do more writing too.

HOW DO YOU GET CLOSER TO BUDDHA THAN DICTATOR AT TIMES OF STRESS? ANY TIPS APPRECIATED…

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Wild Colonial Girl now has her own page on Facebook. If you could LIKE I would really LOVE!

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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…

Word miner: Adam Ford

Poet and novelist, Adam Ford

Poet and novelist, Adam Ford

As the trees start to shed in Earlwood, we are counting the days until we head to Castlemaine on 12 June. The dogs have gone ahead to Melbourne. The boxes are gradually starting to rise to the ceiling, threatening to kill the baby GG as she teeters on tiptoes swinging around them. Like the inner west of Sydney, negotiating childcare in Castlemaine has been a delicate balancing act, but McCool has two days at the community child care centre, which looks great, and even has vegetarian food at lunchtime. Seeing as his vegies are limited to potato stix, and mushrooms on Lebanese pizza, this should be a challenge. Look I’ve tried and tried and tried. But they say that if kids see other kids enjoying food, they just tuck in.

I always like going to new places. I like the space in the mind as new worlds are conjured up. It’s a gut feeling but I think the place will be good for us. We’ve been harried trying to do creative things while paying the rent in Sydney (that we have never really been able to afford). We’ve found a place to rent. It has four bedrooms (three for us + an office to share between me and WCM — that’s Wild Colonial Man). It has a backyard as big as a cricket pitch with established trees (we can just take the dogs for a walk in the yard), a verandah and a modern kitchen and bathroom. There’s a local farmers’ market that we can head down to each weekend.

Apart from a town for foodies, Castlemaine also has a vibrant arts and writing scene. Castlemaine Word Mine is an organisation supporting local writers in the region, and holds regular poetry nights and workshops. I spoke to poet Adam Ford (coordinator) about writing and local culture.

You grew up in Ballarat? Why did you decide to return to the region to live?

Castlemaine isn’t actually in the Ballarat area. This is an important point for me, because I don’t think that I could return to live in an area in which I grew up. It just feels regressive somehow.

No, Castlemaine is in the BENDIGO region. Bendigo shares an enduring Springfield/Shelbyville relationship with Ballarat due to both their similarities and differences (and we won’t go into who is Shelbyville in this scenario), so in some ways I’ve crossed the floor.

My wife and I moved to the area because of the appeal of Castlemaine as a town to live in: it had a significant artistic life, there was some good food to be had and the landscape was beautiful. Plus houses were really cheap. I grew up outside Melbourne and my wife grew up in far-eastern Melbourne, which honestly speaking was more bush than Ballarat, so both of us were familiar with what the lifestyle would involve. Plus we were thinking to start a family and the appeal of non-metro child rearing was strong. Our move was made easier by having some friends who’d made the same move in the years previous, so they could introduce us to people and show us around as we became acclimatised.

How does the area inspire your own writing?

In the most literal sense, I’ve written a poem about a particular geological curiosity that’s signposted on the main street of Castlemaine. It’s called the Anticlinal Fold — also known as a saddle reef. It’s a geological indicator of the presence of gold, apparently. I was just fascinated by the desire to direct people to something like that: “Post office this way, art gallery that way, anticlinal fold that way.” The poem’s not finished, but I have hopes it will be soon.

In a more oblique way, now that I live in Castlemaine I spend more time travelling (I work in Melbourne three days a week): cycling, walking and catching trains, which does give me more contemplative time to either write or read or edit things in my head.

Are there any books set in the area?

Fiction? Not that I know of, which is unforgiveable of me. There probably are — I’ll have to look into that. I have read a few local histories, and know of some others that are about. I have also read and heard a number of poems about the area, but nothing specifically set up as “poems about Castlemaine”.

What’s Castlemaine Word Mine? Why was it set up?

I came along post-establishment, but the brief version is that it’s a group of writers who’ve set up a non-profit organisation to promote writing and reading in the area. We run a monthly reading series and are starting to offer a few writing workshops as well. We have worked and are developing plans to work more in partnership with other writing and reading organisations in the area, like the local library, local art festivals, local independent journalism websites and the like. We were set up around mid-2011, so it’s early days for us yet. Interested folk can check us out here.

What are some events coming up for local writers?

