Interview with Helen Lloyd, our new Editor

Helen Lloyd is a Bath-based writer, editor and technical accountant. She has had something of a lifestyle shift since having her two sons, and now makes her living with a portfolio of work that uses all her skills, while spending her days with her family and seeking out spare minutes to read and to pursue an unrealistically long list of interests.

1. Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I live in Bath with my husband Huw, and two small boys, Isaac and Aneurin. Before I had Isaac we were living in London and I had a very busy job working in technical accounting. After I gave birth to Isaac I quickly realised that going back to my busy job wasn’t going to work for me and Isaac! I surprised myself by becoming (what I considered to be) a hippy parent — breastfeeding for much longer than I’d expected and finding that I couldn’t think of anything more important than being at home with my son.

So I left my job and found work that I could do around my baby by working every evening and every time he slept. Thrillingly for me the work was mainly writing (albeit about accountancy) and, for the first time, someone was paying me to write! (I now have two accounting books to my name, with another on the way.)

I trained as a breastfeeding counsellor with La Leche League so I fit that around my part time job, some freelancing with real spreadsheets (once an accountant, always an accountant), and now, of course, my work with Mother’s Milk Books.

I’ve been lucky to have the chance to edit LLLGB’s members’ magazine Breastfeeding Matters too – it’s hard work but is giving me lots of editing practice.

To make sure I keep writing, I blog at about all sorts of topics, with a bias towards books and babies.

2. So… you’re now working for Mother’s Milk Books as an editor. How did you first come to hear of Mother’s Milk Books? What was it about the press that held your interest?

I think it was when I first became involved with LLL – I saw a call for submissions for the book that turned out to be Musings on Mothering. I thought this might be just what I needed to get myself writing, so I contacted Teika but I’d missed the deadline. It made me aware of the press, though, and I bought the book as soon as it came out.

I loved the idea of a press that’s focused on these topics that had suddenly became so interesting to me: mothering, and breastfeeding, and all with a sense of warmth that didn’t come at the expense of intelligence or intellectual curiosity.

3. What will you be doing as an editor? And can you explain a little bit about how editing works?

At this stage I’ll be working pretty flexibly doing whatever’s most needed at the time! I’ll be reading manuscripts and debating their merits with Teika, as well as acting as a general sounding board; I then love the process of performing a detailed review and giving feedback for authors on what is and isn’t working.

From my own experience of writing, too, I know that everyone needs an editor. When you’ve laboured on something it’s really hard to be objective enough about what works and what doesn’t. This might be at the very high level of which viewpoint is used, or the large structure of a piece, or it might be in the detail, whether it’s repetition, paragraphs that don’t flow, or something else. I’ve had a few pieces edited myself where my first response has been total dejection because it’s covered in red pen – but actually, it’s incredibly valuable to have someone helping you work out what could be rearranged, clarified, or cut – even if it does feel as though they’re pulling apart your baby.

4. When you read a manuscript what gets you excited, and equally, what makes you nod off?

I think the thing that really pulls me into any kind of manuscript is honesty. This doesn’t just apply to non-fiction, and it means so much more than telling the truth. When a piece is written from the heart, and the author has been careful to listen to their own inner voice and to be true to it, it always pulls me in. I don’t mean that I particularly love confessional memoirs, but I really do dislike pretentiousness, false tone, or anything that seems like an attempt at cynical manipulation of the reader. I am also an automatic proof-reader and it does trouble me when anything has basic spelling or grammatical errors in it. It seems to me that one way of showing basic respect to a reader is to ensure that this sort of error just doesn’t appear.

I read a fiction manuscript recently that Mother’s Milk Books will be publishing next year (note from Teika: Helen is talking about the incredible Oy Yew) and I loved pretty much everything about it, though what’s really stuck with me is the authenticity of the main characters. The author clearly knew them as she was writing about them, and this glows through the work, and leaves the reader frantically rooting for them because they feel so real.

5. Can you tell us what some of your favourite books are?

This is such a hard question! My best way of answering it is to give you a couple of examples across a few genres, with the caveat that I’ll almost certainly have forgotten to mention something I love.

In fiction, if I need to be sure of reliably escaping from the world for a while, it’s Dickens every time, with Bleak House winning. I do enjoy a lot of modern fiction, too (though I’m impatient with even more of it) – I could single out Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer) just because it came back into my mind recently, and is such a perfect example of a consistent voice (in fact, more than one) and of idiosyncratic language use that is genuinely funny and touching rather than irritating.

In non-fiction, I must have read Naomi Stadlen’s What Mothers Do at least half a dozen times. It’s genuinely shaped the way I think about my mothering and myself, and has given me rich reserves of ideas to draw on.

