I’m delighted to be able to share this interview on the blog – Helen’s answers make for an interesting, and very inspiring read.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Mama of three lovely home schooled children, (8, 4 and 18 months), I’m a writer, knitter, bookbinder and maker of things. We live just outside of Paris, France, with my French husband. I’ve studied literature, drama and art therapy in my time before devoting myself full time to mothering. It turned out to be a wild ride of a journey which led me to discovering much about myself as I met other mothers and made many important choices about what kind of mama I wanted to be (natural weaning, co-sleeping, carrying).
We spend our days outside a lot, listening to the birdsong, building stuff, dancing, singing and learning about whatever interests us on any given day. I try to live in the present moment as much as possible and share these brief days of my children’s childhood with them fully.
2. How, when and why did you first start writing?
I don’t really remember not writing. I always liked to scribble down stories as a child and I remember having great writing projects with my best friend in my early teens. I think I’ve always had a compulsion to tell stories, to reinterpret my world through words.
Since becoming a mum I’ve been keeping a journal. Originally this was to notice things about being with my daughter and to work through the many difficult decisions that come with parenting. It’s become a keystone of my mindfulness practice, helping me to notice the exceptional and the precious in the everyday and the normal.
3. How often do you write?
Haha! I wish I could give a precise answer to this but with three kids at home all day and all our homeschooling activities my writing schedule is very erratic. I do keep a little notebook and pen with me all the time these days and jot down poems and thoughts when they come to me if at all possible. I also recite poems to myself in my head if I can’t get to pen and paper, like when I’m nursing our little one to sleep, in order not to lose them. I write something every day, from a scribbled note in my journal to a full blown poem or piece of prose.
4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?
I saw the competition advertised in Juno magazine and I thought wow, what a great name for a publisher, I’m sure they must work on things that would interest me and I do have a lot of writing, poems and prose about mothering, so why not. After checking out the website I was sure this was the right place for my writing.
5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?
I was really pleased. I believe I may have been seen jumping up and down very excitedly in our kitchen. It’s been very motivating to keep on writing and made me begin to think about how to take my work further. I’ve had a lot of ideas and projects simmering away in the background for a long time now while I’ve been busy growing babies and taking care of them and it feels that the time is now right for me to take some time for myself and let my writing projects develop.
6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?
The ‘A Train’ is a poem I originally wrote about my oldest daughter Maya. I loved carrying her and dancing or walking her to sleep. I would sing to her a lot, jazz songs and lullabies and pop too. I revisited the poem as I’ve had two more babies and I thought even more about how important carrying is to them and wanted to record my sweet memories of that and also of being pregnant. I loved my stretched belly so full of baby and how the sling and the wrap made me feel still so attached to my little ones. The title is in reference to the wonderful jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn. I love the Ella Fitzgerald version, it has a beautiful lilting rhythm.
It’s a free form poem, I don’t often write in a set poetic form. I like to write the words down as I would speak them, trying to make the rhythm and breathing come through the shape of the poem.
7. Any future writing plans?
I have a host of poems that I’m working on, I’d love to get more of them out there. I’d also really like to finish the novel I began which is three quarters of the way there. I’d also like to work on factual prose pieces about parenting and creativity. I have some crazier projects like a sound, poetry and art installation about babies which I’ve been dreaming up for a couple of years. As a knitter, sewer and bookbinder, I’d also like to work on making some of my own books and artwork. Oh and of course, my children are waiting for me to make into books some of the stories I’ve made up for them!
8. Any tips for writers?
Write. If you’re a writer you’ll never feel whole if you don’t. And I suppose don’t be afraid to try, to let someone else read your work. Your personal voice is just as important and interesting as any one else’s, the world needs our stories.
Helen’s winning poem ‘The A Train’ will first be published in the summer issue of Juno (out June 2014) and then in the 2013 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology which is to be published this September.