Have a nose around my home office

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Hello! Long time no blog. I am sorry, I have been embroiled in a complicated edit of book 3 and I tend to get very engrossed in one thing and find it hard then to do anything else. But I’m back now, and I thought it might be nice to give you a little virtual tour of my home office. If you follow me on Instagram you might know that it’s really different from the rest of our house.

We had both lived in Victorian/Edwardian properties before this and while they’re very charming with their period features etc, we both really really love the spaciousness you get in midcentury homes

We live in a 1970s house (I have blogged about it a bit here) and everything is very light, bright and spacious. Lots of glazing (far too much in some respects - especially when it’s warm, it’s like living in a greenhouse!) and just generally a lovely and airy feel. We had both lived in Victorian/Edwardian properties before this and while they’re very charming with their period features etc, we both really really love the spaciousness you get in midcentury homes. A proper hallway, rather than a narrow corridor dominated by a staircase. Big, square or rectangular rooms that make fitting in furniture easy. Huge windows that make the most of the views. There are lots of benefits.

But as usual I digress. The point is that when we moved in we really wanted to increase the sense of light and space further, so after we had our extension done last year we painted the entire downstairs white, and purposefully chose neutral furniture with lots of light wood and plywood - it’s very Scandi throughout I guess (although we do have some cool wallpapers in the bedrooms).

However, the one room in the house that doesn’t really fit with our ‘theme’ is my office. And that’s probably a result of us keeping artwork and accessories to a minimum downstairs. I am not hugely sentimental, but when it came to putting up finishing touches downstairs I had quite a few pieces that I was really upset we couldn’t find homes for. And so I decided to embrace it, and put them all in this little room. And so my home office is the one room in our house that’s, well, cluttered. I’d prefer to say homely, but cluttered is probably more accurate.

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So here it is: my little room that looks nothing like the rest of the house. It’s the smallest bedroom upstairs, and it’s at the front of the house and overlooks a load of hedging and mature trees. We’re lucky that we live down a cul de sac which only has houses on one side - opposite us used to be a running track, which has been sold for development, but we should (if the planners keep their word) still have our natural screening of mature trees and hedging to separate us from the new houses (which will be in a different road). Bit hard to explain but hopefully it makes sense!

[Gross sidenote: the downside of living in an ultra quiet cul de sac quite near a station is that taxi drivers quite often come down here to relieve themselves in the bushes opposite. It’s LOVELY. They never realise I can see them out of my office window. One day I might shout out the window at one and give him a heart attack.]

Anyway, it’s a small room - you could squeeze a double bed in if you had to but it wouldn’t be very comfortable. But it’s plenty big enough for an office.

I’m usually not a huge fan of gallery walls, but I think it works quite well and really does make me feel cocooned and cosy surrounded by the things I love
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As you can see, on the walls I’ve basically ‘gone with it’ and decided to hang every picture that ever meant anything to me, so it’s a bit of a mish mash. I’m usually not a huge fan of gallery walls, but I think it works quite well and really does make me feel cocooned and cosy surrounded by the things I love. There’s photos of me and my sister, pictures taken by my sister (a very talented photographer), a photo of my insane father flying the aeroplane he built in his garage, plus the large Clare Cutts screen print that I bought on my 30th birthday. It’s a mish-mash, but I like it.

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Furniture wise, there are two really precious things to me: my desk which is from Heal’s and by Sebastian Cox, and the little bureau that was my grandparents. The desk was a real extravagance but one which I have never regretted - it’s a pleasure to work at. The bureau reminds me of my childhood, because my Nanny used to keep all the family photos in the bottom cupboard and inevitably when we stayed with her I’d ask to dig them out and we’d go through them all together. It’s actually a really useful cupboard - we keep all our stationery bits in the flap-down section, printer paper and envelopes in the drawers and then the bottom cupboard houses all my paperwork. On top of the bureau is a vintage typewriter that Oli bought me for Christmas a few years after we got together. It works and I love it!

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The oak stacking shelves are vintage Heal’s and were Oli’s - we have two more of them downstairs in our kitchen which house our cookery books. Then there’s of course my dolls house (which I’ve blogged about at length), which sits on top of my childhood toybox. It’s empty (there’s no moving that dolls house easily) and needs repainting but it’s another thing I can’t bear to part with - under the lid it has my sister’s and my childhood graffiti.

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The daybed is from Ikea. It’s ridiculously comfy and it’s where I do most of my writing and editing. I love the soft pink colour and I usually have my Melin Tregwynt blanket over my legs while I work.

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On the walls by my desk I have my vision board (I could probably blog more about this but being a Brit I’m still a bit embarrassed that I have one) and a set of String shelving with family photos on. We’re not hugely big on having family pics everywhere - we have one collage frame in the kitchen, and then a few of Daphne as a baby scattered about but no big canvases or anything like that. And barely any of us as a couple! So unromantic, ha.

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The windowsill is home to all the plants that Oli won’t let me have in the rest of the house - mostly little ones. Plus my Lucie Kaas mini sparrow (I have a bigger one downstairs) and a radio I hardly ever turn on (I can only really work in silence).

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And that’s about it! This room has such a different feel from the rest of the house. It’s not purposefully styled, everything that’s in here is in here because I love it, not because it necessarily looks ‘right’ with the other pieces. It’s a bit ramshackle and incohesive but somehow I find coming in here really comforting. Even though I love the bright contemporary simplicity of the rooms downstairs, this room is a cosy haven, and feels very ‘me’. My own little sanctuary, and I’m very lucky to have it.

Desk - Sebastian Cox from Heal’s. Shelves - vintage Heal’s. Pendant light - Tom Raffield. Daybed - Ikea. Chair - Setu by Herman Miller, John Lewis. String Pocket Shelving in Ash and White, Utility Design. Blanket - Melin Tregwynt. Clock - Wild and Wolf from Amara.

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

Mums who write: Ruth Heald

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Next up in my ‘mums who write’ series is a chat with a debut author whose book I’ve have heard lots about already! The Mother’s Mistake is a gripping tale of postpartum fears and challenges, and has been racing up the Kindle charts ever since it was released earlier this week. Read on to find out how Ruth combines writing with motherhood - and, even more impressively, with severe pregnancy sickness…

Where do you live and with who? How many children do you have and how old are they?

I live in West London with my husband and two children, a daughter aged 3 and a son aged 8 months.

What’s your writing routine like?

I don’t really have a writing routine! I take opportunities to write whenever I can. My daughter goes to a playgroup for a few hours each weekday so I’m only responsible for my baby in the mornings. I try to get some writing done when he naps or if he is happy to play on his playmat for a bit. This means that some days I get an hour or so done and other days I get nothing done. I also do a bit late evenings after the children are in bed and at weekends. But there’s no consistent pattern.

