As we celebrate the publication of our latest book The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: THE STORY OF US I’m delighted to be able to share this interview on the blog. A huge thank you to Jessica for taking the time to share her thoughts on motherhood, writing, and what it means to win this prize.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in the north of England with my husband and our two girls who are aged 2 and 5. I am currently in the second year of a PhD in which I am studying how people communicate multilingually within the arts, specifically in street theatre production and performance.
Being a mum to two little ones and a PhD student means that life is certainly never boring. I have lots of inspiration to be creative, but not so much in terms of time! I hope that although juggling the two different parts of my life can make for an extremely busy time, my children will understand more about the joy of learning and the possibilities that are open to them. I enjoy reading, poetry, crafts and visual arts. I count myself incredibly lucky to be able to work doing something I enjoy and to live near my family who are supportive. As a family we try and spend as much time as possible outdoors and we are fortunate in that we live only a short drive from lots of beautiful countryside.
2. How, when and why did you first start writing?
I think I have always enjoyed writing in some form, certainly when I was a young child I would write little stories for my friends and family. I find writing a very satisfying way to communicate and to play with ideas and stories.
3. How often do you write?
Technically I write every day, as my PhD requires me to do so! I believe that the more you write, the more you can write and I try to mix up the kind of writing I do. I write for a couple of work-related blogs, I write my research journal, I do my academic work of course but then, when I have the time and the inspiration takes me, I do some for myself.
4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?
Having left my long-term job in September 2014 to become a postgraduate student and after just about coming out of the fog that is sleepless nights and small babies I found myself reflecting a lot on the change in my situation and this process of reflection led me to start to consider some of the themes I was presented with through thinking about my own experiences. Motherhood is wonderful and yet also all-consuming in ways I hadn’t expected before I had children myself. I find it to be a source of never-ending inspiration: it pushes me to write about it and to explore my emotions and experiences creatively through writing. I needed somewhere to ‘place’ this kind of work and to see it as a creative output of its own. I saw the opportunity to submit a piece of writing for this competition on the Mslexia website and thought it would be worth a try.
5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?
I was surprised to say the least! It was the first piece I had ever submitted for a prize of this kind and to be honest I was not expecting to win at all. I then felt quite nervous of it being in the public domain and asked a few friends and family members to read it and to pass on their comments. They were very positive about it and reassured me that it could be published: their support and kind words were very gratefully received! After that, I felt quite proud of it. The nicest thing was being able to tell my eldest daughter that I was going to have my writing published in a book as she is very keen to write and to become an author when she grows up: her eyes lit up and she was so excited. I think she told her teacher the next day at school. She’s been writing her own little books ever since: perhaps we can set up our own little family writing group!
6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?
The piece itself is quite a personal story about my eldest daughter who was taken very ill at four weeks old and rushed to hospital (terrifyingly). Although I talked about it a lot both at the time and since it happened, I had never written about it. I found the process simultaneously cathartic and overwhelming. I did find it hard to read again as it brought back the memories of that time and the fear I felt both as a brand new mother to a tiny baby when everybody wants to ‘have a go at holding the baby!’ and then the shock of her illness and being rushed to hospital. The experience did characterize the first few months of motherhood for me: this sense of being so afraid that she would be ill again. It’s interesting now to reflect on that time as I can see how different things are now.
I do think it’s important to portray this side of motherhood which so often doesn’t get talked about: the fear and the intensely fierce protection that we feel towards our babies as new mothers (and forever more!).
7. Any future writing plans?
Well, I’ll be writing a thesis over the next couple of years! I plan to write more of my own creative work too – probably less in terms of memoir and personal writing like this piece was and more short stories and fiction. I have this idea for a book…but it will probably have to wait until I graduate.
8. Any tips for writers?
I do think writing gets better the more you practise. I also read a lot and I think this has helped me with my own writing. I find showing my work to people to be a very difficult process, and so my response is to make myself do it as much as possible! I try to get outside myself comfort zone, even if it is frightfully uncomfortable. Also that you can find inspiration in everything, even the unexpected: I recently wrote about the never-ending ‘soft play centre’ party circuit that parents of 5 year olds are so familiar with.
Jessica’s winning prose piece ‘The First Winter’ was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of JUNO. It also features in The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: THE STORY OF US. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize, please read the full guidelines here.