Monday, March 30, 2015

Cate Blanchett in Vogue on art and motherhood

As you would imagine, I pretty desperately wanted Cate Blanchett to be in the first edition of The Divided Heart. She was an obvious choice.

I bugged her twice about it -- and her agent very politely declined on her behalf each time.

As I was nearing the deadline to get the manuscript to my publisher, my partner took the kids on a camping trip with a group of friends to give me the space and time to get it finished.

On the way back home they stopped at a small town for a drink and who should be the only other family in the cafe but Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and their kids!

They got to talking. My partner told them he was looking forward to seeing what the pair did with the Sydney Theatre Company (they were about to start their joint directorship), and Blanchett found some sensitive way to inquire where "Mum was".

"Funnily enough," my partner told her, "she's at home trying to finish her book -- on art and motherhood. A book she really wanted you to be in, actually."

To which Blanchett said something along the lines of: "Oh, that old 'art and motherhood are incompatible' idea...".

"Well, no, clearly not just that," he said, "since you're managing to do both."

My partner is a very charming man, but sadly nothing he said helped change her mind. Obviously she's not a woman swayed by the power of coincidence!

A few weeks ago, the Good Weekend published a lovely piece by author Anna Funder about Jessica Anderson's novel Tirra Lirra by the River (one of my favourite books of all time!).

In commenting on the novel's main character, Funder said:
...wanting life and art both -- desires that in Brisbane in the early 20th century could not speak their name, and that are probably pretty difficult to reconcile without a lot of collateral damage, in any life. Indeed as I write this, in time bought from a babysitter, bargained from my husband and stolen from my children, the risk of collateral damage feels closer than I'd like. 

Even Anna Funder -- an assured writer, and a critical and commercial success -- still confronts the feeling that time for writing is bought, borrowed and stolen from her family, at some risk.

It is Funder that Cate Blanchett has chosen to speak to on the subject of art and motherhood in the latest issue of Vogue -- you'll have to buy the mag for the real thing, but here's news.com.au's little write-up about it. No doubt Blanchett is (understandably) offering Vogue the definitive exclusive as some way of deflecting the onslaught of interest in her new baby girl.

And so I'm still a little bit sad that Blanchett didn't want to be in my book, but all power to the wonderful Anna Funder -- who'll no doubt conduct a fabulous interview, which I look forward to reading!

Oh - and there's an excerpt from my introduction of Creativity & Motherhood: The Divided Heart in ArtsHub today -- if you'd like to, you can read it here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Holly Throsby on motherhood and music

It is really sad when you’re in a same-sex relationship, that you can’t create a baby with your partner. I really went through that feeling, we both did – just looking at your partner and wishing so much that we could combine our genes and make a baby together like heterosexual couples can. But of course we cannot do that, so it was very planned.

This was musician Holly Throsby's very generous and heartbreaking answer to perhaps the silliest question I asked of anyone while doing interviews for Motherhood & Creativity: "So getting pregnant was a very deliberate decision for you then?" Duh!

I felt genuinely shamefaced, less about my stupid question than by the fact that I had never really fully considered this inherent predicament for same-sex couples: the deep frustration and sadness that would come of not being able to make a baby with the person you love.

Her comments on sexism in the music industry were also fascinating:

Women always get asked about how they juggle work and family life, and men never do. I’ve even been asked that on Clare’s behalf – I did an interview a few years ago where the first question was, ‘How do you find touring with three children?’ And I was like: ‘That’s Clare Bowditch, not me!’

But I remember thinking that if I was Clare Bowditch, that would have been my first question. So it’s obviously true that that happens. I’ve been asked a lot about what it’s like to be a female musician in a male-dominated industry, and I’ve spent my entire career being compared not just to other female musicians, but to other Australian female musicians. It’s as though, when it comes to music, nobody can draw a comparison beyond this small pool that you live in. So many of us are so heavily influenced by men too – or not just by music, but books and films and so on as well – but journalists’ references can be so narrow.

I was so grateful for Holly's openness throughout our conversation. She is one super smart, super warm and super talented woman. You can read an excerpt from her book chapter in Junkee here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Q&A on motherhood and creativity in Daily Review

Just a quick post to let you know that over at the Daily Review online site is a Q&A with me about Creativity & Motherhood: The Divided Heart.

But better then that, they've run an excerpt from the book - my interview with the extradordinary visual artist Lily Mae Martin. A genuine sneak peak!

If you haven't discovered Lily's work yet, then prepare to be blown away by her ferocious talent here.

Please leave some comments on the Daily Review site, if you have them. Let them know that art and mothering, combined, is a subject that means something to you - and is worth talking about!

