27 January 2010
Interview: Annabel Lyon
Your back of the book bio:
Annabel Lyon is the author of Oxygen (stories), The Best Thing For You (novellas), All-Season Edie (juvenile novel), and The Golden Mean (novel). She teaches fiction writing on-line through UBC's creative writing department.
Your playground bio:
Mother of Sophie, four, and Caleb, two. Sophie says Daddy is the king, she is the queen, Caleb is the prince, and Mummy is the cleaner.
Do you identify yourself as first a writer and then a mother, the other way around, or something else? Why do you think this is?
Mother. My kids are worth more to me than my work.
Did you always want to be a writer? A mother? How does the reality differ from the fantasy?
Both, I think. Both are harder than I ever thought they'd be.
What are your measurements of success as a mother? As a writer? Have these evolved and, if so, can you talk about in what way and why do you think this is?
I really, really want the kids to turn out happy and kind. That hasn't changed since before I got pregnant; what I didn't realize was how hard it would be for me to stay happy and kind as a mother. That was a hugely distressing realization. I want each book to be a bit better than the last, and I don't want to repeat myself. I don't think that's changed.
What's your writing schedule like? What was its journey to get to where it is now?
My writing schedule is still pretty haphazard; I'm hoping it will settle down as the kids get older and start school. I write in the afternoons once my partner is up (he works nights), an hour or two, until he leaves for work. I usually have one day a week that's a bit longer than that. Into that time I also have to fit e-mail, showering, cooking, etc., so it's not a lot of creative time. I used to work completely alone, in absolute silence, six to eight hours a day. It's been an adjustment.
Has becoming a mother changed how you write? What your write? If so, in what ways?
I think my teaching has changed as a result of becoming a mother, more than my writing has. I've become much more patient and generous with my students.
How aware are your children of your writing?
Not very; they're little, still. Sophie knows mummy works on the computer and writes books, but not the kind of books she likes, so her interest is pretty limited. She doesn't like it when my work takes me out of the house without her.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote, "…a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write…." She never had children. Is a room to yourself enough for a writing-mama? What do you need?
I need to know the kids are happy and settled and not needing me. I need enough sleep. I need tea.
If you could go back, what would you tell your pre-children self?
It'll be okay.
What do you think your pre-children self would tell you?
You need to start running again.
In terms of this topic (motherhood and writing), do you have any regrets? Guilt? Envy?
I yell too much, especially when work is frustrating me. Big, big guilt there. I hate myself for that.
The early years of motherhood have been described by various writers as a haze or as an incredibly creative time. How would you describe it? Are you still in it? When did you leave?
It was both, especially after my son was born, when I went through a pretty bad post-partum depression. Having the novel to turn to helped me through it; so did having fantastic family around me. Sleep deprivation was a major contributing factor, I think; there's a reason why it's used as a torture technique. It really does turn your brain to pudding. I think I'm just coming out of that time: novel finished, kids sleeping through the night, the sun breaking through most days.
Birthing a book is like birthing a baby. Way off or right on?
Way off. There's just no coherent parallel for me.
I wanted to do this project because I found so few satisfying examples of the writing-mother. It was either the mythology of Alice Munro writing while her children played at her feet, the writer who resented and neglected her children because she was so consumed with her art, or someone like Sylvia Plath who ended up with her head in the oven. Which writing-mothers do you admire and why?
All the ones I know: Anne Michaels,Caroline Adderson, Zsuzsi Gartner, Marina Endicott, Anakana Schofield, Laisha Rosnau, Sara O'Leary, Anne Fleming, Linda Svendsen, yourself.... It's so tough to do both, and so hard to talk about why it's so tough. Both writing and motherhood come with the built-in potential for anxiety and depression, so when you do both it's a double-whammy, isn't it? I have the greatest respect and admiration for all writing mothers, published or unpublished. They're all hugely brave.