‘I applied for Escalator when my baby was two months old’
Emma Vandore on juggling writing and motherhood

Emma Vandore was a journalist for 15 years, reporting from over 30 countries in six continents. Now, she has a family and her own storytelling consultancy Kagisha Ltd. In 2016, whilst caring for her newborn baby, she decided to apply for the Escalator Talent Development Scheme. Here, she describes her experience of balancing a new baby with a new writing project over nine months.

In the wee hours of the morning, when 2016 was a few days old, I was feeding my newborn while most of Britain slept. A story on social media grabbed my attention. Writers’ Centre Norwich had been awarded funding to create a National Centre for Writing. Entranced, I explored WCN’s website – and discovered Escalator.

A month later, (and at a more reasonable hour), I ventured back into my office – a log cabin in the garden – and applied. At the end of March, I was shortlisted, and a few weeks later – joy of joys! – I was offered a place.

During the nine months of Escalator, I brought a second baby to life with the support and encouragement of WCN and my mentor, Guy Saville. He has been an inspirational midwife to my new novel, And Breathe. I’m not sure that I would have done it without them….

You see, when I fell pregnant, I imagined life as I knew it was about to end. My pregnancy was a mad rush to get everything-done-that-I’d-never-have-time-again-to-do, including a six-month Faber Academy course and finishing a novel (whilst running my own storytelling business). I pushed too hard and the novel wasn’t up to scratch. I junked it, and became a Mum. My novel writing career was over.

When Grace arrived, however, I found I had more headspace than I’d expected. During the long hours of breastfeeding, I read and thought – luxuries I hadn’t allowed myself for months. And I had this idea that wouldn’t go away….

During Grace’s gestation, I went on a yoga retreat. There, I began thinking of a middle-aged woman version of Lord of the Flies. I turned Golding’s nuclear war threat into a terrorist one, and made the beast a group of boy-soldiers with guns. I set the action in Sri Lanka, where I’d been a few years previously.

After Grace arrived, I began researching the civil war. Contraception was difficult to access in the warzone and the stories of mothers desperately trying to protect their babies (born and unborn) deeply affected me. I began thinking about how women cope in the male-dominated world we live in, and my protagonist, Truly, evolved. I knew she was on the verge of leaving a dominating husband, and began to question how she would react if she set herself free only to end up in the ultimate dominated situation: kidnapped.

There have been some real Eureka moments

I was excited by the idea, but at the time I was struggling to work out how to use the steriliser – let alone write a new novel so soon after the last project failed. Escalator saved me.

Being mentored at such an early stage has been a game-changing experience. There have been some real Eureka moments, especially in regards to plotting which Guy was meticulous about making me do. I knew it was important to have interesting characters because, well, who wants to read about someone boring. But I hadn’t fully understood the protagonist’s role of drawing the reader into the book during the setting up stages of the first act.

WCN also advised me on applying for Arts Council Funding. I was awarded a grant in September, just as my savings for maternity leave had run dry.

Embarking on a new project at this time in new life has been a challenging but hugely empowering experience, and I will be forever grateful to Guy, all the lovely people at Writer’s Centre Norwich (a special shout out to Laura and Sam) and my fellow Escalatees. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier or more talented group of writers with whom to share the journey.

Read an extract from Emma’s novel, And, Breathe.

About Emma

Emma was a journalist for 15 years, reporting from over 30 countries in six continents, and now has her own storytelling consultancy Kagisha Ltd. Her non-fiction work ranges from journalism to academic writing and includes Schizophrenie Francaise, a book on French politics and society published in 2007. She lives in Sawbridgeworth. Website | Twitter 

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