And this is us (Pip, Clare and me) with the man himself, Mr Jon Faine. If you want to take a listen to yesterday's Conversation Hour on ABC's 774, you can - here.

Thank you for your support - it means a lot to me. x

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding the words...

Me and crafty author Pip Lincolne (pic: Clare Bowditch)
I was in my favourite cafe today, feeling a little shaken by the mixed reception to the "motherhood and creativity" subject from radio listeners yesterday and trying to recover my confidence with the help of too much caffeine.

The waitress serving me my coffee glanced at my copy of Motherhood & Creativity and asked if she could take a look.

Flicking through it she told me that, as a photographer with a three-year-old son, the book "looks like exactly what I need".

I asked how she was managing things and she said that she'd been struggling to find any balance until she got some great advice. "A woman told me to give myself the permission to go for what I want, and to be unforgiving."

Hurrah! Couldn't have said it better myself. "Permission" is such an important word for women -- one I use all the time! And the perfect thing for me to hear in that moment, too.

I have had a lot of thoughts swirling around my head since Clare, Pip and I took part in ABC774's Conversation Hour with Jon Faine yesterday.

If you listened in you'll know that the conversation went off in some pretty difficult directions. Overall, it made realise how important it is to keep validating the importance of creativity in our lives -- and that I need to find the words, and the strength, to keep doing just that.

Ever since I published The Divided Heart, I have been confronted by the number of detractors who (usually without actually reading the book) are determined to see it as a book of complaint -- privileged women indulging their hobbies and whingeing about their kids.

Not only does this attitude ignore the fact that art is the real work and livelihood of the women I have interviewed, it ignores just how central creativity is to a meaningful life for so many of us. To those who suggest this means they are not "putting their children first" -- surely kids are much better off with a mother who feels fulfilled and alive (if occasionally distracted and serving up Weetbix for dinner) than one who is profoundly frustrated and bereft!

(It was lovely it was to get the supportive text to the ABC from actor/musician Justine Clarke's husband while we were on air. What a man! Comments like those made all the difference.)

I could go on, except that the very eloquent Pip Lincolne has done it so much better in her blog post here - as have those who've responded. As she says, "Being creative or seeking fulfilment and meaning are not  ‘first world problems’. Everyone deserves to live a full life, whatever that means to them. If we’re not here to make the most of things, what the heck are we here for? Someone? Anyone? Monty Python?!"

Monty Python might have a better answer, but in the world that we live in now, I'd suggest it's consumerism that's taking the place of creativity in many people's lives, and look where that's getting us...

Overland has a wonderful piece by Alice Robinson, "The Literary Mother Load", in the current issue of the magazine.

Robinson sums up the situation beautifully with her statement that "as a stay-at-home parent by day, a writer by night, I am doing what untold numbers of people in each camp, and all those in both, are doing: two challenging but largely unpaid jobs. ... each undervalued in the remunerative sense, but fundamental in the cultural." Hear, hear.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Motherhood & Creativity on the airwaves...

The build-up to the release of Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart feels like it's been going on forever! But it should be available online soon and in bookshops any day now.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 25 March) Clare Bowditch, Pip Lincolne and I will be on radio to talk about the big themes: Motherhood and Creativity. We'll be on ABC774's Conversation Hour with Jon Faine from 11am to 12pm (Melbourne time), and you can tune in here. I may have even heard rumour of a talkback if you feel like joining in...

I will also be chatting to musican and radio host Leah Avene (aka Philemon) on her PBS 106.7 show All Our stories on April 13 from about 1pm.

And... the official book launch will be on Wednesday May 6 at Readings Bookshop in Carlton - will keep you posted on the details about this one.

Oh yeah, last but definitely not least, I'll be at the Sydney Writers Festival to facilitate a discussion between a couple of firebrands who I'm not yet allowed to name -- but I can tell you that the idea of matching these ladies on stage is making me very, very nervous!

Catch you somewhere soon, I hope...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart - take 2!

http://www.affirmpress.com.au/motherhood-creativity
It's landed! The new edition of Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart will be in bookshops in late March/April, and I can now finally tell you that new interviewees include Claudia Karvan, Holly Throsby, Del Kathryn Barton, Cate Kennedy, Pip Lincolne and more...

It also features a heartfelt and beautifully written Prelude from Clare Bowditch that makes me cry every time I read it.

Because it's Women's Day, I felt especially justified today in leaving my partner at home with the kids, and taking off down the street for a coffee. Blessedly alone (for once).

