Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Launching Karen's book: what I said on the day

Karen (left) and me (seated)
A few people have asked me to put my speech from the launch of Karen's book up on my blog. On the day I ad-libbed and went off on a few tangents, but here's the core of what I said:

We're here to launch Karen’s book, Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood – which may look slight but packs a way bigger punch than its size suggests (a bit like Karen).

When Karen’s book arrived in the mail, I tore open the package, opened to the first page, read a few lines and then did that thing you do when you know a book’s going to hit a nerve. I immediately closed it and put it down. (I also knew it was going to make me a bit jealous.)

Then I took a deep breath, made myself a cup of tea and opened it up again.

If you haven’t read Karen’s book yet, she opens by talking about running into a friend at a bookstore, who asks her if she was working on any significant projects. To which she responds with those familiar lines that "she’s got a lot going on, blogging takes up most of her creative space"... blah blah blah. That’s when I closed the book. See? Didn’t take long!

I too get that confronting question all the time: “So, what are you working on? Are you writing a new book?” I expect most of the people in this room know how loaded that question is — dare I say it: especially for women; and even more so for mothers, whose domestic workload is so huge and so invisible.

And I suppose that brings me to how I know Karen and why she might have asked me to launch this book.

I first met Karen at the launch of her children’s book, Surprise, which happened to be illustrated by my wonderful friend and workmate Kim Fleming. There, Karen mentioned that she had read my book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, which initially came out my sense of creative frustration and ambivalence about writing and mothering — the fear that to succeed at one would mean failing at the other.

I wrote that book when my children were babies and then toddlers. Now they are 7 and 10 (scarily enough) and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what it means to be a mother and a writer (or any type of creative person), with all the struggles that entails. And there are a couple of things that I always say to mothers who talk to me about how hard they’re finding it to make space for creativity in their lives:

1. You have to give yourself the permission to create. Don’t wait for your partner to give you it (no matter how supportive he or she might be); don’t wait for the world to give it to you (it won't -- the world is full of competing distractions and demands); and for heaven’s sake don’t wait for the kids to give you permission. Because they won’t either. You need no other reason than that you need to do it, because it makes you more alive.
2. As a parent you have a lot less time, it’s true — but what you lose in time you make up for in access to the some of the most universal and fundamental aspects of life. In many ways, if you are a creative person, you are in a uniquely privileged position as a mother.

This is where Karen is coming from on in her very impressive book. She has drawn on all those strange and unexpected situations that parenthood throws us into — playground politics, long-term relationships, the intense confrontation with our self that comes with being more vulnerable than you've ever been. All that is here inside these covers. Along with a great deal of humour.

So while we all have had those moments where we feel like we’re making defensive excuses to friends in bookshops, Karen has found a way to move beyond the barriers life throws up and the fears that get in our way to make stuff happen anyway.

Before I wrote The Divided Heart, I have to admit that I was completely ignorant about the world of blogging. I was asked to start a blog by my publisher and suddenly I was plugged in to this incredible online community of mother bloggers, and Karen was there, right smack at the centre of it with her award-winning blog, Miscellaneous Mum.

This wasn’t the world that I had heard rumours about: full of narcissistic ego-maniacs telling us what they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here was a bunch of women really sharing the truth of what it’s like to be in that crazy and chaotic and occasionally creative world of new motherhood.

Readers of Karen’s blog know how deeply reassuring people find her honesty about the ups and downs of family life, as well as her insights on reading and writing. But I can also say, as someone who tends to read a whole backlog of posts in one sitting, there is also something extremely calming about the lovely reflective mood of Karen's posts, which somehow manage to gather a whole lot of random thoughts into some cohesive, soothing whole.

That same capacity for revelation and for deep empathy is here, in Crying in the Car. And if blogging is the thing that got her “back into writing”, as Karen has said — a way of flexing that muscle in short bursts and finding a voice — well, it has worked. There is one very confident voice on display in the material contained here.

Those who are regular readers of her blog know that Karen’s had a really full-on year this year, health-wise, and yet she’s still managed to write, publish and distribute this book, all under her own steam. It’s an impressive feat. So perhaps now she can tick off that item on her "Living List" that says "Write a book (or twenty)".

Or maybe she’s not going to scratch that one till she has indeed published twenty.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Launching Karen Andrew's book, Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood

I am launching Karen Andrew's new book, Crying in the Car:  Reflections on Life and Motherhood, at the Eltham Library this Saturday, December 1, at 3pm.

