Interview with Barbara Higham, winner of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (prose category)

I love a good story – of course! – and some of the most interesting ones are about writers. So I thought it would be a good idea to interview the winners of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize with a view to learning more about them and also to (hopefully) encourage more of you wonderfully creative folk to enter this year’s competition (to be launched September of this year). First we will hear from Barbara Higham, the winner of the prose category.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a dreamer who is approaching 50, dwelling on those hands of time. A mother of three: Felix (almost 16), Edgar (12) and Amelia (8). I am managing editor of Breastfeeding Today magazine for La Leche League International and have worked in LLL publications since becoming a Leader in 2004. I work in a school part time with a child on the autistic spectrum and have just begun a job in a nursery and pre-school one day a week. Before I had children, I read German language and literature at Manchester uni, then worked as a librarian, qualified as a solicitor, sold children’s books in the world’s biggest bookshop and worked in legal publishing.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

As a young child in notebooks. I liked writing stories and poems. Then diaries and letters.

3. How often do you write?

I correspond with friends by email daily. I’ve written a few articles in magazines and a few stories that I haven’t shared with anybody.

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

Teika suggested it. I had just received a rejection from a magazine to which I’d sent ‘Dusty Bluebells’ and didn’t have time to write anything else.

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

Flabbergasted and thrilled. A real lift.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?

I think the piece speaks for itself.

7. Any future writing plans?

I enjoy writing but am not at all sure anyone else might want to read what I’d write.

8. Any tips for writers?

I wouldn’t have the audacity!

Barbara’s winning piece ‘Going Back or Dusty Bluebells’ 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.

Interview: Alison Lock on motherhood and creativity

I am delighted to be able to post yet another wonderful interview on the Mother’s Milk Books blog – this time from poet Alison Lock whose beautiful poem ‘On the Carpet’ – which featured in Musings on Mothering – really struck a chord with me. Thank you again, Alison, for taking part!


Alison Lock is a writer of poetry and short stories and a facilitator of Life Writing courses. She is also the mother of four sons and has always been interested in the ways that creativity can support and nurture the time spent together during the early days of parenthood. Her first collection of poetry, A Slither of Air, was published in 2011 and her collection of short stories, Above the Parapet, was published in 2013 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

I think everyone is creative but it comes out in different ways. For me, I have always been involved in some creative activity, whether it be playing music, sewing, felt-making, or writing poetry and short stories. When the children were young I liked to go on walks with them and gather leaves, twigs, stones; anything for making collages etc. I never really thought of it as being creative, it was just what we did. Now I believe that even if there is no visible output we cannot help ourselves but be creative – it might be simply that we bring our creative side to how we read a bedtime story, the expressions we use, the way we draw on our own experiences in the telling of a story. I am particularly drawn to the imaginative, the eclectic, the irregular things in life.

2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?

I have been a mother for longer than I have not — with 18 years between my youngest and my eldest — and, of course, once embarked on, motherhood never ends, so it is difficult to imagine what I would be doing if parenting had not been my primary role. Creativity has been a necessary part of this process and has seen me through some difficult times. These days I write and although my writing is not overtly therapeutic I can see that elements of my life are reflected there. It is inevitable that we draw on our own life experiences, if only subconsciously; sometimes they form the mere shadow of a story.

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

Nowadays, I am very focused on my writing and once the school day has started I retreat to my office. I know that if I begin my day with housework, my opportunity will slip away. I admire those people who are more organized than I am but it is not the way I work. I am ashamed to admit that I do not even write lists.

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I read Penny Stanway’s Breast is Best — a bible for the positive effects of breastfeeding in its time. I wanted to give my child all the benefits that are associated with breastfeeding but unfortunately things did not go to plan (although my subsequent babies were successfully breast fed) and I was left feeling guilty. I still do believe that breast is best but I am aware that things do not always go to plan and that it is important to be supportive to all mothers whatever their choice.

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

Musing on Mothering is a beautiful book. It shares everything about being a mother (and a father too) expressed through prose and poetry, photography and artwork. It is about the joys and the sorrows too. It is about uniqueness and similarities and it is about sharing and communicating and reaching out to mothers at moments when mothering can seem a lonely and a thankless task. There is so much richness, so much experience and generosity gone into this book and I believe that all new parents will find nourishment there to help them through the darkest nights.

6. Are you working on any particular project right now?

I am putting together another poetry collection, I am rehearsing a long poem to be performed with a musician, I am writing a novel for young adults, and I am also in the process of writing some new short stories. I know, it sounds impossible, but I like to have too much to do!

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

I think that has to be my first collection of poetry, A Slither of Air. Like most first books, whether they are novels or collections of poetry, they often come about as a kind of build up of experiences and a tipping out of words and thoughts and ideas. I was so delighted to be offered the chance to have my work published and it opened the door to so much more.