I grabbed the cafe's copy of Sunday Life (which my partner dubs Sunday Wife) and flicked through today's slightly more nourishing fare than the usual array of unaffordable fashion, unattainable beauty, unfeasible lifestyles and unrealistic diets. They did chuck in a story about Paris Hilton (apparently "not half as dumb as she is painted"), just to avoid getting too wholesome.

But they redeemed themselves -- and did Women's Day proper justice -- with this week's "What I Know About Men" column, featuring the formidable Chrissie Hynde.

Hynde has two children: Natalie (to Ray Davies of the Kinks) and Yasmin (to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds). Hynde didn't tour for eight years as she was raising her daughters on her own "with great difficulty", she says.

I didn't have a man waiting at home to mind the kids while I went out on tour. That wasn't an option for me. I have always been on my own and never relied on a guy. A woman has a great responsibility for her children and I had to stop everything. The upside is that I got to be with my kids every day, so I am clearly the winner.

It's a great summary of the sentiments shared by so many of the artists in my book: lamenting the creative sacrifices they've made as a mother, while at the same time relishing the time spent with their children. If I ever manage to compile an international edition of Creativity & Motherhood, Hynde will be on my wish-list of interviews! Who else? You tell me!

In the meantime, I'm just so pleased to have a revised edition of The Divided Heart in print. I hope it will serve as an addition to, and not a replacement for, the original (which remains so dear to my heart). I will keep you posted here about related events, including the book launch, and sessions at the Sydney, Melbourne and Williamstown Writers Festivals. I will also be selling copies from this here blog.

I salute you, sisters! Happy International Women's Day!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

In the spirit of full disclosure: why money matters when it comes to art

I have always enjoyed the company of people who are willing to be candid. Perhaps because candidness tends to require other traits that I admire: self-reflection, generosity, self-deprecation, openness…

Admittedly, I am a journalist and so I rely on people’s willingness to be honest and articulate about their feelings or experiences. But in my personal life, too, there’s nothing I like more than conversations had in the spirit of full disclosure.

I don’t mean that I want to know everyone’s secrets. Privacy is important, too – and relationships would be way too intense without it! But one of the things I’ve come to understand over the years is that there is a big difference between that which is profoundly personal and that which is actually private.

The Divided Heart relied on women’s willingness to be (at times searingly) honest about their experience of mothering, without requiring them to tell me anything specific about their children or their partners. That said, it still meant talking about the circumstances of their lives. In a book which is all about dismantling the romantic myths of the artistic life, it would be naïve and, essentially, dishonest, not to be frank about the context in which we live and work.

And if you’re going to publish a book of conversations, the last thing you want is a book of “polite conversations”!

This is in part why, of all the actors I could have approached, I chose to interview Rachel Griffiths – because she is so refreshingly upfront about the role that earning big money and having a stay-at-home husband has played in her ability to pursue her acting career as a mother. And about the downsides of that. When asked about her decision to move back to Australia recently, Rachel admitted: “I had really not seen my children enough, I’d outsourced a lot of that child stuff in order to do 70 to 80 hour weeks on set and I just wanted my kids to actually like me.”

Some of my interviewees were more relaxed than others about this line of questioning, especially when it came to the matter of money. But on the whole they were extraordinarily generous about discussing the kinds of support that enable their creative work.

Yes, people can overcome all manner of obstacles, and do make all manner of sacrifices, in order to make art. And some have more robust practices, not to mention egos, than others.

No amount of advantage can trump talent. But talent is only one tiny piece of a puzzle that is largely made up of practice and perseverance. It can be pretty difficult to make anything of your talent without the time and freedom to develop – and, at the end of the day, money buys time. For most of us, that means support (moral, emotional, financial) is crucial.

The conditions of our life can make all the difference when it comes to creativity – if not in our basic capacity to create, then almost always in our level of output. As someone who has been interested in the lives of women artists over the centuries, this has been patently clear to me.

In a more contemporary context, though, it has to be said that partners have often replaced patrons as the “sponsor” of many artists. And I, for one, am grateful when an artist is willing to admit that having a partner who brings in a sizeable income – and is happy to provide that support – is what allows them to focus on writing (or painting or composing…), as writer Ann Bauer does in her recent Salon article, '"Sponsored" by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from'.

What this satisfies for me I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps, as a mother who also works full time, it makes me feel more justified (or less guilty) in doing so little creative work! Perhaps it just highlights the important ongoing problem of making any kind of living in the arts without support. Or perhaps it’s just refreshing when people recognise and admit to their good fortune. Then the rest of us can express our envy openly and generously!

Whatever it is, I appreciate it in the spirit of candidness, disclosure and good old-fashioned honesty.