Returning to Work: From the frying pan into the mire

The commute

My poor blog has been more neglected than a bikini line in winter. 

I’ve been working full-time you see, and I’ve also been letting things fall through the cracks.

Like many working women, I am still holding the domestic space together while trying to cope with the demands of full-time work. (This survey found that working women generally still do + 17 hours of  housework per week compared to men’s – 6 hours . Hang on, what?)

I’ve managed to forget music lessons and food shops, I’m haphazardly organising birthday parties, homework and play dates. I’m burning pizzas and missing school plays, concerts, and parent’s evenings.

I’m out of the playground and into the commute; away from the frying pan into the mire.

I’m trying to rally the troops, the children and my partner, with lists and memos; I have employed help – a cleaner and a child minder, and I know what a luxury that is.

And yet, and yet…

The jumble and scatter of life squeezes out my writing, these words that are my yoga and my Prozac.

Working life smooths out my edges as I polish myself down and re-imagine a woman I had forgotten; Our Lady of the Meeting, Doyenne of the Filofax, Director of Deadlines. Employee.

No more coffee mornings. No more spending hours honing a blog piece about pants or being a wanker mum.

I’ve been away from office life for so long, I fear that my brain is no longer malleable enough to accommodate the new connections I need to make. All my neurological pathways lead to my kids; they are my entrenched pattern, my learned behaviour.

While my part-time existence as a writer was isolating and badly paid, there was space. Time to reflect and get some perspective… too much fucking perspective to quote what’s-his-face from Spinal Tap.

It is a special kind of asthmatic wheeze, this squeezing out of the days, this stringing out of the hours to the last mote of air. Where are the morsels of time, those spaces in which we breathe?

Tell me how you do this thing you fellow working mums…

Musician Amanda Palmer: Spontaneous Intimacy

This week’s Catching the Comet’s Tail interview features musician, artist, and all-round creative maverick Amanda Palmer who is currently in the UK with her band Grand Theft Orchestra. You may know Amanda from her inspiring TED talk on The Art of Asking and if you want to hear a song about relationships that will bring you to your knees, check out The Bed Song. Amanda’s latest album ‘Theatre is Evil’, is available now.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda photo by Tracy Graham

Amanda on creativity… do you have a muse?

“I find it incredibly hard to be disciplined when there’s not an immediate reward in the form of a connection. Blogging and tweeting have contributed to the death of my songwriting, because I can present the same images and ideas that I used to squeeze into songwriting into immediately presentable images for an immediate crowd. My desire for spontaneous intimacy and instant gratification is the muse itself. I’m in the process of trying to figure out how to turn that driving desire back into art now that I’ve become a full-time comminucation-holic. If I had to name the part of my body which contains the art-making fire, it’s in the touch of the hand of another person. I feel most inspired when I feel the most connected.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who or what were your early creative influences?

“I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to grow up to be an art-maker of some sort. It was there at the beginning.My creative adventures were absolutely encouraged even if they weren’t understood. My household was very literal: my mother was a computer programmer, and my step-father was a physicist. The only time the family stereo was played was at Christmas.

My sister and I created worlds of sound behind our bedroom doors. She cranked Rush and U2 and Guns N’ Roses and tried to learn drums and I listened to The Beatles, The Legendary Pink Dots and Nick Cave and fiddled with my four-track. Learning about metaphor was what I craved; I felt very isolated at home and at school and tended to gravitate towards anything that looked artistic, different, outside. I still feel like the people who influenced me most weren’t the ones who taught me the craft of making art, but those who taught me the art of being human. The craft of songwriting mostly came to me through records and tapes, copying, listening, attempting. My college years were infamously dark, and I stopped writing for the entire four years, but I was lucky enough to be exposed to some wonderful things; German culture (where I lived for a year) experimental music and performance art (I’d never heard of Robert Wilson before college) and an expansion of the idea of art itself.”

How long did it take to write Theatre is Evil? Can you recall the first spark of inspiration and is the finished work what you originally envisioned? 

“Every time I make a record, I look at the collection of songs in my drawers that I haven’t recorded yet. Most had been written within the past few years, but some were ten years old (like Berlin, I wrote when I was in my mid-twenties). I’ve never attacked the making of a record as a single project in itself (with the exception of Evelyn Evelyn, which was a start-to-finish concept record). I usually look at the making of a record as a bucket landmark into which I dump everything I’m currently doing. And when I look at the pile of songs that are going to land in the bucket, it dictates a series of choices. Band or no band? What kind of tour? How to put it out and promote it? Every single one has a different path, and I don’t plan it ahead of time, I chase after it.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity, no matter what? And what, if anything, is guaranteed to kill it?

