We’re so inspired by her work and are thrilled to have her as a guest blogger!
As women in the music industry, it sometimes feels like we need to decide between pursuing our careers VS raising a family. Thankfully, Farideh, our fellow Riveter, has shown us that both are possible. We're curious about your story: did you ever feel like you had to choose between pursuing your career as a writer and raising a family? How did you navigate that decision (if at all)?
Farideh is a great inspiration—I read her newsletter to give me ideas to help me cope with all the juggling that having a family and a career requires. I have four children and they are all under the age of eight. It’s bonkers at my house. But, years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I spoke to the novelist Lisa Moore about how to manage writing novels and being a mother. She told that to keep writing while my children were young, I needed to take it seriously and not try to do it all—she said she needed three hours a day with fixed childcare to keep her writing life going. Basically, I followed her advice, although now we have four children, we have more than three hours a day of childcare. For me, it was the notion of taking my writing seriously that stuck—seriously enough that I knew I needed to keep making time for it.
My children are my top priority. But if I don’t spend any time writing, I turn into a far grumpier and more unpleasant parent. I don’t know why that is, but knowing this about myself helps me balance my work needs and my family needs.
What are your tricks, tips and routines that help you balance your creative practice with family life?
When I’m not working, at the back of my mind, I try to have the next scene playing. So, if I’m changing a diaper or playing with the kids or making supper, there’s a tiny part of my brain that has an image of a scene in it. When I sit down to work, I know what I’m going to write next. I also have a lot of lists—a weekly to-do list, a monthly one, a daily one. I’m pretty easy going on the day-to-day list. I understand I have to be flexible with four kids. But I’m quite good at getting everything done by giving myself a whole week to do it. Although I don’t have a full work week—until my children are older, I only have childcare on Mondays-Thursdays.
One piece of advice I followed was to set up an automatic email responder for Fridays-Sundays. People seem to need replies to emails more quickly than I can handle. The responder says: I’m not at my desk until Monday. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. It gives me a little breathing room when I’m with my children.
Another tip? I regularly give myself thirty minutes to recharge. Sometimes I just can’t do it all. Sometimes I need to not be working or with my darling-yet-exhausting kids. Sometimes I need to read a book or walk the dog or exercise. This has been something I’ve had to learn more this year. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a bit older or if it’s because I was just working too hard, but my body is making me take a bit more time to chill.
And finally, I try not to give myself a hard time. I don’t get it right all the time. But I try not to be eaten up by mommy guilt when I drop the ball. I try my best—I think most of us parents do.
Lark is the lead character of your latest novel Me (and) Me. We noticed she is the sixth of young girls/teenagers around which the plots of your novels are built: from Callie (The Death of Us), to Amy (40 Things I Wanted to Tell You) to Sophie (The Worst Thing She Ever Did) and finally to Claire and Elizabeth (Life on the Refrigerator Door). What draws you to making teenage/young girls your central characters? What goes into building their personalities, inventing their backstories and what informs their strength?
Characters appear in my head needing my attention. It’s a weird thing. Often, I have a storyline playing around in my mind—so in Life on the Refrigerator Door, I was thinking about writing a story in notes for a long time. Then Claire’s voice spoke in my head and everything came together. I began the first draft. Right now. I have an idea that dances in my head for a new book and I know what I want the book to be about. Recently, a girl’s voice has started up and I hear the words: “My name’s Poppy. Not my choice. Obviously.”
The ideas for Me (and) Me started a long time ago—nearly twenty years ago. But the character I tried to write that book about was too much like me. The book didn’t work. Then Lark came into my head and she was writing a song and I knew she was the right person for this story. I use a character interview to start to get to know my characters (the interview I use is here on my website—for any of you who are writers, I have tons of other writing workshops on the site, and a free course for anyone who signs up to my newsletter).
After I’ve interviewed my character, I have to do research—with Lark I spoke to singer-songwriters, read books about songwriting, listened to bands, watched bands live and on YouTube, read memoirs of songwriters. That’s how I ended up signing up to Farideh’s newsletter—when I was reading about you all! I also did a lot of research into Parkour. Which was a lot of fun.
I’m drawn to teen characters because I think that age in life is when we make the choices that turn us into the adults we’re going to become—those years are so crucial and so interesting and so hard to live through. I’m not sure why all my main characters are girls. I suspect it’s because I’m always writing for my fourteen-year-old self—the confused teenager that I was, the one who loved to read. My love of reading has fueled all of my writing—when I write a book, I’m the first reader of it and that’s a thrill.
We've often been told to write about what we know - this informs our songwriting process. We love how you reference local restaurants in Saskatoon, prairie scenery and landmarks (like Pike Lake) in your novel Me (and) Me. How much local inspiration do you draw upon when writing? Is this important to you? In contrast, are there elements in your writing that are inspired by your hometown in London, England?
The last two books I’ve published are set in Edenville, which I base heavily on Saskatoon. Our beautiful river seems to make it into all my writing at the moment. My second novel was set in London, and my first was set on a fridge door. In my head, Life on the Refrigerator Door was set in London, but the fridge could be anywhere. When that book came out, I had a long talk with local author David Carpenter about how I didn’t use setting and how important it was to his writing—he was very interested and interesting about how to write strong settings.
I think that the magic realism in the last two books needed to be rooted in setting to give them that realistic feeling—so I took Dave Carpenter’s thoughts to heart. I wanted to set the book somewhere vivid and real to me--I reference D’Lish all the time in this book because I wrote a lot of the book sitting there, drinking coffee. I did mean to change the name of the café in a final draft, but I never did and I like that the café where I spend so much time now exists in the heads of readers who have never visited Saskatoon.
Thanks so much for these great questions! And for hosting me on my blog tour—I really appreciate it. I’m a big fan and so it’s a real honour.