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

Although there are inevitably some, whether artists or not, who have influenced my life, I cannot pick out one and say that they are my inspiration. There are too many people to be admired, many who do good works in all walks of life.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

I sometimes find that listening to music or visiting an art gallery will trigger new ideas, often they are the unexpected things, or the unplanned visit. I visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park when I get a chance too. I find the outdoors is the best place to think. At home I listen to my collection of old vinyl records.

10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

As I said before, I believe we are all creative, but it is finding the source and the channel that suits us best. There are many arts and crafts to try out and I would say – indulge yourself, don’t be afraid to try something new; give yourself the opportunity to explore your creative side and you never know where it might lead…

Interview: Susan Last on motherhood and creativity

I am really excited about this latest guest post because Susan Last, my guest, is a publisher herself and so we share a very similar passion for books, excellent writing, breastfeeding and creativity. I can also add that Susan is a generous host who can rustle up a great lunch at a moment’s notice! Many thanks to Susan for taking part, and I hope it inspires more creative folk to get submitting their prose to the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (only 18 full days left to go now!).

Tell us about yourself…

I’ve loved books all my life; as a child I was a voracious reader and as an adult I now read for both work and pleasure (luckily for me, the two often intersect). I graduated in Modern Languages and my first job was as a trainee editor for a history publisher in Gloucestershire. I then spent nearly 10 years at Breedon Books (later DB Publishing) in Derby working on history, sport and biography books, as an editor, commissioning editor, managing editor… Since my third child was born in 2010 I’ve been partly a freelance editor, working mainly for Pen and Sword Books and Pinter and Martin, and partly a director of Lonely Scribe, a tiny independent publishing company that I founded with a colleague.

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

No. It took me a long time to realise that the creative work on a book doesn’t begin and end with the author; the editors, designers, proofreaders and everyone involved in the process of publishing all bring their own creative talents to the table. I now understand the value, and the skill, in good editing, from visualising the book in its very early stages, to having a hand in the final details of the finished product.

Away from books I like to knit, sew, crochet, cook – I don’t consider myself an expert or even particularly creative or original in any of these pursuits, but I have always enjoyed them for their own sake.

2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?

Yes – interests I only developed once I’d had children (breastfeeding chief among them!) have led me down all sorts of interesting pathways in my publishing work. The work I do for Pinter and Martin on their wonderful birth and breastfeeding titles is some of the most satisfying I’ve done in my career to date, and of course I love being at the helm of Lonely Scribe, although as any small business owner will tell you it brings its own challenges!

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

For me the answer has been some childcare during the week – I found it almost impossible to find enough time during the day to work when my babies were tiny, and come the evening I was too tired! Now my youngest is three and has regular playschool sessions (my older two are at school) it is so much easier, although school holidays can be tricky! I do find myself squeezing work in to weekends and evenings, and I’m lucky enough to have a husband who doesn’t work long hours so he can take over at home if I have things to finish. I do find that restricted time can be almost a blessing: I am a natural procrastinator and work better under a bit of pressure. (Case in point: I am answering these questions hurriedly before dashing off to my daughter’s playschool Christmas party…)

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

I breastfed my children for 11 months, 18 months and 2.5 years respectively; I never imagined before I had children what an important part of my life it would become. I’ve written about my very mixed feelings about my youngest child weaning herself on my blog! I struggled to feed my first baby and that difficult experience is what led me to become a breastfeeding peer supporter, to edit my book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform, and to develop my interest in breastfeeding generally, which has been genuinely life-changing and has led to all sorts of opportunities. So it’s been tremendously important on every level.

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

I absolutely loved the entire book – when I first saw it I wished I’d published it! It’s a beautiful book and I come back to it often. I remember smiling very wryly at ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’ by Marija Smits – I lost count of how many times I sat on the sofa breastfeeding watching my cup of tea go cold on the mantelpiece, and can even remember sobbing into my husband’s shoulder, after one particularly trying day at home with small children, that I hadn’t even had a hot cup of tea all day! It’s an enduring image of parenthood for me.

6. Are you working on any particular project right now?

Yes, I’m editing a book about supporting parents in the postnatal period, written by a postnatal doula, for Pinter and Martin, and in a totally bizarre juxtaposition I’m also editing a True Crime book for Pen and Sword about John Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer. I love the variety in my work even if some of the subjects are not my main areas of interest! For Lonely Scribe I’m waiting with bated breath for Milli Hill to deliver her Water Birth book, which will be published in 2014.

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

It was immensely personally satisfying to publish my own book. But over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work on many projects that I’ve been proud of for different reasons. Lonely Scribe now publishes The Heart is Highland, by Maisie Steven, which was the first book I edited at Breedon Publishing back in 2000. I’m very proud that it is still in print, and that I am still involved with it, as it’s a real gem.

