Posts in Writing Mothers series

Writing Mothers: Bianca Wordley

Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog
Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog

Seven weeks to go until we move and I haven’t started packing yet. The boxes are sitting there, all flat, teasing me. When I told mum about this blog she said, ‘so you’re blogging about packing rather than actually packing’. Seven weeks may sound like a long time but when you’ve got two children under four, you can’t just throw it all in like you used to. I just added it up and I have moved house at least 18 times in my life. That’s a lot of packing. I’m terrible putting boxes together, taping with masking tape. I’d be hopeless in dispatch. I have poor inter-taping skills. I’m in denial. And I keep getting distracted by books. The removalists sent a marketing type to give a quote today and she looked shocked by the number on my shelves. I really don’t have that many (you should have seen when I was at uni). As I weigh each heavy tome in my hands I start to rationalise: surely, I can get that on kindle.

So, as I’m going to be covered in dust and grasshoppers (that’s what I just found in the shed) for the next few months, I thought I’d continue on a series of interviews with writers about motherhood and writing. Bianca Wordley is an Adelaide-based writer who has been hugely successful with her blog, Big Words, and she also writes regularly for The Hoopla (a site that’s emerging as a wonderfully topical daily critique of all things cultural). In a recent post, The Annoying Kid, she takes a look at parents who are there — but absent. We’ve all encountered these situations. A child who bites others on a jumping castle. Or keeps going up the slide the wrong way, endangering others at the playground. The parent remains hands-off, or lingers in the background, so much so that you feel you should discipline the child yourself. But then what? It turns into The Slap. She also writes entertainingly on the whole concept of the mummy-blogger (and the companies that market to them).

I spoke to Bianca about fitting in blogging around the care of three small children…

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

BW: I started blogging seriously after the birth of my third child, so about one and a half years ago.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

BW: I am a trained journalist and while I still write freelance articles for a number of different clients I was craving a more creative outlet. At the time I was also living in the Adelaide Hills and felt quite isolated with three kids under five. Blogging connected me to a whole world of other like-minded women.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

BW: I write when I get a burst of creativity. Sometimes I write at night or in the morning when the kids are asleep, but mostly I write when they are running around the place. Their constant distractions are at times difficult, but mostly they can be easily distracted with kids’ television and food.

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

BW: One of the main reasons I started blogging was to break out of the newspaper style I was trained in and find my own creative voice. I use my blog as a sounding board and experiment to discover what style or styles suit me. I am in a constant state of learning, but slowly getting there.

Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog
Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

BW: I am getting more aware of my kids’ privacy the older they get. My eldest child has just started school and I am still unsure how many mothers I will let know about my blog. I try to blog about my story, not about my children’s personal issues, but as our lives are so entwined that is a tricky subject I am constantly reassessing.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

BW: I have a number of favourite bloggers — Under the Yardarm, Edenland, Woogsworld, BabyMac are just a few. I like honest and raw bloggers, but I also love bloggers who give me an escape from the drudgery, who make me laugh and not feel so alone in the boredom which often envelopes your life as a mother. I search for brave, inspiring and upbeat writers.

Do you do any other writing? How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

BW: I write for a number of clients in both the corporate and blogging world. I am a regular columnist for websites including The Hoopla, justb and Kleenex Mums. Blogging has opened up many paid writing opportunities. At present, I am also writing my first novel — little-by-little I write it. One day soon, I’ll find the time to focus more on my novel as that is the direction I am heading and most passionate about — telling stories.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series has also featured Anna Funder. Next week I’ll talk to novelist and performance artist Fiona McGregor about how she goes about creating mother characters in her award-winning novels.

Do you write a blog about parenting? Who is your favourite mother-blogger? I’d love to hear from you…

Writing Mothers: Anna Funder

Author Anna Funder
Author Anna Funder

I’ve been writing an essay for Island Magazine on the topic, Writing Mothers, where I’ve been looking at mother characters in Australian fiction (written by women), and talking to novelists and bloggers about how they even begin to juggle their writing with pregnancy and having children. I’ve also talked to writers (who are not mothers) about how they go about creating characters (who are mothers).