If an idea strikes me, I’ll jot it down on my phone wherever I am; on the tube, waiting for the bus, in queues at the supermarket…

Where do you write from?

In the week, when I don’t know how much time I’ll have (i.e. how long my son’s nap will last) I tend to write from home. At the weekend, if someone else is looking after the children then I write in cafés because if I’m in the house the untouched housework makes me feel too guilty to ignore!

If an idea strikes me, I’ll jot it down on my phone wherever I am; on the tube, waiting for the bus, in queues at the supermarket…

I started writing psychological thrillers when I first became a mother, and I think that first year after childbirth can be a particularly vulnerable time for women

On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

On a creative level I’ve found lots of my recent ideas centre around new mothers. I started writing psychological thrillers when I first became a mother, and I think that first year after childbirth can be a particularly vulnerable time for women. My first psychological thriller, The Mother’s Mistake, is about a new mother who isn’t sure whether she’s going crazy or if someone is set on hurting her child. As a sleep-deprived new mother myself, the protagonist came easily to me! My second psychological thriller, out in September, also features a vulnerable new mother.

On a practical level, being a mother has made me far more efficient with my writing time. If my son falls asleep eight minutes before my daughter needs collecting from playgroup, I don’t faff about, I open up my laptop immediately and type as fast as I can!

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

In some ways it’s easier, because I’m forced to make use of every second of time I have. I’m also more experienced now, so I’m more confident about plotting and more likely to stick to the plot I’ve laid out. But having less time definitely ups the pressure.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

It’s hard to get a sensible balance when you work in the home. Like most (all?) working mothers, I often feel guilty that I’m either neglecting my children or my work. I think working in the home complicates that further, because often I’m trying to work and look after the children at the same time. The boundaries aren’t as clearly delineated as they were when I was working in an office.  

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

At the moment my children are a bit too young to understand, but I hope that as they get older my children will see me doing work I enjoy and feel that that will be a possibility for them too, whether it’s writing or other work that they feel passionate about.

My husband took paternity leave to look after my daughter which enabled me to work on my first psychological thriller

How does your partner support you in your writing?

My husband took paternity leave to look after my daughter which enabled me to work on my first psychological thriller. He also does more than his fair share of the housework and takes the children to the park at weekends to give me a bit of time to write.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I submitted my book to my publisher, Bookouture, just before I got pregnant with my second baby and became very ill with hyperemesis gravidarum. Bookouture was incredibly supportive and pushed my deadlines back significantly to accommodate me. Despite this, I get the impression that maternity leave is not really “a thing” for authors and most work when their children are babies.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

1. Write what you like to read – you’ll enjoy it more and it’ll be easier.

2. Try and find a bit of time to write each day even if it’s only five minutes to scribble down a couple of paragraphs.

3. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure; some days the words will come out perfectly, sometimes they’ll be rubbish. You can always edit later.

Please tell me a little bit about your latest novel.

The Mother’s Mistake is a psychological thriller about a mother’s worst nightmare. Claire Hughes and her young family move to the countryside in the hope of a fresh start, but it isn’t long before Claire’s past catches up with her and her daughter’s life is in danger.

This is the blurb for the book:

Everyone makes mistakes. But does everyone deserve to be forgiven?

She runs past the tinkling of children’s laughter that fills the park. Heart hammering, she reaches the riverbank, breath catching in her throat as her eyes take in the small body, tangled in the reeds, pale and lifeless.

Three years later.

Claire’s life is picture perfect. A new home in the countryside. A new-born baby. A doting husband by her side.

But behind closed doors, her life is falling apart.

And when a threatening note is posted through her letterbox, saying she doesn’t deserve her daughter, it’s clear that someone knows about her past…

Someone knows that Claire doesn’t deserve her perfect life. Someone’s going to do everything in their power to destroy it.

Quickfire Questions

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: It’s not specifically about motherhood, but I love the way motherhood is portrayed in The Group by Mary McCarthy. It was published in 1963 and when I read it I was surprised by how relevant it was today.

Thing about being a mum: My children’s endless curiosity about the world around them and the joy they find in the little things that adults take for granted. It makes me see the world through fresh eyes. 

Thing about being a writer: The freedom to explore ideas and let the creativity flow.

Way to relax: Writing (!)

The Mother’s Mistake is out on now in ebook. You can find out more about Ruth on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. 

You can order my debut, The Rival, hereUnfollow Me is out now!

My complicated relationship with influencers

My novel about Instagram mums and vloggers, Unfollow Me, is released in ebook in the UK tomorrow! I’m very excited – and equal parts terrified – so I thought I would mark the occasion by talking a little bit about what inspired me to write it.

This book was an absolute gift to write, and I’m fairly sure that I won’t get quite so lucky again (by contrast, book 3 is slowly but steadily eroding my desire to live). The idea for Unfollow Me dropped fully formed into my brain one day, and changed very little as I wrote it. It all stemmed from a question – what would you do if the influencer you follow, who shares her life with you online every day, suddenly disappeared? And deleted all her social media accounts?

I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them

But it goes a little bit further back than that. When my daughter was born, I obsessively followed lots of family vloggers – both on YouTube and Instagram. There was something addictive about watching other parents doing their parenting in what felt like real-time. It was the ultimate voyeurism, I got to see exactly what sort of clothes their babies were wearing, what nappies, what food they were eating, what books they were reading and toys they were playing with… I was heavily ‘influenced’ by these parents’ choices on things like cots and buggies and general baby paraphernalia. I didn’t know these women or their families, but as they shared so much with me, I became quite invested in them. I remember when one of them said she was in labour, I was desperately checking Twitter and Instagram waiting for the birth announcement – and to find out what gender the baby would be. She felt like my friend. Someone I genuinely cared about.

But she didn’t have a clue I existed. 

On that note, the title of this post is a massive misnomer, isn’t it? Because a real relationship is a two-way thing, and this was very firmly not a two-way thing in the same way a normal relationship is. This woman didn’t care about me, not in any meaningful sense. I was just a ‘fan’. One of the many faceless fans.

Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It was a realisation that kind of embarrassed me. I wasn’t angry about it, I just felt a bit stupid. Of course it’s lovely to wish strangers well, but investing emotional energy in someone who you most likely will never meet seems like a strange way to behave.