“Being in front of people inspires me to want to make things for them. If I’m in isolation for too long, I forget the purpose of making art, which is (for me) to share it. Usually, when I haven’t written music in a long time, it’s a show or event that will kick my ass into writing, because I’ll be inspired by the idea that I can immediately share the work. I make fast, and I share fast, and that’s the way I’ve always liked it. Long projects with delayed gratification are harder for me. I don’t like to perfect. I don’t like to wait. But I’ve also tried to harness that as a power, not a weakness.”

Do you ever feel that creating new things is a chore?

“Creating things is ALWAYS a chore. I’ve always been terribly undisciplined at finishing things, ever since I was fourteen and started writing songs. And the songwriters and book-writers that I know will usually agree with this: work is work. Work is not fun. That’s why it’s work. I love having written. I love the feeling of having created something great. And I’ll often even love the high of penning a good lyric and tapping into the kind of creative mood where the chords and words flow easily and it doesn’t feel difficult. But getting my ass in the chair has NEVER been easy. That’s why having deadlines, constructs, albums, and demands from the outside is good for me. That forces me to sit and focus.”

Is there a collaborative element to your work? 

“Collaboration depends on the project. When I’m writing the structure and lyrics of a personal song, I have no desire to collaborate. Not with another songwriter, not with the band, not with an arranger, nothing. But once the skeleton is locked, I’m very happy to collaborate and give the skeleton a new wrap of flesh or a new gender. As long as the internal structure keeps its integrity. Making the Evelyn Evelyn record with Jason Webley was a fantastic departure for me, because we literally penned the songs sitting side by side, discussing changes, lyrics, ideas, lengths, and the sorts of things I usually never share with another brain. It was really enjoyable.

When I was making Theatre is Evil, I brought the songs as solo piano tunes to the band (Michael, Chad and Jherek) first, and we worked out the arrangements for all their instruments over a long series of rehearsals and shows. Chad would program a synth sound and I would tweak it. Michael would try out a drum rhythm and Jherek would move it to the left or right. Everybody weighed in on the sounds and feel of the instruments. This was something I would have found almost impossible to sit through ten years ago. The nature of my songs is so personal that I used to feel the need to control every single detail of the presentation. Now I don’t feel as attached to a song once I’ve written it, and I can hold it at arms length and view it as a malleable piece of art. But it took me years to get to that place.”

Please provide a photograph of and talk a bit about the environment you most like be in to create… do you prefer the city or the countryside?

“The Dresden Dolls went to the Catskill mountains to track our second record, and I have never been quite so freaked out as I was that week. The isolation of being on a mountain in the woods brought up something very dark and lonely for me. I woke up early every morning just so I could drive 45 minutes to Woodstock in order to sit in a cafe listening to sounds of humanity, just so I wouldn’t go crazy for the rest of the day. Everyone else was happy as a clam to be in a nice, isolated retreat spot. I just wanted to escape. I think I thrive on the energy of humanity and when I detached from the sounds of life, I wither. I was like that as a child, as well. I split my time as a kid between the quiet, woodland suburbs of Boston with my mom and my dad’s Manhattan apartment.

Amanda Palmer writing space

In the suburbs, I had terrible insomnia and couldn’t sleep because the silence terrified me. In the city, with the window open next to my bed and the sounds of traffic and sirens and yelling floating in through the window, I felt utterly calm and at peace. That being said, I like going to the countryside to recharge and think, and some of my best song ideas have grown out of retreats to the wilderness. But for actual living and working, the city wins. I also have a very hard time with cold weather. I avoid it like the plague, because it just ensaddens me and drains my will to live.

Here’s a photo (see right) of a tomb in a graveyard near the house I grew up in. I went there before visiting my parents for their birthdays, took my ukulele, and tried to write.”

Do you have a daily routine around your creative process?  

“I’m much more of a mid-afternoon and evening person when it comes to creating. Late nights my brain tends to be very fried. My best ideas often slide in upon waking and I make sure I have a paper and pen by the bed at all times to catch stray thoughts and lyrics. But in general, I have no routine at all. I try to carve out time when as song hits, knowing that my ability to be disciplined is going to mean the difference between the song either being born or vanishing.”

Please share a photo of an object that connects with your creative process and tell us about it. Perhaps you have a talisman of some kind that connects to your work? 