You may already know Karen's lovely writing through her award-winning blog, Miscellaneous Mum, where she writes about her family and her love of books and writing.

Karen is one of those amazing women who just gets stuff done! I didn't even know she wrote poetry -- and now suddenly here's this wonderful collection of her best essays, blog posts, short stories and poems, all of which explore the inherent contradictions in being alive in this world and at this time.

But more of that on Saturday...

You can read one of her stories at Parenting Express, here.

For more details, you can see the Facebook event for the book launch here

And if you can't make it, you can order Karen's book here, or buy it in a good old-fashioned bookshop.

Hope to see some of you there...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fragility and wonder: the music of Emma Tonkin

When I was writing The Divided Heart, I was always conscious that one of the most modest and talented artist-mothers in my midst was living right next door.

When I suggested to singer-songwriter Emma Tonkin that I should include her in my book, she scoffed and said something about not having a proper creative practice. And yet in her own discrete way, Emma never lets go of that delicate creative thread, even if sometimes she feels that she's only hanging on by a fingernail.

A tinkling piano and Emma's exquisite voice often reach me in the quiet hours when the children are asleep. Alive to the sensuous world around her, if at first you think she writes songs about the "small", listen closer...

What seems intimate becomes epic. Her music lifts you out of the chaos of living and transports you to somewhere defenseless, fragile and immense with wonder.

As the Age music writer Michael Dwyer says about her latest album, Cave of Lights: "A fire in the dark. Hope in the storm. Emma Tonkin's new album with the First Chorus Band of Singers is the gloriously redemptive sound of the human spirit alive in a house of skin and bone."

Emma's first album, The Anchor and the Albatross, showcased her unique feeling for melody. Add a swelling four-part harmony to those tunes (as the First Chorus Band of Singers do in Cave of Lights) and the result is nothing short of sublime.

So many creative mothers say to me that they don't really deserve to be called artists because they're not actually managing to juggle mothering and art with any great success. Or that they barely ever produce anything, so they don't deserve to be recognised alongside their more prolific counterparts.

But what makes a "real" artist, anyway? Emma's songs are pretty real, I know that much. And if it takes five or ten years to write a single book or release a single album, so be it. The world is still richer for having that work of art in it. And a life is all the richer for having created it, no matter how slowly.

So if you want to witness something really special, Emma Tonkin and the 25-strong First Chorus Band of Singers, led by Virgina Bott, will be performing at the Wonderland Spiegeltent (Docklands) on Saturday night in Melbourne from 8pm.

I will be there, celebrating what can be achieved in the wee hours and stolen moments -- beyond the laundry and the dirty dishes -- when the world doesn't even realise that you're quietly weaving some magic.

Friday, November 9, 2012

There's a party goin' on...

I am on retreat at Varuna The Writers' House this week.

That means I am not meant to be surfing the internet. I am meant to be writing in monastic solitude, churning out the words in a state of wild inspiration with nothing to distract me but my own desperate attempts not to check the word count every ten seconds or eat yet another chocolate biscuit.

Which is why -- in an act of terrible timing on my part -- I have been missing the best possible festival I could have imagined.

But you don't have to miss out. If you are a creative mother of any variety, the Mother-Artist Network Festival is where you should be. Now!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The poetry in the folding of laundry: have you discovered Lily Mae Martin?

I know I've been off the boil lately in the blogging department, but I've been conscious for a while that it would be utterly remiss of me not to let Divided Heart readers know about the extraordinary Lily Mae Martin.

If you haven't already discovered this impressive woman on your virtual travels, Lily is an Australian artist who has been living in the UK and Berlin over the past few years. But she has recently returned to Melbourne, as she discusses in her piece in the latest issue of Kill Your Darlings, "Kids in Berlin: Motherhood and Friendship".

I never ceased to be amazed by Lily's talent and creative output. Not only is she is mind-blowingly prolific in her main gig as a visual artist (I have no idea when this woman sleeps!) but she also maintains a blog, Berlin Domestic, full of searingly honest outpourings about the rocky creativity/parenting/partnering path.

As she has said: "Life as a parent is not what I expected. In retrospect I'm not sure what I had in mind, but I guess I thought that sometime after having my baby I would return to life and to work – that things would resume as normal only with the addition of a baby. This however was not the case.

"Then one day I thought – why not draw it? Why not write about it? There's a poetry in the folding of laundry, the sweeping of floors. An art in the food splatters and the cooking of countless meals."