It did fascinate me though. I remember years ago someone saying that social media has legitimised stalking, and that’s exactly what it’s done. But with influencers who monetise their platforms it’s a strange symbiotic relationship, in that the person you are stalking wants you to stalk them (to some degree) because that’s how they make money. But where are the lines drawn? What if they one day they don’t want you to watch after all? Do you have a ‘right’ to their life? Especially as, by watching them, you have paid for much of it?

Of course it’s similar in many ways to mainstream celebrity, except that it’s also very different. Because normal celebrities are worshipped for their talents in music, acting, writing, whatever. That’s how they make their money. And vloggers don’t have to be good at anything in particular. They just have to be friendly, charismatic and believe that what they have to say about, well, life and stuff, is important enough to be of interest.

This probably sounds like I’m very negative about influencers. I’m not. (The journalistic side of me, of course, hates them for being smart enough to identify a huge new opportunity and making a million times more money than we journalists ever did as we stuck to our prehistoric guns and sniffed self-righteously that ‘the blogging thing will never last’). But I also see that it takes courage to put yourself out there (in the same way that it does writing novels). I can also appreciate massively the downsides with regard to your children – you’re effectively sharing their most personal, character-forming experiences with a whole load of strangers, without their permission. It’s a tough call. Part of me thinks that the notion of privacy has been so massively obliterated by the social media age that it’s foolish to imagine that you have much of it left, and that children will grow up so used to constantly being photographed that it won’t affect them in the same way as it might affect us. Human beings evolve to cope with cultural shifts. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t survive. 

But part of me also thinks god, we should be protecting our children. The world is scary and big enough, let’s not hold them up to constant scrutiny from unnamed strangers too. Let’s not orchestrate every private family moment so that it becomes shareable and has monetary value. Even if the children involved don’t know what’s going on, even if they’re not old enough to understand. There’s a social media hashtag ‘#letthembelittle’ – the irony is overwhelming. Let them be little indeed! Leave them alone! Don’t make them pose and posture! Don’t upload a film of them crying at their third birthday party because they didn’t get the unicorn cake they wanted, even if it is ‘cute’!

I say this, but as a massive hypocrite. Because I am also very guilty of oversharing much of my daughter’s life. I blogged throughout my pregnancy, and then did monthly baby updates until Daphne turned about 18 months. Those posts are still live on this blog today, and get tons of hits - and I still get emails from random people who’ve read them asking me for advice on things like colic, which she suffered with. I really, really enjoyed writing those posts - it was such a strange time in my life and it was actually lovely to be sharing my experiences. If I had had the chance to monetise them more, and if I had no other viable career path (and if I’d been a bit more photogenic - ha!), I might easily have ended up becoming a mummy influencer myself.

As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle

In the novel, I also wanted to focus on the other inevitable part of the strange partnership between influencer and influencee – the jealousy. After all, many of these influencers are earning an absolute fortune through their online presence these days, and thus their lives – which once might have seemed not too dissimilar to those of their viewers – are spiralling further and further away from that of Ms Joanna Bloggs. Some of the most successful influencers are the ones with huge houses and dozens of designer handbags, and it seems that people do enjoy watching those the most. As their audience grows, so does their wealth – it’s a self-fulfilling cycle. Which also fascinates me. Do people secretly enjoy being jealous? Do they find it inspiring? Motivating?

recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad)

I think for me, I found watching them all of those things. As well as completely fascinating. I stopped watching the Youtube vloggers as my daughter grew (not least because of the time commitment – many of them upload 15 minute videos every day, and I could never keep up!), but I still follow a lot of them on Instagram and recently I have noticed that I’ve started to feel a bit inadequate, and pissed off with my own lot (and my own lot isn’t exactly bad). And that’s when I realised again that it’s not healthy, to be investing so much time and energy – and comparing yourself non-stop – to people who are not showing all the bad stuff. Or even if they are showing the bad stuff, it’s totally filtered and manipulated for the audience.

Anyway, it was my hugely ambivalent feeling towards these brave women and their families that lead me to write Unfollow Me. Most of all, I wanted to write it from the perspective of the people following these women, to document their highs and lows as they try desperately to hunt down their idol. In some ways it was also a way for me to explore my own messy feelings towards influencers – and particularly mummy influencers, who are basically trying to create a career that allows them to be at home with their children as much as possible, which is something I genuinely really, really respect. I also really believe in making the most of opportunities, and if this is the best way for some people to make a living, then my God, they should go for it.

Like I said, I’m conflicted!

So Unfollow Me is told from the perspective of the fans (and the trolls) – two in particular, as they go to somewhat shocking lengths to discover just what has happened to their supermum Violet Young.

I loved writing this book. It’s something I have a genuine interest in – it’s something that feels very ‘of our time’ and I hope this comes across in the reading of it. 

Unfollow Me is out tomorrow in ebook for the bargain price of £1.99. It would make my day if you bought it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this increasingly bewildering new world too.

Mums who write: Melanie Golding

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I’m very excited to be featuring a debut author in my ‘mums who write’ series this month! Melanie Golding’s novel Little Darlings was released on May 2nd, and there’s been a real buzz around it, both here and in America, with the film rights already optioned. It’s a haunting, addictive tale of new motherhood gone wrong (is it any wonder it appeals to me so much?!). Melanie is also a mum of two - and spent her career up until recently working with children, so I was really interested to hear how she has found juggling the bizarre career of author with the all-consuming challenge of being a mum…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in Gloucestershire with my husband and two kids aged 7 and 9.

What’s your writing routine like?

I write full time, and work part time as a musician with an early years story and music group. The full-time writing is only a recent thing, since September 2018: for 9 years I was a full-time childcare provider from my home, together with my husband.

Where do you write from?

When writing my first book I would often just go out to the car and sit in the passenger seat with my laptop to get away from everyone. Nap time was ‘head down for quick burst of writing time’. Also, for a couple of years I would get up before the baby at 5am (I know, they slept late!) and write for an hour or so.

These days I do have an actual desk, but I’m afraid it’s covered in piles of books, paper, bills etc. I usually write at the kitchen table, but right now I’m at my son’s desk, because that’s where I found my laptop, along with a spare half hour.

When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator
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On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Before I had children, I used to wait for inspiration; I only wrote when I felt like it. I had all the time in the world. When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator. Towards the end of both pregnancies I wrote in a kind of frenzy, because ‘my time’ was nearly up. I don’t think I would have finished my first full length MS if I hadn’t had a baby. Or I would, but it would have taken ten years. That saying ‘if you want something doing, give it to a busy person’ applied directly to me. I gave myself the task of writing a novel at exactly the time in my life when I had the least time to spare.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

Both. I write for a living now, so there is no longer a lack of motivation or a fear that it won’t be read. In fact, there is a pressure to get the words out and deliver the product. This is both surprising and interesting to me. I am now part of an industry, which I didn’t fully anticipate when creating work as an unpublished writer. But as a mother, my children need me to pay them attention, for hours at a time, during which no writing or thinkwork can be achieved. This makes the process of creating a novel artificially disjointed, and throws up extra challenges when returning to the world of the novel. You have to stitch it together so the seams don’t show. It’s possible that the work suffers, but it’s also true that if one can’t tear oneself fully away from the work, that the children do too.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?  