Amanda Palmer lucky note“I lose things so easily that I can’t have a talisman. Objects of sentimentality tend to only cause me pain in their loss. But I do like this piece of paper I keep taped above the piano in my apartment. (See below right). It was mailed to me from one of my best friends after he went off to college and I was still in high school. We’d had long rambling talks about discipline and writing and frustration earlier that summer. And he mailed me a letter that was just a white piece of paper with a single line written on it, in white pen that said:

“Amanda, it is saturday morning, and I find myself wondering: are you composing a song or having a bite to eat? Joshua”

He’s now a tenured professor of philosophy at Yale. He didn’t bother with eating. I did.”

Which other creative art form outside the ones you are known for do you wish you could master or do more of?

“I’m not a bad visual artist and I sometimes wish I’d spent more time synthesizing my own artwork into my album art. I may start doing that more.

For the album Kickstarter, one of the backer levels was called “I Sharpie You”. I’d already been playing a game with the fans where they’d upload a black and white photo of themselves and I’d pick a random one, draw it in sharpie within 15 minutes and upload it back to them. About six people ordered this level on Kickstarter and the results were beautiful. I really loved being able to draw people and turn on that part of my brain. So I may spend more time refining my drawing-hand. I’d also love to learn how to play the piano for real. I’ve been meaning to do that for YEARS.”

Please tell us a bit about the upcoming UK live shows and say which environment inspires you more, the studio or the stage?

“They’re both inspiring in different ways. The studio is all about blocking out the outside world and focusing focusing focusing on the songs and the sounds with a microscope.

This tour we’re about to embark on is a postponed tour – it was supposed to happen in the spring but I wound up cancelling it because a friend of mine stateside got sick with cancer and I wanted to be with him during treatment. The last tour we were on, right after the album came out, evolved over the course of a few months and we started with a lot of bells and whistles that we gradually dropped because they were either too expensive, too cumbersome, or just plain unnecessary. By the time we got to the last leg of our last tour, we were extremely tight as a band and pretty much taking the stage with no frills, screaming and wailing with a minimum of distractions. The stage is a good place for me, I feel totally comfortable up there. But I also tend to overdo it and exhaust my reserves pretty quickly. After thirteen years of touring, you’d think I’d figure out how to pace myself, but I’m an idiot that way.”

What are you working on next?

“I can honestly say, and it’s sort of overwhelmingly wonderful, that I don’t know what I’m doing next. I have missed working on theater, and I may turn back to my roots and work on some theatrical projects. I miss that world. I’m also very interested to see where my songwriting takes me and I think I’m going to follow it instead of force it. I’ve been writing less and less songs over the years and I’m not sure if that’s a sign that I need to kick up the discipline or let go of the notion that this is the main way I make art. I may just rent a little flat in Camden, close enough to a good cafe and bar, and see what happens. Maybe sitting and waiting for something to appear is the best path when you’ve spent too many years running with two suitcases in each hand…”

Theatre is EvilTheatre is Evil is available now on Amanda’s website. You can follow Amanda on Twitter or check our her Facebook Page.  European tour tickets including July 12th at London’s Roundhouse are on sale here. Go, go go!

Let’s Get Naked

Sara Bran Running Free

I’m totally about to run naked and free… honest.

Let’s get naked.

These words, at one time, would not have caused me too much fuss. I have lived in California baby, oh yes, and experienced my fair share of communal hot tubs. (The story of the hot tub, the floating cucumber and the Elvis glasses is a whole other blog post). But these days, the way I feel about getting naked or even wearing a swim suit is quite similar to how I would feel if someone offered me some pins to stick in my eyes.

When, oh when did this happen?  Okay, so I resemble a clove-pitted ham in my M&S briefs, but I call myself a feminist for flip’s sake. Moi sans clothing just ain’t what it used to be, but mind you, nor is Radio One. Why aren’t I walking my big fat talk? My own poor sense of body image irritates the hell out of me, so I have been in search of a remedy for a condition I call Noddy Horror.

As a result of my extensive research, I can offer the following to you, my fellow dreader-of-the-beach:

1. Be honest, do you really want to work that hard?

It has been good to realise that most of my friends who look holy-moly-awesome-fab in the body department work hard at it. Like, really hard. Like, more than I would ever want to work hard at anything except perhaps my marriage to Ryan Gosling. They have also not had children, and are wealthy or time rich, or both.  They prioritise fitness, I prioritise observing the fitness of others (mainly the male tennis players at Wimbledon).

2. Make a note of the practical benefits

I now consider it useful that I can keep spare change in the cavernous crevices of my cellulite. I for one will never find myself without £1 for the parking meter, no siree!  Also, if I am on a large ship and we hit an iceberg and are plunged into unforgiving freezing waters, I’m far more likely to survive due to my padding. Also, my breasts will totes help me float. Others may even be able to use me as some sort of raft thus making me actually quite heroic.

