My latest ‘mums who write’ interview is with Lauren North, author of The Perfect Betrayal, which tells the story of a mum who loses everything after her husband dies. Lauren’s a mum of two and chats about making time to write - even if it’s just for ten minutes - and how motherhood helped her imagination to go to the darkest places…
Where do you live and with who?
I live in the countryside on the Essex and Suffolk borders with my husband, Andy, and our two children. Tommy is nine and Lottie is eight.
What’s your writing routine like?
I’m not sure if this counts as a routine, but I try to write whenever I’m not spending time with the kids. We’re lucky to live very close to the school (60 second walk), so in the mornings I’m at my desk with a coffee by 9am. I write for a few hours. Then either exercise or walk the dog. Then I do another few hours writing in the afternoon.
When it’s school holidays, I’m at my desk by 6am and write for two hours. Then we go out for the day and do the normal fun stuff, then I’m back to my desk for another hour or two in the afternoon or evening.
Where do you write from?
I have a small study downstairs where I write most of the time (it used to be a cupboard and I have to share it with the dog. It does have a window though). If I’m struggling to settle then I go to my gym and write in the cafe there. For some reason the distraction of other people often helps me to concentrate.
If it’s a quiet evening then I’ll do another hour while the kids are playing. I always take work with me on the club runs. Ballet and tap is two hours on a Tuesday so I take my laptop. Other times it’s a print out of my current chapter to scribble over in case I find myself with a spare ten minutes.
We go to our local zoo a lot and the kids love playing in the playgrounds there, so I’m often writing on my phone or scribbling in a notebook (or the back of a receipt once).
On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?
Being a mother gave me the confidence to believe in myself. Motherhood was the first thing I’ve ever felt any good at. I loved having the kids so close together (although that first year with a baby and toddler was hard). I’d tried to get published before I had children, but it was only when they turned 3 and 2 and went to preschool together that I sat down and realised I could write and I would fulfil my dreams.
On a practical level, writing with children in the house means there is often a lot of stop and start, interruptions for snacks and board games and sometimes I’ll find I only write in ten minute bursts, so I’m not precious about what’s going on around me. I can write for any length of time, anywhere.
Creative wise, I have a very dark imagination and think often about the worst that could happen. I love my children beyond words and so I worry constantly about them, which often leads to little seedlings of ideas. A great example of this is when I wondered what if my husband travels away for work and dies and I’m left alone in a secluded house in a village where I know absolutely no one. This became the start of my debut novel.
Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?
Harder definitely, but this is because it has taken becoming a mother to understand what hard work actually is. It’s taken being a mother to realise that I needed to improve my craft and to work hard to do it.
What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?
All the times when I’m right in the middle of a fantastic writing session where the words are flowing, the plot is coming together, and I have stop and be a mum. That’s hard. And the guilt of course for the times I prioritise writing over the kids.
How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?
Both Tommy and Lottie enjoy reading books and I still love reading books to them before bed every night. My love of books has rubbed off on them, as has my love of writing. Both kids enjoy writing stories too.
I think they are only just grasping this, and I hope it’s something that stays with them when they’re older, but I think my love of writing has taught them to find their passion in life and go for it with everything they have. And that hard work and perseverance do pay off.
How does your partner support you in your writing?
In every way possible. I didn’t go back to work when the kids were old enough. This was a decision my husband fully supported for two reasons. Firstly, we both wanted me to be there for the kids during the holidays and after school, and secondly because he knew my passion was for writing and wanted me to live the dream, which I’m lucky enough now to be doing.
So there’s the financial support that comes with that decision and the fact that I earned nothing for more years than I care to think about.
There’s the emotional and practical support too. When things aren’t going well, Andy is always there with a hug and to listen before giving me practical advice, which I sometimes take and sometimes ignore.
Writing is such a tough job on so many levels, especially when you’re juggling kids as well. Having a supportive partner is not fundamental because us writers are passionate people who’ll find a way no matter what, but it does help.
Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?
I can only answer this based on my own experience, and so far yes, to me it has been. My editors and agent have always been incredibly understanding of school holidays and my schedule. I’m always asked to give a good time for a meetings or calls and it feels like every effort is made to fit with my sometimes limited options.
What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?
Carve out some childfree time to write, whether it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and don’t give that time away for anything (washing, housework, etc can wait). This is not so easy when the kids are younger, but if that’s the case, then please don’t beat yourself up or stress about how little writing you’ve done. The children will grow up and you will find that time.
There will be days when you don’t write a single thing, so don’t worry. We all have these days. Writing comes a close second, but the kids do come first.
Try not to be precious about needing a particular time of day or place to write. These moments are few and far between for me, so learning to be flexible has really helped me.
Please tell me a little bit about your latest novel.
The Perfect Betrayal (The Perfect Son in the US) opens with Tess waking in hospital the day after her son Jamie’s 8th birthday, certain of three things:
1. Her husband is dead
2. She’s been stabbed
3. Her son is missing
The Perfect Betrayal is about Tess, a distraught widow, and her son Jamie, and the strange things that happen to them when the beautiful grief counsellor Shelley comes into their lives. It’s a novel about the rawness of grief and how far a mother will go to protect her child.
What’s your favourite…
Novel about motherhood: Ah that’s a hard one. The Other Woman by Sandie Jones springs to mind. Such a clever story.
Thing about being a mum: The joy and laughter my children bring to my day
Thing about being a writer: Seeing how far you can push your characters before they break.
Way to relax: Er . . . what does this word mean? Pass.
The Perfect Betrayal is out now in paperback and ebook.