Time constraints. Now that I have the knack of working anywhere, I feel the need more and more to become deeply immersed. Every day it seems I finally sink fully into it only to be forced out by the kids coming home, needing me to cook the dinner, all of that. Evenings are a washout; there’s no brain energy left.  

Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

My son said to me ‘we hardly see you now that you’re an author.’ I felt this was unfair, but it illustrates that all things are relative, and he can only judge by his own experience. I think I’d been to London a couple of times that week, but generally, I’m always here. If I was still teaching full-time, or if I had a nine-to-five with a commute, I wouldn’t have any time with my own children during term time at all apart from the weekends. Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days. I expect that one day they will appreciate it too, but I’m not holding my breath.

How does your partner support you in your writing?

He’s great! I couldn’t ask for more really. He does most of the school runs, all of the supermarket shopping, the lion’s share of the endless ferrying to clubs etc. If I need to get on with something I always can, and everything would be so much harder if he wasn’t there to help me escape into the work.

If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I have no complaints along these lines, but I realise I’m in a very privileged position right now as my advance is paying the bills. This situation is extremely rare for authors, who often need to work other jobs to keep afloat. For a long time, I wrote and worked a full-time job and had small children, but it’s unsustainable. If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Writing for me was an irrepressible impulse over which I had little control. I felt if I didn’t write I would go mad, or die. The only advice is to write, to keep writing, and then to write some more. 

Please tell us a little bit about your novel.

In Little Darlings, Lauren becomes terrified that someone will do something terrible to her new baby twins, but her fears are dismissed as a product of her birth trauma and sleep deprivation. Later, when the twins are taken from her side while she’s in the park, the police are called. Everyone is relieved when the babies are found within the hour, apparently safe and well. Lauren, however, is convinced that they are no longer her children.

She will do anything to get her real babies back, even the unthinkable. Is she mad, or does she know something we don’t?

Quickfire Questions 

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

Thing about being a mum: Hugs; Sunday morning pancakes; Simpson’s Time

Thing about being a writer: Solitude; creating something from nothing; being your own boss

Way to relax: First Dates and a load of snacks

Little Darlings is out on May 2nd in the UK, April 30th in US and Canada in ebook, hardback and audiobook. You can follow Melanie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

You can order my debut, The Rival, hereUnfollow Me will be published in June.

5 books I'm taking on holiday

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So we’re off for our annual holiday next week (potential burglars, please don’t bother, we have someone staying to look after our needy, emotionally fragile cat) and as always I’ve been daydreaming about what books to take for weeks. In the old days (ie before I had a child) the definition of a holiday for me was basically just ‘reading in warmer climates’. I mean, I think the entire purpose of my holidays up until I had Daph was to read as many books as possible. I usually read at least one a day - and I’m a really slow reader (on that note, I’m going to write a new blog about how much of an issue this becomes when you’re an author! I can’t keep up with my peers at all, it’s so upsetting).

But anyway, on holidays in the old days I’d buy a ton of different books and chomp my way through them while lying on a beach and not really getting tanned because I hate feeling too hot and I hate the sun being on my face. It was bliss. I am ever hopeful that one day I will be able to experience that very simple nirvana again, but for the time being - with a three-year-old who needs constant entertaining - I suspect it is a little ambitious.

Thus for my ten day holiday I have only chosen to take five books. And I’m depressingly pessimistic about the likelihood of me getting through even these. I’m so bloody knackered by the time that Daphne is asleep that I can barely make it through a page, let alone a chapter, without falling asleep. But last year, she did have a two-hour nap every day on the beach, so fingers and toes firmly crossed the sea air wears her out once again…

Anyway I thought it would be nice to share the books that I’m taking with you, and the reasons I’m taking them. In case there were any you hadn’t heard of, or fancied checking out yourself.

These are in no particular order by the way. Here we go…

DEGREES OF GUILT BY HS CHANDLER

I’m starting with a bit of a cheeky one, because this isn’t actually out yet (author’s perks). It’s being released in ebook on 16 May, but the author and I share an agent, so I was lucky to get an advance copy. Here’s the blurb:

When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.

Maria is on trial for attempted murder.

She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.

Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.

She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.

You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.

You will be wrong.

I’m really into legal thrillers at the moment - I think I’m just so in awe of anyone who can negotiate all the research and complexity (it does help, perhaps, that the author herself is a lawyer! Even so…). Anyway I love that it’s the woman on trial for killing her husband, rather than the other way round. I’m excited for this one and getting under the skins of the two female protagonists.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG

This one was recommended to me by a friend (the fab Caroline Hulse - read her book if you haven’t already!). Here’s the blurb:

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

I’ve never read any of Celeste Ng’s books but I have heard lots and lots of praise, and I love the premise of this - I think it’s exactly the kind of book the old me would have devoured on holiday. It’ll also be nice to read something a bit more literary - I tend to read loads of psychological thrillers so it will be good to have a break and try something a bit different (although the premise sounds very page-turny too which is GOOD for my woefully poor attention span).

HOW TO FAIL BY ELIZABETH DAY

I am totally obsessed with Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail, so I was very excited to hear that she had brought out a book too! Here’s what her publisher says about it:

This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.

If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.

Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It's a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

I find her podcast so inspiring - if you haven’t listened to it yet, then get on it, you’re in for such a massive treat. So I’m really, really looking forward to reading this. I’ve become quite the Elizabeth Day fangirl (and I hate that word!). I read quite a lot of non-fiction - I’d say at least half the books I read are non-fiction, and I absolutely adore memoirs, so I think this will be right up my street.

WATCHING YOU BY LISA JEWELL

And now for a ‘safe’ read (ie, one I know will be good!). Here’s the premise:

You’re back home after four years working abroad, new husband in tow.

You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now you’re crashing in your big brother’s spare room.

That’s when you meet the man next door.

He’s the head teacher at the local school. Twice your age. Extraordinarily attractive. You find yourself watching him.

All the time.

But you never dreamed that your innocent crush might become a deadly obsession.

Or that someone is watching you.