3. Get some perspective

I have stopped looking at magazines/TV/adverts that suggest I need to ‘get my beach body ready’ and begun to appreciate the fact that I have two arms, two legs and a functioning brain. Seriously, what right do I have to bemoan my wibbles when I a) can’t be arsed to do more than a paltry sun salute every now and then and b) am lucky enough to still have all my bits and wits?

4. Take a look at the real people

The greatest antidote to Noddy Horror is to go to your local swimming pool and take a look around, take a long, cold, hard look around. See the normal people? See the pitted, chthonian, Jabba-mass of humanity and remember, it’s not us, it’s them. It’s the freak show going on in the halls of Conde Nast that is ugly; them with their airbrushes and their banquets of lettuce, cocaine and Camel Lights.

So, you know, let’s run free, run naked, let’s let it all hang out this summer people.  Please don’t leave me alone in this or I’ll be arrested.

Tribal Motherhood: The Day I Realised I am a Wanker Mum

Campervan

Organic Camper Van Mum Tribe: Fully Paid Member

The playground is the most tribal place I have ever been, and I’m not talking about the children. The first time you enter a school yard as an adult, you may feel naked and small all over again just like you did as a child. Perhaps, like me, you will come over all foetal and experience flashbacks,  huddling up on a bench, hiding and snotting yourself into the nylon sleeve of a kindly dinner lady while Goliath-sized boys play football two inches from your face.

The thing we don’t anticipate about school when we become parents is that we have to learn, all over again, how to navigate the disorienting waters of playground politics, staffroom statesmanship and results-oriented hysteria. But here’s the thing; it is all much easier if you are part of a clique team. Therefore, all parents are advised to find a playground tribe. These are parents paddling the same kind of canoe in roughly the same direction on vaguely the same river as you.

After a few weeks in the playground, you will start to notice other parents who clearly drink the same amount of caffeine and who are in a similar state of disarray/grooming as you. This is the first sign that they may be a kindred soul. An affinity will develop. You will start to chat and find that you share the same thoughts on what time it is ok to have a V&T (7pm if you must know) and you will begin to rely on each other for support and practical help. Others will join and you will feel that you have found a kind of tribe bonded by shared experience, this journey with your children that lasts for years. It is only in retrospect you will learn that it is more akin to being on a submarine with a bunch of people who, like you, are ever-so-slightly doomed to never resurface. Nevertheless, if you find a parental tribe, however small, cling to them, cling to them like badly flipped pancakes on a suburban kitchen ceiling.

There is an assumed ‘tribe of motherhood’, but actually, there are so many variations, interpretations and individual experiences of bringing children into and up in the world, that giving birth in itself is not a unifying experience. Perhaps the huge disparity between mothering styles and expectations is one of the reasons we still command so little political power. Nowhere are the differences between us more apparent than the playground, the first place you see a lot of mothers in one place after the labour ward if, like me, you studiously avoided hell ‘mother/toddler’ groups.

Hovering near the limescale-ridden playground drinks fountain which acts as an equivalent of the water-cooler at work, you can get a sense of the extraordinary scope of mum tribes. Like a binocularless playground twitcher, you’ll catch sightings of No Stains Mums (aka. OCD mums), Rock n‘ Roll Mums (who miraculously still seem to go out in the evenings), Overly-Attached Mums (child wrapped around each leg, usually on the verge of tears), No Boundaries Mums (their children wrapped around other people’s legs, other people in tears), Organic Camper Van Mums  (weirdly calm – possibly on valium), Perpetually More Exhausted Than Anyone Else Mums (husbands do even less than yours),  On the Verge Mums (their volcanic anger festers like an abscess) and the scariest of all, The Four Mothers of the Apocalypse aka Judgmental Mums (these are the ones you bump into just as you give your child a blue ice cream as a bribe to stop them shouting “cock” at everyone).  You won’t even catch a glimpse of the Mysterious Mums except at the Christmas fair. Sighting of these mothers is rare; they’re like endangered and magnificent snow leopards. They not only work full-time, but are statistically likely to still be doing more housework than their partners.  The list of parent tribes is endless and this doesn’t even include the religious, gender-based and cultural subsets such as Freelance Meedyah Dads, Vicar Flirts and The Women of the Sad Eyes whose  private histories are hidden beneath their many skirts.

