The Return of the Lost Daughter: How to Be a Creative Mother

 

 

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Summer holidays are difficult for any working parent, including writers

 

The Return of the Lost Daughter: How to Be a Creative Mother

 

When Cyril Connolly famously (or infamously) wrote about “a pram in the hall” as an enemy of good art, thus unleashing one of the most perpetuating myths about creativity, he did not think of mothers. He thought of middle-class men. Those men, however, were not expected to do any actual childcare, change nappies or fit their writing between school runs. Connolly’s observations were merely about the distraction of having to provide for the family that would lead those men away from true art.

I am not going to lie: it is not easy to write regularly while also having duties as a mother, carer and wife. Even to work on this blog entry, I had to get up at 3 am, beating myself up that it was actually ten past three, which means that by the time I sit at the computer, it is late – 3:30 am, the whole half-hour less to write in the morning.  I started this practice of writing in early hours with my first poor attempts at poetry in English (not my mother tongue). I continued it throughout my postgraduate degree at Newcastle University, which is what got me through the course. It meant that even our recent decision to move the house and the country did not kill my chances to submit my dissertation on time, if at all. I was ready for the summer anyway.  Kids’ school holidays mean that you don’t get a minute to yourself. Re-drafting my portfolio in such circumstances, yes, that is possible. Starting from scratch in July would probably mean that I would have never completed it on time. With the help of reduced sleep and assistance from my lovely tutors at the university who agreed to conduct tutorials over Skype, I managed all of it.

Completing any piece of writing, however long or short, can be achieved only with a near-military precision planning. You don’t get the luxury of procrastination. Here are three hours for your writing. That is it. Use them wisely. I got some of my stories and poems published in four different countries in the past eighteen months. I got my translation work from and to English published and noticed in three different countries.  I am proud of every single little achievement – and every single rejection. They are all my own. I am not an aristocrat who pursues a noble occupation of writing novels/poems/pamphlets/essays, and everyone in the household has to be quiet and at his service. I am not an upper-class wife who brings out the obligatory book for children, while insanely talented writers sit at home, unable to get noticed by an agent or publisher. Nor am I a celebrity who pretends to produce a novel or a memoir but the pen was that of a ghostwriter.

Instead, I have an understanding husband; I have some fantastic friends and writing buddies with whom I can share my victories and failures. Failing hurts but it is an important part of the process. It is even more important to know that you are not on your own at that moment, and you are able to reach out to someone you trust.

I am a mum of two young boys, whom I will wake up at 6:30 am. I will make porridge, fold their school clothes on the chair, fit in twenty minutes of ironing, make a sandwich that will go into the older son’s lunch box, take the boys to their respective schools, only to return and work on a commissioned proofreading for four hours before picking up kids again. Then the usual routine of school preparation, supper, and bedtime come 3 am in the morning, I start again.

Does it sound dreadful? Perhaps.  Doing creative work and being a parent may be unthinkable for some but many authors, including my now former tutors, have children, have families, and face the same dilemmas like any other working parent – how to fit it all in. In my case, parenthood helped me find focus. I felt a profound change in myself when our children were born. For the first time in my life, I had the strength to admit to myself that I love telling stories in any shape or form.  It was the reason why in my twenties, I spent eight years working as a journalist. Writing has been by my side since the age of ten. You may dismiss it as a mere hobby, as people frequently do, but you could as well dismiss the colour of my eyes or my height.  Writing is who I am.

Failing Better: Dealing with Rejection by Natalie Crick

 

Blog Post Wednesday 11th September Ilustration

I think it’s important not to set the bar too high. Rejection and failure is surely something that even the best poets will encounter at some point in their careers. I think we all see ourselves as a failure in some ways. I have definitely considered myself a failure in different ways at different times during my life. Failure can be clear to those around us, or more hidden inside of us. Sometimes I think, as poets, we can take inspiration from our ‘failures’, whatever they may be, to write beautiful poems. And, of course, a successful achievement to one individual is a failure to another.