Lily diarisies her days, churning out hundreds of sketches depicting scenes in the cafes and domestic spaces of everyday life. If this didn't keep her busy enough, though, she is also building a substantial body of meticulously rendered paintings, drawings and illustrations, the detail of which just blow me away. Hyper-realist in style but with something far darker and dramatic lurking beneath the surface, her works that simultaneously encompass the the beauty and brutality of existence.

Lily is a rare artistic talent. She is also rare in her openness and eloquence about the impact of parenting not only on her day-to-day life and art, but also on her relationship, her sexuality, her identity and her psyche.

I hope she inspires you as much as she does me.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hearts universally divided around the world

You may remember that a while back I wrote a post about a new documentary Lost in Living, being made by filmmaker Mary Trunk about "the messy intersection of motherhood and artistic expression".

It never ceases to amaze me how universal the feelings are when it comes to the dilemmas women feel about combining their own creative needs and the needs of their children.

Like my approach with The Divided Heart, Mary took her own fears and confusion and sought out other women who might be feeling the same way. If you watch the trailer on her website (or below), you can already see what a powerful and touching film it's going to be.

In a lovely post Mary has just written about my book, she writes that because "Rachel was willing to be open herself, the women she interviewed opened up as well." Though we don't see Mary on camera, it's clear that the very same is true of her. Her subjects really let her in and, as a result, the footage is heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Mary now has a rough cut of her film ready and she has launched a Kickstarter Campaign to raise the funds she needs to complete and promote her film. She needs backers, and every dollar counts. But all forms of support are welcome, whether it be a blog post or just a "like" on the film's facebook page.

And while I'm promoting amazing women, the link between Mary and I was British-born New Zealand photographer Parisa Taghizadeh, who contacted me after she read The Divided Heart. One of her recent projects is a series of portraits of women without their children, simply titled MOTHER.

Each image is a celebration of the individuality that, as she puts it, "gets pushed to the side and ignored after we take on our new role as mothers". It is astounding how potent and layered a seemingly straightforward portrait shot can be when you've added the label "mother", which has such strong cultural and personal connotations.

As I've just told Parisa, I've always been quietly fascinated with the question of whether you can tell if a woman has children just by looking at her. I can sometimes be a bit conceited in my belief that I can tell -- but have regularly been proven wrong!

Looking at her portraits, I was also reminded of how in those early days of parenting I so often longed to be alone, and then when I (rarely) was, I immediately wanted to let everyone I passed know that I was a mother. It had become such a strong point of pride and identity -- one I was more attached to that than I had realised.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Education: the case for equity over elitism

I wrote a piece for the MamaMia website, up today, about the future of education funding in Australia.
To me, it makes sense on every front to throw as much money as possible into giving all kids access to a top-notch education at their local school.

I find it particularly frustrating to see the campaign for greater education funding constantly sidelined by the debate about private versus public education.

This shouldn’t be about where you choose to educate your own kids. This is about equity and trying to do all we can to give every child a fighting chance at maximising their potential, no matter their background or the size of their parents' wallet.

In constantly banging on about "choice", we forget that choice is still a luxury for most. Does that mean kids from poorer families are less deserving of high-quality teaching and facilities?

At the end of the day, this is also about the kind of culture and community we want to create and be part of: one where we care about everyone's right to a great education, or one that urges individual families to "buy" their kids "the best". What would you prefer?

The Gonski Review has recommended a comprehensive change to the way our schools are funded — directing money toward those with the greatest need — and called for an extra $5 billion to be injected into schools as a matter of urgency.

But so far the Gillard Government has failed to act.

As parents, we have a potent stake in the future and the power to push for change on behalf of all kids. If this all makes sense to you, please register your support at I Give a Gonski.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life and time...

It's been a long time...

If only time wasn't so finite. I wish I felt time was less my enemy and more my friend! But as it is, I feel that with every project or activity I turn my energy towards, I'm forced to let a whole lot of equally meaningful things slide.

But certain things trump all else. And for me lately this has been the needs of my beautiful daughter.

People have always described my daughter as special. She is a dreamer, with large eyes and a tendency to stare, which draw people in. But now I look back and realise that when people called her "special" they might have been seeing more than they, or I, knew.

In the past year or so I have entered this whole new territory of having a "special-needs" child. My little girl's issues are mild compared to many, but they still require huge amounts of time and energy from my partner and I to help keep her engaged with learning.

