Mums who write: Lauren North

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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.  

When it’s school holidays, I’m at my desk by 6am and write for two hours

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).

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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?

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.

I think my love of writing has taught them to find their passion in life and go for it with everything they have

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.  

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

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.

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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.

Quickfire Questions

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.

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!

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.