I thought I vacillated between the Camper Van and On the Verge tribes until one day,  I realised I am part of a whole other mummy tribe…

It was a beautiful autumn morning; a gorgeous low sun filtered through the trees of my local park where I was walking. The occasional horse chestnut descended into the leaves with a thud, cobwebs glistened, busy London squirrels made winter plans. A pregnant friend called me on my mobile. She was having a serious wobble about the huge life-change ahead of her. “I mean…” she sobbed down the phone. “I mean, I just can’t bear to become one of those middle-class wanker mums pushing their baby around the park in a Bugaboo wearing Birkenstocks, sipping lattes and spending all day pureeing organic vegetables. I mean… I just can’t bear it.”

“Er…no… that won’t happen to you, you’ll be fine,” I said reassuringly, looking down at my powder-blue Birkenstocks. I dropped my mobile back into my handbag which dangled off the handles of an orange Bugaboo, a monstrous four-wheel-drive type of pram that cost more than our car (it was a gift I might add).  I decided not to pop into Gail’s for a latte after all. Instead, I pulled an organic apple from my ‘I Love Kensal Rise’ reusable shopping bag and crunched into it ruefully. So that’s it, I thought, I am a Wanker Mum.

Reward Stickers for Adults: Gummy Little Redeemers

The Averys

The Averys

It is time my friends. Time to pay homage to the couple who made the task of modern parenting/teaching/damage limitation possible. The inventor of the self-adhesive sticker, Mr. R Stanton Avery and his wife, Dorothy Durfee.

The Reward Sticker. Oh, how I have come to love these gummy little redeemers. These precious paper wafers, tools of compliance, delicate as gold leaf, and more loaded with meaning than a communion biscuit. Stickers are dispensed to our children like angel’s kisses by teachers, doctors, and parents alike.  Within our children’s adhesive universe, there is a hierarchy of reward, ranging from the simple gold star to the ultimate, much coveted gummy prize; the large, glittery, puffy sticker, enhanced with foam.

My own relationship with self-adhesives runs thus:

1970-1977 ~ Boundless enthusiasm for ‘sticker collections’ equating, over a lifetime, to roughly £2500 worth 0f bubble gum in order to find 100 stickers.

1980-1984 ~ an odd flirtation with Sticky-Back-Plastic (Every. Single. School. Exercise Book.)

1996-1997 ~ a brief, rave-related bindi wearing phase.

2001- yesterday ~ a Post-It-Note based stationary fetish.

Which brings me to now. It was only yesterday, when the Biscuit Thief came home proudly displaying an “I ate all my lunch today” sticker AND a huge, red, glittery, puffy butterfly one for ‘sitting nicely’, that I thought, I want stickers. I bloody want bloody reward stickers.  I want them plastered on my torso each time I complete a yoga class, I want them daubed across my face when I achieve edible meal provision, I want them glued to my weary eyelids when I have, yet again, kept calm and carried on. I want to be agglutinated, affixed, pasted to within a papery inch of my wretched domestic life with stickers that say “WELL DONE!”

In fact, why stop there: I could give my husband stickers too, ones that say things like, “Today, I have been amazing at not mentioning my wife’s ‘tache.” The Teenage Songbird could have ones that say, “I am not on drugs or pregnant. RESULT!”

It was in 1935 that ‘Stan Avery’  invented the machine that made self-sticking labels. His creation saw the light of day thanks to a $50 investment from a woman called Dorothy Durfee, a school teacher, who became Stan’s wife. Together, Stan and Dorothy ran Kum-Kleen Adhesive Products as equal partners. Today, nearly eighty years on,  I shall construct a small altar to them made out of Avery mini labels and give thanks. Won’t you join me? You’ll get a reward sticker if you do.

Author Rosie Fiore: Hooking the Thread

CatchingTheCometsTailThis week, Catching the Comet’s Tail features author Rosie Fiore. Her second novel, Wonder Women, is a brilliantly observed, multi-layered story about three women at a crossroads in their lives. Through her engaging, realistic cast of characters, Fiore tackles important issues such as motherhood, marriage, female friendship and ambition. Rosie has two children and is addicted to coffee; she is, therefore, my kind of woman. I suspect she may be yours too.

rosie_fiore

Rosie on creativity and the creative process…

“It’s a funny old thing for me, the process of creating… a combination of sheer drudge and moments of breath-taking inspiration. But the best way I can describe it is as a slow, endless percolation of ideas, experiences, things you’ve heard. It’s that percolation that slowly knits itself into stories. Sometimes it’s clear which elements have led to which stories, sometimes it’s not, and then it’s as surprising to me as it would be to a reader. I always imagine my mind as a pond (I know… go with me). I dip my hand in and swirl it around, and when I am lucky, I hook a thread with a single finger. If I pull slowly and carefully and well, the whole net of the story will rise beautifully to the surface. It’s in there. I just need to let it come.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“My father painted and played the piano, my mum was wonderful with languages, and we were all encouraged to pursue our interests and grow. They were hugely supportive. My parents (and to a certain extent, my teachers at school), recognised me as a writer long before I did myself. I wanted to be an actor. I found writing to solitary and even though I knew I had a talent for it, I shied away from it for years.

