Finding time to write – and then using it …

Woman writing at desk

Danielle Hawkins lives on a sheep and beef farm near Otorohanga with her husband and two children. She works part-time as a large animal vet, and writes when the kids are at school. To say her life is busy is a gross understatement and yet she’s just published her fourth novel When It All Went to Custard.

For all aspiring writers (particularly those who are mums), Danielle has given us an insight into her writing process.

Years ago, I read an essay by Marian Keyes about her writing process. It consisted, as I recall, of her reclining in bed with her laptop on her knee and a long stick conveniently to hand. The stick was for banging on the floor when she wanted her husband to bring up more lollies from downstairs.

One day, when I grow up, I want to do that. (Minus the stick; our house has only one story. Perhaps a little bell would work better. . .) But I would love to spend the first three hours of my day, the time when my brain works the best, writing and drinking coffee in my pyjamas. Then I would rise, dress and spend the rest of my day doing worthwhile and important stuff like parenting, exercise, farming, gardening and veterinary medicine.

It’s nice to dream.

Children, I have learned, are very bad for writing. While mine often ignore me completely when I’m vacuuming the floor or making dinner, as soon as I sit down and try to write something they’re beside me, needing all of my attention and most of my personal space. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; at least these days they let me go to the toilet on my own.

A recent and exciting development, however, has been a little window of early morning peace. If I get up at five-thirty I’m almost guaranteed an hour of writing time before anyone else is awake. It’s only happened in the last six months; before that, no matter how silently I crept out of bed, a small boy appeared as if by magic. He was always adamant that he’d be very quiet and very good, but he just quickly needed to sit on my knee and do some typing, or tell me how every other boy in the world has a motorbike and a cell phone and plays Minecraft for ten hours a day, or show me how he can almost do a handstand. When told to go away he would vanish sobbing down the hall, making me feel like a monster, wait thirty seconds and start all over again. Fun times.

I love my early morning writing hour. It gives me a little warm, virtuous glow of achievement and stops me from getting bitter and twisted. In theory, you see, on days when I’m not working as a vet and it’s not school holidays and I’m not needed down the farm, I get to write. But in practice it’s amazing how often the writing gets put off while I go to town for a new tractor battery/look at a lame heifer/feed forty lambs/have the windscreen on the ute replaced/take someone to the dental nurse. Also, getting one good hour makes me feel a bit better about the times when nobody wants me for anything and I can write to my heart’s content – but my brain has dissolved, I’ve just spent forty minutes moving one comma and all I can think about is how vital it is to immediately leap up and clean the bathroom ceiling.

Anyway, must go. I’ve got an hour spare before I’m needed to draft lambs, and I desperately need to plant some spinach and reorganise the spare room bookcase.

When It All Went To Custard cover

When It All Went to Custard
by Danielle Hawkins

I wasn’t enjoying the afternoon of 23 February even before I learnt that my husband was having an affair …

The news of her husband’s infidelity comes as a nasty shock to Jenny Reynolds, part-time building control officer and full-time mother – even though, to her surprise and embarrassment, her first reaction is relief, not anguish. What really hurts is her children’s unhappiness at the break-up, and the growing realisation that, alone, she may lose the family farm.

This is the story of the year after Jenny’s old life falls apart; of family and farming, pet lambs and geriatric dogs, choko-bearing tenants and Springsteen-esque neighbours. And of just perhaps a second chance at happiness.

Posted on May 16, 2019 by

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