I obviously have been exposed to some negative remarks about my poetry over the years, but I actually do not regard anything as a ‘criticism’ but more as ‘developmental feedback’. I actually find more negative feedback far more useful than praise, because I like to continue to try to learn from others and improve different areas of my writing.

I think rejection is something that all poets should expect to happen to them. I was lucky in that the first few poems I sent anywhere in my late teens just so happened to be accepted by a few poetry magazines (‘Alliterati Magazine’, ‘Cannon’s Mouth Journal’, ‘Cyphers Magazine’) but I was obviously soon initially disappointed by the numerous rejections that followed. I receive far more rejections than acceptances when I send poetry submissions to literary journals or enter poetry competitions. I have quite a resilient personality so usually I don’t feel too disheartened when submissions are rejected these days, but I can understand why many poets are reluctant to submit anywhere in fear of receiving a rejection. I think it’s important to remember that selection for poetry magazines often takes into consideration how an individual’s poem will work alongside other poems in the same issue, and of course competition from other talented poets is always high.

 

Read more about Natalie Crick’s writing process, her tips for coping with writer’s block, the benefits of having a writing routine and much more in her recent interview with the Poetry Book Society on their website at: https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/blogs/news/poetips-2019natalie-crick

The Return of the Lost Daughter

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On the Move

The decision to leave Britain after fifteen years with my British husband and two young kids came suddenly this spring but kept creeping into our conversations for many years as a theoretical discussion about our options and choices.

When you live in an international marriage, the debate where to live is ongoing, you never stop. In our dreams, we would have a property in Bohemia and divide our time equally between both countries. In July we would be visiting many chateaux in Moravia and Bohemia, August would be spent in Edinburgh and the Highlands, September in Prague, tasting burčák,  a type of fermented grape juice full of alcohol and yeast that is yet to become wine but is moreish and heady when you drink it. In the winter we would travel back to Bohemia to enjoy snow, and if there was time, we could pop to neighbouring Austria.

Our children would choose where they want to study when they grow up. They could go to Amsterdam if they liked, or Berlin or Bologna. They are Europeans like us, they are citizens of the world. Our only obstacle was income, I could afford to travel to Prague maybe only every two to three years for a short visit but surely we could sort this out in the future with two regular incomes. Those theoretical possibilities, our hopes became almost obliterated after 2016.

The dreaded B-word was not the only reason for the move, it hardly ever is. Crucially, it was my husband who suggested it and drove it. I never wanted to be the one to say it, to make a firm commitment, push everyone to do it.  I knew how hard it was for me and did not want my family to suffer in the same way.

I spent the first three years in the UK crying myself to sleep. I could speak the language but felt lost. Nobody thought of giving me a hand or supporting me because if you don’t ask for help, you don’t need it, right? But what if you don’t know, you need help? What if one of the problems is you feel lonely, isolated, you have no one to talk to? What if the problem is that even the simplest tasks are hard and you are like a five-year-old, for whom buying a packet of cheddar is too difficult? There are rows and shelves of cheddar in the shop, which one do you choose?

My husband would be in the same situation but unlike me, with an added handicap of not speaking the language. He used to joke: “Why weren’t you born as Italian or French?” The Czech language is one of the hardest languages you could learn. With its ancient grammar system of declensions and conjugations, combined with negotiating how to pronounce words with five consonants and no vowel, it is almost impossible to master even for the native speakers. Perhaps that is why not that many people speak it.

So here I am, back in Prague after fifteen years in the UK and nearly twenty years abroad. Mostly being patronised by everyone, which is probably a fair punishment for “desertion” and then daring to return.

The timing of the move was not ideal either. Yet somehow, sleeping on my parents’ sofa and working in the early hours of the morning, I managed to complete my portfolio for an MA at Newcastle University. Unfortunately, my parents get up early, too, so the luxury of two hours of quiet writing every morning I used to have in the UK, while the rest of my family was asleep, no longer exists. I hope I am going to be awarded my degree, and when I am, yes, I am going to celebrate. How I am going to celebrate!

We Are Back

We are back! Both of us, Natalie Crick and Natalie Nera managed to submit our dissertations on time so our hands are freed to focus on our literary project

From this week, we will be posting shorter or longer blog entries twice a week. Please follow us and enjoy!