Then, and arbitrarily limiting myself to a small number, I have to mention Stephen King’s On Writing. Whether or not King’s novels are your thing, his advice on writing is provocative and stern and sensible and accurate and, most of all, inspiring. If you read that, and Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, and you’re not immediately overwhelmed with the urge to shut yourself away with a pen and a pile of books, then I’m going to suggest that you’re not quite human!

6. Some of your favourite authors?

Again, where do I start, and where do I stop?

In no order: Marilynne Robinson, Charles Dickens, Lorrie Moore, and Hilary Mantel. If I had a shelf full just from them then I’d be able to stay in one room forever.

This is based on a very personal idea of a favourite author being someone whose new work you would buy regardless of its title, described content, or critical response. I suppose Dickens fails that test, as he’s unlikely to produce anything new, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever read Pickwick Papers to the end, but he’s a reliable safe place, and bears infinite re-reading. With someone like Hilary Mantel, her voice is so eerily hers, despite the massive range of topics her novels and stories have covered. I hungrily seek out interviews with her, just to get a fix.

7. Any thoughts about the kind of literature being published nowadays?

It seems to be so hard for any book to make a mark. To my mind, this means we’re seeing a lot of low-risk literature being published, in the sense of covering areas or themes that have already been addressed again and again.

There’s still room for bravery and innovation, but it’s hard for publishers to take a leap where a work can’t be easily categorized.

I also have a personal bugbear about books that just aren’t edited enough. There has been flab in a lot of the modern fiction I’ve read recently, sometimes with whole sections that do nothing to move a story forward, or just with a general tendency to overwriting. In some cases I imagine this to be left in there through editorial fear of offending the writer, and it irks me. An editor should be able to be honest enough (and trusted enough) to be able to point out this kind of excess, because writers are usually too close to their own work to be able to be sufficiently ruthless.

8. Are there any up-and-coming authors we, as readers, should be watching out for?

I mentioned above reading a manuscript that I’d loved pretty much everything about. Ana Salote’s Oy Yew will be published in Summer 2015 and I’m so excited about it. Ana’s writing is so fresh, and although it’s a children’s book, it’s subtle and complex enough to have kept this adult enthralled – and it’s the first of a trilogy! I’m hoping to invoke some kind of editor’s rights to grab the manuscript of the second one the minute the ink is dry.

9. Now that the benefits of breastfeeding are better understood is there a need to publish books that celebrate femininity and normalize breastfeeding? i.e. is there still a need for Mother’s Milk Books?!

I do think there’s a very real need for this sort of book, still. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, but I’m not sure they’re fully understood yet, and there’s definitely not enough out there that celebrates the joy of breastfeeding (as opposed to the health advantages and so on).

Some people are embarrassed about celebrating the mother-baby relationship, worrying that it reduces women to their reproductive skills, but this ignores the possibility of rich transformation that motherhood brings. Mother’s Milk Books has a place in recognizing and valuing this.

10. What kind of books would you like to see Mother’s Milk Books publish?

I’m not unbiased here, since I’ve loved everything Mother’s Milk Books has published so far, but I do hope to see more straight non-fiction books celebrating the joys of mothering. (Note from Teika: Helen, your wish has been granted! more on that later…) The anthologies so far (Musings on Mothering and Parenting) have been packed with fantastically written short pieces – so many of these have themes that could easily grow into a book! I have a couple of particular hobby-horse ideas of my own, but I’ll keep them close to my chest while I nurture and develop them.

It would be great too to see Mother’s Milk Books printing fiction where breastfeeding is casually present, as it were – not a theme, or a preoccupation, but a natural and unremarkable part of the picture. Apparently, Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith which is being published in 2016 fits this remit so I’m eagerly waiting to get my hands on this too!

11. Can you share any tips for aspiring writers wishing to be published? Or tips for how to get creative when you’re a busy mum?

For those hoping to be published, I’d say keep working on it. Write as much as you can, and read as much as you can, and work out why you love the things you love, so you can try to do it for yourself. But bear in mind that producing work that you’re proud of is only part of the battle, and be prepared for rejection and disappointment along the way. It may take a while to find a publisher who is a good fit for you.

As for creativity, I wish I managed this better myself. The best tip I’ve had, though, is to stop hanging on for those lovely great swathes of uninterrupted time that you used to be able to carve out for yourself in your life pre-children. Realistically, it will be years before this sort of luxury is available, so train yourself to work whenever you get any time at all, even if it’s only ten minutes as you hide in the kitchen while the pasta’s cooking. It takes strength and mental discipline to get good at using these slivers of time, but they really can add up – and besides, they are all that you’re going to get, so make the most of them.