There’s the monthly CWM readings, on the last Wednesday of every month — check our blog for details. There’s also another regular reading series on Sunday afternoons that’s been running a long time, featuring both local writers and visiting writers. It’s been at a few different venues over the years — currently it’s based at The Comma, in Castlemaine. We have a gig guide on our blog that lists events in the area, including Bendigo-based events, so if people need to know what’s on that’s where they should go.

Is there a writers’ festival in the region?

There are a number of festivals in the area, which feature varying levels of literary events. There’s the Children’s Literature Festival, which is aimed at children and families, and is really excellent. There’s also the Castlemaine State Festival and the accompanying Fringe Festival: both are on every two years and often feature literary events. So yeah, there’s a bit about.

Adam Ford's novel, Man Bites DogYou work in a number of genres. What do you enjoy writing most?

Fantastic writing probably comes to me the easiest — I write about superheroes and robots a lot, and I have a deep from-childhood love of the inherent spectacle and ridiculousness of superhero and B-movie tropes. I like writing realism too, but I think the most fun I have is when I try to combine fantasy and realism. It’s not a novel approach — many have done it before me — but I like exploring the tension between the two.

How do you go about writing a Twitter novel?

140 characters at a time. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Seriously, though, I just kind of barrel through it. I had a rough idea what it’d be about when I started, but the deal was that I wasn’t supposed to overthink it too much, just keep writing regularly and maintain a steady pace. It hasn’t quite worked out that way — I have sometimes gone months without posting anything — but it’s still ticking along and I’m still happy with it. Interested folk can check it out.

How does a freelance writer survive in Castlemaine?

Well, you can freelance from anywhere, but I think you probably have to catch the train down to Melbourne a little bit for meetings and networking and such. This isn’t really a question for me, though — I have a full-time job as a web editor, so my days of freelancing are kind of behind me. My wife works freelance as a reviewer and arts journalist, and based on my own past freelance experience it doesn’t seem like being in Castlemaine is any obstacle to freelance writing.

HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY FICTION, POETRY OR MEMOIR THAT FEATURES CASTLEMAINE? OR ARE YOU A WRITER LIVING IN THE REGION? Please leave a comment. Would love to hear from you…

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: Anna Funder

Author Anna Funder

Author Anna Funder

I’ve been writing an essay for Island Magazine on the topic, Writing Mothers, where I’ve been looking at mother characters in Australian fiction (written by women), and talking to novelists and bloggers about how they even begin to juggle their writing with pregnancy and having children. I’ve also talked to writers (who are not mothers) about how they go about creating characters (who are mothers).

I’ve been surprised at how little research has been done on the topic (although the Australian Women Writers’ Network has been brilliant at giving me leads). It seems that mothers shimmy out of the limelight wherever possible. The article will be published in July but, in the meantime, I thought I’d start a series on Writing Mothers where I publish some of the interviews in full that I’ve quoted from in the article.

First up is Anna Funder, author of Stasiland (which won the world’s biggest prize for non-fiction, the Samuel Johnson Prize) and an outstanding debut novel, All That I Am (one of the best Australian novels of the past year, nominated for the Miles Franklin). She is one of Australia’s most exciting writers and here she talks about the challenges of writing when you have three children.

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

Anna Funder, Stasiland

Anna Funder, Stasiland

AF: I was finishing Stasiland when I was pregnant with my first child. I think pregnancy is a wonderful state, in that it chemically blurs all kinds of anxieties about the (completely and utterly unimaginable ) future that is coming. That applies to both babies, and books — how can anyone have any idea what it’s going to be like with either? I think I expected to have a quiet time with my baby, which I did for a little bit, but then the book took off and I was travelling and talking a lot for a couple of years.

When my baby was two weeks old I went out and bought a three-piece set of matching luggage on a whim. My dear friend, a mother of four, said to me, ‘You have a two-week-old baby. Where do you think you’re going??’ I had no idea, but I ended up travelling all over the place with my daughter.

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

AF: I wrote a lot of articles and speeches. I didn’t really have the mental wherewithal to nut out the architecture of a big novel — that came later. I found it hard to organise my time. My husband was overseas weeks at a time for about half the year, and I was in a city without much family support. I have three children now, and imagine I’m a bit better at outsourcing some of the care and making time to write. But truth be told, I put my novel All That I Am away for the first six months of my son’s life. I tried to have a break from it. Of course I wrote other stuff during that time.

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?