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

Ina May Gaskin and Gabrielle Palmer spring to mind. Their work has had a big influence on me in recent years.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

I met the artist Mary Fedden when I was a student through her association with Trevelyan College in Durham; my favourite painting of hers, of a cat on a rocking chair on a Pennsylvania porch, hangs there. I have a postcard of it, and I often look at it and think of her, her paintings and her studio… she was very inspiring and so productive, even in old age, that thinking of her often galvanises me into action!

10. What would you say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

Just give it a go! You might surprise yourself. Some of the best books I’ve worked on have been written by people who never thought they’d be authors, but who found that when the right subject came along, the words just came pouring out.


Susan’s book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform is also available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop – and when purchased through the online store it gains the buyer one entry to the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize, in which Susan Last is the judge of the prose category. What better way to find out what kind of prose she likes!

Interview: Alex Florschutz on motherhood and creativity

The next of our ‘motherhood and creativity’ guest posts comes from Alex Florschutz, an artist and mother whose inspiring art is making its way into more and more women’s lives… I was honoured to be able to publish some of Alex’s images in Musings on Mothering and am very interested to hear that she is now an author. Thank you very much Alex for taking part.

Tell us about yourself…

My name is Alex and I am a mother, artist, author and art therapist. All my work celebrates the liberation of the Feminine whether through my paintings which act as symbols of empowerment, to my new book The Art of Birth: Empower Yourself for Conception, Pregnancy and Birth (published by Engage Press), that is revolutionising the world of birth and finally my work with clients where I support them to discover Pleasure in their lives through their creativity and other juicy techniques.

Photo courtesy Alex Florschutz

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

YESSS! Ever since the age of two and a half I would come home from nursery and would not be able to rest until I’d drawn at least 10 pictures (according to my mother)! For me, being creative is as important as breathing!

2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?

Since my son was born in 2000 I have painted (and most of my life. I know creativity can take many forms but mine is primarily painting but I do all sorts!). I became a single mother when he was nine months old and I marked that painful transition with a large exhibition thanks to two amazing women who ran a very successful café gallery… they gave me the whole place! Painting has kept me sane, grounded, balanced, self-soothed, happy and pleasured as it’s a non intellectual process and has charted my own personal development. I could not live without it and feel bereft if I don’t paint.

Motherhood has enhanced my creativity because I used art to heal my fears and create a natural, pain free home birth. My birth was my ultimate creative experience and since then doing my art has become a necessity not a whim. I love unleashing my creative juices on a canvas and I believe it makes me a better mother!

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

Love yourself enough to know that YOU MATTER! Women find it hard often to make time for themselves and the ‘busy’ story is often a useful defense or excuse. I know it’s hard, especially if you have several children and work BUT there is always a way, e.g. make time once a week/month where your partner, a friend (perhaps a babysitter?) looks after your children while you have ‘mummy time’ where you can experiment with art/craft. My book has lots of interesting exercises in it. You may want to try a craft that you could do in the evenings. One great way of being creative with your children is to either do art with them OR have a nature table. A nature table is basically a designated place in your house (I have mine in the kitchen on top of a chest of drawers). I put a coloured cloth on it and decorate it with things I find in nature which you can collect with your child(ren), like coloured leaves, nuts, conkers, feathers, flowers, shells etc. I do, however, also buy little things from a local craft shop like little candles, crystals, gnomes, fairies or relevant seasonal objects. It is lovely to collect objects from the natural world which also shows your child about the changing seasons, helps them feel included, is fun and interactive and nourishes their soul at the same time. Even my teenager secretly likes it!

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

Breastfeeding gives life to your child and sets them up for a healthier life! There are numerous benefits. I think women need all the support and encouragement necessary to breastfeed; dangerous adverts on TV about formula don’t help. If you cannot breastfeed for whatever reason, then do not feel bad… I was lucky to breastfeed for two years and I did it anywhere and it was tough if people didn’t like it! My baby got fed as he requested it. Try and reduce stress and anxiety as much as possible as this can help.

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

In particular, the poem ‘Farewell to my baby’ by Jessica Starr really moved me and made me sob every time I read it. I feel the grief of all the mothers who have lost their baby too soon, the souls that only came to visit the earthly realm for a short while. My heart fills with compassion and love. The whole book is beautiful and inspiring though!

6. Are you working on any particular project right now? I recently launched my book The Art of Birth which is already getting good feedback, and I am currently creating an online program based on the book which will be launched in time for Christmas. I worked on two art shows in London recently (just now finished)! Oh… and being a stay-at-home mummy!

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

The Art of Birth book is probably my next biggest project after giving birth! I am very proud of this book and my deep intention is that it serves the world and creates positive change where birth is concerned.

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

Louise L. Hay, Binnie A. Dansby, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Pat Bennaceur, Karel Ironside amongst others.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

Artist Susan Seddon Boulet and ambient music Bali Midori spring to mind.