It's all been a bit of a shock, admittedly, after having a son who seems to just soak up information by osmosis through the pores of his skin.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, that's where I've been. But I haven't finished with this darn blogging business yet. And in the meantime, I came up with some answers to some lovely questions from artist, blogger and all-round creative Jodi Wiley.

You can read them on her blog, Art by Wiley, where you can also see a really bad photo of a drawing I did of my son with me and my messy bedroom perfectly reflected in the glass! That's got to be a metaphor for something...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's BIG and it's beautiful

How exciting to arrive home on Friday afternoon and see this stuffed into my letterbox.

The second issue of 'BIG Kids Magazine' is out now.

I don't know how they do it, but they do... Brilliantly so.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Che & Fidel's Divided Heart

I have been a bit distracted of late, so apologies for the lack of posts.

But while I work my way up to writing the next "real" post, I just thought I'd direct you across to Jodi Wilson's wonderful blog, Che & Fidel. (You probably already know it!)

Jodi has been sweet enough to feature The Divided Heart on her blog this week, and run an interview she conducted with me, all about arting and mothering.

She also has one copy of The Divided Heart to give away -- though the comp ends tomorrow (March 28th), so quick, run don't walk! All you need to do is become a follower of Che & Fidel and leave a comment with your name and email address.

Sorry not to let you know earlier, but you know me... always late.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost in Living: A new doco about art and motherhood

Yesterday I got one of those messages in my inbox that makes your heart skip a little beat.

It was a message from American filmmaker Mary Trunk, telling me that my book, The Divided Heart, played a part in helping her develop her now almost completed documentary feature, Lost In Living, which tracks the lives of four women artists.

To cut a long story short, I'll share her words below:

I have spent the last seven years following four mothers who are artists. Two of them I met when they were pregnant (they also happen to be best friends) and the other two are older and have adult children. During this long and fascinating process I was given your book "The Divided Heart", which I found so powerful and moving. I have since been following your blog, which I thoroughly enjoy. Your book is incredibly inspiring and insightful. It helped me figure out the approach to my film, the interview questions over the seven years I documented these women and confirmed that I wasn't completely crazy to make a film about this topic. Thank you!

Going by the initial footage she has released, it is clear that Mary has captured something very raw and honest in her subjects -- with regards to art and mothering, but also female friendship.

As I have since told her, it never ceases to amaze me how common the issues are for women artists -- how the same feelings get expressed time and again, often with the exact same words. I also fully relate to her fear that it might be crazy to document this topic, when so many people tell you it's just a "niche" subject without any great import for the world at large.

It is humbling to know that The Divided Heart has reached the other side of the world and played even a small part in Mary's film.

As she continues through post-production, she is posting short clips on YouTube and her blog, touching on subjects like "What's so great about creativity?" or "Baby and sacrifice: what do you give up?".

I will endeavour to keep you posted about possible screenings of "Lost in Living" here in Australia. Till then, you can watch an extended trailer below:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Badinter strikes again (this time in English)

Here I am, late again. I've no doubt the blogosphere went mental for a while there when the English translation of French feminist Elisabeth Badinter's book, The Conflict: Woman and Mother, was released here last month.

I'm afraid it mostly passed me by this time around, but I did read this very succinct review from Ruth Quibell in the Fairfax press, who does a great job of summing up a very complex book.

Whatever you think of Badinter's ideas, there's nothing like having a strong, provocative second-wave feminist saying it like she sees it to force us modern feminists to define our own thinking.

Every generation shapes itself in response to the previous one, and it's clear that younger women (meaning women in their 30s and 40s now) have felt the need to reassert the value of mothering.

The question is, in doing this, have we risked losing ourselves all over again, or have we reached a better balance in terms of where we want to put our energies?

I have seen a lot of responses from women agreeing with Badinter that they feel burdened by notions of the "perfect mother". It's true that mothers can be their own (and each other's) worst enemies, with our excessive judgements and our guilt and our intense fears for our children.

But I fear Badinter has all the wrong targets in her sight, particularly the "breast-feeding zealots" and "muesli-crunching ecologists" she blames for driving women back into the home.

Modern women no longer operate with the either/or mentality when it comes to work and family. Most of us are undertaking some combination of paid/unpaid work and parenting, amid our other roles as friends, partners and carers.

No, that doesn't mean we have reached a perfect balance. Women are arguably more stretched, and stressed, than ever. But I think few would blame breastfeeding, co-sleeping and the use of cloth nappies for that.

In fact, rather than being duped by the values of so-called “natural” mothering, as Badinter argues, I'd say women who are making conscious choices about their parenting methods tend to be among the most politically conscious and active people in our communities — in ways that extend well beyond mothering.

