I don't have a lot in common with Zadie Smith. Zadie finished her university education while I am a drop-out who ran off to au pair in Paris. Zadie published her first novel to great acclaim while mine is still sitting in a cupboard, typed up on yellow paper and smelling of moldy house. Zadie has acquired a broad-based and supportive readership, some nitpicking detractors, and has won awards for her work, allowing her to build a career in teaching writing at a university level. She also writes delicate articles with a punch in reviews no less glorious than 'The New Yorker', dealing with issues dear to her heart. She is doubtless a hard worker with much talent, and has just published her fourth novel, already receiving glowing reviews.
Phew! Just taking a breath as there is so much to admire here.
And here's an even bigger difference. Zadie had her daughter in her thirties, while I started reproducing in my mid-twenties while I was a young diplomat's wife in Mogadishu, and then, ahem, continued my output over the next twelve years. Much has been said about having a career versus being a stay-at-home home. (Whose children are more intelligent and well-adjusted? Whose bunions are bigger?) But how does mothering affect creativity, that daunting endeavour?
In this week's 'Guardian' (which I feel less and less like reading for various reasons, not least of all the fact that they haven't reviewed my novel there!) I read an article accompanying a review of Zadie Smith's new novel 'NW', which struck a very familiar chord.
According to the newspaper, Smith said that 'motherhood had changed her in an extreme way', especially by nibbling away at her time and concentration. She says: 'I wasn't interested in 80-page chapters any more - I couldn't stay in that mindset for that period of time.'
And even more tellingly, she spoke about being shoved off the writing cliff into the freefall of childcare: '..there's no down time. I would stop writing and would have no chance to think about the book at all, nothing. Then in the morning, it was as if someone else had written it.'
It's all about brain twisting, if you like. Gymnastics. Focusing. Not always easy, not ever easy.
What is interesting is that Smith then spins this brutal detachment into an advantage, saying that it also gives the writer essential distance, a crucial objectivity that is difficult to achieve when one is bathed in the work.
I do like this one. I am clinging to it.
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I have an interview about my publishing experience up with Brit Writers!