10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

Most people will be scared of beginning because they will think they are ‘not good enough’ at art/being creative. I believe EVERYONE is creative. Most people gave up art (which includes being ‘creative’) at school thinking they were ‘not good at art’. This shut down their natural abilities. Really young children NEVER have any trouble drawing/painting/being creative. We can recapture this if we refrain from self-judgement. It can help to do a warm-up exercise, such as what I call the Daily Doodle, or buy an easy to use art-for-fun book and follow the exercises (or get my book…teehee). If you view it as ‘experimenting for fun’ then this can take the pressure off the ‘performance’ side of doing art or the anxiety and preoccupation with a worthwhile ‘finished product/object’. Buying a journal and doing freeform writing is a great way to express one’s feelings and this can lead onto poetry or even a book! In the journal you can always start doodling with a pen or pencil and start small and work up to more arty messy stuff. This method can be easily accessible in a busy day if you carry it around with you or keep it handy in the house. Alternatively you can buy some poster paints, cheap paint brushes and a roll of cheap paper from IKEA or even plain wallpaper paper. Then, send everyone out of the house for a couple of hours and if you desire, put on your favourite music, light some incense, light a candle, get naked or whatever makes you feel good! Then, once you have a large piece of paper fixed down to a table with tape, or if you have a wooden floor, squirt different coloured paints onto the paper liberally and paint shapes, blobs, images, feelings, whatever comes out is RIGHT! You can even paint with your hands… you’re never too old or sensible to do that! GO FOR IT and HAVE FUN!!!

An Interview with Angela Topping

I am delighted to be able to publish this interview with Angela Topping here. It has been an honour to work with Angela on Letting Go. I’ve learnt a lot in the publishing process and made a new friend as well, which has surely got to be the best way to publish a book! The first readers of Letting Go have told me how moved they have been by the poems within, and also how it is inspiring them to write. High praise indeed! So thank you to everyone who has bought a book and taken the time to comment, and thank you again to Angela for taking part in the interview.


Tell us about yourself…

I’m Angela Topping. My first poetry collection was published in 1988 by Stride, and my most recent one was published with Mother’s Milk Books. I am a mother of two adult daughters. I studied at Liverpool University and hold three degrees. I left my first job, in the Civil Service, to be a mum, before going into freelance writing, poets in schools and teaching in FE. This work led to a teaching career, but in 2009, I returned to the freelance life, which has proved a good decision. I’ve collaborated with an artist to create an exhibition of art and poetry, The Lightfoot Letters, which has now appeared in three different places. I recently took up a residency at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, which was another new challenge.

Photograph courtesy Angela Topping

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

Yes, making rhymes up was something I did from being very small. I remember telling people that when I grew up I wanted to be ‘one of those people who said things’ because I’d heard people saying ‘Plato said’ or Shakespeare said’. I didn’t realize it was written down, so I suppose I wanted to be a writer even before I knew what one was. I always loved stories and poems, and colouring in, and I used to spend hours building cities and farms on the living room carpet, with blocks and ornaments, and making up stories. I also knitted and sewed from an early age. It’s an urge to create, and I feel miserable when I am not making stuff.

2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?

Motherhood definitely enhanced it. I was a stay-at-home mum, and that gave me time to write, even though sometimes I’d be cooking the tea, with a baby in the sling and a notebook in which I had to keep writing poems down, all at the same time. It also gave me the chance to return strongly to my own childhood, reliving it by doing things with my daughters that my parents had done with me. It was like having the chance to go back and really savour it. I loved doing craft and cooking with my girls, and their childhoods got me writing children’s poems as well. To be creative is to play, and I spent many hours playing with my kids. Being a parent also boosted my confidence immensely.

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

When I was teaching full time, it was very hard. Often the only writing I did was in the holidays, or in the Writers’ Club sessions I ran, where I’d be interrupted to read someone else’s poem partway through writing mine. It does help that when I teach a poetry workshop session, I often do the exercises myself, though of course one cannot fully concentrate as one eye has to be kept on whether participants need me. Now I am freelance things are easier. I don’t really have a routine as such, but I tend to spend the day in my study and do all my chores when I need a break from writing or reading or thinking. I also make art and handmade books. These other creative outlets can feed into my writing.

So my tips would be:

  • Make use of even 10 spare minutes, and always carry a notebook
  • Use the time when you are doing physical chores or out for a walk, to think. All writers need to think.
  • Have like-minded friends, other writers, to whom you can talk about your work
  • Go to classes and workshops, or if you lead them, do the exercises yourself.
  • Treat yourself to a writer’s retreat or a short course or even a day workshop every now and again.
  • Writing last thing at night or getting up early works for some people.