I’ve been surprised at how little research has been done on the topic (although the Australian Women Writers’ Network has been brilliant at giving me leads). It seems that mothers shimmy out of the limelight wherever possible. The article will be published in July but, in the meantime, I thought I’d start a series on Writing Mothers where I publish some of the interviews in full that I’ve quoted from in the article.

First up is Anna Funder, author of Stasiland (which won the world’s biggest prize for non-fiction, the Samuel Johnson Prize) and an outstanding debut novel, All That I Am (one of the best Australian novels of the past year, nominated for the Miles Franklin). She is one of Australia’s most exciting writers and here she talks about the challenges of writing when you have three children.

When you were pregnant, what were your expectations regarding having a baby and writing? Were you planning to write after the baby was born?

Anna Funder, Stasiland
Anna Funder, Stasiland

AF: I was finishing Stasiland when I was pregnant with my first child. I think pregnancy is a wonderful state, in that it chemically blurs all kinds of anxieties about the (completely and utterly unimaginable ) future that is coming. That applies to both babies, and books — how can anyone have any idea what it’s going to be like with either? I think I expected to have a quiet time with my baby, which I did for a little bit, but then the book took off and I was travelling and talking a lot for a couple of years.

When my baby was two weeks old I went out and bought a three-piece set of matching luggage on a whim. My dear friend, a mother of four, said to me, ‘You have a two-week-old baby. Where do you think you’re going??’ I had no idea, but I ended up travelling all over the place with my daughter.

What was it like in reality? Did you get any writing done in the first year after your baby was born?

AF: I wrote a lot of articles and speeches. I didn’t really have the mental wherewithal to nut out the architecture of a big novel — that came later. I found it hard to organise my time. My husband was overseas weeks at a time for about half the year, and I was in a city without much family support. I have three children now, and imagine I’m a bit better at outsourcing some of the care and making time to write. But truth be told, I put my novel All That I Am away for the first six months of my son’s life. I tried to have a break from it. Of course I wrote other stuff during that time.

Did you find it difficult to sit down and write? Or was it the opposite? Were you more creative, as you had less time, and had to be super disciplined?

AF: I don’t find discipline so hard. I find writing hard, but I am more stressed out by not doing it than by doing it, so I organise my life to be able to work. What is not good for writing is sleep deprivation and lactation; the brain function that is important for writing — the wordy, analytical, associative, creative part of your mind — is shut down by prolactin I believe. This is so that grown women who are used to doing a great many things can stay seated the eight hours a day it takes to feed a newborn without going mad, so it’s a good thing.

Also, a mother’s focus is incredibly directed, and her emotional energy is absolutely heightened by having a baby. This intensity of living and loving — this experience of being part of a dyad — is a wonderful gift. Like all intense emotional experiences, it broadens you in the longer term, which can make you a better writer. Motherhood also makes you a whole lot more vulnerable to the world, you have a greater stake in the future, and in the little people you’re putting into it. That’s not bad for a human being, or a writer.

Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)
Anna Funder, All That I Am (Translation)

Did you find the experience of motherhood starting to seep into your characters? Into the way you portray people?

AF: One woman whose story I wrote in Stasiland was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall. I always found it a terrible story, but I realised much more shockingly after having a baby what she must have gone through. It wasn’t possible to do this solely by an act of sympathetic experience. I had to have the emotional receptors for it, and the only way to get those is –—in this instance — to have had a baby. I probably wouldn’t have written the story any differently. I still think it’s fine. But this experience is salutary for me. If what you do is work to enable people to understand and experience others, and other things through words, it makes you realise the limits of them.

Have you written about any mothers in your fiction before or after the birth? Did having a child mean you had to go back and rewrite or change characterisation?

AF: I do write about mothers. Often it is influenced more by my own mother, than by my experience of mothering. But I feel pretty well-equipped now, after three children, to write a convincing mother character. Or twenty.

Stay tuned for the next interview in the Writing Mothers series: blogger Bianca Wordley (isn’t that just the perfect name for a writer?).

Have you read Anna Funder’s Stasiland or All That I Am? What are your thoughts on these books?

Or are you a writing mother? How do you juggle your writing time with looking after the kids?