Former journalist Louise Emma Clarke has done what most journalists have dreamed of at some point – written a book. More than that, she’s also an award-winning blogger, Instagrammer @mumofboysandmabel, and mum of three, who after several years abroad has moved back to the UK. In the midst of writing the follow-up to ‘From Mum with Love’, she shares her thoughts on writing, parenting, the pressures of social media and trying to make ‘it’ work…..
Had you always wanted to write a book or was the combination of being a mum and blogging that inspired you to write ‘From Mum with Love‘?
I’ve always knew I wanted to write a book, but was keen initially to write non-fiction, about my life as a mum and a blogger – and I’d found an agent to sign me on this basis. But after a lot of brainstorming, we felt the market was already quite saturated on that front and when she uttered the words “have you thought about writing fiction?” the seed was sown. The idea for writing ‘From Mum with Love’ came to me shortly afterwards, while on holiday in Italy in the summer of 2017 – and I sat down that same night and started writing it on my laptop.
Obviously the book is fiction, but your experiences as a blogger and as a mum must have inspired some of ‘From Mum with Love‘, how much of the novel would you say is true?
It’s definitely fiction, but some of the storylines and characters are inspired by things that have happened to me as a blogger and people I’ve met along the way. Jessica isn’t me; but our stories overlap at times. She started her blog and a couple of posts went viral, exploding her following and online presence very quickly. A few of the book bloggers that read my book pre-publication said they found this bit hard to believe – but my own experience with blogging was very similar to Jessica’s, with my following growing very quickly after a few viral posts. So despite it being a made up story, you can read this book knowing you’ve got an insider glimpse into the world of mummy blogging.
Before starting Wear & Where, I’d never realised just how much time it takes to put together a blog – let alone a blog and an Instagram feed! How do you manage to balance the pressures of what has become a job with the needs of your family?
People always ask how I manage to blog and write novels, with three children under the age of 6 – and the simple answer is childcare. I’ve been self-employed for the last 10 years and I currently work 3.5 days a week (plus evenings), thanks to a complicated jigsaw puzzle of school, nursery, a childminder, and grandparents. Every working mum knows how tricky it can be to juggle, but I’m lucky that my hours are flexible so I can still do the school runs and make nativity plays and assemblies. When I’m with the children, I leave my laptop on my desk in my office and try not to check my phone too often. It’s not always easy and I often find myself hiding in the kitchen to write an email, but I try my best. My eldest has started to understand that I write for a living, but until recently didn’t even know I worked when he was at school, which I think shows that I am sometimes successful at the juggling!
Instagram is such an amazing platform, but it can also open you up to that thief of joy ‘comparison’ – how do you maintain a healthy relationship with social media?
I haven’t been immune in the past to feeling a bit ‘meh’ when I’ve checked Instagram and discovered that a brand has chosen to work with someone else or hasn’t invited me to an event. It’s hard not to scrutinize yourself and wonder why you weren’t on the list. But this is really why I decided to go down the fiction writing route, as although I’ve always enjoyed blogging and sharing my world on social media, I’m a bit exhausted by the ‘keeping up appearances’ side of it all too – and holing myself away in a home office in the countryside to write stories seemed like a much less stressful use of my time! I try not to allow those thoughts to creep in anymore and mute accounts that make me feel anything but positive. At the weekend, I try not to pick up my phone much to de-clutter my mind. I never ‘live share’ on insta-stories when I’m out with the kids, so I can enjoy the moment – I tend to sit down in a quiet moment when we’re home and upload a few photos.
As your children grow older, they will inevitably want their own social media accounts. Have you thought about how you’ll help them navigate the challenges of social media?
My eldest is only six, so it isn’t something I’ve really considered much yet – but it isn’t something I’m looking forward to either. My 12-year-old niece follows me on Instagram and every time I post, I have to remind myself that she may be listening. It’s been a useful reminder that we never really know who is following us – and that will be the same for our children.
What do you think the secret is behind writing a successful blog?
Well, I think it really depends on how you define ‘success’. If it’s about follower numbers and turning it into a small business, I think it’s more important than ever to find a niche. It could be a unique new way of posting words or photographs, honing in on a unique element of your life (such as juggling motherhood with a job as an A&E doctor or sharing a health condition you are fighting), or starting a blog in in your local area that doesn’t already have a mummy blog. If I think about the blogs that have started growing in size and attracting attention very recently (rather than blogs that been around for years), they stand out for different reasons, but all ultimately stand out.