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

I loved it. It gave me closeness to my babies and there was no need for any of the work that goes with bottle feeding. My girls wouldn’t entertain any kind of teat, and they have grown up very secure. With my first baby, it gave me the chance to rest and sit reading with my feet up while she fed, and with my second, a chance to involve the older one with cuddles and a story while the little one fed. It’s a very pleasurable feeling and I sometimes still miss it. I am proud of my body for its capacity to nurture my babies – it’s all so miraculous. It saddens me when people don’t even consider it, when it is free and saves a lot of fuss and work. I was quite determined to feed my babies when I was out and about, and never had any problems unless at the baby clinic or the hospital, amazingly enough.

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

I love all the art work. For poems I prefer the ones which take a sideways way in, like ‘Blackberries’ by Alison Parkes, and ‘Skin’ by Alwyn Marriage. I’ve been lucky enough to never lose a child but that section in the book showed me eloquently how difficult that must be.

6. Are you working on any particular project right now?

I have just published a selection of my poems spanning 25 years for Mother’s Milk Books (Letting Go). I am very excited about this because some of these poems have been out of print for ages. It is my tenth solo poetry publication.

Other than that, I am trying to write new poems towards my next collection. No particular theme has emerged yet so I will wait and see.

I am also trying to finish writing a book about the poet John Clare, which ought to have been out a while ago but the publisher wanted me to augment it further. I always seem to be doing something!

Oh, I am also editing a box set of poems inspired by Shakespeare, Austen and The Brontes for Like This Press.

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

I had a very important poetry friend and mentor, Matt Simpson, for many years. In 2009, he died unexpectedly. He was only 73. The elegiac poems I wrote for him came out of my deep sorrow at his loss, and I am proud of them because they are the first poems I’d written without showing him the drafts. I think all 17 of them would stand up to his scrutiny. Six were included in my Salt Modern Voices chapbook and ten in my Rack Press pamphlet. I put them all together to make a sequence with a new coda, and included it in my 2012 Lapwing collection, Paper Patterns. My favourite one is the sonnet ‘Keeping Faith’ .

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

My friend Matt Simpson, mentioned in the last question, was a huge inspiration to me, and I learned a lot from reading other poets, particularly Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost. Closer to home, my parents were massively inspirational and so are my daughters.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

I truly love music and art, and dabble a little in both. One of my favourite pieces of music is The Trout Quintet by Schubert. When I was a child, it taught me how to tell a story without words. I love Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, which was also Matt’s favourite piece. I used it as a motif in the elegiac poems.

10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

I believe everyone is creative. The best advice I can give is to go for it. Be prepared to fail, failure is good. It paves the road to success. Since I took up painting I’ve learned that what one sees in an exhibition are just the pieces that worked. Many more didn’t but the creation of them was a stage on the way. Learn from what works and what doesn’t and always always stay true to oneself.


To find out more about Angela please visit her website:

If you’d like to purchase Letting Go please do stop by The Mother’s Milk Bookshop. Any purchase made pays for one entry to The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Angela, herself, is the sole adjudicator of the poetry categories.

An Interview with Alison Moore

Back in May 2013 I spent a lovely evening at Waterstones in Nottingham listening to Alison Moore read from her new book The Pre-War House and Other Stories. I was enchanted by the way Alison spoke – quietly, but passionately – about where the ideas for her stories originate and the actual process of writing and editing. It was also inspiring to discover that she wrote her Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel The Lighthouse whilst caring for her baby son. This was yet another wonderful example of creativity and motherhood in action! So I was delighted when Alison agreed to the following interview. With many thanks again to Alison for taking the time to answer my questions.


In case you didn’t already know – I’m the short one. 🙂

Alison Moore is the author of The Lighthouse, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012 and winner of the McKitterick Prize 2013, and The Pre-War House and Other Stories, nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2013. Born in Manchester in 1971, Alison Moore lives in a village near Nottingham with her husband Dan and son Arthur.

She is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and an honorary lecturer in the School of English at Nottingham University.

1. You began to write at a young age. Were you also passionate about other creative outlets?

I did some drama and youth theatre in my teens, which was fun and taught me a lot, but writing’s always been the main creative area for me.

2. Have you nearly always had some sort of writing project on the go, or have there been some periods in your life which weren’t as productive?

It was very sporadic when I was younger, although I’ve always tended to jot things down. Even when I was in my thirties, before having my son, I’d be working full-time and doing voluntary work and evening classes and not necessarily writing until a story came along and needed writing.

3. You must inevitably have had to deal with rejections of your work at various times. In an earlier interview on this blog, Cathy Bryant said to ‘Expect rejections, and throw a party when you’ve had a 100.’ Did you ever come close to throwing a party?!

I’ve had a whole bunch of stories creeping back home with their tails between their legs. I’m not sure they’d be in the mood for a welcome-home party but you do just have to get on with it. If you’re getting rejections it means you’re writing and sending work out so that’s a good starting place. Hopefully enough will find a home to keep you going, and the ones that come back you have to look at with a critical eye.

