Without my children, I don’t think I would be an author.
Since they were tiny, I have been reading to them. Hearing the stories and rhymes in their books inspired me to make up my own. I went on to write some of them down (before hiding them away). I was busy being a Mum and looking after my clients in my VA business, it didn’t even occur to me to do anything with my poems.
Four years before Oliver was born, I set up my VA business with the intention of working from home. When he came along, the transition to motherhood and being at home with him was not difficult. If life could just be staying at home with my baby, and then later with a baby and a toddler, then I could cope.
I have never thought of myself as a creative person, and am surprised and delighted whenever I write something. I left school at sixteen and went on to study a bi-lingual secretarial course at college. That fitted the bill for me: languages which I loved and a practical application leading to a fall-back career in case I didn’t make it as a … well, I didn’t know what I wanted to be “when I grew up”!
So, I grew up and spent a number of years working in secretarial roles before selling my house and jetting off on an around-the-world trip for 6 months with my then boyfriend (now husband). Turns out that growing up wasn’t what I needed to access my creative side. Now I write books for children and get to indulge my childish brain.
It wasn’t just reading to them that inspired me. My first book Lum came about because my children (Oliver and Abigail) were fooling around in the bathroom when I had sent them there to clean their teeth. Putting on my ‘best Mummy hat’, instead of the ‘angry ranting Mummy’ one, I stomped up the stairs with the start of a rhyme on my lips and no idea where it would take me. It took me to
“Fee Fi Fo Fum
Here comes a hungry Mum
If there’s any children not doing what they’re told
Mum will eat them before they’re old!”
It does worry me that my ‘best Mummy hat’ includes threatening to eat my children! 😉 And when I go into schools and children ask me how I came up with Lum, I have to judge the room as to whether they will cope with that anecdote and realise I was only joking, or if knowing this will give them nightmares! I don’t often tell this to children.
Back to creating Lum. Once I’d ‘sung’ my rhyme, made Oliver and Abigail laugh, got them to clean their teeth and move on with the day, I thought to myself ‘there’s a story in there’ which is my internal catchphrase. I wrote it down and left the rhyme to be subconsciously mulled over in my mind. I think it was that night that I woke up in the dark with the story fully-formed in my head. I dashed downstairs to write it out before I forgot it. Although on writing it out, the story changed from its original format and I found it had a much happier ending. A quick swap from Mum and Lum was born!
Waking in the night is not unusual for me. I have had insomnia for so long that I am not sure I’d know what a decent night’s sleep is. Whilst I was pregnant, I naively believed that sleep deprivation was not going to affect me. I had ante-natal depression during my first pregnancy which led (in my head) to a huge number of reasons why I would be a failure as a Mum, but lack of sleep – oh, I had that one pegged. How wrong I was. Waking in the night; not getting back to sleep; getting up to do some work as I might as well use this time is entirely different from being woken up by a crying baby; having to work out why said baby is crying (hunger, tiredness, poop?); resolving baby’s problem; settling and willing baby back to sleep. Insomnia is still with me. I can get to sleep but don’t believe it is a deep sleep as I can hear the proverbial pin drop and am instantly and fully awake.
I continue to have sleepless nights, wake early and get on with work in my home office. In normal times, I stop working at 7am to organise my children into getting ready for school. Then return to my office at 8.30am to do what I love – working! More often than I would like I am so engrossed that I forget to stop for lunch. Guilt plays a big part in my life – it is guilt that stops me from resting. The house has to be tidied and cleaned; shopping has to be bought; the dog has to be walked; laundry needs to be washed, dried, put away all before I can allow myself to relax and then it is often the time that Abigail comes home from school and guilt makes me keep going, chatting, playing, driving to a club, preparing and cooking dinner. Which means that I rarely rest during the day.
During this time of lockdown, I’m mostly confused and overwhelmed. I’m doing my best. My children are doing their best. My husband is working for the NHS Supply Chain so is going out to work every day. Guilt played a part there too – guilt that we had an income when so many don’t neatly counter-balanced with the fear that my husband would get Covid-19.
The outcome from hiding away whilst being depressed is that I lost confidence in myself and really struggle to even want to make myself heard. In the last 6 months I had started to be more visible, for instance, applying and landing gigs at book festivals. Lockdown is just an extension of the hiding I had been quietly doing for a long time. I worry how I will be able to step outside again when this is all over. There are lots of people who cannot wait for this to end, but my Mum brain is in full ‘mumma-bear’ mode focussing on protecting my cubs, so keeping them safe at home is paramount.
Happily, my children are still inspiring me. They are still making me laugh. I am still writing poems and stories, often based on something they’ve said or done. I’ve written two poems in the last 6 weeks. And I am still surprising myself with my creative side.
Josie Dom can be found online at:
Josie is also helping to raise money for zoos affected by recent events.