I’ve always wanted to write a book, but never really got past the first few chapters! How did you get the motivation to finish it?
I got really bad writers’ block after chapter five – but once I’d got over that, I knew I had to keep going or it would end up being a monumental waste of my time! I’m definitely not a gambler, so it was quite scary to put these hours in every day with no guarantee anyone would publish it – but once I’d got over a certain point, that thought motivated me to finish it to stand any chance of making it work.
And from there how did you get to it actually being published?
My agent helped me to whip it into something worth pitching to publishers – and then she sent it across to the first batch of publishers for consideration, with the idea that we would move onto the next batch if we had rejections. But we were lucky enough to find a publisher within weeks. When the email came through from my agent with the news, I was so overwhelmed that I managed to drive my car into my parents’ gatepost…!
How did it feel to see your book in print?
Having been a freelance journalist for so long, I’ve seen my name in print lots of times, so it wasn’t the surreal moment I probably imagined it would be. But it was lovely to hold it and see the words I’d written printed on real book pages. I still can’t bring myself to properly read it though, as every time I start flicking, I see things I’d now want to change.
Do you feel pressure now to write a brilliant second novel?
I’ve nearly finished novel two and it’s been flowing a lot quicker and easier than the first, so I hope it reads that way too. I am worried it doesn’t work quite as well as a standalone novel (if someone hasn’t read the first, but dips into the second, for example) but I have plenty of time to make sure it’s all tightened up and stands out on its own before I submit it.
You lived abroad for some years. What have you enjoyed most about coming back to the UK and what have been the biggest challenges?
I was most worried about the children resettling when we came home, but they found it surprisingly easy. But for me, it’s definitely been a challenge because we’ve had to start again from scratch. I remember being in the shower one day and feeling a pain in my back and making a mental note to book an appointment with my osteopath, only to then realise I was hundreds of thousands of miles away. I didn’t even know how to book doctors appointments, as I’d never had to do it in the UK. But slowly everything started slotting into place. The best thing has to be around family again – it was so surreal to pick the kids up from school and go to their grandparents for tea in the beginning. We’d never been able to do really simple things like that before and they were so happy.
Talk us through your average day. Are you go-with-the-flow or do you like to follow a routine?
I work 3.5 days a week and have 3.5 days a week off, so there isn’t really an average day to be honest – but if we are talking about work days, I tend to do the school drop and then shut myself in my office to work. I start with blog admin; replying to emails, taking photos, talking on insta-stories, working on copy that needs to be approved by brands – and then when that is done, I move onto novel writing. It’s usually pretty equally split between the two. Then by 3pm, I am back in the car to pick up my boys and then my daughter – then it’s mum duty until bedtime, when I pick up my laptop and move to the sofa.
What three things have you learned since becoming a parent?
– Everything in moderation. My mum banned sweets when I was little and I ran away to the local shop and smuggled a lollipop back in my armpit. I leant very early as a parent that banning something made it seem all the more mysteriously wonderful, so the likes of sugar, screen time, and junk food are not on the banned list in my house; just offered very much in moderation.
– To never be smug. My second baby was an amazing sleeper, literally sleeping through the night when he was a day old (and earning me a good telling off from the midwife for not waking him up to feed him). He slept that well until he was 6 months old, which I was very proud to tell people about – and then one night, he woke up and basically didn’t sleep again until he was 2 and a half.
It’ll be alright in the end – and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Motherhood can be so hard sometimes. Sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums, sibling fights, trying to persuade five year olds to do their school reading, endless colds and coughs, making dinners that nobody eats, six year olds answering you back… It can be so relentless and unrewarding at times that it feels like things will never get better or easier. But I have learnt that if I hold my breath through the hard bits, there will always be a lovely bit around the corner. A bit that makes you go “Aaah I love them so much” with emotional tears pricking your eyes. And if I’m honest, it’s usually bedtime.
You can win a signed copy of ‘From Mum with Love’ as well as a fabulous tassel hobo and ‘Hello’ tee by Margaux & the Bright Lights by heading over to Alex’s shop @t.a.e.boutique on Instagram. Good luck!
Read Louise’s brilliant blog here; follow her on Facebook here and follow her on Instagram here