Last month, a fellow Bath author, Clare Furniss, launched her first novel for teens, The Year of the Rat, at Mr B’s. The little shop was heaving with friends, family and well-wishers as Clare talked about how she had come to write the book, before reading a tantalising extract. 

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the novel as it has already received high praise, and was also announced as one of Radio 2’s Book Club choices the very day of the launch.

Almost more remarkable, in my opinion, is the fact that Clare wrote this book whilst looking after two pre-school children. As if to illustrate the enormity of this task, her two young sons were at Mr B’s with her, clambering over her while she spoke, evidently keen to share the limelight. Clare did a fantastic job in delivering a speech while encumbered in this way, and it led her to make a passing comment on ‘the pram in the hall’; a phrase which, more often than not, is used negatively as a metaphor for how motherhood can prevent women from reaching their full potential in their careers. However, as Clare said, for her ‘the pram in the hall’ actively helped her to achieve her dream of writing a novel, as it meant she had to concentrate her efforts into the small amount of free time she had available.

Image

‘I worked while the boys were sleeping, or while my parents took them off me for short periods; I wrote late into the night – I took any and every opportunity I could to sit and write,’ she said.

This resonated strongly with me, for I share Clare’s conviction that if it were not for that pram in the hall, I too would not have found the drive necessary to get on with it and become a writer.

When my son was born and my daughter was just two years old, my husband’s career took us to France. I had been working in London and had to give up my job to go with him. I found myself thinking I should use my enforced career break to finally do something about being the writer I knew, deep down, I had always wanted to be.

It was tough. I was exhausted a lot of the time and had no friends or family to call on. Although my daughter went to a little garderie des enfants a couple of times a week, I still had a newborn baby to look after.

I decided that the only way to get anything done was to use the children’s rest times to my advantage. Luckily my son was a good sleeper, so while his sister was out, I would feed him, put him in his car seat and rock it gently with my foot while I sat at my computer. He would eventually drop off to sleep while I tapped away at the keyboard.

Recently Maggie O’Farrell wrote an article in the Guardian on how she combines motherhood with her working day:

‘How to write looking after a very young baby: get a sling . . . Walk to your desk, averting your eyes from the heaps of laundry on the stairs, the drifts of cat hair on the carpets, the flotsam of toys in every doorway . . . Do not check your email, do not click on your favourites . . . do not be tempted to see how your eBay auctions are faring: go to work, go directly to work . . . Write. The clickety-clackety of the keyboard will soothe [the baby] and you. Write without looking back, write without rereading . . . Write until you feel her twisting her head from side to side, until you lift her out and into your arms. You might be in the middle of a sentence, but no matter. Type “HERE” in capitals and then push yourself away from the desk, carrying her out of the room, shutting the door until next time.’

I am sure many mothers will recognize this description of making the most of the free time they can grab for themselves. O’Farrell’s experience mirrors my own: this is pretty much how I wrote my first picture book, my first short stories and it is how I began to see myself as a writer rather than a mother taking a break from work. The added bonus of motherhood was that it actively contributed to my writing life: I was seeing the world through my children’s eyes on a daily basis, and realizing that was how I wanted to write it.

The kids are teens now, so I have a lot more time to myself than I did when they were babies. The demands are different and sometimes writing time is still broken up, particularly in the school holidays when I am asked to drive them here and there and everywhere. And of course I still have to walk past the laundry, the drifts of cat hair, the piles of washing up . . .

It hasn’t always been an easy ride, mixing writing with motherhood, and I am certain I would not want to go back to those sleep-deprived days, those snatched half hours of writing time interspersed with breast-feeding, nappy-changing and Lego-building. Yet there is no doubt that having only tiny amounts of time to write did focus the mind and keep me keen, not to mention giving me valuable material.

I think I would have to agree with Clare Furniss: in the end, it was the pram in the hall that set me on the road to being the writer I had always wanted to be.

(This post first appeared in a blog called The Awfully Big Blog Adventure, which was recently voted second in a poll of the top ten writing blogs. I write a post for the blog on the 29th of every month. You can follow it here on http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.co.uk)

Advertisements