For Badinter’s generation, baby formula and disposable nappies might have proven liberating. But younger mothers are engaged with the bigger picture. Petrol-fueled cars have been pretty liberating too; but is that a good enough argument for their continued use into the future?

I've always felt that mothers have the potential to be a powerful political force on the issue of climate change. Who has a greater stake in the future of this planet than the women who are giving birth to the next generation?

Second-wave feminism had good reasons for focusing on women's right to equality in the workplace. And we know the fight for equal pay's not over yet.

But isn't the ultimate goal of realising workplace rights to give women — and ideally men, too — greater choices about their lives? Is it really that surprising that many educated mothers are now making the active choice to stay at home or work part time when their children are small?

The great achievement of feminism is that Western women, speaking generally, no longer feel that becoming a mother is their sole biological destiny, or that as a mother they will be defined primarily by that role.

That doesn't mean that, in having children, women don't discover that being a mother is a meaningful aspect of their identity — for good reasons, as motherhood can be genuinely transformative. The love we feel for our kids isn't inherently oppressive; it can also be a force for change and empowerment on all sorts of fronts.

Badinter's argument that "it remains difficult to reconcile increasingly burdensome maternal responsibilities with personal fullfilment" -- while true for many mothers -- ignores the fact that the two are not always mutually exclusive.

When talking about women's interests, I always feel there is a strong need to separate out the mothering of children and the associated demands of running a household.

In targeting children as the "tyrants" holding women back, Badinter lets the real culprits off the hook: the lack of economic policies supporting real choices for women through access to equal pay, superannuation and quality part-time work, all of which compounds the unequal division of labour in the home.

After all, the years spent breast-feeding, co-sleeping and changing nappies are a mere blip — albeit, a pretty special blip, in my book — in the course of a woman's life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The reading and then... the doing

This is a brief post as I am in my studio where I am not meant to be procrastinating by writing blog posts!

Yes, life is madness. But then there is also the human capacity for self-sabotage, the power of which never ceases to amaze me. This can be a force so much stronger than how much or how little time we have -- particularly when it comes to doing the things we want to do most.

Isn't that precisely the problem? Meaningless tasks are easy. But meaningful ones -- fear of failure is too simplistic a term for summing up the resistance we can feel to undertaking the things that might challenge us in profound ways.

That is why I have set myself a very basic goal: 750 words a day, 2 days a week. That should give me 60,000 words by the end of the year.

(That is of course 750 words of fiction, very much in addition to the stupid number of words I write in my other pen-pushing capacities as journalist, blogger, letter-writer and general scribe.)

A friend recently introduced me to The Writing Coach, founded by novelist Jacqui Lofthouse. This site is full of sound, no-nonsense advice, especially her "Ten ways of finding time to write when you have no time".

She's into the "mosaic" approach (not the masochist approach, which seems to be my default setting!), ie. each word a single tile in a picture that will eventually make sense when all the tiles are laid.

Now back to the challenge of acting on that advice, not just reading it as yet another way of putting off the inevitable...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Artist couples and the politics of envy

This week, my family has gone to the beach for a holiday, without me. On the couple of strange, formless days that I have spent at home without them, I have been writing. But I have also been digging out those twisted clumps of mouldy, neglected clothing compressed into the bottom of the washing basket, and hanging load after load of these long-forgotten items on the line.

I know that when my partner is home alone for any length of time without me and the kids, the idea of performing this kind of task wouldn't even enter his head. Instead, he would have focused all his energies on his creative work and come up with the goods, in a far more substantial and satisfying way than I ever seem to achieve.

Last week on Triple R's Aural Text program, Peggy Frew and I had a long chat about a 2003 article, "Envy", written by writer Kathryn Chetkovich.

Chetkovich is the wife of literary superstar Jonathan Franzen, and what starts as an astoundingly honest personal story about professional envy goes on to encompass so much more about the nature of creativity, particularly that desire for a sense of "permission".

She and Franzen (who she only refers to here as "the man") met while they were both struggling early-career writers. Not too long into the relationship, though, she was still struggling, while his efforts had produced an international smash-hit.

She quickly realised that, for her, struggle means battling the external demands and the dilemmas that chip away at her confidence. For Franzen, writing may at times be a struggle, but his sense of conviction remains intact.

When two artists live under the same roof, one of two things is eventually bound to happen: success or children.