Natalie Crick: FINDING INSPIRATION TO WRITE

Spring School Photo

 

 

 

SPRING SCHOOL, APRIL 1st-5th 2019, NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY

 

From 1st – 5th April 2019 I participated in a Spring School, ‘Strange Meetings: Poetry’s Encounters with the World Around Us’, a Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts special poetry course at Newcastle University. The week of intensive creative practice explored poetry as a site of encounter with the world around us, focusing on history, visual art, music and translation as a source of poetic inspiration.

Monday’s tutor was Sinéad Morrissey, a wonderful poet and educator, who’s teaching I had already enjoyed for a semester as part of my syllabus in MA Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. In Sinéad’s session we explored Docupoetry (poetry which responds to current affairs), looking at models such as The Book of the Dead by Muriel Ruckeyser and more contemporary examples like Grenfell by Nick Laird. Prior to the class I had researched some aspects of current affairs and news topics, such as violent video games inspiring young people to commit acts of violence, with the intention of using the classroom work to begin to draft on this subject, but writing exercises and discussion took me in a different exciting direction and I began to draft poetry on new themes and in structures I had never anticipated trying out.

Gillian Allnutt taught our session on Tuesday. I found Gillian to be a magical lady. She has never taught me in a formal or informal capacity, but I have enjoyed her readings at literary events at The Lit and Phil Library, Newcastle, as well as The Newcastle Poetry Festival 2018 and have read her mysterious poetry in magazines I subscribe to like Poetry Ireland Review and Poetry Review. This session was very interactive, filled with lots of little exercises inspired by Music. An almost spiritual aura filled the room, floating somewhere between composition and choreography.

 

‘A poem can’t take the place of a plum, or an apple, but just as a painting can recreate, by illusion, the dimension it loses by being confined to canvas, so a poem, by its own system of illusions, can set up a rich and apparently living world within its particular limits’.

Sylvia Plath, 1961

 

Tara Bergin’s Wednesday class on Ekphrastic poetry was the session I was most looking forward to, partly because my forthcoming MPhil study at Newcastle University will incorporate some ekphrastic poetry into my pamphlet length sequence. I have loved Tara’s teaching on the MA Writing Poetry in the past and have found her to be a hugely supportive kind person. In the classroom we experimented with form and modes of expression like symbolism, metaphor and fragmentation. For one of the first times I actually enjoyed reading my poetry aloud in front of others and I found the writing exercises we did to be unexpected and interesting. More drafts of new poems were spun and nurtured.

 

Olivia McCannon’s NCLA First Thursday reading on National Poetry Day last year was very inspiring and I was enthusiastic to begin Thursday’s class on Translation. In this session we used a collaborative model to translate another poem from another language pooling the diverse strengths, skills and perspectives we could each bring to the table. We experimented with individual and communal ways of working and whilst questioning our relationships with the source, explored the transformative terrain of translation. I found this to be the most challenging class of all and initially struggled to comprehend the visual and written prompts we were studying but decided to create my own interpretations from what I could understand. Ironically, I found that my most successful poems came from this session, one of which I read aloud at Newcastle Poetry Festival 2019.

 

After a week of exploring various poetic intersections with the world around us and with lots of ideas gathered in our notebooks, we spent the final day of the course thinking about the process of Editing. Our teacher for the day, Sinéad Morrissey, talked us through editing principles and we were able to each workshop one of our drafts in class. I found the supportive atmosphere in the classroom to be hugely rewarding. I feel that insightful comments made by Sinéad and my fellow students improved my workshopped poem immensely. I observed some of the poems workshopped in class to be particularly beautiful, an experience which I found emotional and enchanting.

 

NATALIE CRICK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey Begins

Our degrees are coming to an end, our plans for writing and bright creative futures are beginning. Please join me and Natalie Crick on our adventure.

In this blog, we are going to share our own writing or any submitted pieces we like. We are going to ponder over any new events nationally or internationally, talk about what we like reading, who inspires us.

Until next time, please keep reading, writing and smiling.

Natalie Nera