I had to argue quite hard to get the chance to study drama at university, not because my parents didn’t support it, but because they wanted me to be able to earn a living. But I did get to go, and found the Drama Department at Wits University a fertile and exciting creative playground, I learned so much there, and I am proud to number many people from my years there as close friends. Creative giants all of them.”

How long did it take to write Wonder Women and can you recall the first spark of inspiration? 

“Wonder Women is my fifth book, and was definitely the easiest to write. The first draft simply poured out. I couldn’t type fast enough to get it down. It took the first five months of last year, and then I spent the second half of 2012, revising it with my agent and editor. I came up with the idea on the day I finished Babies in Waiting, because the themes of women balancing work and family made it such a logical follow on from the plot of Babies.

I knew which issues I wanted to cover in the book, and before I began, had a clear idea of my main characters, but as always, as I wrote and they developed and gained detail, they took some slightly different routes. Charlotte van Wijk, who edited the manuscript, gave wonderful advice in the later drafts on fleshing out some of the relationships, and making them much stronger.

When is a book finished? Finishing is always the hardest thing to do. I really don’t like stories where all the ends are neatly tied up. I like to suggest some possibilities, but keep the options open. A few reviewers have said they felt Wonder Women needed another chapter, but it was very much my intention to leave all the characters with choices and allow the reader to decide what they thought might happen. I’m not one for a “happily ever after” scenario.”

Who, what or where always inspires your creativity and what, if anything, blocks it?

“Coffee. Coffee is my friend, Seriously, I am badly addicted. It began when my small son was a baby who didn’t sleep. He is now nearly four and still not a great sleeper. Coffee (and carbs) became the only way to get though the day. I’m better at the carbs, but making a pot of coffee and sitting down with a cup is a vital part of the writing ritual.

What stands in my way? Stuff. Life. Paying work (I’m a freelance copywriter), that needs hours of time and attention. Children. Housework. Facebook. Twitter. One can always find time, even if it’s at 11pm, but keeping enough clear headspace can be a challenge.

Writing novels is officially the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on. There is nothing I would rather do. Sometimes there are parts of the job (line-editing for example), that can be tedious, and going over and over the same manuscript can make you lose the will to live, but I try not to lose sight of the miracle that I am actually a published novelist, and what a joy the whole thing is.

As for being blocked, a friend who is a journalist once said rather sniffily, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block”, and I think for hacks like him and me, that’s true. I write every day for a living, and I have for twenty years. I have to produce or I don’t get paid. I take that “Dammit, get something… anything on the page” attitude into my novel writing. As long as you keep going, things tend to resolve themselves.”

Where do you most like to be when you write and do you have a routine?

The ubiquitous coffee cup...

The ubiquitous coffee cup… Rosie’s desk

“I usually write at my desk at home, in our living room. My husband is an IT engineer so I have a good PC with a massive monitor. My desk (pictured) is always a mess though, piled with papers, pens, and often toys that three-year-old Ted has brought to me as I sit there. When I need a change, I find it hugely useful to go to a coffee shop to write, although I abhor this new-fangled modern tradition of offering Wi-Fi everywhere. The best reason to write in a coffee shop (besides the good coffee), is to avoid procrastinating and surfing the Net. I am quite superstitious about the coffee shops where I’ve done good work and love to go back there – the Caffe Nero in Edgware is a total winner. I also did some fabulous work in the little cottage in Cornwall where we had a holiday in March. Breath-taking sea views, peace… and zero Internet (seeing a pattern here?)

I tend not to play music, but I am quite oblivious to noise, happy to write while my family watches TV or chats. I can tune it out.

Like most writers, I also have to work, and I have to care for a three-year-old, so I carve the novel-writing hours out day by day. Sometimes I’m lucky and get to work in the morning when Ted is at nursery, but more often than not, I won’t get to write till he’s in bed. When doing a first draft, I write 1200 words a day, every day, no exceptions.”

Is there a collaborative element to your writing process?

“I write alone, but my husband Tom is an utterly invaluable support. He brings drinks to me when I am writing late at night, listens to me wrestle through plot points, makes great suggestions and loves me though every stage. I’m proud to say Wonder Women is dedicated to him, because it wouldn’t have been written without him.