4. As I understand your Booker shortlisted novel The Lighthouse was written when your son was very little. How did you manage to fit in writing whilst caring for a baby?

I started writing The Lighthouse when my son was about six months old, but it only worked because I didn’t really do both things at once. I only wrote when he was asleep – sometimes typing one handed on my laptop while he was napping on me after a feed – or when he was out with his dad or his grandma. So it was a bit ad hoc but it got done and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

5. Can you think of some really positive things about fitting in writing with everyday motherly work (or household chores!)?

Having got into the routine of writing every day, the story was always in my head. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it while I was playing with my son or talking to him while I emptied the dishwasher, but in downtimes it was all there ready to go – I’d get a bit of story or the solution to a problem when I was in the shower or sitting in the dark feeding him at night.

6. Would you say that motherhood has enhanced your creativity or simply changed it in some way?

What it did is put a stop to the routine I was in where I did a whole lot of things in my free time but none of them was writing every day, and I started again, so even though I had a lot less free time after having a baby, what I did have I used for writing.

7. In some of your writing the absent mother is one of the most haunting characters. Can you tell us more about that?

The majority of my stories – and all those in my collection – have been written since losing my mother, so that’s presumably where this recurrently absent figure comes from but it’s quite a shock for me to see the stories collected and to realise just how often the mother, for all sorts of reasons, just isn’t there.

8. What are you working on right now and when’s your next author event?

I’ve been working on my second novel, which is about ready to be delivered up for inspection. My editor Nicholas Royle and my husband Dan will be the first to read it.

On Saturday 28 September I’m doing an event at Marlborough Literature Festival in relation to receiving this year’s McKitterick Prize for The Lighthouse, and on Sunday 29 September I’ll be at the short story festival Small Wonder with Brian Kimberling.

9. Do you consider yourself a ‘full-time writer’ now that your son is at school?

I do. His school is a few minutes’ walk away so after taking him there I have six hours before going to pick him up, so if I get a bit done in the evening too I’m writing or doing writing-related work full time now.

10. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

When I think of being inspired to write, wanting to write, I picture being a child, sitting on the edge of my bed with a book in my hands and more on my shelves, my typewriter on my dressing table. I tend to think every story I’ve ever read must inspire or influence me to some degree.

11. What would you say to someone who doesn’t particularly see themselves as a creative person but who would like to try to make a go of writing?

It might depend on how you think about creativity. Writing doesn’t always feel so creative to me; sometimes it feels like just organising what’s hanging around in my head, but it creates something.

Interview: Cathy Bryant on dreaming “of being able to write well enough”

The next interview in the Mother’s Milk Books series of guest posts about creativity features the truly gifted Cathy Bryant, who contributed to Musings on Mothering. I greatly admire Cathy’s determination. To go from dreaming “of being able to write well enough” to international recognition for her writing and a whole host of publications is quite a feat. She’s certainly an inspiration to me. Thank you Cathy for taking part.


Cathy Bryant lives in Manchester, UK. Her first award came in 2010 with the Marple Humorous Poetry Prize. She won the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize for the worst opening line of a novel, and is a former blogger for the Huffington Post. Her stories and poems have been published on five continents, so her ambition is to break into the Antarctican market. Also in 2012, Cathy won the Sampad ‘Inspired by Tagore’ Contest, one of the Malahat Review Monostich Contests and the Swanezine Poetry Contest. In 2013 Cathy won the M.R. Jordan Writing Contest. She co-edits the annual anthology ‘Best of Manchester Poets’ and her collection, ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ was published recently. See more at:

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

I wanted to be creative, but I didn’t think that I had any talent. But I read so hungrily and tried to write, and dreamed of being able to write well enough to be published. I just didn’t think it would ever happen.

2. Has there been any life-changing event that enhanced your creativity? If yes, can you tell us more about it?

Yes, and for me it was all about confidence. I’ve always been very lucky in my friendships, and one day my best friend Neil Bundy changed my life for me.

On 1st January 2007 I asked if he had any resolutions.

“Yes,” he said. “My New Year’s Resolution is for you to get your poems and stories published, and if you don’t even try then my year will be a failure, and it’ll be your fault!”

I laughed a bit nervously, but he looked at me and said, “I’m dead serious. That’s what I want this year. I want you to send your work off to magazines and things.”

Well, I was furious at such blackmail. And I knew that no one would want to publish my stuff. So I sent off half a dozen different pieces to various magazines and anthologies, just to prove to him that no one would want them, and got rejections. And then two acceptances…. one to an Australian magazine that sent me a free copy and paid me actual cash! Could it be that I had a touch of real talent, and that my writing wasn’t a selfish indulgence? Maybe I should let myself do it a bit more?!