After that, a couple often has to draw upon every reserve of generosity in order to keep supporting each other's work and not become bogged down in resentment and competition.

Chetkovich notes in the article that in the time it took Franzen to draft several hundred pages of his novel, she had penned a 15-page story, a short play and part of an "inadequate" screenplay. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn't be such a bad effort, surely. But she was comparing her output to the behemoth that was The Corrections.

When you have fallen for another artist, you are confronted by what Chetkovich calls "its peculiar calling card": the fear of what you want for yourself. And she is extremely honest about the impact of her husband's success -- the proof that the world wanted and needed his work -- on her own creative life, and on their relationship.

She admits that she sometimes withdrew from him emotionally and sexually as a form of revenge; that at times she wanted to drag him down and see him fail. "That if I could not be happy I was ready to make us both miserable."

How to mantain a sense of equality and not be mired in envy when your partner's success only serves to highlight your failure? What does it mean when you are no longer your partner's best and purest champion?

When the British rights to The Corrections are sold, "The part of me that was his girlfriend put her arms around him and told him how happy she was, and the other part, the miserable writer within, kept her distance," Chetkovich writes.

But what Chetkovich also exposes in her remarkable article is those differences that persist between male and female writers: the inner conviction men seem to possess about their right to create; the way women are held back by their desire to be attractive and likeable; how easily they are drawn into a life dominated by caring and servitude; the ever-present fear that writing is an unnatural occupation for a woman, and that unless her work is doing good in the world, it is mere self-indulgence.

All these elements generally make women's hold on their creative convictions far more tenuous than that of their male counterparts. Franzen's previous wife gave up writing when their marriage broke up; but if she had found success first, Chetkovich feels sure that Franzen would have kept writing with the same robust resolve he had always possessed.

"What I envied were what his talent and success had bestowed on him, a sense of the rightness of what he was doing," she writes. "I wanted what women always want: permission."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hosting RRR's Aural text show today

Peggy Frew and I are having a turn in the hot seat at Melbourne's Triple R studios for a couple of weeks, co-hosting literary program Aural Text, usually hosted by Alicia Sometimes and Lorin Clarke.

Today we will be chatting to music critic Michael Dwyer and feminist writer Monica Dux, among others.

We will also be playing some spoken word and tunes with great lyrics.

Tune into 102.7FM today (Wednesday), noon-2pm, if you can.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012: the year when no means yes

I’ve been forced to realise something about myself over the years — partly a fault of personality, partly a result of experience, especially the experience of motherhood: I am really bad at withdrawing from the hub of the action.

I should have understood this about myself long ago, being a kid who always did my homework on the loungeroom floor, wrote her uni essays at the kitchen table, then became a journalist who relished working amidst the noise and chaos of a bustling newsroom. Ever since those earliest working days spent seated next to the crime reporter, with his bloody wireless tuned in to the police CB all day, I have never been able to work in complete silence.

As a mother, though, this tendency seems to have has found its full expression. Anyone who has read The Divided Heart knows that I have found it exquisitely difficult to withdraw — physically and psychologically — from my family in order to focus on my own solitary work. And, whatever else it is, writing a book is usually a long and necessarily isolated slog.

I have never set up very effective boundaries between me and my kids, who know just how easily they can exploit my tendency to become easily distracted by their demands. It doesn’t help that I am a very slow writer, and one who easily loses confidence.

Where duty and distraction end and procrastination begins, I don't exactly know, but turning from my children, shutting myself away to write, never seems to get any easier. And when you're caught between a difficult sentence and a pile of dishes, a bit of hearty scrubbing can suddenly look so satisfyingly achieveable.

Admittedly, I have never really set up effective boundaries between me and the rest of the world either. Mothers and writers do have one thing in common. They are both constantly called upon to do things out of the goodness of their hearts. We endlessly volunteer our time to causes that, no matter how worthy or interesting, don’t pay, and don’t help us to remain focussed on the things we want and need to do for ourselves.

No matter how fast, or self-assured, any writer is, at the end of the day the words have to be put down on paper. And that requires focus. If I learned anything from writing The Divided Heart, it’s that there is no substitute for discipline — and this is probably truer for mothers than anyone.

So I have decided to make 2012 my Year of Saying No to all the fluff that can fill a life and lead to nothing. Which I hope will in fact make it the Year of Saying Yes to the things that count, as opposed to the things that just distract me from what's really important (including the kids, of course).

Anyone who wants to join me in Saying No this year, jump on board and I will take it upon myself to keep reminding you of your pledge. Happy New Year!