Also, with any book, you end up writing about things you know nothing about, and people are always so amazingly helpful. From the woman who talked me through her children’s clothing business to the friend who told me about studying at Goldsmith’s in the 1990s, and the colleague of my husband’s who helped me choose an authentic Indian Hindu name for a character, I salute them all.”

Please share a special object that connects with your writing.

Fiore's Quartz Coaster“This is my quartz slab, which I use as a coaster for the ubiquitous coffee cup. It comes from a happy family trip to the Natural History Museum. I think it’s beautiful, and it is the same colour as the amethyst in my engagement ring. So to me it stands for love, connectedness, family, and coffee. Yup. That’s all the important stuff.”

Which other creative art form outside the one you are known for do you wish you could master?

“Here’s my secret wish… I wish I could dance. I am five foot ten and clod-hoppingly clumsy. I started ballet and dance at sixteen, much too old to gain any real skills, and while I did it at university, was never any good at all. But in my dreams… oh, in my dreams I am a petal on the wind, or a petal in Artem Chigvintsev’s arms when I get to go on the writers’ only version of Strictly Come Dancing. Seriously though, I do still do some acting (amateur only), when I get the chance, and I sing in a choir. And I love to cook.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Bloody children. Time-thieves the lot of them. And heart thieves. And teachers of wit and emotion, and challengers of patience… On a practical level, being a parent makes creating much harder, just because I have less energy and time than I might have as a non-parent. But on a visceral level, I think it makes me a better writer than I would have been. My sons (Matt who is 20 and Ted who is 3), made me into a grown up. I believe they made me a less selfish, more compassionate and better version of myself, and that gives me more depth and experience to write from. Then they stole all my sleep and most of my waking hours. Sigh.”

What are you working on next?

“I am maybe halfway into a first draft of a new book, tentatively titled Were Those the Days. It’s about memory and nostalgia, about the narratives we create around our past, and how we use those to define ourselves and our present. But what if the people from your past come to get you, and those people don’t remember things in quite the same way? And what if what you believed in for all those years was just plain… wrong?”

You can find out more about Rosie on her website www.rosiefiore.com  Twitter @rosiefiore  and Facebook Rosie Fiore.

Rosie Fiore Wonder Women Wonder Women, published by Quercus, is available now on Kindle. You can also pre-order the paperback here.

Artist Ylva Kunze: Chance and Control

CatchingTheCometFinalWelcome to Catching the Comet’s Tail, a series of interviews with writers, artists and musicians discussing creativity and their creative process. This week,  I spoke to Swedish contemporary artist Ylva Kunze during her first London show, Artist in Residence. Her canvases, informed by the woods and lakes of her childhood in Småland, are deeply affecting, filled with kinetic fervour.  It was no surprise to me to discover that her name, Ylva, means ‘she-wolf’ in Swedish.

Ylva KunzeYlva on creativity and the creative process…

“For me, creativity is an urge that I have to act on. It’s a total body feeling, something I get if I see something that inspires me. I immediately want to act –  to experiment – there is a sense of urgency about it, like with everything in my life!  I don’t know where the urge comes from, but when I’m involved in the process of making a painting, I do sometimes wonder where the feeling begins. If, for some reason, I can’t get to my studio when I have the urge to create, I can put the feeling on hold and tap back into it. It’s a sense of wanting to try – like I am desperate to start the journey, the process. For me, creativity is about ‘finding out’ and the origin of it is not in my brain but my body. The urge might be to explore colours or experiment with the medium I am putting on the canvas. I never feel any fear around my process as it’s the actual doing that makes me creative –  it’s the doing that makes me discover new things.”

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child and who were your early inspirations?

“Creativity was all around me as a child, for example, my dad made all our furniture. It’s a very Swedish way I think, this idea of making things; you don’t employ someone, you do it yourself. In school we studied textiles and woodwork from a young age. My mum has a studio and still paints. My childhood home was full of paintings, and my grandma, who was from Vienna, went to art school in the early 1900s. Her father was an architect who the worked on Vienna’s famous opera house and mixed in Art Nouveau circles.

However, I never thought I would be an artist ~ perhaps it was something to do with being in Sweden in the 1970’s, but I just didn’t see art as my path and didn’t discover it until I was in my 20s. I was traveling a lot, living in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and  Gothenburg before I came to London. I was living in a squat with musicians and meeting artists, and decided to start a foundation course in art at Chelsea. That’s when I painted for the first time. I still have my first painting. It was a dead animal project; three pig heads!

