Tag Archives: mama writer

The Fictional Mother

This was first published in an essay collection, also called The Fictional Mother, which I released as a bonus reward for my patrons in May 2017. You can access this collection and a whole bundle of other e-books, along with other rewards, by pledging $1 or more to my Patreon every month.

Spoilers for Season 5 of Buffy, Seasons 3 & 4 of Once Upon a Time.

Potentially triggering discussion of cancer diagnosis & treatment as well as maternal deaths in fiction & real life. Take care of yourselves.



(Don’t panic)

In 2016, I was diagnosed with a low-grade skin lymphoma, after a biopsy on my forehead. It was surgically removed.

(Seriously, don’t panic)

One year and a second positive biopsy later, my cancer was officially graded as ‘recurring’ though this was also matched with more comforting words such as ‘indolent.’ After a second round of invasive tests and scans during which I learned that my body finds contrast dye physically repellent (literally) I am now facing down a month of radiotherapy. This, I have been assured, is very boring and has a high success rate for curing specific cancers. Over the last year, I have lurched between times of extreme anxiety about my health and my future, moments of cautious relief, and even twinges of guilt that this is such a small health crisis compared to those of others.

(Everything’s gonna be OK)

Yep, I actually feel guilty that my cancer is so discrete and treatable. How’s that for imposter syndrome? This time around, though, it feels a lot more real than it did last year. And every time I explain to people how extremely small and treatable and really no big deal my cancer is, it feels like I am thumbing my nose at fate. So. There are a lot of feelings.

(On a related note, hey, if you have the chance to get regular check ups at your local skin clinic, why not go do that? Tell your friends!)

Back when we were waiting for the original diagnosis, I thought a lot about my daughters, and my mind kept being drawn to Disney movies. The possibility of dying (it’s horribly easy to leap from ‘cancer’ to ‘dying’ in a single panicked second, especially if you’ve been Googling all the words your doctor uses without context) becomes a whole different kind of scary when you are a parent.

(Spoiler: I’m not currently dying except in the sense that I am, apparently, mortal.)

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people actually concerned about sexism do not go around saying that women should shut their dumb faces about it

Look at me, raising my head up in the internet. Hello, internet! I’m a lot of words this month! I haven’t been doing my usual Friday Links while Nanoing, but there are a couple of things I wanted to make an exception for.

untoldSarah Rees Brennan has written a really important essay on TheToast.net about being a woman in the publishing industry, or any industry that requires self promotion, and how differently the universe reacts to women’s self promotion. It’s sad but a must-read: A Female Author Talks About Sexism and Self-Promotion.

So, women are often left in a situation where if they want to succeed, they have to promote themselves, via being a person on the internet. And then, people say: “Lady, when you promote yourself, it is bad.”
(Sarah Rees Brennan)

Malinda Lo has written a companion piece, also on TheToast.net, about her own experiences in self promotion as a queer woman, and how more mainstream events/promotions for her YA books about lesbians mean having to come out all over again: A Second Female Author Talks About Sexism and Self Promotion.

I don’t believe that creative individuals should have to grow thicker skins. I believe that if you’re out there creating art, you should make sure you’re as open and thin-skinned as possible, so that you can feel every damn thing that arises in you. You need to be able to fully experience those emotions so you can use them in your work, but only within reason. I draw the line at letting mean-spirited criticism into my mental space.
(Malinda Lo)

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The Best Laid Plans

nano13So, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year which starts THIS FREAKING FRIDAY and I’ve had a completely scattered year with my available writing time shrinking and shrinking into nothing, and my momentum disappearing in a slow plume of smoke.

I had a brilliant plan to start getting up at 6am, to get a clear hour and a half of writing in before my ‘to do list’ brain kicked in and more importantly, the children woke up. I used to do a lot of writing at night but I’m just too tired these days.

It worked for two days. I finally got some serious fiction writing done without interruption! It was a bit of a struggle, and I wasn’t sleeping as deeply if I went to bed earlier, but I was sure it would all work out.

Then today when I got up I noticed that hmmm, it’s a lot lighter at 6am than it was two days ago. I guess that’s what you get as summer approaches…

And 4 year old Jem woke up at 6:14. Gah! Fail.

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Things To Be Excited About (Writing and Parenting Edition)

I missed out on the fun & professional inspiration of Genrecon this weekend, which would normally have been pretty depressing, but I got to hang out with my snuggly family and watch a bunch of black and white Doctor Who which was quite a major consolation.

In any case, without a convention to kickstart the last quarter of the year into gear, I have to find my own inspiration!

Firstly, I’m super excited by the first Twelfth Planet Press crowdfunded book, with Julia Rios joining Alisa as editor. This is Kaleidoscope, a book devoted to contemporary fantasy for YA readers which reflects the diversity of the world we live in. I’m writing a story to submit to that (as well as a bunch of other books) right now, with four deadlines between now and December. Eek!

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How Does She Do It?

I love this picture. It basically sums up everything I’ve ever written about writing/mothering.

I came across an old post of mine, Writing While the House is Messy, and it sparked off a whole lot of recent thoughts I’ve been having about writing and parenting (specifically mothering which carries an emotional baggage and social expectation with it that is particularly weighty).

It’s school holidays, a shorter summer than we’re used to now that Tasmania is finally going to the four terms system. And what I should be doing is what I have done most other holidays, which is relax, read books, enjoy my kids without wanting to strangle them, and not put pressure on myself to MAKE WITH THE WORDS, MADAM.

But no, this summer I am writing. Not one thing, not a big pressing deadline (that’s for next month!) but I decided that I needed to put something on paper this January, to start as I mean to go on for this year. It’s now the 2nd of January, the first day that my honey is back at work leaving me with the two girls, and it’s already been a balancing act.

I always forget about the cleaning. There’s so much more of it in the holidays, because they’re here ALL THE TIME, and plates get dirtier, and clothes tear through the mud, and oh the toys, the toys get everywhere. Shoes are always underfoot, partly because Jem likes to stand in whichever shoes are closest (the more outlandishly big on her tiny feet the better) and tromp them from room to room until she can leave them in the perfect place to be tripped over later.

The detritus of Christmas is still partly with us – not just the tree and many of the more recently unwrapped gifts, but scraps of paper and plastic, stray ribbons and gift bags. Half open packets, and empty stockings. Sure, I could have tidied it all up by now. But frankly, I’ve BEEN tidying it up since December 25th, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any neater.

I swear, the walls pump out glitter and stray hair elastics across the carpet whenever I step into another room.

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If I Reach Out With My Fingertips, I Can Touch the Holidays.

I can tell it’s nearly the end of Term 2 because we’ve been hit by illness after illness, mostly surrounding the kids, though of course the parents tend to get smacked with versions of the same illnesses, usually just as they are most exhausted from running around after cranky/vomity/coughing children.

For example, I didn’t get the high temperature spikes or achiness of Raeli’s flu, but I did manage to get an inner ear infection that defied antibiotics and happily snapped, crackle and popped in accompaniment to my daily life for more than a month.

It’s the end of the school soccer season too, and much though I like to see my sporty daughter learning teamwork and running around enjoying herself, I have NOTICED how often a snow-chilled wind is laid on especially for the after school practice, and as for getting up for 9am muddy games every Saturday morning… well. I’m glad she enjoys it. I am. But I am ready for it to be done.

Also, school. School holidays have been a source of stress for me in the past – stress and unwork – but in my current lifestyle, with a bouncy three-year-old at home to entertain, having the cheerful and responsible seven-year-old join us for two weeks sounds like bliss. BLISS.

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Motherhood: the Ultimate Writing Accessory?

The Frisky pointed to an article in the Telegraph by Amanda Craig about Maeve Binchy’s career, and the difference between women writers who are mothers and those who are not.

At first, coming in on a wave of The Frisky’s outrage, I thought it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. After all, it did acknowledge a whole bunch of pros and cons for juggling writing and motherhood, and seemed to be balanced. But the more I read, the less balanced it seemed. Because it’s not as it turns out an article about how women are screwed no matter what they do (though that is the ultimate message). It’s an article about how women writers who are also mothers are simultaneously a suffering underclass, and a tribe representing superiority.

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How I Write (Right Now)

Nicole Murphy has a regular series up on her blog, interviewing writers about their habits and their processes. I am her star of the week, talking about my habits here, and my processes here.

