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Friday, 27 April 2012

Published Author Ruth Thomas On Writing and Children

We are thrilled to have Ruth Thomas answering some questions today about mothering and writing.  She is the author of the novel, Things to Make and Mend, and  short story collections, Super girl, The Dance Settee, and Sea Monster Tattoo.  I am always impressed by women who manage to mother and write, and Ruth has been gracious enough to offer some insights about her own journey toward publication.

How did you manage the demands of young children and writing?  What did your schedule look like?  (Did you have child care during the day or did you only write in the evening?)
I have three  children, aged eleven, nine and five. When they were babies I gave up writing entirely for the first six months of their lives (ie, there's been a year and a half in the past decade when I haven't written at all.) I thought it would be less stressful to accept that small babies and a meaningful writing life can be pretty incompatible - apart from anything else, you just get so tired you can hardly speak, let alone construct honed sentences at a computer keyboard! I also just wanted to enjoy my children's baby-days rather than spend the first few months of their lives feeling frustrated and anxious that I wasn't producing any work. After they were six months, they all went to nursery for about three mornings a week (approx. 9 - 1) so I was able to get back into some kind of writing routine. This echoed the way I'd always worked before I had children - ie, I used to combine half a day's writing with half a day of paid work. (Of course, I wasn't earning any money now though, so our income nose-dived, as did the tidiness of our house... ) From the age of three, the children went to state-subsidised nursery school, which improved our dwindling resources a little, but not the amount of time I had to write. I rarely write in the evening because I'm not an 'evening person' - I just get too tired. I do try to keep a notebook, but that's very dependent on whether I remember to put it in my bag!

What is your schedule like now that you are published?  Is it easier?
Strangely enough, although my children are older now and at school, I don't feel that I have much more time to write. I think this is partly because I am working on novels at the moment, which require a lot more thinking time: it's hard to focus on the plot and structure of a longer piece of work when you're always having to break off to pick the children up, cook tea, wash school uniform, help with homework etc. I don't think being published has any bearing on my schedule - I suppose if you had some huge advance from a publisher, you could maybe afford extra childcare, but I wouldn't want that (the extra childcare, not the advance!) I value my writing life hugely but I would be very sad to feel that I was prioritising my writing career ahead of my children. I also think it would be detrimental to my writing - ie, if you get too precious about it, it can end up a bit navel-gazing. I think the distinction between 'writer' and 'published writer' is fairly academic - ie, if you want to write you will find some way to do it, whether you have children or not, and whether it gets published or not.

Describe your journey as a writer before and after children.
I began my writing life in the early '90s after graduating from university and finding myself temporarily unemployed... I started with short stories (which remain my first love as far as literary genre is concerned.) I wrote two collections, 'Sea Monster Tattoo' and 'The Dance Settee' and these were published in 1997 and 1999 respectively (both Polygon.) My daughter was born in early 2001, and my sons in 2002 and 2006. This explains, really, why I had nothing else published till 2007, when my first novel, 'Things to Make and Mend' was brought out by Faber. I wrote this between about 2003 - 2007, when I could grab the time between family commitments. I'd never attempted a novel before, and the way I went about structuring the plot was to 'piece' scenes together over different times and locations, which suited the sporadic chunks of time available to me.

Tell us about your new book and when it's coming out, and if/when you are having a signing!
My new novel will be published by Faber in Spring '13. It's set in a Scottish primary school in the early 1990s (I couldn't have written it without having first-hand knowledge, as a mother, about primary-school life...) Please check Faber's website a bit nearer the time for more details.

Thanks so much for your insights, Ruth.  Her books are available on Amazon and of course, always ask at your local bookstore.  I am reading Things to Make and Mend and really enjoying it.

Tune in on Monday to read about dealing with rejection!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting - particularly as I find the biggest difference in my daytime writing schedule has come from nursery in the morning, rather than having one child in school all day. School seems to take up a lot of time. I write mostly in the evening, starting about 9.30 or ten-ish but if I had my choice I like to write about 6pm onwards.