This week we were lucky enough to nab an interview with Andrea Mara – award-winning blogger at Office Mum – and now published author. Her thrilling debut novel ‘The Other Side of the Wall’ is out now, and available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.
Q. Lots of your online followers know you as ‘Office Mum’ – a mum who juggled office life with motherhood. When you made the decision to leave the office did it impact your relationship with your followers? Did you ever consider changing your blog name from ‘Office mum’ to something else?
Great question! And yes, when you start a blog called Office Mum and then go and get yourself made redundant from your office, it’s a little awkward. I thought about changing the name for a second but pretty much immediately decided against it. Everything – all my social media accounts and my website – are under Office Mum, and changing would have taken huge effort. Plus, as someone said to me during a recent interview, “you’re still an office mum, it’s just that your office is now in your house.”
Q. As a blogger and social media influencer you must spend a lot of time online. Do you think the online parenting communities are an important space for modern mums?
I think online parenting communities can be a huge support to mums today. Yes, there are times when we get sucked in too much and have to take a step back, but for the most part, I think they’re an invaluable help. There are so many questions in the early days, it’s fantastic to have forums or groups to turn to. And as years go by, though the questions decrease, it’s lovely to have people to chat to. And the reality is, if your baby is up all night and you need to vent at 7am, your best friend might not appreciate the early morning phone-call – but the internet is always there.
Q. When you were making the decision to leave your job, did you always have in your mind that you would write a book?
I had it in mind, but it wasn’t part of the decision. I’d written one manuscript already by then, and had realised it wasn’t going to work. So when I was choosing between redeployment or redundancy, I went for the latter but with the intention of building up a freelance writing career. So fiction-writing was put on the proverbial shelf for a while.
Q. Motherhood is hard. Writing is hard. If you combine the two it seems like an almost impossible task! How did you find the time to write, and did you have difficulty separating your writing time and looking after your family?
I write at night when my kids are asleep, and sometimes in the morning when they’re at school, though that time is earmarked for the day job of freelance writing. I cannot write when the kids are around, and am in awe of anyone who can. Even if they’re in the next room happily playing, I just can’t bring myself to open the manuscript and start typing. I think it’s because I know they may interrupt at any second. For fiction, I find I need to immerse myself in it fully, for at least a two-hour period. So five minutes here or there in between getting snacks, checking homework, or breaking up arguments over toys just doesn’t work!
Q. Tell us about your book The Other Side of The Wall. Where did the idea come from?
Like lots of mums, I had many wakeful nights when my babies were small, particularly my youngest who was two-and-a-half before he slept. I often found I was so delirious with tiredness, I couldn’t be sure what was real or what was imagined any more. And I wondered if something happened at night – if I looked out the window and saw something – would I know the next day if it had been real? That’s essentially what happens with Sylvia in the book.
I also thought often about how little most of us see of our neighbours, especially any of us who work full-time. It struck me that if something happened to someone on my road, I might not notice at all – that’s a big theme in the book.
Q. Are any of your characters based on actual people you know? (C’mon tell us the truth now!)
Definitely not! Though I guess all characters are composites of real people, aren’t they. If there weren’t like real people, they wouldn’t be credible. Some of the characters are slightly exaggerated – like Rosemary, the elderly neighbour who watches everything that goes on, and Georgia, the woman who spends more time in Brown Thomas than at work. But the main characters are (I hope) regular people to whom extraordinary things happen. I guess there’s a little bit of me in Sylvia, and Kate is the person I’d like to be when I grow up.
Q. What actors would play your characters in a movie?
Ooh that’s a good question. Can I have Amy Adams for Sylvia? She would need to dye her hair, but otherwise, she’s perfect. And for Kate, perhaps Cate Blanchett. Sam might be played by George Clooney. Sam is nothing like him, but I’m not passing up on the chance of meeting George Clooney, so he’s in.
Q. Do you still find time to read?
Yes, but I don’t read anywhere near as much as I did ten years ago, mostly I think because I don’t commute anymore, and because I’m terribly distracted by social media. So I always have a book on the go, but some nights I might only read five pages before going to sleep. I find it means I read less literary fiction as a result, and go for page-turners that are easy to whizz through and keep me interested even when it’s only five pages at a time!
Q. What’s your favourite way to switch off?
I know it should be reading or going on day trips with the kids or something that makes me sound like a good, well-rounded person but in truth my favourite way to switch off is watching a film with my husband, with wine and cheese thrown in. We both put away our phones when we’re watching a movie or a series, so it’s the only way to completely switch off, and I love it. I’m a big fan of TV – House of Cards, This Is Us, Better Call Saul, Stranger Things . . . We’re on Twin Peaks now, though while I’m drowning in nostalgia, my husband is not convinced!
Q. What’s your favourite book?
In recent years, it’s Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I love all her books, but this is such a unique style and structure, and utterly convincing even though it’s a very unusual book. For a long time two of my favourite books were Wuthering Heights and Catcher In The Rye. I read an online discussion recently about the latter that made me wonder what I’d think of it if I re-read it now.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give someone who felt they had a book in them but wasn’t sure how to get started?
Just start writing. There are a million reasons to wait – but I think you really just have to get started. You can always edit it or delete it afterwards if it’s not right. But if you don’t start writing, there’s nothing to edit.
Q. What’s the most surprising thing this experience has taught you?
Parenthood and writing are not normally deemed compatible – it’s many years now since Cyril Connolly famously said the pram in the hall was the enemy of great art, but I can see his point. However, I’ve found my kids to be surprisingly helpful in the writing process, particularly for brainstorming. Sometimes I’m mulling over something for days, then I ask the kids for their thoughts and just like that, they come up with something. It’s that fresh eyes thing, but with the added dimension of the simple way kids look at everything. My eldest is nine and she is full of ideas, and even came up with the title for my second book!
Q. What are your next plans? Will we see another book from you?
I’m working on book two and it should be out in 2018, and I’m still doing the freelance writing day-job, and when I need a break from writing on specific topics or to particular deadlines, I turn to blogging and I think that’s what I still enjoy best of all.
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