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Coda to Interview with Kate Southwood

In which interviews never end because conversations never end. Last week, Book Prize Coordinator Katie Schmid Henson interviewed novelist Kate Southwood about the process of writing and publishing her first book, the critically acclaimed Falling to Earth. After the interview, the conversation kept going. Here's a little bit more from the generous Kate Southwood about negotiating her roles as mother and writer.

Can you say a little bit more about the periods of time when you were not-writing, but still working on the composing process? How do you balance the work of parenting with the writing work that you do?

A single writer friend of mine once said, with terrific frankness, that not having a husband or children allowed her buckets of time to write. When I was at work on my first novel, this same friend asked me—timidly, this time—if there had been times when I simply couldn’t write because I had a family. The answer was yes, of course. I had to wait until my children were in school before I could devote myself to writing. I’ve read the stories about Jo Rowling walking her baby in the stroller and then sitting down to write in a café once she was asleep, and I’m all admiration. I can’t do that, never tried, but I also didn’t beat myself up about it. The point of that anecdote is to remember that if you are a woman writer and you want both—to write and have a family—you will have to find the solution that works for you. Mine was to get my MFA before I began a family, because I believe that you can potentially “have it all,” but not necessarily all at once. I had to wait. And here I am, with a teenager and a pre-teen, writing full time. 

As for the “lost years” that my friend asked so carefully about, they weren’t lost at all. I was still growing as a person, noticing everything around me, and reading the best quality writing I could find, no matter which genre I was reading in. You could say that I was giving myself a master class while I was in a holding pattern. I read a lot, so that when I was ready to write full time, I was not only hungry, I was ready. 

I occasionally wrote short pieces while my daughters were small, for magazines and newspapers, which was satisfying and helped to keep me in shape, as it were. Now that they are older, I tend to go straight to the laptop after they’ve gone to school, and I write straight through until they get home. It’s intense and can leave me feeling cross-eyed with exhaustion, but once they’re home I’m off duty as a writer, and can focus on them. I think my daughters both get it: that being true to yourself and your talents involves not only preparation and education, but also sometimes patience and even waiting.


Kate Southwood received an M.A. in French Medieval Art from the University of Illinois, and an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Massachusetts Program for Poets and Writers. Kate has published articles, essays, and reviews in The New York TimesThe Christian Science Monitor and The Huffington Post, among others. She has also written in Norwegian for the online news service ABCnyheter.no. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Oslo, Norway with her husband and their two daughters. Her debut novel, Falling to Earth, was published in 2013. You can find her online at katesouthwood.com.

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