“Heidi and Jason aren’t like other couples.
Six years ago, Heidi’s daughter was murdered. A year later, Jason’s son Barney disappeared. Their shared loss brought them together.
By chance, Heidi meets a boy she’s certain is Barney.
But Jason is equally convinced it’s not him.
Is Heidi mad? Or is Jason hiding something? And can their fragile marriage survive Heidi’s newfound quest for the truth . . .”
Today it’s my turn on the My Husband’s Son blog tour and I am beyond thrilled to share a superb guest post with you. Deborah O’Connor had a few ideas for guest posts, things she wanted to write about. As soon as I saw the title I had to have this post on damppebbles. It’s amazing and the thing I love the most, it’s completely honest. Over to you Deborah…
THE BUGABOO IN THE HALL: DOES HAVING KIDS MAKE IT HARDER TO BE A WRITER?
Halfway through my novel-writing course at the Faber Academy I asked our teacher, Louise Doughty, what she thought about Cyril Connolly’s infamous phrase: ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall’. At the time I had yet to have a baby but I was thinking about it and I was worried that, once it happened, I might struggle to ever find the time to write again. Louise was her usual brilliant self and told us that she actually felt like she became a better writer after having her children, because her work was no longer just about her anymore. As she saw it, the stakes were raised. And the stakes being raised gave her even more impetus. Now when she set pen to paper she wasn’t just doing it for herself she was doing it for her family, for all of them.
I finished the Faber course and continued with my first draft of My Husband’s Son, then I fell pregnant. Suddenly I found myself holding down a busy full-time job, delirious with morning sickness and exhaustion, at the same time as trying to finish my book. I was terrified. I knew how hard I’d found it to carve out time while working. How on earth would I manage once my baby arrived? And so, even though all I wanted to do when I got home from work every night was, eat pasta lie down and go to sleep, I’d get home around 7.30pm, shove some food in my gob, then get out my laptop, arrange myself on the sofa and try to summon the energy to write. I felt like I was in a race against time with my burgeoning bump. I was convinced that if I didn’t manage to finish it before my contractions started it would be game over and the manuscript would be forever consigned to a dusty drawer, forgotten about, while I tried to contend with a baby and a job and a life.
Below is a picture of me on one of those nights. My bump peeking out below my laptop. At the time my husband posted this on Facebook with the caption #deadlines.
And this is a picture of me in my actual hall with my actual Bugaboo we’d purchased from Mothercare (and dear reader, if you think my boobs look massive in this photo then you should have seen them when my milk came in. Each breast was the same size as my head. My actual head. Remember that line from the kid in Jerry Maguire about the human head weighing 8 pounds. I’ll leave that thought with you).
Anyways, I managed to finish the first draft a week or so before my daughter arrived and then I entered the crazy all-consuming worm-hole that it the lot of any new mother. We knew it would be hard but we hadn’t accounted for the horror that is colic. For three months after Every Single Feed our daughter would scream in agony and then every night from about 5pm she would scream continuously for five or six hours, no matter what we tried to do to soothe her. Nevermind reworking my novel, now I found myself struggling to find the time or energy to have a shower and a sandwich let alone puzzle over the bits of my plot that didn’t quite sing true.
When she reached four months our lives started to stabilise I little and I tried to go back to my writing. But the baby would only nap for 40 minutes at once and the fact that I was getting only four or so hours sleep every night meant I couldn’t think straight. Terrified my dream of becoming a writer was slipping away, I had another conversation with Louise. This time on the phone. She must have heard the fear and desperation in my voice because unprompted, she offered more sage advice. ‘Don’t worry, you will get to write again. It gets easier, the baby will get easier, I promise.’ I wanted to believe her I really did, but at that moment I couldn’t see how I’d ever have enough sleep, energy or time to ever write again. Cyril Connolly’s words rattled around my brain. Was he right? Was it all over?
Then, when my daughter reached six months, everything changed. Now she was napping for two, continuous gold-dust like hours every day. Plus, I was getting a little more unbroken sleep at night. For the first time in half year I read back through my first draft. The distance had given me a much needed perspective. Now I could see what was wrong with the manuscript and how to fix it. My life took on a new rhythm. Mornings were spent with my daughter, at baby yoga, in the park, at playgroups, then come midday, I’d put her down for her nap and race to my desk. I guarded this time jealously. People might suggest coming by for lunch and I’d politely put them off until later in the day. These hours were everything. I found I had a new focus, a new determination, a new efficiency that I didn’t have before I became a mother. Now, whenever Cyril Connolly popped up in my head I gave him the finger.
The rewrite took time. My maternity leave came to an end and I still had yet to finish redrafting the book. I went back to work and my nap-writing times were curtailed to weekends. It took another year but I finished my novel. And I truly believe it was so much better than it would have been had I not had that forced six month hiatus.
Now my daughter is a little older and these days she prefers her scooter or bike over the Bugaboo, but this stage brings with it a whole new set of challenges on how to combine my job and my family life and my writing. My husband gives me the time to write every Saturday and Sunday morning from 7am 12.30 but even though he’s busy entertaining her with jigsaws or building a den in the kitchen she knows I’m upstairs and every now and again she decides she wants to be with me and do what I’m doing. That’s when I end up in a situation like this. Writing fairly dark prose while a four year old with a purple laptop lies opposite me, also ‘writing’.
I know now that having kids makes everything harder: being able to go out to a kettle-bell class, sleeping past the hour of 6.30am, hangovers. But these are practicalities. If you’re clever you can find ways around them: the soft play is your friend (at least one hour of writing time right there), Netflix is your friend (yeah I let my kid watch a movie sometimes while I knock out another 300 words. Bite me), anyone who offers you free childcare for a few hours is your friend.
Ultimately, Louise was right. So if you’re currently in the middle of those dark, delirious sleep-deprived days, up to your elbows in sudocrem and shitty nappies then have faith. You will go back to your writing. You will write your book. It is entirely possible. It does get easier. The bugaboo in the hall is bullshit. I promise.
Totally amazing and so honest, I love it. Thanks Deborah for taking the time to write this piece for me and for including your beautiful photos too. My review of My Husband’s Son will be up on the blog soon.
Deborah O’Connor is a writer and TV producer. Born and bred in the North-East of England. In 2010 she completed the Faber Academy novel writing course. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. Connect with Deborah on Twitter via @deboc77