Writing Motherhood

Writing Motherhood

Hello again! Well as usual it’s been aaaggges since I last blogged and that means tons of news. I’ll start off with what I think is the best news –

The Arts Council gave me full funding for my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project. What’s my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project? Hey, great question, and thanks for asking. It’s a project I’ve set up in relation to my new poetry collection BOOM! (out next Spring with Seren), which is about motherhood. In a nutshell, there is no other experience in my life that has impacted my creativity (or continues to impact) as much as motherhood. I mean, IN EVERY SINGLE WAY, from the logistics of finding time to write while caring for 4 children under the age of 8 to the ways in which I find myself in the same boat as so many women who find their sacred role as mother socially disparaged. Becoming a mother has made me look at everything around me differently. It forced me to confront the parameters of my existence. It completely altered my political viewpoints. All my feminist principles got a huge overhaul.A poem I wrote in support of Michelle McGrane’s ‘Against Rape’ protest speaks to this, but there was even more than that. All my theories about work/life balance and childhood psychology got shot out the window by the reality of having a child, to such extent that I found myself ditching a thriving career as a film theorist in favour of a more creative role. The physical impact of motherhood has been immense, too – I gave an interview for the Daily Mail last year and was scheduled (and refused) to have a pelvic fusion which would have involved constant wheelchair use for two years – and I am saddened to read more and more accounts of other women struggling with postnatal depression of varying degrees.

Becoming a mother changed me in every single way. My first child – born in October 2006 – just about knocked me sideways. Again, there were many reasons for this, but here’s the biggest one: I could not believe how public and political the (hugely personal) experience of motherhood was.

I could not believe that a trip to the supermarket would result in unsolicited advice from complete strangers about how to raise my child. Here’s a brief example: as an academic with hundreds of students and other staff under my responsibility, I could wander into Tesco with nary a word from anyone about my teaching methods, about my time management, about my levels of organisation. When people asked what I did for a living and I said ‘academic’, the response was intoned with interest and occasionally respect. It’s a whole other kettle of fish when you say you’re a mother. 

And the thing is, this experience didn’t blow over with my first child. Three kids later and I am still changing, still learning, still dealing with how public and how political motherhood is.  I was overwhelmed – and remain so – by the number of newspaper headlines about how working mothers were to blame for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. Obesity, autism, the likelihood of their children developing depression and experiencing future marital breakdown… Far from telling me anything useful (or true) about motherhood, it told me massive amounts about the type of society I inhabit.

Coupled with this was the love I had for my children. It completely and utterly blew me away, how much I could love another human being. It far surpassed all the negativity I had felt swamping around me. I urgently needed to find an art to express all of this, a language, a literary form. I thought first about writing a non-fiction book about motherhood, then a novel. Neither of them felt right (although motherhood is a prominent theme in ALL my novels) so I started writing poetry. Some of mymotherhood poems made their way into my debut collection. Earlier this year an early manuscript ofBoom! won a Northern Promise Award. Then Seren gave me a contract for my new poetry collection.Poetry Review published the title poem, Boom!. The new issue of Magma features my poem ‘Motherhood Diptych’ and ‘The Only Dad at Play Group’ is in New Walk MagazineNew Statesman is publishing one of my poems about giving birth later this year. I found more and more female writers articulating the impact of motherhood on their writing. I felt a kinship with these writers, far greater than any other work I’d read.

I suddenly wanted more than just to articulate this experience: I wanted to empower other mothers, to reclaim the power that has been bled from motherhood in whatever small way I could. And so I devised a project called ‘Writing Motherhood’, and was amazed that the Arts Council awarded it full funding. A key element of the project is a touring event involving a number of other amazing writers – Hollie McNish, Liz Fraser, Sinead Morrissey, Lily Dunn, Rowan Coleman, Kathryn Simmonds, Rebecca Goss,Kate Long and Debi Gliori – which will tour 12 literary festivals in 2014. I’ll also be running a blog for the event to establish a dialogue amongst writers and readers about their experiences of motherhood, and later will publish an anthology of creative work. BOOM! will be launched at the Hexham Book Festival in Spring 2014, and you’ll be most welcome to come along.

In short:


I’ll keep you posted about the dates and venues. IF YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCES OF MOTHERHOOD YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE please do so in the comments box here, or contact me on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

PS. I have other news, too, particularly about the new book I’m working on (feel free to follow my Pinterest board for it!), and some lovely reviews, but will post about these in the next blog (hopefully I’ll have a cover for BOOM! to show off, too!)

Meantime, here’s The Guardian’s fabulous review of THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS….