Thursday, December 17, 2015

Me and Elizabeth Gilbert (well, sort of) on Creativity

I had the great pleasure of talking to Sarah Kanowski for her program on Creativity the other day for local ABC - listen here. It was a bit intimidating to know that our interview followed hot on the heels of Sarah's discussion with the very warm and wise Elizabeth Gilbert, who has been giving so much thought to this territory. But nevertheless I enjoyed offering another angle on the creativity subject - especially when being interviewed by such an interesting and sensitive presenter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A fast track to honesty

When Marieke Hardy gave me the theme for the next Women of Letters session, and invited me to take part, I wasn't sure if I'd have anything to say. A letter to the Bridge I Burnt...? I'm not really a bridge-burner. But the theme has been percolating in the back of my mind over the past week - and now I'm struggling to choose between possible stories.

I'm actually pretty chuffed to have been asked to do something non-motherhood related. I've had the chance to be part of so many great panel discussions about creativity and motherhood lately, but I'm rarely asked to write or talk about other subjects, so it's a chance for me to break out!

On the creativity/mothering front, though - there's a few things I want to share.

I took part in a conversation as part of the Wheeler Centre's "F Word" series, along with Maxine Beneba Clarke, Liz Shield and Zakia Baig - all about feminism and parenting. If you're interested, you can watch it here.

You've probably heard about musician Amanda Palmer's response to a fan (and financial backer) who wrote to her concerned that Amanda's output is set to dwindle - and risk becoming mediocre - now that she is pregnant:

When you have this baby, either him/her/it will suffer, or your career will suffer. ...
Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?

I had mixed feelings about Amanda's response - she's working with her own set of assumptions about mothers...:

So no small wonder that as I approached my mid-thirties I entered a conflicted baby conundrum. If I had kids, would I turn into a boring, irrelevant, ignorable artist? Would I suddenly start writing songs about balance and shit? Would I have a sudden, terrifying, interest in the LUTE?

...But both the original letter and Amanda's response show the prevalence of those cliches - and the associated fears - about the risk motherhood poses to an artist's work and identity. Read her full response here.

Personally I find it kind of funny that people think parenthood will launch you into some soothing, sentimental state characterised by "acceptance, balance, meadows of wheat", as Amanda describes it. 


Yes, there are moments of great tenderness and joy. But for me, these exist as the flipside to the incredible angst and vulnerability that comes with raising children. Not true for everyone, I know. But as I told Amanda, motherhood has been the most confronting, raw, edgy, passionate state I have known. It exposes you to yourself like little else can. Yes, it can be a barrier to making art. But, if you can find a way to keep creating, it can also give your art an extraordinary edge. 

If Amanda Palmer's doubting fan is really that worried, she should check out this video about Suzannah Espie's latest album - and listen to her stunning album, Mother's Not Feeling Herself Today. As Suzannah says, motherhood has "been a fast track to some pretty major honesty".

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stopping for a cupcake in a hurricane

Me, trying to draw with a
baby Griffin on my hip.
The first edition of The Divided Heart was published almost seven years ago now.

Since then, I've produced a second edition and been asked to speak on the subject of creatvity and motherhood for countless events, festival panels, radio interviews, articles, blogs and videos.

Sometimes -- regularly -- I lose my sense of what I want to say. In talking repeatedly on the topic, I have to re-find the core of my feelings over and over again, to make sure I'm speaking with fresh words and not just parroting what I've said before.

That gets particularly challenging when life has become so full of other responsibilities that I'm getting almost no writing done, bar the odd line scratched onto the back of an envelope while on the train to work, so that I literally forget what it means to be holding tight to that need to create.

There is sometimes a kind of liberation in this. A sense that it's been so long, I can give up on any loaded expectations of success and just rediscover writing for its own sake. As a form of play. Of describing the world to myself. Of clarifying my thoughts... But even that requires occasional access to a pen, a notebook and a spare hour or so! Too long away from the page and I start struggling to find meaning. In anything.

Tomorrow, when I speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I will be drawing on this exquisite essay by writer Sarah Menkedick, which has singlehandedly plunged me back into a full recognition of why needed to write The Divided Heart in the first place.

Not that anything has changed. Family life feels no less demanding and chaotic now as when my children were babies -- though perhaps the physical demands have been replaced by more emotional and practical ones. As Menkedick describes it, in trying to write, I still "might as well be stopping for a cupcake in a hurricane".

She describes perfectly the contradictory state imposed by mothering: the struggle to justify and to defend this ephemeral desire -- a need to write (or draw, or sing...) -- in the face of the most solid and significant job of all: keeping a "small, vulnerable human alive". And the way that forces us to stake a claim to the worth of art. But more than that -- far more confrontingly (for mothers, still working to shrug off the heavy baggage of guilt and self-sacrifice that is our historical inheritance) -- the worth of our art, at the very least to ourselves.

As Menkedick says:

It requires a terrible and terrific arrogance for me to claim three hours to hash out a half-coherent treatise on waiting and the gestation periods of walruses: an arrogance not only in the immediate domain of my family but in a larger, universal sense, to imagine that fitting life into language matters when I have now lived the reality of birth and the pressing need of a hot little mouth. 

The preciousness of that time, the fact that it is so contested and fraught with the weight of what is not being done with it, have forced my hand: I have to admit that I believe in art. Not as an abstract concept, and not as tangible and real salvation, but as a way of being. 

Read her full essay over at Vela, an online mag of women's writing.

And if you haven't discovered 'The New Normal' podcast yet, then you're missing out!

I had a great time chatting to Emma and Tess in Emma's kitchen (complete with dishwasher noises) -- all about combining creativity and motherhood, overcoming guilt and learning to love football!

You can listen to it here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The conversation that never ends: art and parenting

It doesn't matter how many public speaking events I do, they still scare the bejeezus out of me.

Fortunately for me, the theme of my book means I'm almost always sharing the stage with at least one and sometimes many more generous and inspiring women, who make it feel like I'm having a chat over a cup of tea - albeit a very intelligent one.

The audiences are always excellent too. There's usually a few mothers pacing the floor up the back, babe in arms, and some sweet baby noises - which is guaranteed to make me feel happy.

I'm sure that will definitely be the case with the next few events I'm involved in, so please come along and join the conversation. The Q&A sessions are always my favourite part!

Melbourne Writers Festival: Creativity & Motherhood
August 22, 4.00-5.00pm
with Tracee Hutchison and Jessica Rowe
Northcote Town Hall Main Hall, High Street, Northcote

Creative Spark: Art and Parenting - October 8 (TBC), 6.30-7.30pm
with artist Tai Snaith, writer Lorelei Vashti and arts industry expert Robin Penty
Thornbury Theatre, 859 High Street, Thornbury

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Claudia Karvan and me on the airwaves this Sunday

Actors Claudia Karvan and Alex Cook
Far be it from me to suggest anyone get up early on a Sunday morning unless they absolutely have to.

But if you're up anyway, you might like to tune into Radio National to hear Claudia Karvan and I talking to Jonathan Green on Sunday Extra at 8.45am.

You should also be able to listen to it later here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Divided Hearts at the Willy Lit Fest

This weekend, I will be hosting a panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival featuring poet Lisa Gorton, writer and illustrator Sally Rippin, and artist Lily Mae Martin.

If you're in Melbourne we'd love to see a room full of friendly faces. This will be a great chance to ask three of Motherhood & Creativity's contributors any questions you may have about how they navigate a life of art and family.

Our session is on Saturday June 13 at 10.30-11.30am. Book here.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Vale Joan Kirner

I'm sure I'm not alone in not recognising what an important figure Joan Kirner has been in Australia's political life until after her death.

When I was asked to write an article about her legacy for younger feminists, I felt ashamed by my own ignorance about what that legacy might be. My overriding memory of Kirner was her having a red-hot go at covering Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" on ABC TV's The Late Show.

It wasn't until I began speaking to those I work amongst in the union movement, that I realised what a profound impact she'd had on women on the Left. Every person I spoke to had an anecdote about having a cup of tea at Joan's house, or just sharing an elevator with her, where she would ask them about their lives -- as well as the ins and outs of the current political landscape -- and let them know that she was there for them. Not only that, Joan remembered everything they said next time she saw them, including the names of their children.

ACTU president Ged Kearney told me that she doesn't know of anyone more revered or loved by those who came in her wake than Joan Kirner. She was tirelessly giving in the support and mentoring she offered other women, and she fundentally believed that the stuff of women's lives gave them what it takes to be leaders.

Former ACT chief minister Katy Gallagher told me that when Joan Kirner met her daughter they discussed tooth fairies. "So she bought her a book about tooth fairies and wrote a little message inside saying Abby, who she called Princess, was lucky to have me as her mother."

Just the kind of message all women need to hear.

Vale Joan Kirner. A woman like no other.

You can read my article in Today's Age newspaper (page 30) or online here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Divided Heart sets sail again

Thank you so much to everyone who made it along to the launch of Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart at Readings in Melbourne last week.

Having been sick with the flu all week, I was a bit worried about getting through it. But the Sudafed and red wine kicked in nicely, just in time for me to speak - even if it meant I couldn't get to sleep till 3am that night!

For those who couldn't get there, you can listen to an audio recording of my speech here.

It's so satisfying to finally have a new version of The Divided Heart in print. Clare smashed a bottle across its hull (figuratively speaking) with her usual generosity and humour, and it has set sail again, hopefully into the hands of those who need it most.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Creative motherhood on Books & Arts Daily

I was part of a panel on Radio National's Books & Arts Daily to talk about motherhood and creativity today - you can listen online here.

Crafter/writer Pip Lincolne impressed me, as always, with her very Zen approach to the complexities of finding time to be creative as a mother of three. I also really enjoyed meeting Miriam Sved, one of the editors of Mothers and Others: why not all woman are mothers and not all mothers are the same, who brought so much intelligence to the discussion.

We were all a bit startruck when the next person in the studio was none other than the author of the parenting bible Baby Love, Robin Barker, who has turned her hand to writing fiction. So what do you think we all talked about afterwards? Babies? Nup. Football! Barker turned out not only to be an obsessed Sydney Swans fan, but a huge fan of Miriam's latest novel, Game Day.

Host Michael Cathcart suggested that it has become an accepted fact that the arts are feminised in Australia, and the cliche of 'the artist' is now "Mum writing or painting while she has the kids at home".

This line of questioning threw me a bit -- oh, if only there was a rehearsal for radio interviews and then you got to do it all again, but better! Fortunately, Miriam was there to give the best answer, responding that she thinks the fantasy of 'the artist' as a solitary male, cloistered away from the rabble of daily life, remains the persistent perception.

I was having coffee with an artist the other day who mentioned how much it shits her that whenever a male artist is photographed with his children in the studio, it will attract a stupid amount of admiration. (Admittedly, I think I've been guilty myself of sharing such an newspaper image on Facebook!) When of course the majority of women artists work in this context all the time, with no one congratulating them for allowing their children to occupy their 'sacred space'.

What do you think? Has the mother at home with her kids really become the predominant 'cliche' about the arts in Australia?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pip and me on Radio National tomorrow

Just a little heads-up that craft guru Pip Lincolne and I will once again be entering ABC headquarters to talk mothering and creativity, this time on Radio National's Books & Arts Daily at 10am tomorrow (that being Tuesday). I'm liking this teamwork!

Cathcart's wife, the playwright Hannie Rayson, not only launched the first edition of The Divided Heart, but actually played a fairly central role in the creation of my children! The story is much less strange and a little more romantic than that makes it sound -- and you never know, maybe it will be told on RN tomorrow morning. Or maybe not. In which case, I'll tell you here later...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chaos plus limitations: Claudia Karvan's unique take on motherhood

Claudia Karvan with son Albee
Last month, Debrief Daily ran an extract from Motherhood and Creativity - part of my conversation with actor and producer Claudia Karvan.

Claudia and I met on a street corner in suburban Sydney near her home. She rocked up with her dog and a sore back from lugging her mothers' furniture around all day. So instead of sitting in a cafe, we took ourselves across the road to the park and conducted much of the interview with Claudia flat on her back in the grass, throwing sticks to her dog.

She was a joy to interview: relaxed, open, candid and funny. I really appreciated her wisdom about the choices she has made, both in terms of her career and raising her children, including her step-daughter, singer Holiday Sidewinder.

On the decision to have her first baby, she gave me what I thought was a particularly original answer:

I just felt like I could do whatever I wanted to, and I was sick of that. I wanted someone else to be my boss. I had no parameters, really, and I wanted some. There’s a certain kind of indulgence that comes with being young that I wasn’t really enjoying. Does that make sense?

I wanted to invite chaos into my life – that’s another way of putting it. I wanted to have some other priorities that weren’t set and guided by me. I don’t know where that feeling came from. I think I was just sick of myself! I wanted to make life a little bit more layered.

You can read the rest of the extract here.

I'll be talking to Claudia and writer, ad guru and broadcaster Jane Caro about this and other mothering-related issues at the Sydney Writers Festival this Sunday, May 24 at 3pm. Join us if you can! Tickets here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Modern motherhood - what does it all mean?

I recently got a call from journalist Liz Walsh, asking if I was happy to talk to her for an Adelaide Advertiser feature to coincide with Mothers Day.

"No worries," I responded innocently. Before she proceeded to ask me one of the curliest questions I think I've ever had thrown at me: "So, what does it mean to be a mother in 2015?"

Oh my goodness! I've spent so much time thinking about mothering in relation to art and creativity specifically, I'm not used to talking about motherhood in the broadest sense, let alone what it means to be a mother now versus at other times in history. Especially off the cuff!

Liz also interviewed comedian/singer Em Rusciano and child psychologist Jodie Benveniste for the story - and it's fascinating how aligned we all were in our thinking. Basically, all arguing for the importance of love and intuition and ditching impossible expectations for ourselves as women mothering in very complex times.

I'm not sure if my responses were particularly coherent, but I think it's a great article - and you can read it here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The "new and startling" ways motherhood changes art

Del Kathryn Barton's portrait of Cate Blanchett
Last week, ArtsHub spoke to me, artist Lily Mae Martin and writer Alice Robinson about whether motherhood changes a woman's art.

The responses from Alice and Lily beautifully describe the profound impact having children can have on an artist, both practically and emotionally.

"I understand now, in new and startling ways, the vast scope for love – but also for despair and loneliness and impatience and boredom – that we can posses," Alice says.

"Though the fact of the children complicates my ability to write on a logistical level, I am grateful for the lessons these small, remarkable people have taught me about what it is to be human: striving, contradictory and flawed. If writing fiction is about investigating lives and minds and mistakes, as I believe it is, then I am doing more nuanced work now thanks to the precious trials and triumphs bestowed on me by motherhood." 

Lily has always been a courageous artist, but says motherhood has made her even braver.

"I had a pretty terrible birth experience, and I remember things weren’t going well. One of the first things I thought was, oh my gosh, I’ve wasted so much of my time. So I think I become more aware of my own limitations I guess and a bit braver because of that."

Read more of what they have to say here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Talking about the "M" word

As writer and blogger Kerry Clare says, she and I first connected through serendipity back in 2008 when I left a question on her blog about the ambiguous ending to Emily Perkin's Novel About my Wife.

At the time, Kerry was still prgenant with her first baby, but wrote a very generous and insightful review of The Divided Heart on her great literary blog, Pickle Me This. Then, a few years later, having had her own children, she went on to edit a sensational book of essays about contemporary motherhood called The M Word.

So, as Kerry says, "everything is a circle", and she has now interviewed me for her blog. She presented me with a very intelligent list of questions that really made me think! I hope I have done them justice - you can read my answers here.

With the book launch for Motherhood & Creativity being tonight (aargh!), this interview feels like good timing -- reminding me why motherhood is, as Kerry says, "so incredibly interesting, the ideas around it far-reaching and important." Hear, hear!

Love to see you at the launch if you can make it: Readings Carlton, 6.30pm.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Staking a claim to a room of one's own

At the time I did not ask Jem to give me my own studio in the design. I didn’t think that I deserved one. What was I doing that needed a creative space? Nothing. If I was to use a creative space for something, would it make any money, like Jem’s? No. Did I have time anyway? I had a challenging senior position, and a long commute, and small children, and typically unfulfilled promises to self of daily exercise. ...

I had spent so long resenting that Jem and the boys did not see more in me, and yet how could I expect them to see what I did not value in myself? Men do not feel the need to justify time and space for creativity, play and exploration, for their own projects; they feel entitled to it and just claim it. I had been waiting for validation, and it sickened me. 

Sound familiar?

I was almost deafened by the bells ringing in my head while reading these words from Anna Trembath - you can read her full piece, "Bernie's Shed", on Catherine Deveny's website here.

It was 1929 when Virginia Woolf famously envisaged a ‘golden age’ when women would finally have leisure, money and a 'room of her own' — the elements she saw as essential for creative work. And yet, what she perhaps could not have predicted was the ongoing struggle of women to stake a rightful claim to these things!

I'm tempted to take a photo of my study -- maybe I will one day -- and share it with you. On the right of the room is my partner's desk: sleek, black, pristine. On its shiny surface is one widescreen computer; two speakers; a microphone; some piece of machinery with pads that light up when you tap them; and a piano keyboard. Displayed on top of the speakers is a green statue of the Buddha, his leather tobacco pouch, an old B&W photo of his mum, and a candle. Yep, it's positively Zen in that corner of the room!

On the left... my desk: small, shabby, wooden... and covered in piles of god knows what. Currently, it's housing a broken lamp; all the opened and unopened household bills; the kids' school notes; a bag of clothes for the op-shop; photos I've been meaning to put in albums for probably the past ten years; stacks of unread books waiting to be reviewed; and a box of kids' junk I must have collected from around the house, dumped in a box, then dumped on my desk...

So what is going on here? Somehow my partner has worked out how to respect his own creative needs. He would never consider dumping the kids' junk, unwanted goods and household bills into his sacred space. As for me... sadly, my desk is pretty symbolic of my struggle to prioritise this aspect of my life (and myself).

I am constantly telling other women that they can't wait for the world to give them permission to be creative; that they must give this permission to themselves - and that it all starts with carving out space: physical, psychological and practical. I think this year will have to be the one in which I take a dose of my own medicine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writing around children

A few things you might like to check out when you have a moment:

I did an in-depth interview with writer Allison Tait as part of the Australian Writers Centre's "So You Want to be a Writer" podcast - which is a great podcast full of practical, down-to-earth tips on writing. You can read more on the AWC website or find it on iTunes here (our conversation starts about 24 minutes in).

On May 20, Allison Tait is also running a workshop at the Sydney Writers Festival on "Finding Time to Write When You Have a Family", which - knowing Allison - is bound to be super informative and loads of fun.

And while we're talking tips on writing around children, Rebecca Bowyer has written a lovely personal response to Motherhood & Creativity on the Women's Agenda website. She opens it with:

How do you find the time to write? It's a question I'm asked fairly regularly given I work a 7 day fortnight, care for 2 preschoolers, run a household and publish a blog. ...
Here's what I tell people when they ask how I find the time to write:
I write instead of watching TV.
I write instead of doing housework.
I write instead of staring out the train window on the way to work.
I write instead of sleeping.

A woman after my own heart!

A huge congratulations to fellow Affirm Press author Emily Bitto, who won the Stella Prize for her beautifully observed novel, The Strays.

As co-owner of Carlton bar Heartattack & Vine, Emily says her ideal scenario would be writing in the mornings and serving drinks at night. Yep, that sounds like the best kind of writing life to me too!

Emily donated a portion of her prize money to the Wilderness Society. Writers rock!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mother + artist = privileged?

It does seem that you’ve made a bit of a pact with the devil by trying to be both a parent and a fully functional working woman. For a start, nobody else recognises the writing as work – at least, they don’t round my way – and you have to buy your time for yourself when you have a child to look after. You have to justify each minute you’ve organised to do anything other than take care of them. That’s how it can feel to me, anyway, sitting mired in the middle of it, with the end of neither job anywhere in sight.

You’ve got to keep pushing the words out, having something to show for it, to keep the guilt at bay. Whenever I’d bought myself that time – when my daughter went to childcare, which wasn’t much: two afternoons a week – I’d be fretting with a feeling akin to trying to write while there was a taxi waiting outside with its meter on.

These are among my favourite words in Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart. That description of writing under pressure – when every minute costs and so so every minute counts – is so spot-on!

I loved interviewing Cate Kennedy, and Kill Your Darlings journal is running a longer excerpt from our conversation on its online blog here.

Motherhood & Creativity received a fairly lukewarm review from one of the major dailies over the weekend, containing many of the same criticisms the book received following the publication of the first edition. It upset me a lot more the first time around. This time I know that the book has its own audience and it doesn't have to mean something to everyone. Also, I think it always suffers from being read in one sitting – which is what a reviewer generally has to do.

One of the main misgivings I've encoutered time and again is that the book is nothing but a bunch of priveleged women complaining about their lot. This latest review repeated that sentiment, arguing: "That the women of this book are blessed with babies as well as the muse should make them a privileged species – certainly not members of a set-upon minority group."

While I don't think I've ever attempted to paint creative mothers as a "set-upon minority", neither do I understand why they should be deemed "privileged". More privileged than any other parent (man or woman) who pursues a career in their area of interest?

In my experience, most mothers are working their arses off to maintain their success, or working their arses off despite a lack of success – against the external (lack of income and support) and internal barriers (self-doubt, guilt, isolation) – within a culture that still wants women, and especially mothers, to above all be attractive, gracious and ego-less.

To have a child is to enter into a strange new set of negotiations with society, our partners, our family, ourselves. And so, the venture to be both artist and mother raises some of the biggest questions about how we choose to live and view the world: self vs society, partnering vs independence, feminism vs masculine, sacrifice vs self-interest, creativity vs economics...

It seems to me that the very nature of art feeds into the feminist debate in a unique way, precisely because art is an expression of the self – something women have been denied for much of history.

In the workplace, it is much easier to see where the inequities lie and what the barriers are. When it comes to art, the issues are not merely those of workers’ rights, or structural barriers, or even just of family conventions. Because of this, I think the experience of artist-mothers cuts through to the the heart of the feminism debate at a much more subtle and sensitive level.

The lack of guaranteed compensation and the self-driven nature of art – to assert the need to create; to carve out the time and space that art demands; to feel confident in the validity of what you have to say – requires a special kind of drive and determination for anyone.

For a mother – who not only confronts the societal expectation that she fulfill the archetypal role of mother (the giving, selfless, nurturing woman, with its inherent degree of self-denial), but also genuinely loves her children and wants to be with them – it can be particularly challenging.

Yes, it's a wonderous thing to have children. And we all deserve to live in a culture that offers the freedom and opportunity to pursue our vocations. But when a woman strives to do both, why should this be seen as a privilege?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Look who's launching 'Motherhood & Creativity'!

OK, it's finally official...

Musician Clare Bowditch will be launching Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart at Readings Carlton on Wednesday, May 6 at 6.30pm.

You can get the details here.

Clare has been the most generous champion of this book since before it even existed in print -- as you'll know if you read her lovely Preface in the new edition. She's also one warm, funny and extremely entertaining speaker, so I couldn't hope for a better launcher, lucky me.

It'll also be a chance to meet some of the other wonderful artists in the book. So please come along and introduce yourselves.

The more friendly faces I see, the less nervous I'll feel on the night. Everyone welcome!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Girls and kids and bands

I had a revealing conversation with a friend the other night, while I was telling her my dream list of overseas artists should I ever be in a position to do an international version of Motherhood & Creativity.

I had always hoped I might one day get to interview Sonic Youth musician Kim Gordon, who has recently published her memoir, Girl in a Band.

Also on my list, predictably, was Patti Smith. Although Kim Gordon's book is repeatedly compared to Smith's Just Kids, the two women seem to have very different takes on the impact of having children on their creative lives and identities.

After Gordon's daughter Coco was born in 1994, the band toured with a porta-cot in the bus, though “dripping breast milk during a video shoot is not very rock,” she writes. (If you want the full nitty-gritty on the matter of touring with kids, you can find a great -- and very detailed -- conversation between Suzanne Vega and Kim Gordon here.)

Perhaps because she and her partner, Thurston Moore, were in the same band, Gordon could make a clear comparison between the impact of kids on her life versus his, and this appears to have played a strong part in defining her experience. As a result, she is quite open about the conflict she felt between parenting and maintaining a life of rock 'n' roll.

"...after Coco was born I realised we had never talked about what kind of parents or partners we wanted to be. I'd simply assumed Thurston was supportive of feminist issues, like equal participation in child care, equal responsibilities around the house, and so forth.

"Like most new mothers, I found that no matter how just and shared you expect the experience to be, or how equal the man thinks parenting should be, it isn't. It can’t be. Most child-raising falls on women’s shoulders. This doesn’t make men bad parents, though it can make women feel alone in what they’d hoped would be an equal division of labour."

As for Patti Smith... apparently, at a talk she did in Australia a few years back, there was a question from the floor from a woman who mentioned my book and asked Smith how she coped with putting her art aside in order to raise her children.

Obviously I can't quote her answer, but it seems the question was dismissed as irrelevant -- Smith's general argument being that there is no separation between art and life, it's all part of one big creative act, so why would there be a conflict?

Ah, to be Patti Smith...

So, knowing that, I don't suppose I'll be approaching the great punk poet laureate any time soon, though I certainly don't dismiss her sentiment outright. If anything, I'm not alone in admiring the big creative act that is Patti Smith's life, though I don't know if I could ever aspire to live that way.

