When I think about my life BC (before children) I feel slightly ill. All those idle hours! BC, my weekends consisted of little more than reading the newspaper, doing a little exercise, maybe going for dinner. Yes, it was lovely. But my life outside of work was also extremely unproductive.
BC, I could have busted-out a novel in 5 seconds flat with all that spare time. So, why didn’t I? Why did I wait until AD (after delivery)? – quite possibly the most inconvenient time of all with which to embark on a consuming interest.
Picture this. It’s 2011, and I have a two year old toddler whose just discovered the word ‘why’ and a baby who wakes 4-5 times a night for feeding. Naturally, I decide it’s the right time to enrol in a creative writing masters. Naturally.
But here’s the thing. No one chooses to become a writer. Writing chooses you. It’s a compulsion. An itch that must be scratched. In 2011, I was very itchy indeed. And no. It definitely wasn’t nits (they came in 2014).
The truth is – motherhood made me a writer. For 20 years, I’d been a journalist dealing only in facts and truth. I never thought about creativity, at least not until my first child came along.
To see a baby staring in wonder at their hands is to re-discover one’s own sense of wonder. To watch them play with their own shadow is to re-discover wonder in the world. To witness them engaging in imaginary play is to re-discover the enormous well of creativity with which we are all born.
In the first 18 months AD, as I rocked and cuddled and kissed and fed and swung, I felt the stirrings. A need to exercise the part of my brain that for too long had been dormant. I knew it was still there. My babies had shown me; it’s part of being human.
Of course, in the six years since embarking on this creative writing caper, it hasn’t all been easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. You know the old joke about how a child spells ‘love’? It’s T-I-M-E.
Writing and parenting aren’t always compatible. Both require a level of absorption that means that one task must take precedence over the other, and it’s usually the children that take priority.
However, I do believe there’s never been a better time to be a writing mother (apologies Malcolm, for stealing your line).
You only have to look at two new Australian releases for confirmation.
In terms of tone, The Golden Child (Wendy James) and Crazy, Busy, Guilty (Lauren Sams) couldn’t be more different. The Golden Child is domestic-noir at its best, while Crazy, Busy Guilty has the feel of a sit-com, with wonderful humour and a terrific first-person voice.
However, what they share is a clear-eyed focus on motherhood. While Sams’ writing is bright and breezy as her main character, Georgie, confronts the challenges of single motherhood, Crazy, Busy, Guilty also confronts some important truths about motherhood.
‘We all know what motherhood’s really like. Nobody has the energy to make sugar-free muesli bars for lunch boxes and compost every single scrap of vegetable and make a Sunday roast every week without fail. Nobody does it all the time. Nobody plan playdough fun crafternoons every single day, without every resorting to plopping their kids down in front of a Ben and Holly DVD and sneaking off the the kicthen for a glug of win from the bottle. My bet is that you’re Just Trying to Keep Everyone Happy Mum. You have a child – or children – and a job. A husband, maybe a wife. Friends. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. A boss. Employees. Your own interest. Your life is full, which you like but also find terrifying because if one ball drops the rest may come crashing down soon after…. You are sick of answering questions like ‘How do you do it?’ – as if you are some sort of superwoman. You know what the real answer is: by missing out on other things.’
See what I mean? It’s honest, relatable stuff (if you’re a middle-class, working, western mum). The Golden Child contains similar truth bombs. Beth is the mother of an accused bully. Andi is the mother of the victim. Neither can work out where they’ve gone wrong, but they’re quite sure they’ve failed in some way, and neither is sure they really know their own child. It’s every parent’s nightmare.
‘But now, now she must rethink everything. Because if good children are proof of good parenting, then what about bad children.’
This book touches on so many things that keep middle class parents away at night – bullying, social media, discipline, entitlement – and there’s a delicious twist that I certainly didn’t see coming.
In the grand scheme of literature, fiction that explores motherhood is a relatively new phenomenon. And fiction that explores motherhood and is written by mothers is even more recent. If this was 1957, neither of these books wouldn’t have been published. If this was 1957, Wendy James and Lauren Sams would have been expected to be at home, tending the children and never daring to enter into something as frivolous as writing a book.
Thankfully, in 2017, domestic life is seen a sphere worthy of fictional exploration.
Mothers, writing mothers included, have come along way. Of course there are now different issues to face and battles to fight (the juggle of work and family requires the prowess of a circus clown). But the journey is not such a solitary one. We have books such as The Golden Child and Crazy, Busy, Guilty which have the power to make mothers feel less alone, feel that their experience of motherhood (good and bad) is one that is shared.
Too often, motherhood is seen as an impediment to the writing life. But it is also an experience that is rich with ups and downs, joys and tragedy, tears and laughs.
I can think of no better fodder for fiction…