Carolyn Jess-Cooke

The Writing Motherhood project grew out of my experiences as a mother and a writer. Amongst all the challenges I faced as a new mother was working out how to ‘juggle’ my writing with my family, not least because I emerged from the hospital 24 hours after being (what felt like) hit by a train, our 9lb-bundle of delight in my arms, and over the course of the next few months I struggled to figure out how to use my brain again. I wondered why no one had mentioned how hard it was to go from being an autonomous human being who could sleep, eat, and shower whenever they felt like it to caring 24/7 for a small angry drunk creature who yells at you between the hours of 2 and 4am. Or maybe they had mentioned it and I’d just not taken their comments seriously.

Typing this now, a decade later with three other children in our lives, I’m nostalgic for the days when I thought a single child – one that slept most of the day and didn’t have a social life, demands, opinions and homework – was hard work. I adapted. I got better at the things I had to get good at, like sleeping on the edge of a mattress with someone’s leg crooked over my neck, or tiptoeing ninja-like over a room strewn with toys and managing not to yell when I stubbed my toe on the corner of a Peppa Pig ferris wheel.

Amidst the fog of sleep deprivation, I came across a newspaper headline that blamed working mothers for obese kids. Elsewhere I read somewhere that, for female writers, each child ‘costs’ her four books. This perplexed me, because on the one hand I had become very well-acquainted with the phenomenon of No Time to Write (or shower, sleep, see friends, think straight, eat anything other than ready-meals, etc), and on the other I had actually experienced a resurgence in my creativity after my children were born.

Experiencing birth – and conversely, feeling closer than I’d ever been to the boundary between life and death, and comprehending just how thin it is – had a profound impact on my creativity, as did the love I had for my children. But it was the experience of motherhood as a political construct, a construction with which I was now complicit, which now impacted my identity, that grew a strong desire to explore it further.

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The first outcome of this desire was my poetry collection, Boom! (Seren, 2014), which explores my experiences of motherhood. But if I’m completely honest, most of my writing from 2006 onwards was informed by motherhood, and in fact I became a novelist partly due to a complication during my second pregnancy, which involved evenings spent in the bath (for pain relief), during which I started to read novels. From that point, every idea I had for my writing was novel-shaped. I never, ever thought I would write a novel (I was strictly a poet – or so I thought) but my first novel was published in 2011 in 23 languages, and my third novel is due out in 2017 and is being made into a TV series.


I wanted to hear from other women about their experiences of motherhood, and particularly wanted to empower and encourage women to write, so I established the Writing Motherhood project in 2013 to continue the conversation. What happens when a woman decides to have kids AND write? Why do we ask mothers ‘how do you find time to write?’ and not fathers? Can having children actually enhance a woman’s creativity, instead of serving as an Insurmountable Obstacle?

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The project received full Arts Council funding and took 20 female writers to 13 literary festivals in the UK to talk about the impact of motherhood on our writing. An anthology of poems, essays and interviews with over 80 female writers is published in March 2017, but the conversation does’t stop there. I want to hear from you. I want you to write to other women, to describe your experiences.

This website is your space to write about your motherhood. I found that, when I read other women’s experiences of motherhood, their accounts of sleep deprivation, joy, going back to work or choosing to stay at home, of feeling invisible behind the pushchair, and so and so on, I felt empowered.

Tweet @writingmothers, or send your letters addressed to ‘Dear Mother’ (or poems, essays, short stories, whatever) to letters@writingmotherhoodproject.com. Don’t worry about it being perfect: just write. If you feel short of ideas, have a look at my Handy Page of Tips. Everything is anonymised – we won’t share your name or contact details anywhere here, and copyright remains with you, as creator.