It’s a while since I have checked in with myself about what I’m doing and how I do it, so it was kind of fascinating to me to roll out these answers.

“I usually have one primary and a couple of secondary projects. This is the first year in a very long time I have allowed myself to have multiple projects, none of which are headline acts. I can write half a chapter of a novel, or 200 words each across 5 short stories if I want. Later in the year, as my projects consolidate, I intend to be a bit firmer about prioritising certain novels, but right now I’m letting myself write quite freely which is – terrifying and enchanting at the same time.”

I knew I was doing something completely different this year, but it hadn’t sunk in quite how much I have changed the way I work for 2012. It could be scary, except that I’ve been doing this long enough to know that my methods are always fluid, always changing. What works for me now is not necessarily what will work even one book from now, let alone three.

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Mothering, Writing, Pilating, Guilt

I finished my short story! It feels like a big achievement, the first thing finished of the year. This is going to be my year of finishing things, and rewriting things, and submitting things. Many things. For the first time in a while, I don’t have a contract or official deadlines which means I have to MAKE MY OWN.

Today is Pilates Day, an activity I took up when Justine Larbalestier started evangelising about how important it was for writers to start that kind of stuff BEFORE developing RSI or some other work related injury. When I started, it was amazing how many people were there to fix something awful they had done to their bodies. I would feel a bit abashed about being there pre-emptively, but it seems the thing to do.

Pilates is one of those things I had to circumvent a lot of guilt to allow myself to do – because it’s something that’s about ME and not the family. Especially when I was using household money to pay my way – but since our last big budget rehaul, I’ve been paying for it myself and buying less things on the internet in order to do so, which means I feel less like I have to justify This Thing.

(I know, by the way, that I shouldn’t have to justify it, and what’s good for me is good for the family and so on, but logic is logic and guilt is guilt)

Managing guilt is a huge aspect to being a working mother. Or a mother full stop, I guess. (it’s also one of the hardest aspects to reconcile with being a feminist – what works in theory often falls down in practice, and when the baby’s screaming, theory doesn’t help much!) I find it interesting when talking to other mothers that we all have different lines of guilt, those which we cross regularly and feel bad about, those which we try not to cross and feel AWFUL about, and those which we are okay with.

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Writing – Mothering – Balancing

It occurs to me that the blog has become less and less personal. I write a lot of pop culture essays, and put up links, but I don’t talk much any more about process, or my writing career, or even personal everyday stuff.

I’m not sure why that it – the process stuff I understand, because I’m so wrapped up in the -aargh- phase of finishing my new novel that I’m not ready to talk about it. And, you know, my kids are cute and all, but there’s only so many pictures I can post of them dressed as Doctor Who characters.

Still, I’d like to continue talking about home and domestic stuff, if only to continue my theme of – hey, writing and parenting, go together pretty well but it’s HARD sometimes.

I didn’t work this weekend at all. I often don’t – taking weekends has been a big and important step for me, and one I’ve only come to in recent years. Partly it was deprogramming from the PhD years, and partly a symptom of working from home – I’ve always been self-employed/freelance/creative and that means you never have a structured day off. You have to make one.

As a parent, the weekend is the time when I have a fellow parent home all day, and there’s a lovely decadence in that. Baby smells whiffy, there’s a 50-50 chance I don’t have to deal with it! But because of that, I regularly slip into the bad habit of assuming I will get more done on the weekend than I actually do, and feeling on Monday like I’m WAY BEHIND which is stressful and horrid.

Also there’s the thing where, during the precious Nap Hours that still occur most days (that’s when the 2 year old naps, not the rest of us), my seven year old daughter quite reasonably expects that sometimes we’ll do something together. Something Jem-free. I had no qualms about telling her to go read a comic or something, Mummy was busy, during the school holidays, but now she’s back at school, there are very few Mummy-Raeli-Jemfree hours.

So I try to keep my expectations of the weekend to a minimum, unless I have a dire deadline. This weekend, once I got the head’s up that we were going to have crazy 35 degree days with it not cooling down much at night (a rare occurrence in the Tassie summer) I decided that okay, I wasn’t going to try to get ANYTHING done this weekend at all, except for maybe catching up on my bookshelf reading.

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