12. If someone would like to support Mother’s Milk Books, what should they do?

Buy some books! Obviously there are other great things a supporter can do, such as sharing their love widely with friends and family and all over social media, but ultimately the way a business keeps going is by making sales – and this is a business that is worth keeping going.

13. Where do you work? Do you have a picture of your workspace that you’d like to share with us?

I’m in the smallest bedroom of the house, which comes complete with fitted wardrobe. I’d like to say that the picture is of my space on a messy day, but in reality this is as tidy as it ever gets. You can see that I have no separation of my interests/work streams except in having two computers so I can kid myself that everything’s under control.

One day I’ll have a long desk, the length of the room, with a work end and an art and craft end, with enough drawers underneath, enough shelves over, and a functional but pretty chair. Until then, it will be the folding dining table, spare dining chair, and books piled up wherever I can make room for them.

14. Final bit of frippery… tea or coffee? Milk or no milk?

Coffee, strong and black. I cut it with decaff at the moment, but there is just no joy to compare with that first cup of the day.

When they’re gone, they’re gone!

Back at the start of the year, Barb Sheppard, a long-term LLL Leader and supporter, hand bound a copy of Musings on Mothering (with accompanying handmade box) to auction off through ebay for the charity La Leche League GB. It raised over £70 for the charity – 100% of the proceeds from the sale going directly to LLLGB – with various interested parties making a bid for it at the last minute!

I had a few spare copies of Musings left in loose-leaf form after the original litho print run, so I thought it would be lovely to get them hand bound and offered for sale via our store The Mother’s Milk Bookshop – particularly for those who were interested in the auction. Barb kindly agreed to putting in the necessary work, so here they now are! We did have 7 but one has been snapped up already… I hate to say it, but when they’re gone, they’re gone! There are no loose-leaf sheets left and no plans on any more print runs so that’ll be it… a true limited edition. 🙂

If you’d like any more details about the book which has an RRP of £35 feel free to email me on: teika [at]

And if you’re interested in doing some Christmas shopping over at our store, please do use the discount code PARENTING to get a further 15% off the price of your basket (valid until the end of November).

Thank you for your continued support, and happy shopping!

Looking back at the 2013 LLLGB Conference

I like the idea of getting dressed up smartly and then going to publishing events, launches, conferences etc. to mix and mingle with the aim of letting the world know about the books and cards I’m producing and selling. The reality though is far different…

There are oh-so-many things to consider now that I am a parent: a breastfeeding little one who, although completely happy with his grandma, likes to check in with his mama from time to time for milk and cuddles; school drop-off and pick-up times for my big girl; a suitable child’s car seat for my mum’s car; enough refreshments, nappies and entertainment to last the day; and the practicality of lugging boxes of heavy books around when trying to hold my little one’s hand AND cross a busy road safely!

So at present ‘events’ don’t fit in easily with family life.

But the annual La Leche League GB conference is, for me, the one big annual event, and I start to think about this months in advance.

Why is this then?

As many of you know, LLL is a charity close to my heart, and their events are, of course, completely child-friendly and mama-friendly. So my little one, grandma in tow, came and went as he pleased – completely fascinated by going up and down the hotel lifts and then exploring the many corridors, then it was back to my stall…

When we had a nappy leak, a friendly mama offered baby wipes which I didn’t have to hand, and my friend, LLL Leader Lois Rowlands (who is also the creator of the image on Letting Go) carried boxes with me and then helped me to find a trolley to transport the rest.

At the end of the second day of the conference my little boy, completely exhausted from all the hotel exploring and excitement fell asleep nursing just as I had to pack away my stall and send my mum off to get her car out of the expensive car park, seconds ticking away… I hadn’t brought a sling with me or anything so knew I would have to ask someone for babysitting help. A friendly Leader offered to sit with both my little ones as I packed up the stall and then ran up and down stairs carrying half-empty boxes, my mum in her car waiting outside.

That’s what I love most about LLL – if you need a hand, a little support when you really could do with some then they are there for you. So this conference will continue to be in my events diary for the foreseeable future. 🙂

And by the way, the mixing and mingling was fun, and it was lovely to hear so many positive comments about my books, cards and prints. I am though looking forward to a rather quieter weekend this weekend… 😉

My daughter’s salt dough decorations – she’s a budding entrepreneur too!

