Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Maggie O'Farrell with her daughter Iris
(Photograph: Graham Turner for The Guardian)

Recent Costa-winner Maggie O'Farrell was born in Derry but if she considers herself Scottish, why are we trying to claim her? It's just another irritating national tic - trying to find the Irish angle to everything. President Obama's ancestors were from Moneygall in Offaly, dontchaknow...

Anyway, I enjoyed the profile of Maggie O'Farrell in the Sunday Times where she is reported to have said the wonderful line: 'Motherhood is a great editor.' With less time to write after the birth of her second child (empathise, empathise) she now 'devotes herself only to those ideas she believes are good.' Nice one, Mags. It's just what happens, isn't it? Everything gets madly condensed with kids around so you zone in on what matters in the writing.

When I complain that I haven't enough time to write, people keep saying to me, 'Stop wishing your kids' lives away'. I'm not wishing their lives away! I just want more time to write. There are 168 hours in a week. I can only afford childcare for 10 of those. So I have 10 small hours a week to write. The other 158 are pretty much devoted to my kids and sleep.

The odd thing is, the people who've said this to me are often writers and mothers too. But I'm on to them: none of them wrote when they had small children. So there's the difference. What irritates me is that they seem to resent that I am even trying to write with kids around me and, worse, that I'm succeeding. But worse again I have the audacity to want more time. Who do I think I am??!! The implication is that by wanting more writing hours I am somehow neglecting my children. Hmmm.

Most (all?) of my friends either have no kids or grown-up kids. I think I need a writer friend in the same boat as me, so we can bolster each other up when we feel a bit hard done by time-wise, and just for general writerly support.

But back to Maggie. She says that Cyril Connolly's dictum about the pram in the hall being the enemy of art (which I wrote about here) is 'offensive and misogynistic' and that some people take a gleeful pleasure in taunting female artists 'for the hubris of having children and attempting to have a creative life'. Here, here, Maggie.

In another interview when asked what she most enjoys about writing, she says, 'I love the solitude and the secrecy of it - as well as the escapism.' Ditto!!

Both Maggie and I suffered secondary infertility but went on to have little girls in 2009. And, like me, she is a vegetarian. Unlike me, she swims every day and doesn't drink alcohol or tea, but I think me and Maggie could be good pals. I wonder if she's in the market for a fellow mother-writer friend? Yes, probably not...


Kar said...

Great post Nu. Who do those people think they are to even entertain the idea that any mother would wish their children’s lives away! Maybe it goes back to how they felt when they’d small children and now they have the guilt’s and regrets?
I hear you on those precious 10 hours you have to write, and I think it’s perfectly ok to say ‘I’d love more time to write!’.
I do not have children and therefore I can only imagine how hard it is to balance a toddler, a child, a teenager, a husband, cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping etc. (need I go on?) with a writing life. And if I can say I think that you’ve achieved millions while rearing a young family! You are disciplined, focused and passionate about what you do. I dream about writing and blame working full time on me not doing more, but there are no excuses if I want it I’ve just got to make the time – oh to be the lady who has all that wonderful time to do as they please, one day Nu one day…


Thanks a million, Kar. I am doubly frustrated at the mo as I have no car for the last week.
No car = no creche = no writing.
I feel mad!!!! And I want to scream at the mechanic...

Emily said...

Oh Nuala, I could cry with empathy... I know exactly how you feel, but thankfully have been able to work around them and with them (the children) for a lot of preliminary painting work... and then explode with feverish activity in the couple of hours I have to myself... I couldn't imagine that working if I were a writer- I find it hard enough to stitch a sentence for the blog together when I have them in the house with me!! Hope your car is fixed really soon....


Cheers Emily - I'm glad you understand. No need for tears but let's have a cuppa sometime soon, with the kids!


There are lots of comments on my FB page about this, including some from super writers Francesca Rhydderch and Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

Niamh B said...

I don't know how people write while pregnant, let alone keeping it going with toddlers around, though I am hoping to figure it out some time!!


Hi Niamh
I definitely slacked off at the end of my last pregnancy. My brain was mushy.
But I was champing to write as soon as my brain recovered when baby was a couple of months old.
I gave her a year at home now she goes to creche 3 mornings a week. Or at least she does when I have a working car. Which I don't just now. Grrr.
Happy new year, my dear!
Nuala x

Niamh B said...

A year at home is a lot more than a lot of babies get. Nice to hear the writing bit of the brain recovered anyway.

Many Happy Returns, and keep on inspiring us all with the constant pushing on! Hope the car gets sorted v soon!

Words A Day said...

I enjoyed this post -
did a lot of nodding!

Everytime I'm asked by a certain someone "what would you like for xmas/your birthday..." I always say the same thing - time to write. Thats all time to write. Do I get it...not really, it doesnt seem to translate!

It would be valuable, it doesnt mean I don't enjoy/love my kids, I don't wish them away...I would just like a regular time (everyday! how greedy!) to turn up on the page. I've had to reconcile myself to the fact that I'm going to be a different kind of writer during these years than the one I'm going to be when I'm old, an utterly selfish witch who has a "feck of" notice on my front door!
Hope you get your time!


Ha ha, Niamh - I think I will join you in the 'Feck off' notice!
I do so wish you could claim that time. I am priveleged with my 10 hours a week and I LOVE it. I just am greedy for more. There is a certain amount of 'acceptance' that I resist, because I ALWAYS want to be writing/reading/researching.
Still, Niamh, we do what we can and we're not doing badly - with both our kids and our writing ;)

Anna May said...

Hi Nuala,
when my lot were small I confess I gave up even trying to write for years. With four children under three years old I never seemed to find the time, and on the rare occasions when I did, I had no energy and usually decided to have a bath instead!
I really admire your determination and your ability to write in short time frames, and I'm sure your children enrich your work even though at the moment they often stop you doing it.
Anna May x


Anna May - they do enrich my work and I adore them. Happy New Year!
N x

motherdear said...

I think all the writing moms should unite, as you suggest, just to bolster each other up! I have 6 kids ranging from 2 to 15 and I usually do all my writing at night! Lately, as I sit down to write at about 10pm,(tired from a day of toddlers) my teen wants that quiet time as chat time - cant turn him away - oh joy! To just be able to squueze in some writing time! x


Hi Motherdear - that's the thing with kids, they always come first, right? And that's as it should be :) Empathy! I hope you get more time to write soon. N x

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks for linking back to this - Can't understand how I missed it - this month's been like reading a book with the beginning missing.

I always wrote, but my kids were really the catalyst for me to push myself to actually get somewhere with my writing. So I have much to be glad for. Like Maggie said, kids are wonderful editors. I think the difficulty with writing when you have kids, particularly as a mother, is that inability to "switch off" to them - even if a partner etc is looking after them.

But I'm sick as a diving pony mule of people telling me "you don't have to write", you know, like, you brought it on yourself. True for some, but I do have to write. My kids wouldn't have a happy mummy if I didn't write and that wouldn't be good for any of us.

Great post.


Rae - you said "I think the difficulty with writing when you have kids, particularly as a mother, is that inability to "switch off" to them - even if a partner etc is looking after them."
Exactly! It's impossible, hence the need for actually alone time.

Re. your other point - grrrrrrr. When I had Juno and I was moaning about not being able to write, my mother said 'Give it up for a while.' Arrghhh!!! I lost the plot with her, explaining it was one of the things in my life keeping me sane etc. etc.
Empathy. The cheek of people!