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.

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.