My grandma was one of my earliest artistic inspirations but I also remember, when I was about 10 years old, being blown away by the vastness of the paintings in the Louvre in Paris. It was the sheer size of them that took my breath away – a strong bodily sensation that I remember very clearly.”

How long have you been working on Artist in Residence and is the final result what you originally planned? 

“I found my painting voice about ten years ago. This process of placing canvases flat on the floor, using buckets and buckets of paint, mixing the paint with glue and the way I drag the paint across the canvas has been with me for some time. This show, Residence, took around two years to complete. A few paintings came about at the last minute and were still wet while I was hanging them.

It’s important to me to know the space I am showing in because I plan canvas sizes and the way I want the finished show to look. Hanging the pieces is a very important part of the process for me, and original concepts will change according to the space.”

How do you know when a painting is finished?

“I get a gut feeling when a painting is finished. I feel exhilarated. It makes me excited and that feeling is the whole reason for painting in the first place.  A painting is done when I feel a sense of unity with it.”

Who, what or where always inspires you?

“Walking in the the vast, raw woods in Småland inspires me; the beauty of the heavy snow glimmering on the tree branches; hearing my footsteps crunching the snow or swimming in a lake with just the sound of the birds and my arms stroking the water. That tranquillity, emptiness and space, rawness and simplicity, is a necessity for me. Being separated from it influences my work. To create, I have to sweat and get my whole body involved so the worst thing for me is to be still. I often do body painting where I’m heaving paint around physically, it’s very kinetic process for me.”

Is there a collaborative element to your creative process?

“When I am painting, I am a very private person so I never have anyone watch me while I paint, but the hanging of a show is a different matter. I love having people to bounce off at that stage and having my representative (Sarah Smith) has been fantastic for me. I needed that support otherwise I’d probably still just be in my studio not showing anyone anything! I am confident as an artist but wasn’t that confident about showing my work in London until I started to collaborate with Sarah.”

Ylva Kunze: Overalls and ClogsWhere do you most like to be when you paint and do you have a routine?

“My time is limited because I am a mum, but generally I turn up at my studio and plan what I’m doing, then I mix the paint which is a very meditative part of my journey. Painting grounds me, quietens me down. When the actual painting process begins, I like to have loud music in the background, XFM radio playing indie rock. I find the energy of London more conducive to painting than the Swedish countryside although my work is completely informed by the latter. The first thing you are told as a child in Sweden is, “Don’t go out into the woods because you will get lost like Hansel and Gretel… you will disappear.”

In my studio, I need complete freedom to make a big mess. I use so much paint, there are huge puddles of it everywhere. The photo on the left shows my overalls and my clogs literally clogged with layers of paint. My environment allows me to lose myself, just like I was warned not to as a child, in the smell of the paint, the music I play, and the paint itself.

It can be frustrating having to stop painting to pick up my children, but I have to look at it positively. I am a daytime person now but before children it was different. I have bad days and good days, but I can bring it on… I can bring on the she-wolf!”

Please share a special object that connects with your painting.

Boken om Lyckan

“This is a book my grandma gave me in my late teens when I was on a journey in my life. She was a fantastic person; at 85 she was wallpapering her own walls, a total inspiration. She wrote a special message inside it and it means a lot to me. Boken om Lyckan means ‘The Book of Happiness’. It makes me feel like my grandma is still here and reminds me of her inspiring character.”

Are there other creative art forms you wish you could master?

“There’s nothing I want to do other than paint, but a nice singing voice would be good! I used to dance a lot… that and horse-riding are other art forms I love.”

How did becoming a parent affect your creativity?

“Becoming a mum made me much less self centered. It changed my work in that I didn’t care so much about what people thought. I was less afraid to try new things once I had been through childbirth.  I did some of my best work when I was pregnant and have photos of me, huge, in my studio painting frantically. I did some really key pieces at that time. John Cage said, “When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas…” Motherhood gave me perspective, it helped me leave all those voices behind.”

What are you working on next?

“I am just breathing right now. I am going to carry on where I left off, ideas are brewing. I definitely have things that I need to do.”

You can find out more about Ylva on her website www.ylvakunze.com.

Motion II Ylva Kunze

Motion II

Ylva Kunze: Artist in Residence is showing at the C99 Art Project Gallery, 99 Chamberlayne Rd, Kensal Rise, London NW10 until 9th May.  Open Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturday 10.30am – 5pm, Sunday 4pm-7pm. Contact 0208 969 6154  Furthermore, a limited edition range of clothes using Ylva’s paintings from British label Me and Thee is available from www.lovekr.co.uk.