Writer and critic Cyril Connolly’s infamous pronouncement, ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,’ is pretty damning when it comes to the impact of children on a parent’s creative life. Okay, full disclosure: as I write this, my son is home from school with Covid. I’m on the sofa with my laptop balanced on my knees, my boy curled into my side, and Encanto is playing for the twentieth time (Bruno is definitely being talked about – a lot). Any plans I had for the day, creative or otherwise, are largely on hold. But the thing is, my years as a mum – and my years working with writers who happen to be mums – have given me the proof to say, Cyril, you are deeply wrong.
Patriarchal society has long expected us to regard motherhood as something ordinary when, as any mum reading this will know, it is anything but. From the ways our bodies change during pregnancy, to the intensity of birth, to the ever-changing landscape beyond, motherhood is a profound experience, and utterly transformative – making it the perfect catalyst for creativity. Every mother out there has stories to tell. Tales of love and wonder and pain and guilt. Of tenderness and heart-stopping fear. Of, as the poet Liz Berry puts it, ‘unbearable skinless beauty.’ What can we possibly do with all this feeling? Well, write, of course!
As a novelist working to deadline, I wrote all through my son’s babyhood. My writing gave freedom and it gave me control – both of which were otherwise in short supply at the time. While I couldn’t stop getting blocked ducts, or make Calvin cease crying at that 5pm witching hour, or know whether our co-sleeping was totally ill-advised or, actually, a perfect arrangement for all of us, I could decide things for my characters, paint a setting just the way I liked it, and hold tight to the story I wanted to tell. I cherished the space that writing gave me back then. And eight years on, I treasure it still.
If you don’t have a book contract, or an obvious way of seeing your writing as a professional endeavour, it can perhaps feel that bit harder to justify the time amidst the demands of family life. But justify it you must – because, basically, no one else is going to do it for you. Ink it on that family planner and underline it too. Working on a novel is space to hear yourself think and make your voice heard – on your terms – and that’s true whether you’re writing a sinister psychological thriller, a breezy romance, or an experimental literary novel. At The Novelry, our courses ask writer to commit just one hour a day of writing time, and everybody – absolute beginners and more seasoned writers alike – manages to find that hour somewhere, whether it’s setting the alarm before the children get up, or cocooning away at the end of the day. We call it the Golden Hour for a reason: it’s precious.
When you’re writing, you get to be whatever, wherever, and whoever, you want to be. You can slip your skin, shed your responsibilities, fly to far-off planets or have another chance with the one who got away. Your book idea may begin as just an inkling, the smallest twinkling, but by committing time and space you’ll watch it grow brighter and stronger, line by line, draft by draft. Give it half a chance, and your writing will colour all your days, leaving you feeling more creative and free, even when practical matters are keeping your feet on the ground (that said, Agatha Christie reckoned ‘the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes’). As you find your routine, you’ll discover that family life and the writing life can happily co-exist. In fact, they can nourish one another. And through it all, your children get to see you making time for something simply because you love it and it’s important to you – and I know that’s the kind of example I want to set to my son.
Motherhood gives us a great many gifts: make one of them the confidence to say, ‘I deserve this.’ Take some of that tending and nurturing you do for others and turn it in your own direction. Living with children is a constant reminder of the passage of time: the pencilled height marks on the door frame, the outgrown shoes, the fiercely loved but now discarded toys. It all goes by so very fast. So don’t wait for the perfect moment to come, before finally trying your hand at that novel. The truth is, the perfect moment is now: right in the middle of the chaos, the clamour, and the glorious muddle of motherhood.
With online creative writing courses for those at any stage of their writing, including beginners, The Novelry takes writers from the very kernel of an idea through to a polished manuscript ready for literary agent submission. With mentoring from bestselling authors and editorial advice from leading industry professionals, The Novelry is the writing school recommended by leading literary agents.
Emylia Hall is the author of four novels: The Book of Summers, A Heart Bent Out of Shape, The Sea Between Us and The Thousand Lights Hotel. Her new cosy crime series, The Shell House Detectives, will launch in May 2023.