I love Lisa Jewell’s books, and I find her such an inspiration as a writer, so I feel very confident that this won’t let me down. It’s always a pleasure to read books by ‘masters (mistresses?)’ of the craft. I also love that it has a stalking theme, which is kind of similar to my second book Unfollow Me.

THE BOOK YOU WISH YOUR PARENTS HAD READ BY PHILIPPA PERRY

Last but not least… I actually bought this in hardcover a while ago but it’s been sitting on the dining room table guilting me ever since. Here’s a bit more about it:

Every parent wants their child to be happy and every parent wants to avoid screwing them up. But how do you achieve that?

In this absorbing, clever and funny book, renowned psychotherapist Philippa Perry tells us what really matters and what behaviour it is important to avoid - the vital dos and don'ts of parenting.

Instead of mapping out the 'perfect' plan, Perry offers a big-picture look at the elements that lead to good parent-child relationships. This refreshing, judgement-free book will help you to:

· Understand how your own upbringing may affect your parenting
· Accept that you will make mistakes and learn what you can do about them
· Break negative cycles and patterns 
· Handle your own and your child's feelings
· Understand what different behaviours communicate

Full of sage and sane advice, this is the book that every parent will want to read and every child will wish their parents had.

I’ve heard loads of rave reviews for it (especially from friends) so I’m hoping, basically, that it’s going to transform me as a parent and provide all the answers to the questions that continually drown me (such as how on earth do you get a three year old to get dressed in the morning when they want to do everything BUT?). However, because parenting is definitely not just a mother’s job, I’m keen that Oli reads this too. I was telling a friend the other day that when we first went on holiday together we used to read to each other in bed - I was really embarrassed to admit it but she said she thought it was cute, so… now I’m telling the whole world on my blog. Ha. Anyway, my plan is that we read each other this every evening once Daph’s asleep (and then leave Greece as shiny happy new parents).

So that’s it! I also have a friend’s unpublished manuscript which I’m really looking forward to as I love her writing. I will let you know how I get on with these on social media! You can follow me on Twitter, Insta and Facebook if you’re not already. I really hope I manage to read all five - wish me luck!

My debut, THE RIVAL, is out now. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How I deal with professional jealousy as a writer

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

I just want to put something out there, in the full knowledge that it might make me seem like a spoilt brat. But being a writer is hard. Really. It is.

Let's take away the never-ending financial insecurity (which most people would find incredibly stressful), the loneliness, the fact that so much of your success is completely out of your control, the long hours, the late nights, the backache, the lack of exercise and consumption of too many snacks. And let's focus on the hardest thing of all: professional jealousy.

I've always thought that I was quite lucky, as I seem to be missing the jealousy gene. As a general rule, I don't get jealous of other people. Or their success. I suspect that the reason for this is that I am far too self-absorbed to really care what other people are doing (this is probably not a good thing!). I'm too focused on my own life, my own success, my own happiness. I don't really notice what other people are up to in anything more than a perfunctory way, and I usually just think 'good for them' and move on.

no matter how well you write, how well your book ‘performs’ in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a ‘bigger’ book

However, when it comes to writing, I think even the most self-absorbed person struggles just a little bit with professional jealousy. Because no matter how well you write, how well your book 'performs' in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a 'bigger' book. A 'better' book. And you will sit back and wonder why it isn't you. And you will be pleased for them, but then you'll also start to panic that your book is going to get lost, because surely there's only so much room for big books out there, and what if yours isn't one of them? What does that make you? Who wants to be second rate? Who wants to 'nearly make it'? Who wants to be the one that people look at and think 'Oh dear, guess it didn't work out for her then'?

The reason I write this post is because recently I've had to remind myself of the most useful tool you have for defeating this green-eyed disease: abundance mentality. I have noticed my bouts of professional jealousy come and go in waves. Usually, it's when things are quiet, when I'm just sat at home doing the part of writing that people ignore when they see it as a 'dream' career: the actual bloody writing. Sat at home alone day after day, struggling with my characters and the ever-present imposter syndrome that seems to be just an inevitable part of this job, and I start to look at other writers with 300 five star Amazon reviews and tons of praise on social media and I think, why am I doing this again? The world doesn't need my books. I’ll never be as successful as them. What do they have that I don’t? Why are they so brilliant/lucky/talented?

I read about abundance mentality a few years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it’s probably one of the most helpful concepts I’ve ever come across. I'm not usually one for self-help books, but this particular concept really struck a chord with me. Put simply, people who believe in abundance - that there is enough happiness, success, love and joy for all of us, are much happier than those who believe in scarcity - that if you're eating the cake then I can't eat it too.

I'm no philosopher, and I am terrible at explaining things like this so here’s a diagram that really neatly sums up this way of thinking:

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just because a reader likes someone else’s book, that doesn’t mean they won’t like your book too!

If you see success as something scarce, that can't be shared, all you do is make yourself miserable. Because the truth is there IS enough space for everyone. To be specific about writing, just because a reader likes someone else's book, that doesn't mean they won't like your book too! Just because an agent has sold someone else’s book for six figures, doesn’t mean they can’t do the same for the next book you write. There's no limit to the amount of books or writers that readers can admire and enjoy. 

putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you’re feeling negative

It's easy to write this down as a theory - something that's nice on paper, but it's more difficult to change your mindset. So on the days when I'm really struggling with self-esteem and find myself slipping into a scarcity mindset, I have one trick that really works for me. Fake it til you feel it. And the best way to do this is to support others. On the days I'm feeling really down about myself and my writing, I make sure I praise other writers, share their posts on social media, am supportive and helpful to them in any way that I can. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it, sometimes I really just feel like locking myself away and eating a whole packet of Maryland cookies and simmering with envy, but I always feel better afterwards. I really believe that putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you're feeling negative. It's the ultimate mood lifter.

I also try to go back to the writing and remember what I love about it - because for me, it really is the best bit about being a writer. When I’m writing and it’s going well, I find I don’t care at all about how successful or not the book might be. Instead, I’m completely focused and absorbed in my own little created world.

Of course, you can also choose to avoid social media, and lots of people I know do that, but it’s quite hard to do that completely (especially if you have your own book to promote). It’s also tough if lots of people you know are writers too, as you’ll inevitably hear about their success one way or another. So really, I think supporting them as best you can is the healthiest thing to do. Because they will, of course, have felt the same way you are feeling at some point in their writing career - it’s par for the course. Are you even a writer at all if you haven’t felt like a massive failure at some point?!

I hope this doesn't sound super preachy. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live their life - everyone has their own ways of coping with things. But I thought it was worth a blog post, because it is something that helps me, and if there's any chance it might help you too when the green-eyed monster comes to call, then that's gotta be good, right?