After that I let myself be much more creative. A little confidence goes a long way! And Neil is the best friend in the world!

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

Yes, absolutely – prioritise it. People tend to sideline creativity as if it isn’t necessary – like exercise they’ll try to fit it in with “more important” things like drudgery… I recommend setting aside a time each day (or each week, if you’re really time-poor) for writing, and keeping to it unless there’s a fire or similar emergency. The dishes in the sink will wait. No one died wishing that they had been more prompt with the washing up. And it’s setting an excellent example to your children to show them that even a grown-up is allowed a little of their own time in which to play and create. Even if it’s only fifteen minutes. You can write a lot in fifteen minutes!

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

Not being a mother, I hadn’t thought about it much until I worked with children. I sort of fell into childcare when my sister had premature twins (who are now grown-up – one is married and an actuary, and the other is a biologist – yet I used to carry them both with one hand in a tiny carrycot!) and I helped her with them, as her husband had to work away a lot. From there I dived into the happy world of childcare, and came into contact with breastfeeding – and the strange attitudes towards it.

I’d always assumed that breastfeeding would be welcomed and celebrated everywhere – I mean, what’s more natural or important? So when I was with feeding mothers, and strangers would be disapproving, unhelpful or even hostile, I was horrified. There also seemed to be a prevalent idea that breastfeeding stops very early, which seemed odd and arbitrary to me – and possibly just another case of hostility towards women. Yet some people said that babies shouldn’t be breastfed after four months, or six months, or whatever. It made me angry, when it was so obvious that breastfeeding was a beautiful thing that helped both mother and child and was the summit of both love and practicality.

When I heard about Musings on Mothering I didn’t think that I should submit anything, not being a mother – but the poems kept coming, particularly those based on my conversations with other child abuse survivors and their experience of motherhood. I asked some fellow writers who are mothers what they thought, and they said, go ahead! Supportive non-mothers are definitely part of the picture!

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

Loads of them. Too many to mention. The quality of the content is breathtaking. I will say, though, that Angela Topping’s work always strikes a chord with me. She can touch the deep places and yet does it without any fanfare or pretension – after reading her poems I always feel moved and enlightened.

6. Are you working on any particular project right now?

Oh yes – I’m always messing about with something. I wrote a very rough first draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month in November 2012, and it’s currently getting its second full edit. It’ll probably need at least one more full edit and then it’ll be off to start collecting rejections – and maybe an acceptance, as Neil would remind me! I’ve also just finished putting my second poetry collection together (PLUG ALERT: My first collection is available here, at Amazon) and a book of genre short stories – fantasy, science fiction and horror, with a dash of comedy thrown in. So now all I have is the easy task of finding a good publisher for each of them… oh for that magic wand…

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

I’m horribly proud of everything. It’s still all so surprising to have work published and to perform my pieces, and have people laugh and applaud rather than throwing things and leaving. I’m like a child with a birthday cake whenever I get an acceptance.

Winning the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in 2012 was wonderful – I gave loads of interviews and was mentioned in the international press! I received a fair bit of fanmail too, which is always lovely.

One stand-out memory is of performing in Waterstones recently. I’d had a poem published in an anthology called She’s the One, a celebration of personal heroines. So many ‘50 Great Women’-type books tend to be celebrity lists, whereas this was a book in which people wrote poems, stories and memoirs about those who really meant something to them, whether that person was a war heroine or their sister. I was thrilled to be in it, and performing at Waterstones for the launch was a dream come true. If you’d gone to me just ten years ago and said, “In ten years time you’ll have a book out, be published in hundreds more and be a veteran performer,” I’d have thought it was a cruel joke.

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

Again, too many to mention, but here’s one very special one. Dominic Berry, the performance poet, used to run cheap (or free to those who couldn’t afford it) writing workshops which were both friendly and helpful. He taught me how to appraise a poem in a constructive way – “How attached are you to that ‘and’?” I remember him asking once, and I realised that after one’s burst of creation, one really has to look at every bit of a piece of writing to see what works and what doesn’t. He’s also the king of performance poetry and very friendly and supportive of other performers, and he gave me my first performance gig (and I do over-use the word ‘and’). With his talent it would have been easy for him to concentrate purely on his own career, but he has injected energy, commitment and love into the Manchester poetry scene, and he’s an all-round good guy. He showed me and taught me so much, and never asked for any return. I recommend heartily any book or performance of his – he’s converted many a dubious person to the delights of the written and spoken word.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

The writing of Tanith Lee for prose and Sylvia Plath for poetry. Those are the two I keep coming back to, who seem to have a hotline to my inner self and can charge and inspire me any moment.