‘The Mother-Burden’ or ‘Love & Fear’

Some reflections on the birth of a mother, and what it means to be a mother… by Teika Bellamy

The other day (22/07/2013) my mum called me late in the evening and left a message on my answerphone, “a boy has been born…”. Now I admit I’m not the most news-aware person in the world but even I knew what she was talking about. (My mum, bless her generous heart, is a big fan of the Royals and gifted the Duchess of Cambridge with a copy of Musings on Mothering a while back, but that’s another story…!)

Anyway, I was glad to hear that the Duchess of Cambridge’s son had safely arrived in the world, and as I went to bed that night I couldn’t help but wonder how the new mother (indeed, every new-born mother) was feeling. I looked back to the night, about six years ago, when I gave birth to my own first baby and the strong emotions I experienced after the birth.

I was in hospital and recovering from a post-partum haemorrhage and second-degree tear to my perineum. I was sore but happy; hungry and tired. It was good to have my husband around; it was good to finally meet my baby and hold her in my arms.

The first time I put my daughter to my breast I felt as though I had reached the culmination of womanhood; my womb and placenta had provided for her for the first nine months of her being, now my breasts and arms would continue to keep her well fed and safe.

However, when my husband had to leave the hospital, and it was just my daughter and I together, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried. It was just the two of us now – would we be okay?

I put her in the bedside crib for a moment, bundled in her NHS blanket, and I lay back in my bed and closed my eyes. I wasn’t really expecting to sleep – the lights were still on and there was a lot of background noise in this strange, clinical place, but I was tired. I must have dozed a little, because I very clearly remember being jolted awake and immediately, instinctively, looking to my baby. She appeared to be completely still, not breathing, and my heart almost burst with fear. My hands flew to her chest to find her heartbeat, to make sure that her chest was still moving up and down, and when I knew that she was okay – simply asleep and peaceful – I cried. This was the moment I really knew what it was to be a mother: for the rest of my life I would know joy, pure, wonderful joy in being a mother to my children, but also the fear, the very primal fear of knowing that something might happen to them.

Mothers throughout the world live with these two powerful emotions every day. We long to make sure that our children are well fed and safe, and sometimes, in the early days our fears for their safety may seem overwhelming. Certainly, our anxieties about them being well fed are common, particularly in the west. It can be of great solace to a breastfeeding mother to meet with other breastfeeding mothers to discuss weight gain concerns in the early days. Speaking with a counsellor from a breastfeeding support charity like La Leche League can be invaluable too, especially for a mother who needs some reassurance and good information about how often to feed in the early days and weeks.

I still remember how it took many months, years even, for my fear for my daughter’s safety to ease off. Even now, I like to go to my children’s beds and stroke their heads when they’re fast asleep. It’s an extra way for me to re-connect with them – to again check that they’re okay – when we’ve been extra busy during the day.

Obviously, as our children get older our fears for their safety lessen, although of course they can be replaced by other, new and perhaps more complicated fears.

Just the other day, I lost sight of both my children in the school playground. I thought perhaps they’d walked home together already (we only live about a minute’s walk away from the school) so I rushed out of the school gates and down the road to find them… but they weren’t there. I ran back to the school (ultra-aware that I was the only parent there without a child – my heart almost bursting with fear again) and then I spotted them. Tears came to my eyes as relief at finding them washed over me.

This is the mother-burden: the fear that allies itself with joy, and no amount of money, possessions or status can remove it from a mother’s heart. Yet this is what it is to be human: to know our own mortality. Sometimes our fears are irrational, sometimes they are very real and rational; they are nearly always a useful way to connect with our inner voice, which can swiftly impel us to make necessary adjustments to our everyday lives so that fear can be avoided for future scenarios.

It would certainly be less of a burden to not feel fear for and on our children’s behalf, yet let us not forget that fear is a powerful – and sometimes urgent – reminder of how much we love and value our children. And I firmly believe that our ability to love unconditionally is our strength.

Stall at local LLL Nottingham workshop

Here is a photograph of my little stall at the local LLL Nottingham workshop that I attended on Saturday 4th May. It was really great to meet up with so many lovely La Leche League ladies from various parts of the Midlands (and other parts of the country), and to see so many happily nursing babies and toddlers in the meeting room. LLL get-togethers always have such a lovely atmosphere about them, and of course they are a place where breastfeeding is the ‘norm’ and treated as such – which is refreshing!

