When you’re exhausted from working with the toxic combination of small children and deadlines, and wondering if you’ll ever get a proper night’s sleep again, it helps to laugh.
It also helps to read some nice, easy fiction.
I came across Lauren Sams’ Crazy, Busy Guilty in an airport a couple of weeks ago. The two hours of upcoming flying time – with no Wi-Fi or phones or children to worry about – seemed like an eternity. The things I would do! I had big plans for that flight: the thinking, the writing, the organising, the making sense of everything that’s going on in the world internationally. I would solve everything that had been keeping me up at night.
Instead I bought Lauren’s book, and got stuck into the life of Georgie, a thirty-something woman who got unexpectedly pregnant. She’s now raising the baby by herself, and has just returned to work in a challenging role with a demanding boss, while also attempting to navigate friendships and dating and staying ‘put together’.
She’s trying to ‘do it all’ and do it all flawlessly. But there are double standards everywhere. She can’t help but question why it’s called ‘babysitting’ when her ex boyfriend and father of her child takes the baby for a few hours. She tries to get through her job without mentioning the fact she has a baby at home, and by making excuses for leaving early to collect her child from daycare. She suggests that getting ready while looking after a baby, “Should be one of those psychological exercises Google makes it employees do when they’re interviewing for jobs”
I laughed at Georgie, and I laughed at myself. I laughed at all of us who somehow manage to get so much done in between childcare pickups and daytime baby naps.
I also reached out to Georgie’s creator Lauren, who wrote the book as a sequel to She’s Having Her Baby.
Below Sams shares more on her writing life, how she makes it work, and why she wrote Crazy Busy Guilty.
How did you get started as a writer?
By constantly hassling people. I kid… but not really. When I was in Year 6, I hassled my teachers to let me make a school newspaper. Finally, they let me. Then I went to the local newspaper a few years later and convinced them to let me do a page a week on youth issues (very “Libby from Neighbours” of me, don’t you think?). And then when I finished uni, I hassled a lovely woman named Jo Barry, who worked at CLEO at the time (RIP CLEO!) to let me write for the CLEO website. From there, I got a job at Cosmopolitan, and learned so much about writing and making a magazine and all the things they don’t teach you about writing at uni (there is not a lot of call for Foucault at Cosmo, believe it or not). It was a very exciting job and I really loved working there – the team was so dedicated, talented and fun to be around.
A few years after I started at Cosmo, I felt like I needed to do more with my writing, so I started writing a YA novel about a Kardashians-esque family, where the protagonist is a secret feminist trying to bring down the family from the inside. It got the attention of a few people in publishing, and though it never got published, it led to the publication of She’s Having Her Baby, and now, Crazy Busy Guilty. All’s well that ends well, and all that!
Can you share more on your first mornings back at work as a newly minted ‘working mother’. What were they like, did they go according to plan?
I was very excited about going back to work after I had my daughter. I went back when she was 13 months old, so I’d reached that point where I’d been to the park enough times that I could tell you if a new blade of grass had grown. I loved my job and was ready to get back to work. I was lucky enough to have amazing family support, and an excellent daycare where I felt totally comfortable leaving her. That is not the reality for many parents, and I’m definitely aware of how lucky I am.
That said, those first mornings back at work were a blur of coffee and rushing to daycare and then rushing to the train station and feeling as if I’d run a marathon before I even turned my computer on at my desk. That’s a feeling a lot of working parents – and not just mums, of course – can relate to, I’m sure. The sheer planning of it all – packing my daughter’s bag, packing my bag, making sure she was fed and watered (!), clothing her, having a shower, making sure I was dressed and groomed and so on, feeding the dogs, cleaning up from breakfast, then walking to daycare and then to the train station – was full-on in a way I hadn’t experienced before. And if even one of those things went wrong – say we’d run out of nappies or something – then the whole morning went out of whack! It was certainly a steep learning curve.
Tell us about your writing process. What does an average day look like for you? How long do spend on a draft? Where do you write? When do you write?
These days, I’m a freelance writer and author. I write for a bunch of magazines, websites and newspapers, and I write books, too. On my working days (I “officially” work three to four days a week, when my daughter is at preschool), I get out of bed and make my husband and I coffee (it’s not a gender thing! I’m just better at making it – you can ask him!). My daughter is up around 7-ish and we have breakfast and get ready for the day. I walk her to preschool then come home and start working. For the first hour at least, I work on whatever novel I’ve got going at that time. I use the Pomodoro technique, where you do 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, followed by a five-minute break. So at least two Pomodoros, sometimes four (if I’m lucky). Then it’s freelance work – interviewing, emailing, chasing publicists and contacts, transcribing, researching and finally, actually writing. Usually I’ll try to squeeze some exercise in (I like running) but I’m 7 months pregnant at the moment so I’m not exactly Jane Fonda (and to be honest, I wasn’t before I got pregnant, either). At 5 or so, my husband picks up my daughter and it’s time for the working day to end. We make dinner together, always eat together (I’m a big believer in sitting down at the table) and then do the bath-book-bed thing. After this, I might do a little more novel work or answer some emails, or my husband and I will finally say hello to each other again and watch TV. Right now we’re two seasons into Transparent and bloody loving it. How great is… literally everyone in that show?
Where did the inspiration come from to create the character of Georgie?
Georgie is someone who I definitely know (before you ask, nope, she’s not me!) – and by that I mean I know plenty of women like her. She is smart, funny, treasures her friendships, is ambitious and career-driven, and doesn’t see children in her future. Through a twist of fate, she finds herself pregnant and then must figure out what she wants to do.
I came up with the characters of Georgie and Nina at the same time. Nina is Georgie’s best friend, and I really wanted to write about the nature of female friendship, and Georgie and Nina’s in particular. It’s a platonic love story, really – they will do anything for each other, but they’re also quick to realise each others’ faults. There are so many romantic love stories out there, but not as many (with the big exception of YA fiction!) that celebrate the wonderful, complicated nature of female friendships.
In the first book, She’s Having Her Baby, Nina asks Georgie to have a baby for her (through surrogacy) – that’s how close they are. I wanted to explore the dichotomy of Nina wanting a baby more than anything, and Georgie not caring if she ever has kids. I didn’t want Georgie to have some tragic back story that “explained” or “justified” why she didn’t want children, I just wanted it to be part of her character. I don’t think women should have to explain these decisions! Similarly, I wanted to explore Nina’s deep yearning for a child, and her journey through infertility.
You have a lot of pop culture references. How do you personally keep up with these?
HA! I am a pop culture tragic. I don’t know how I keep up with it all, but I do know that my references are getting older and older. There’s a bit in Crazy Busy Guilty where the main character confesses to thinking that Kendrick Lamar (whom I believe is a rapper/musician/what-have-you) was married to Khloe Kardashian (nope, she was actually married to a basketball player named Lamar Odom). That bit is based on a meeting at Cosmo, where I blurted that out… to a wall of silence, and then laughter.
If you do want to keep up with pop culture, though, I do recommend watching a sh*tload of TV (I do!), reading a ton of books (same!) and subscribing to Vulture and The Cut, both part of New York magazine. I am like Jon Snow until I’ve read them each morning: I know nothing.