And if you have any other tips for coping with professional jealousy, please do share them in a comment below!

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Mums who write: Lizzie Page

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I had such an incredible response to my first ever ‘mums who write’ post with Laura Pearson, so I’m really excited to be posting another one today. This time, I chat to historical fiction novelist Lizzie Page about her writing life, which she admirably juggles alongside the needs of three children one of whom is a bonafide teenager (I am exhausted just thinking about it). Her latest novel, When I Was Yours, is released on 16 April. Read on to find out more about how she makes writing and motherhood work for her…

Where do you live and with who?

I live by the sea-side in Essex with husband Steve, my three children and dog, Lenny. They are 18, 11 and 9.  (I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe.)

What’s your writing routine like?

My writing is haphazard. ‘Routine’ is not a great word for it. 😊 Some days, I’ll do the school run and then get writing for the remaining six hours. Other days, I’ll find anything to avoid writing until it’s time to pick the kids up again. (Not housework though, never housework. I’m not a writer who likes to clean).

I write full-time but we’re not just living off my writing. That would, so far, be impossible.  

I have written on grubby envelopes and receipts found in my bag – I seem never to have a notebook at the right time

Where do you write from?

I write at a desk in my living room. Next to me, my middle-son is playing Fortnite. It’s not ideal but hey ho. I have written on grubby envelopes and receipts found in my bag – I seem never to have a notebook at the right time, and I can’t seem to be creative on the phone – I’ve written while ignoring the kids at soft play, swimming lessons, hockey and football matches. I have perfected the art of responding to ‘Did you see that goal?’ with a ‘Darling…you were awesome!’

I appreciate non-parents have massive demands on them too

What impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

It’s both a blessing and a burden. :)  I think I write better mother characters and better children characters than I did before, but of course there are authors who do that brilliantly anyway – (not me).  

Time constraints are the biggest one, but again, I appreciate non-parents have massive demands on them too.

Generally, though, having these three extra people in my life, who I know pretty damn intimately, has been hugely illuminating and entertaining and I hope I carry that understanding of ‘the human condition’ into my work.

I have a sense of urgency, a sense of wanting to leave something behind, ambition maybe, that I never had before

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

I’ve had to learn to squeeze my writing in when I can. I’ve had to accept that there will never be a long stretch of uninterrupted time – but that’s OK, I can work around that. I think I have a sense of urgency, a sense of wanting to leave something behind, ambition maybe, that I never had before – so in that sense its easier.  

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

I think it’s pretty great generally. I get to daydream constantly, I get to go to all the kids’ school stuff (ha! a downside). I get to be very hands on with their lives, while having an amazing interior life of my own.

I don’t think it’s hard being a mother who writes: I think it must be much harder to have a mother who writes (sorry kids!).

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

Hmmm, people expect my children will be great book-lovers. That’s not quite the case. 😊

I think being rejected, rejected, rejected and then published was fantastic for them to see. I hope that will show them the importance of perseverance. I also read my reviews out to them and I hope together we’ve learnt ‘you can’t please all the people all the time’ – which I think is a good life lesson.

How does your partner support you in your writing? 

He regularly asks me the Amazon rankings and says, ‘why aren’t they higher?’. He regularly comes up with outlandish plot ideas. He tells his (disinterested) colleagues about my work. He doesn’t help edit or even read my books (!) but financially, he’s enabled this whole shebang so I don’t mind too much.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums? If not, what could they do better? 

Hmm, interesting question. I think there is a lack of diversity in the industry as a whole, but I wouldn’t have said a lack of support for writing mums is an area that needs working on. I would very much like the industry to look at enabling more working class voices to the fore, especially working class women, mothers and minorities.  

I have no complaints about Bookouture my publishers. They’re very responsive and understanding of family obligations.  

It can feel wrong to carve out time for yourself to write. But carve out time for yourself you must. Mothers have lives too!

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?  

Writing can feel like a self-indulgence. Women are socialised to put others first. It can feel wrong to carve out time for yourself to write. But carve out time for yourself you must. Mothers have lives too!  

Please tell us a little bit about your latest novel.

When I Was Yours is a story about Vivienne who serves as a volunteer nurse in World War One and then as a host-mother to Pearl, an evacuee child from London in World War Two.  

As Pearl and Vivienne learn to live together, they discover a connection that runs more deeply than anyone could have guessed – from before Pearl was born and deep into Vivienne’s war-time past. It is her relationship with Pearl that forces Vivienne to confront what happened in her marriage and to her long-lost sister who she loved so dearly. When I Was Yours looks at the choices we make, the awfulness of war, British anti-Semitism and love – romantic and maternal.   

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: I’m going to cheat and mention two that I’ve read recently:

The first is Francesca Jakobi’s Bitter. I thought this was a wonderful exploration of motherhood when it’s difficult. How or why it goes wrong and how painful that can be.

The second is Emma Robinson’s The Undercover Mother. This is completely different, a light-hearted look at a pregnant woman preparing for motherhood and struggling or resisting some of the changes that are taking place (I remember that well).   

Thing about being a mum: Oof. Well, it’s not the responsibility or the washing. It must be the gorgeousness of my kids. I find them fascinating. You should hear me and my husband going on about them (no, you shouldn’t).  

Thing about being a writer: I just love it. Creating new worlds, putting together all the words, shaping them, editing them, hating them, then liking them again. It’s fabulous to hold the final product – the story - in your hands and I like the way it’s both very solitary – at the beginning – but then very much a team effort later on. It’s really the best of both worlds. Plus doing stuff like this interview is a huge privilege. Every day I thank my lucky stars.

Lizzie’s latest book, When I Was Yours, is released on 16 April. You can also keep up to date with Lizzie’s news by following her on Twitter.

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Our tiny 70s bathroom makeover

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Ohhh this feels like a real trip down memory lane - to be blogging about interiors again! I thought it was a time to switch it up from the endless chat about writing/parenting, so here we are: the first in what I hope will be a series of posts all about our house renovation.

Now, nearly three years ago, when we first moved into our 70s house in suburbia, I did a little house tour post. You can see it here. I ended it by saying I was definitely going to do some posts on what we did to the house soon. Sorry! But better late than never huh?

Anyway, if you follow my Instagram you might know that last year we did a massive building project. We moved out to my parents’ for ten weeks and basically gutted nearly the entire house, adding a small extension on the back. It was one of those ‘we should build an extension’ jobs that just grew and grew, until the next thing we knew we were rewiring, replumbing and had two new bathrooms and a new kitchen and a brand new patio that might just be my favourite thing ever.