10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

Oh, have a go! Why not? And (there I go again with ‘and’…) let yourself write crappy first drafts – don’t paralyze yourself trying to write a bestselling classic from the word go. Don’t worry too much about quality at first – just do some writing exercises and write anything you fancy. The more different things you try, the more you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t. Then join a local writing group. Be polite to everyone, but you’ll soon find out whose feedback is worthwhile and constructive, and you can learn an awful lot. If you’re a poet, try an open mike night or two. And whatever you write, when you have about ten pieces, send them all off to different magazines or anthologies and see what happens. Proofread them carefully and always read and follow the submission guidelines, and you stand as good a chance as anyone. Expect rejections, and throw a party when you’ve had 100. Incidentally, on the first day of every month I post a list of calls for submission and writing competitions, all free and with easy, electronic entry here: – so do have a look and a go. (Please note: Cathy now has an excellent website where she posts many free-to-enter competitions and submissions calls: Cathy’s Comps and Calls.)

And always enjoy yourself. If ever it starts to feel a bind, then take a break and remember why you wanted to have a go in the first place – play with words and have fun!

Interview: Zion Lights on motherhood and creativity

I am delighted to be able to welcome Zion Lights, one of the fantastic contributors of Musings on Mothering, to the Mother’s Milk Books blog. Zion has kindly taken part in my interview about motherhood and creativity, and I think her answers are deeply inspiring and thought-provoking. Many thanks again for taking part Zion!


Zion Lights is a journalist with a passion for life. She has had articles published in The Ecologist, Permaculture Magazine, JUNO Magazine, The Green Parent and more, and is a regular contributor at One Green Planet and The Huffington Post. You can read her articles at or via @ziontree.

1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?

Yes. I grew up in inner-city, heavily industrial Birmingham and creativity was not something that was highly valued by the people I grew up with. Only work ethic was, and any creative occupation was not seen as a viable way to make money. So I knew from an early age that I enjoyed doing things that other people thought were strange, particularly wanting to write about things.

2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?

Yes and no. I have always been a deeply creative person. But, somewhere along the way, I lost my creative spark. I worked long hours in offices, a school, a variety of places. None of them fostered creativity for me. When I had my daughter and realized I didn’t want to go back to working in an office or a school, I began to draw on my creativity in order to provide for her, and to show her that it is a viable outlet and one worth pursuing, even if there isn’t a lot of money in it. So, it was there all along, but the platform for it didn’t exist until my daughter came into the world, so I came to appreciate its value then.

3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?

My advice echoes the way I tend to do anything – throw yourself head-first into it. I cherish every moment with my daughter and we spend a LOT of time together, but I’m always thinking, planning, dreaming about things to write about. Small practicalities help – I keep a notepad on my bedside table and a mini-torch so that in those hours of unwinding from the day of toddler-play I can jot down ideas I want to pursue or paragraphs I plan to use in articles. I also have a pretty long to-do list at all times, which certainly helps to keep me on track!

4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?

Everything. It means that I can nourish my daughter at any time. That I can comfort her when she needs it. That she never has to want for food or drink like so many children in the world do. That I can provide for her with my body, in a way that no other person can. That I have taken power away from the horrid formula milk industry with my choice.

5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?

Nadia Raafat’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Toddler-Feeding Mum’ strongly resonated with me. I love the way it tells her story of breastfeeding a child over the period of a year, people’s reactions to this, and the humour and sensitivity in the poem.

6. Are you working on any particular project right now?

I’m always working on a number of projects! Currently I have a list of articles I need to work on for various editors and books I’ve been sent to review for them. I often wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t found an outlet for my writing… It’s like breathing, to me.

7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?

I wrote an article on home education late last year and I was overwhelmed by the positive comments people left on it, and the fan mail I received from parents who resonated with the piece. I always enjoy interaction with readers of my work but those responses in particular have stuck with me and warmed me to the HE community like nothing else could have.

8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?

Actually there are a few. Maya Angelou, who taught me from a young age that you can be whoever you want to be, no matter where you come from or what you’ve been through, through her book collection beginning with ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. Jay Griffiths, who showed me not to underestimate how a woman can use her words to protect the Earth. Julia Butterfly Hill, who climbed up a tree to protest a forest being chopped down, and stayed up there for 2 years, because she had to follow her truth.  Anyone who pursues his or her passion against the odds, who chooses truth and love above all other things.

9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?

All three of the inspirational people I have listed have written books that rocked my world. The Beatles have helped me not to take anything too seriously over the years, and to act from the heart.

10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?

Don’t think too much about it. Don’t go on a course to learn it. Don’t buy a plethora of materials to assist you. Just make the mental space you need to do it, and clear the physical space to do it, and dive in. It doesn’t matter how – draw doodles, write openings to novels, sketch, strum your chosen instrument, throw paint around. Creativity is embedded in all of us, we just unlearn it from our childhood days. You can get it back. Trust your instincts, don’t be overly critical of your work, and keep at it. Learn to trust yourself. Over time, it will all come back.