Denise Deegan is a mother and author, who has tried her hand at many jobs, including nursing, lecturing, and restoring china. Her children are now in their late teens, so she gives us a picure of what it’s like to come out the other side of working parenthood.
Thank you for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
And now could you tell me a little about your work?
I am a novelist. I have been writing since 2001. Initially, I wrote contemporary family dramas based in Ireland. I then wrote a teenage series called the Butterfly Novels. Now, because I can reach an international audience, I am self–publishing my original family novels under the pen name Aimee Alexander (the names of my children combined.)
One of the most interesting things I have learned about editing books written over ten years ago is how much we have changed in that time. For example, our use of language has changed, as has our attitudes as a society. It really strikes me how liberal and tolerant we have become. Which is great because I think we beat ourselves up too much.
What kind of hours do you work?
At least nine to five, plus a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. Depending on deadlines, I might work in the evenings too. With writing you’re never finished! Your head is always busy. If I’m out and about and an idea hits, I will make a note of it – or it’s gone.
And is this something you can do from home – or perhaps is almost always from home?
Yes. Absolutely. From home – or with a laptop, anywhere.
Do you have to travel for work?
Not a lot. I sometimes am invited by schools to carry out story workshops, which I enjoy tremendously. I sometimes attend conferences and literary festivals. And once a year go to the US to meet my agent and my manager.
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
For me, I probably spend too much time writing. When the kids were younger, I had to stop at lunch time when they finished school. I honestly think I was as productive then! To be at the desk all the time is not good for creativity so I try to tear myself away – to go for walks, do housework, meet friends. I’ve recently taken up Egyptian Bellydancing!
Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home? I imagine there’s more flexibility but that it’s also difficult to switch off!
I have always found it easier to work for myself. I ran my own PR business before I was a writer. I like the control that working for yourself brings. There is no commute. No time-wasting meetings. No office politics. The switching-off thing is a problem!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I’m not big on guilt in general. I try to do my best and then not worry. As long as you have found someone who you are happy to leave your kids with – and they are happy to stay with, working outside the home can work very well.
Editing my first ever novel, recently, was an incredible eye-opener for me, reminding me of the challenges that come with giving up work and staying at home. Kim, the main character in All We Have Lost gives up work to write fiction. The balance of power in her relationship with her husband begins to slip. The burden of work and childcare falls into her lap. Finding time to herself becomes impossible while her husband walks out the door in the morning and is gone. Finances are tighter so there is less opportunity to socialise with her partner. And young children are exhausting. Once I moved on, I forgot how tough this period can be. You have to fight to hold on to who you are. Or at least it can feel that way. Revisiting that time was important to me.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
Everyone is different. What works for some won’t work for others. And there are so many factors that affect the choice, for example chronic illness of a parent or child, financial stresses, or single parenting. Seeing those options written down, though, is definitely helpful. It’s good to be reminded of the choices.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I have changed career so many times (nurse, china restorer, pharmaceutical sales rep, public relations executive, lecturer, self-employed). I am happy doing what I do now. Currently I write for adults, children, teenagers. I also dabble a bit in screenwriting. If I ever get bored, I’ll move on! For now, the challenge is still very much alive. Oh, and I love self-publishing – it’s like running my own business all over again.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours which in turn limits their opportunities?
Oh I think there is a glass ceiling! And women still get paid less for doing the same job. Look at Hollywood!
Do you have any tips that you could give any mother returning to work?
Believe in yourself, enjoy it, and treat yourself; you are earning – you can give yourself at least a bunch of flowers every week. You deserve it. We all do!
Any other comments?
Women hold up the world. We are amazing. We just are!
Thank you Denise! Something that really jumped out for me was what you said about productivity and getting as much done when your children were smaller and you only had morning-time to work. I absolutely believe that we get more done when we have less time, so it’s interesting to hear someone who has seen both sides of it prove the point.
And I think what you said about the optimal solution or lack thereof is true. So often we compare ourselves to others – I rmember I used to look at people doing four- or three-day weeks when I went back to work full-time after my first and second children were born, worrying that they were right and I was wrong, but really, every situation is different. What’s right for one person – due to finances, job, logistics, partner’s job – will not necessarily be right for the next person. Sometimes when we’re struggling it’s hard to stop comparing, and it’s great to be reminded that it’s futile.
I wish you the very best with the accidental life of greg millar and your new foray into self-publishing!
Denise Deegan’s new novel, the accidental life of greg millar is available now on Amazon