I really want to get the house professionally photographed, but I’ll be honest - I can’t see myself getting around to it anytime soon. So, before I forget everything we did, I thought I’d do a little series of posts on each of the rooms we had redone. And for no particular reason, I thought I’d start with the bathroom. I apologise in advance for the bad photos - my sister (professional photographer) will be disgusted I’m sure. It’s really hard to photograph white rooms without the light levels going mental, so bear with me please!

Now, I know 70s houses aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but we are massive fans. We love the huge amount of light you get in every room, the generous proportions, internal windows, decent-sized hallways and the fact that they generally flow really well. But there’s one thing about 70s houses I don’t like - and that’s the tiny bathrooms. I say bathrooms, but we only have one bathroom upstairs, and that’s also a bit of a downside, as we have four bedrooms. We discussed trying to squeeze an ensuite in somewhere, but I actually hate ensuites (who wants to listen to your partner on the bog while you’re lying next door in bed?) and in the end the hassle just didn’t seem to be worth it. Every house has a compromise right? And the small family bathroom definitely is it in ours. Because I love everything else to bits!

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This is the only ‘before’ picture I have of the bathroom, and it’s one of the estate agent pictures from when we bought the house. There was nothing wrong with the bathroom, per se (it was euphemistically described as a ‘luxury’ bathroom in the sales details). But it was so utterly boring and lacking in any kind of character. I don’t know why people don’t have a bit more fun with their bathrooms. They don’t have to be completely dull you know! I hated the shower pump being exposed too - it was a nightmare to keep clean.

Anyway, one of the good things about this room is the huge window above the basin (you can’t really see it in the photo above). We have an unusually shaped roof (and no loft) so the ceilings in the upstairs rooms go right up to the roof. The trouble with this high window is that you can’t reach it unless you’re 7ft tall, so the lady who owned the place before us had fashioned this rope pulley system in order to open and close it, which hung down in front of the basin most of the time. It was my number one priority to get rid of this damn rope, so after much research we discovered what we needed was an electric actuator, the type usually used in greenhouses (!). It doesn’t look too pretty, but at least we can now open and shut the bathroom window using a simple electric toggle switch.

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Other than that, our biggest priority was storage. There was hardly any in the bathroom as it was - just that poxy cupboard under the basin. So we decided to hide all the plumbing by building a false wall and above that, creating a mirrored cabinet the entire width of the wall, providing loads of storage. We also removed the old water tank when we had the house replumbed (we fitted a new combi boiler) which meant we gained a huge storage cupboard on the top left of the bathroom - this is basically our only loft space, and now houses all our luggage!

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I knew I wanted lots of plywood in this room. I also knew I wanted grid tiles with black grout. It took a lot of persuading on my part to convince the builder (and Oli) that I wanted black grout - and I’m so glad I put my foot down. ‘Graph paper chic’ was what I said I wanted, and I think we got that. With some nice plywood details and a shelf above the mirrored cabinet for my plants, as well as open shelving to the left.

We picked the biggest showerhead we could, and it’s absolutely brilliant. We also have a hand-held shower attachment so we can clean the bath without too much trouble. Sanitaryware wise, we wanted a wider bath (as it’s a shower bath too), and a back-to-wall WC that was as compact as possible. As I said, this room is so tiny. Once we’d squeezed all that in, finding a basin that fitted the space was really hard - in the end we had to go for a largeish cloakroom basin. My dad thinks it’s ridiculous, but sadly a wider one would have made the room feel even smaller.

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It’s not ideal, and bathtimes with Daph can get a bit stressful as I feel like there’s just nowhere to move sometimes. But I love how light, bright and simple the overall feel of the room is, and the fact that it’s sympathetic to the era of the house, without being too much of a pastiche. We were going to choose cork tiles for the floor, but the style we liked wasn’t recommended for use in bathrooms, so in the end we went for a simple rubber floor. It’s pleasingly clean and neutral but it’s also far too light - in hindsight I would have picked a darker shade, as water splashes show up really badly so it always looks dirty!

Finally, I wanted the biggest towel rail possible, and this is hidden behind the door. It holds all our towels, so we always have something cosy to wrap ourselves in after getting out of the bath or shower. I think my favourite feature of the room is the plywood bath panel - it’s so beautifully finished and I just love the colour of the wood.

Anyway, here’s the great long list of where everything was from, just in case you’re interested. Any questions, leave me a comment! And I promise not to wait another three years before posting any more interiors blogs :)

Basin - Aston Matthews. Taps and shower fittings - Crosswater. Toilet - VitrA. Bath - no idea sorry, builder supplied. Shower screen - Novellini Aurora. Flooring - The Colour Flooring Company. Towel rail - Victoria Plum. Bath panel and cabinet - bespoke. Tiles - British Ceramic Tile. Grout - BAL Adhesive Micromax 2 in Anthracite. Window actuator - Venset. Loft cupboard handles - Chocolate Creative.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How losing my job while pregnant inspired my debut novel

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t really talked about the inspiration behind my debut, The Rival, on my blog. So, I thought it’d be good to remedy that! Let me start by saying The Rival is a work of fiction. However, the seed of the idea came from my own experience of new motherhood. One of my friends once told me that giving birth was like being in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It stuck with me before I gave birth, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate.

I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point

I was 33 when I got pregnant, and although my daughter was very much longed for, I was shockingly naïve and had no idea what to expect. I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point – I was a successful journalist and PR consultant and knew nothing about babies, or how to care for them. Once the first few months as a new mum were behind me, I was amazed not to be able to find any novels on this subject, given all the women I knew who were also struggling to forge a new identity as a mum after so long in the world of work. And so I decided to write about them – a story for women who have struggled with this transition, in the face of a working world that is still so stacked against us.

I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression but like many women, my sleep deprivation in those early days reached the point where I started hallucinating at night, imagining the baby was in bed with me when she was actually asleep in her cot, and my moods swung from euphoric to desperate with exhausting frequency.

To add to my stress, I unexpectedly found myself on maternity leave without a job to return to. Sadly, this is an all-too-common situation. It was utterly terrifying: this open-ended new ‘life’ that was completely alien to everything I had ever known, and that I was woefully underprepared for. And when I did secure some freelance work when my baby was only four months old, I was averaging three hours’ sleep a night, none of my ‘work’ clothes fitted me, and I felt exactly as Helena does in the book: a misplaced lump between two stools. Not yet confident as a mother, no longer a career woman.  

... despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become.

It was the strangest time of my life. I had been the old me for 34 years by then, but a mother for only a handful of months, and despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become. I’d never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and independence.