In Motherhood & Creativity, actor Claudia Karvan says that she has sacrificed nothing and gained everything in becoming a mother -- and I love those words.

We all exist on a spectrum in terms of how readily we combine mothering and creativity in our lives -- and there are so many variables that support or detract from this. But like most issues of the heart, to personally find something easy is not a good reason to dismiss the experience of those who struggle.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Talking on the radio

I so enjoyed talking to musicians Leah Avene and Jess Fairfax today on their PBS 106.7 FM radio program "All Our Stories" today.

I don't think I'll ever stop finding radio appearances insanely nerve-wracking, but when it's all about engaging in a conversation like this, it's also a pleasure. You can listen to today's interview here.

It was also a great chance to hear some of the musos featured in Motherhood & Creativity. Hearing the voices of Deline Briscoe, Clare Bowditch and Holly Throsby warmed the cockles of my heart!

And to top it all off, it was the non-official launch of a new song written in direct response to the book -- yes, The Divided Heart has inspired a song! In fact a whole album! -- by Melbourne singer-songwriter Suzannah Espie. Read all about it on her website here.

What an incredibly humbling thing that is, and so lovely to hear phone-calls coming in as her song was playing, asking who the singer was. A big thank you to Suzannah for allowing us to play it live for the first time on air today. It was pretty darn special.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Launching creative women

March 8 was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate and highlight the valuable contributions women make to our world.

Musician Rose Wintergreen decided that one day was not enough, so she is featuring a month-long series of posts celebrating female artists from Australia on her fabulous Launch Bubble site.

She was generous enough to include me in her line-up - and you can read our interview here.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'Motherhood & Creativity' - upcoming events

September 27, 2015, 2:30pm
The Regal Ballroom
216 High St, Northcote, VIC 3070
Welcome to your September arts injection! Yes, while gentlemen in tight shorts throb across football ovals, Women of Letters will be gathering in the magnificent surrounds of the REGAL BALLROOM, where we will once again celebrate the lost art of correspondence with friends, new and old.

On Sunday, 27th September, the WoL team bring together on stage for the first time:
Performance artist and circus director ANNI DAVEY
Writer, artist, and author of ’The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood’ RACHEL POWER
Fashion icon ALANNAH HILL
Travel reporter and television presenter CATRIONA ROWNTREE
And author, columnist and CEO ZOE FOSTER BLAKE

These fine dames will each be penning ‘A Letter to the Bridge I Burnt.’ There'll be the usual wine/aerogramme-penning combo we’ve grown to love and a special DJ set from the inimitable JESS McGUIRE. Join us for a most pleasant afternoon celebrating a diverse range of strong female talent whilst simultaneously raising funds for animal rescue shelter, Edgar's Mission:(

Tickets are $20.00 plus b.f. and are available through the Oztix website, or $25.00 on the door, if available. Please note that we’re back to our regular timeslot: doors at 2.30pm. If you have any access requirements, please contact Women of Letters directly at so we can arrange priority seating for you. Bookings ESSENTIAL.

Radio National Books Arts Daily - Tuesday May 19
PBS FM "All Our Stories" program - Monday April 13
Triple R Breakfasters - Friday April 1
ABC 774 "The Conversation Hour" with Jon Faine - March 25

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'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!
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.

Monday, January 12, 2015

'Intersection: The Art of Motherhood' exhibition opening Wednesday

I have contributed a few works to a group exhibition, Intersection: The Art of Motherhood, which opens this Wednesday January 14, 6-8pm at Red Gallery, 157 St Georges Rd, North Fitzroy.

The works run the full gamut of emotions that motherhood engenders, as I write in the catalogue essay:

As new mothers, we confront the sudden loss of boundaries; our minds and bodies tested beyond all previous limits of patience and endurance. As our children grow, we are challenged by our inability to control the world they move through; to embrace the extreme vulnerability and uncertainty that comes with loving another person so much. 

The universal themes of mothering – the guilt and ambivalence, the power of maternal love, the challenge of letting go – are all explored in "Intersection: The Art of Motherhood". These works describe the newfound connection between past and present; the renewed chance to see the world through a child’s eyes; and a love so intense that it can only be represented by the vastness of sea and sky.

So if you're in Melbourne and feel like taking in some art and a free drink while lots of kids run around your legs (always a crazy combination!), then please come along on Wednesday night. Or pop in whenever you get a chance.