Although my stall wasn’t heaving with items, I’m so proud to see it growing… Last October at the LLLGB conference it had one book on it – Musings on Mothering – and now it has greetings cards (20 designs), sold individually and in multipacks. My daughter and I spent many, many minutes (!) folding and packing the cards and envelopes into cellophane bags. I’ve also stocked up on The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which I think is a great book to have in my online store. I’m also looking forward to adding art and poetry prints to my growing list of products. I’m getting there slowly…! (Though I’ve still got lots more product details to add to the store.) Check it out, and if you have any sales questions, don’t hesitate to email me here: [email protected]

A few words from the winning bidder of the recent ebay auction…

I was delighted to receive the following feedback from Lucy Holmes, who was the winning bidder of the hand bound hardback edition of Musings on Mothering:

“The handmade boxed copy of Musings on Mothering is absolutely beautiful – perfectly put together by Barbara who did a truly amazing job. What a talent! There was even a lovely note in it from her, which I am leaving in for posterity and to remind me who made it. It’s really special to have managed to win the book as my two poems in it are the first ever to be officially published so to own a completely unique one-off copy of my first ‘publication’ is something to treasure and which will be handed down to my daughter in the future. What a perfect way to mark the creativity of motherhood! I was thrilled when it arrived… Thanks so much for putting this all together.”

I am so pleased to have been able to help raise just over £70 for La Leche League Great Britain through the auction, and doubly pleased that Lucy’s delighted with the book. Thanks again to Barb and to all those who got involved in the auction and helped spread the word.

Early auction of a unique handbound copy of ‘Musings on Mothering’ is now live!

I wanted to alert you all to a fundraising auction in aid of LLLGB. With the great help of Barb Sheppard, an ex-Leader and long-term supporter of LLL, I have put together an ebay auction of a unique handbound hardback copy of Musings on Mothering. 100% of the proceeds from the sale will go to LLLGB. Please do take a look at this unique book, which took Barb absolutely hours to produce, and share widely if possible.

I know I’m biased, but I really think this would make for a great Mothers’ Day gift! So if you’d like to make a bid, Barb and I would be delighted!

Thank you again Barb! You’re a real star. 🙂

First royalty cheque received by LLLGB

Before the end of January I managed to get the first royalty cheque for sales of Musings on Mothering (to date) sent off to LLLGB. A short while later I received their acknowledgement.

It is really lovely to know that due to my efforts – and the efforts of all the wonderful contributors – Mother’s Milk Books has managed to raise this so far. Hopefully there will be many more royalty cheques to come!

Many thanks again to all those who made this possible.

The progress of a very special book

The lovely Barb Sheppard recently sent me some photos of the various stages involved in the binding of the one-off hardbound copy of Musings on Mothering. This is her ‘prototype’ and I think it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see the ‘real’ book, and remember, it will be auctioned off for LLLGB through eBay. And if you’d like to keep up-to-date with all the latest news from Mother’s Milk Books, please do consider subscribing to this blog; there’s going to be some interesting updates…

On bulbs and potential…

When we went to the LLLGB Conference last October we received a lovely goody bag, and one of the gifts inside was a bulb. When we returned home my daughter and I planted it. The other day (before we got all this snow) we checked on the flowerpot where we had planted it and we could see a small spike of the palest green peeking out of the soil. It had already shooted!

We are now looking forward to watching it grow and bloom, and wondering what colour the flower will be…

Bulbs are pretty amazing since they can survive, grow and flower with very little from the surrounding environment. To begin with, they only really need water, and once they start shooting they will utilize carbon dioxide and sunlight in the process of photosynthesis to produce more food for themselves (glucose) and of course oxygen, without which they (or we) couldn’t live.*

Bulbs have a great energy store within them, and viewed from a poet-philosopher’s eye, great potential… rather like humans. Within each of us we carry the great potential to create; whether it be the creation of a family, an enriching relationship, a piece of art or writing, a felt toy or a tasty home-cooked meal… even a clean bathroom or a tidy shelf! We need very little to create something beautiful: a little time, a few materials (or some basic skills) along with some encouraging words.

When I had the germ of an idea for Mother’s Milk Books way back in spring 2011 I had no idea of how it would develop, and I’ve been so proud to watch it grow in its own unique way — slowly, but with great determination! I have loved seeing its first flower Musings on Mothering blossom, and I’m looking forward to seeing how other possible projects develop…

Although I am brimming over with ideas of what to work on next, I am conscious of the fact that there are constraints to me being able to fulfill these ideas: namely time and money (alas, this is one of the few necessities for book production!). But I am rich in encouraging words.

So I plan to take things slowly… do what I can in the moments between looking after my little ones and spending precious time with family and loved ones.

I will have faith that like the flower bulb my daughter and I planted last year, growth – and the continuance of life and creativity — is inevitable. A flower will blossom: I don’t know when, or what form or colour the flower will be. But it will happen.

Thank you and best wishes to all those who have supported me so far. A very Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.

*Apologies to any plant biologists out there in case my explanation of photosynthesis lacks any crucial details. I am after all, a mere chemist… 😉