AF: I don’t find discipline so hard. I find writing hard, but I am more stressed out by not doing it than by doing it, so I organise my life to be able to work. What is not good for writing is sleep deprivation and lactation; the brain function that is important for writing — the wordy, analytical, associative, creative part of your mind — is shut down by prolactin I believe. This is so that grown women who are used to doing a great many things can stay seated the eight hours a day it takes to feed a newborn without going mad, so it’s a good thing.

Also, a mother’s focus is incredibly directed, and her emotional energy is absolutely heightened by having a baby. This intensity of living and loving — this experience of being part of a dyad — is a wonderful gift. Like all intense emotional experiences, it broadens you in the longer term, which can make you a better writer. Motherhood also makes you a whole lot more vulnerable to the world, you have a greater stake in the future, and in the little people you’re putting into it. That’s not bad for a human being, or a writer.

Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)

Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)

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

AF: One woman whose story I wrote in Stasiland was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall. I always found it a terrible story, but I realised much more shockingly after having a baby what she must have gone through. It wasn’t possible to do this solely by an act of sympathetic experience. I had to have the emotional receptors for it, and the only way to get those is –—in this instance — to have had a baby. I probably wouldn’t have written the story any differently. I still think it’s fine. But this experience is salutary for me. If what you do is work to enable people to understand and experience others, and other things through words, it makes you realise the limits of them.

Have you written about any mothers in your fiction before or after the birth? Did having a child mean you had to go back and rewrite or change characterisation?

AF: I do write about mothers. Often it is influenced more by my own mother, than by my experience of mothering. But I feel pretty well-equipped now, after three children, to write a convincing mother character. Or twenty.

Stay tuned for the next interview in the Writing Mothers series: blogger Bianca Wordley (isn’t that just the perfect name for a writer?).

Have you read Anna Funder’s Stasiland or All That I Am? What are your thoughts on these books?

Or are you a writing mother? How do you juggle your writing time with looking after the kids?

Top 5 blogs: going rural

As I start getting ready to head down south, frantically spreadsheeting all the things I need to do before we leave (child care, rental property, unpack the computer in time for editorial deadlines), I thought the best way to experience a move to a country town first-hand would be to read blogs by those who’ve been there done that. I needed some tips.

I came across many just like me: writers, usually women, trying to balance family life with work in a new town or rural retreat, and looking for the space to be able to write (or make art and craft) creatively; a day or two a week will do.

Some highlights…

Life in a Pink Fibro blog LIFE IN A PINK FIBRO

A beautifully designed site, Allison Tait effortlessly lures you into her world of whimsy. Her posts range from the handy tip variety (how to develop a rhinoceros hide when you’re a freelancer) to the meditative (the importance of silence when you are overloaded with information). She has interviews (a recent one with Joel Naoum from Momentum is useful for writers swerving into the digital fast lane) and also details the frustrations and joys of trying to juggle a home business with raising children (when your kid is sick and you have to meet a deadline). Light and airy, it’s a blog I read with relish.

 THE ART OF LIVING

Artist Jodie Ferguson-Batte moved from Sydney to Daylesford (a town not far from Castlemaine where we are headed). She details the setting up of her small business (a loose leaf tea), the paintings she does, her burgeoning love and appreciation for local wines, and how to settle into a local community (first stop: the pub).

 FERAL007’S BLOG – COUNTRY LIFE

A single mum talks about her kids, her cat and a vegetarian, farting, dog. Feral’s writing is dynamic, extremely funny and takes a mischievous take on the well-worn idea that a tree-change is going to be easy. She has a great sense of drama and pace; and can make any subject interesting. A terrific read!

 House of Humble blogHOUSE OF HUMBLE

Beautiful photography and winsome words offer an enchanting glimpse into the lives of a young couple in Bendigo. From the beauty of rain to the misery of renovating, the site is like the visual equivalent of Julia and Angus Stone’s music: calm, curious, sweet. Their most popular post is ‘On being a man who knits’.

 THE SIMPLE LIFE: Miffy in the Middle of Nowhere

The blogger moved from Kangaroo Valley to a spot in rural Victoria she describes as the ‘middle of nowhere’. She details the excitement of living in such an isolated place that she has to ferry her girls across rough water by boat to school, sometimes in strong winds, heart in mouth.

Do you write a blog on moving to a regional community? Have you come across one that’s brilliant? Please let me know and I’ll mention it in an upcoming post.

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