Not working was very strange, and in the middle of the night I’d panic that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. I read on someone’s blog that when you have a baby, it’s OK for you just to be looking after the baby. You don’t have to be trying to hold down a part-time job too, or finishing a long-neglected novel (!), or doing charity work, or whatever it is that you think is necessary to justify your existence as a stay-at-home-mum. That helped, a little. But it was still hard to give myself permission to do ‘nothing’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I feel like I really lost myself in those early months. In fact, I would say it took a year for my confidence to return. Thankfully, Oli is super supportive and, thanks to the nature of his career, is around a lot more than most fathers. I genuinely believe my situation might have been very different were it not for the fact that I had him by my side every day during those life-changing early months.

Because this is what it boils down to, in my opinion. Support. New mothers need support. They deserve support. It can make a crucial difference - can truly determine whether they sink or swim.

Since The Rival was released last September, it’s been fascinating seeing how readers have responded to it. Many mothers have written to tell me that the feelings Helena experiences in the story echo those they experienced too. Many more people have said it made them cry. Other people have complained that it’s not a thriller, and despite my frustration that no one ever said it was (!), it actually just makes me sad that my message was completely lost on them.

I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world

It’s strange, your debut novel. You pour everything into it - it feels intensely personal, in a way that your second and third novels don’t. I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world, even if it was through a character who isn’t me (I promise!). Those feelings seem so far away now - my whole personality has changed over the past three and a half years, as my daughter has grown, and I’m more than happy in my own skin these days. In many ways then, I’m grateful that I managed to capture those feelings - the raw emotion, the little kernel of truth that was so painful to admit to at the time.

The Rival will always be a special book to me, a marking of time that reminds me how far I’ve come.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Mums who write: Laura Pearson

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There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall
— Cyril Connolly

I’m so excited to post this - my first in a series of interviews with mums who write! You might know that I wrote my debut, The Rival, when on maternity leave. I had sold my PR business while pregnant and had no idea what my work future held. I’d written novels in the past and had an agent, but hadn’t managed to get a publishing deal. The freedom - and pressure - of having no job to return to really focused my mind, and despite being sleep-deprived (my daughter was a terrible sleeper up until about 18 months) I managed to write the first draft of my novel in just ten weeks. Ever since, I’ve met mums and heard stories of mothers who found having their first child really motivated them career-wise. Being a mum also makes you so much more efficient. So IMHO… two fingers up at Cyril Connolly and his pram in the hall nonsense! I wanted to chat to some published mothers to find out how they disproved his theory, and how motherhood affected their writing journey.

So, first up, is my interview with Laura Pearson. Her debut Missing Pieces came out last year and did exceptionally well both here and in the US. Her second novel, Nobody’s Wife, is out next week. I finished it last night, having read it in just over a day. It’s a beautifully written, quiet, and devastating novel about one of the worst betrayals you can imagine - I highly recommend you pre-order! Here, Laura chats about her writing routine, running her amazing Facebook book group, the Motherload Book Club and how her husband supports her career…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in a village in Leicestershire with my husband and our two children. My son, Joseph, is five and my daughter, Elodie, is two.

What’s your writing routine like?

I have my daughter at home one day a week, and I pick my son up from school every day, so I basically have four school-length days to write. However, I try to fit a lot of other stuff into that time, like running The Motherload Book Club and doing a thousand loads of washing. I’m quite a fast writer when I actually get sat down and stop looking at Twitter, but I need to be strict with myself.

Where do you write from?

I write at home, mostly at the dining room table but sometimes just in an armchair in the lounge. I’m not really one for writing on the go, because I don’t hand-write anything and I don’t lug my laptop around. I do sometimes make notes in my phone if I’m not at my computer. My phone notes are full of shopping lists, to-do lists, and mad ideas for stories.

I think I feel things more deeply since having my kids

On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Time is short when you have young children. Your weekends are no longer your own and a big chunk of your evening is taken up with bathing and putting them to bed. As a result, you have to learn to be focused when you do have some time. I’m not great at that. On the plus side, I think I feel things more deeply since having my kids, and that’s got to help when you’re writing about emotions and the human condition. Also, I’m motivated by a strong desire to show my children, particularly my daughter, that I’ve done something pretty great in between all the nappy changes and walks to and from school and nursery.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

I’m not sure I find it easier or harder, in general. However, my first novel, Missing Pieces, was about a family in the aftermath of the loss of their three-year-old daughter. I wrote it before I had my children, and it was a tough read afterwards. I’m not sure whether I would have written it in the same way (or maybe at all) after having the kids.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

The hardest thing about being a mother who writes is the hardest thing about being a mother who works full stop: the guilt. When you’re not with your children, you feel like you should be. And when you’re not writing, you feel like you should be. There’s no way to win, and it’s exhausting, so I try to ignore it, and talk to friends who feel it too.

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

My daughter is still very little but my son loves making up stories and being read to. It’s impossible to know whether that’s just part of his personality or whether seeing me read and write so much has affected it. He wants to make up a story every day on the walk to school, and we’re planning to write a choose-your-own-adventure, but I think that might be a project for the summer holiday.

How does your partner support you in your writing?

In every way possible. Financially and emotionally. We’re so lucky that we can live on my husband’s income while I find my feet in this world. He’s also great at listening to me ramble on about new ideas and troubleshooting with me. He’s not so good at suggesting titles, although he thinks he is.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I can only speak of my own experience, and my publishers understand that I write around my children, and they’re great about that. Our hours don’t always tally up well, as they often work late and I’m packing up at 2.30pm to do the school run, but mostly I’m working alone so it doesn’t matter. My son only started school this academic year, so I’m still finding my way with covering school holidays and that sort of thing, but I feel supported.

Don’t use the children as an excuse not to write

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Don’t use the children as an excuse not to do it. Try to learn to write in short bursts and with distractions – like when they’re watching Paw Patrol. If you’re new to writing, try starting with flash fiction as it doesn’t take up a huge amount of time and the community is really friendly and welcoming. Plus it’s great for teaching you to weigh every word.

Please tell us a little bit about your latest novel.

Nobody’s Wife is the story of two sisters, Emily and Josephine, and the tangled relationships they have with their partners. It’s about betrayal and secrets and the lengths people will go to for love.

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: I don’t know about favourite of all time but I recently read The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood and it blew me away. It’s a hard read, but a wonderful one.

Thing about being a mum: I get to laugh every day, without fail. My children are always surprising me.

Thing about being a writer: Just making up stories, and having this voice in a noisy world. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do (although you wouldn’t know that when I’m avoiding my work in progress like the plague).

Way to relax: Reading. I bet every writer says that. I’m such a cliché.

Laura’s latest novel, Nobody’s Wife, will be released on 28 March.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.