Amelia Slocombe, a working mum to a two-year-old boy, recently self-published her first novel, Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart. Here she talks about achieving lifelong dreams when you have children, and how having children needn’t stop you from doing things you’ve always wanted to do.
Motherhood is hard. Motherhood is very hard. Motherhood is very hard indeed. So said Little Ms. Parent, the least well-known character from the Mr. Men series. And being a mum is hard in so many ways. Sleep is no longer on your terms. You eat to live, rather than live to eat. You thank God that Uggs are still cool because the chances of you wearing anything else “on-trend” is about as likely as seeing Victoria Beckham down your local fish and chip shop.
But what makes motherhood particularly hard, is actually nothing to do with how much sleep you get (little) how you spend your day (in a whirlwind) or how you look (exhausted). I think one of the most difficult things about being a mum is accepting the fact that all the things you wanted to achieve to satisfy your own personal ambitions must, temporarily at least, be put on hold. Want to do an online degree? Good luck. Learn a new language? You must be having a laugh. Get beyond Grade 1 piano? Now you’re being really silly. You’ve just about got enough time to put the bins out or have a wee (and doing one usually means you haven’t got time to do the other).
So it was this understanding of the intellectual impact of being a mother that made me think that my lifelong dream of writing a novel was unlikely ever to happen. Not until my son Arthur was at university anyway. When I wasn’t at work, I was looking after Arthur. And any other free time I had revolved around doing “jobs”. And thanks to my OCD stay-at-home husband, there were no shortage of those at the weekends.
But do you know what saved the situation? My commute to work.
Whilst having to trek to Canary Wharf from Leigh on Sea every day is most people’s idea of hell, it does have its advantages. One of them being a glorious 45 minutes of “me” time. I could have spent it sleeping (and God knows there were times when I was desperate to, particularly in the early days when Arthur had adopted the mentality that sleep was for wimps). But I didn’t. I realised that if I was ever going to complete that ever-elusive first novel, this was the only time I would have a realistic chance of doing it.
So that’s just what I did. I set myself small, realistic targets. I would write for at least an hour every day, always whilst on the train to and from work. I wouldn’t work (easy to do) and I wouldn’t read Metro (much harder).
And that enabled me to get my first draft done. Which was shockingly bad. But I didn’t give up. I started re-writing it, one paragraph at a time. I then gave the book to a few friends and family, and painstakingly incorporated their feedback. And eventually I got to the point when I felt I could actually publish it. So I did. And to my surprise, people actually started to read it!
So, what have I learnt from this process? I think, most of all, it’s taught me that being a mother shouldn’t stop you from following your personal ambitions. Granted, they might take longer to fulfil (and realistically, if you want to compete in the Olympics or climb Mount Everest, you might have to take a rain check and come up with something a bit more sensible), but if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do – whether it’s run your own business, get a history degree or learn to play the trombone – you should do it. And the other thing I’ve learnt? Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to succeed. The very act of getting up each morning and keeping your children alive is impressive enough. If you want to do something else on top of that, make sure you set yourself small, achievable targets and then stick to them.
I am pleased to report that since publishing the book, I’ve had wonderful feedback. I even made it into the top 100 downloads on Apple. Only for a day, but still an achievement. Who knows whether it will lead to me becoming a bestselling author? The odds are not in my favour, let’s be honest. But that was never the point. The point was doing something I’d always set out to do, despite the fact that time was not on my side. The point was stopping myself from wishing, and for once actually doing. The point was accepting that most of my life was taken up by a challenging but adorable human being and still find a small window of opportunity to be an individual. Next step? Probably trying to get an agent. But unfortunately that involves printing things and going to the post office. It’s currently number 54 on my to-do list. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. Maybe when Arthur starts school.
Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart by Amelia Slocombe is available to download on both Kindle and iBooks, priced at £1.99.