Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview - Rachel Power

Rachel Power means a lot to me. Her book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, was a lifeline in the months after my first baby was born, when I was scrabbling to come to terms with my newly-minted identity as mother. I read this book of interviews with amazing, talented and creative women from cover to cover and it's a book I dip into still when I want to be reminded that I'm not alone on this journey to combine motherhood with a creative life. In this book she interviewed some of my idols: Sarah Watt, Alice Garner, Clare Bowditch, Joanna Murray-Smith (and many more). And so Rachel herself became someone I also greatly admired- for juggling her own parenting commitments with bringing these amazing interviews to print. I can't even tell you how nervous I was when I sent her my interview request, and when she said yes, well, I almost fell over (lucky I was sitting down!). But enough from me. I introduce to you: Rachel Power. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel Power [all photos courtesy of the author]

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and your achievements.

I’m a writer and editor living in Melbourne with my partner and our two kids. My latest book is The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood (Red Dog Books), featuring conversations with 26 Australian women writers, artists and musicians about negotiating creativity and motherhood. Before that I wrote a biography, Alison Rehfisch: A Life for Art (The Beagle Press). 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what steps did you take to make it happen?

I don’t know that I ever specifically wanted to become a writer, and still now I don’t comfortably describe myself that way. What I do know is that I don’t know how to make life meaningful without art. When I was 17, I did a work experience placement on a daily newspaper and they ended up offering me a job. So journalism became my career by default, but drawing and writing have remained my passions. I eventually got around to doing a creative arts degree when I was in my early 20s, majoring in creative writing and fine art.

Do you have any routines or rituals you perform before starting a day's work or a new writing project? How do you motivate yourself?

If housework counts as ritual/routine, then yes! In order to write, you don’t just need time, you also need mental freedom ― and that can be hard won. All mothers know about that revolving “to do” list that invades our brains and threatens to take over our lives. I’m slowly getting better at turning my back on the mess in order to focus on the work, but it still doesn’t come easily to me. The upside of having significant constraints on your time, though, is that you learn to do away with atmosphere and with “getting in the zone”. You can’t wait for inspiration to hit around the fifth latte; you get on with using whatever time you’ve got, no matter how fleeting. (Though that doesn’t mean I avoid drinking too much coffee!)

How do you manage your time between parenting, your 'day job' and your writing?

Not very well, really! Writing regularly slips to the bottom of the list, which means I do spend a lot of time feeling frustrated. Funnily enough, I used to find family life a real barrier to creativity ― not so much spending time with my kids (which is the lovely part), but the sheer enormity of the domestic workload. But as time goes on, I find it is the trifecta of family/paid work/creativity that is the real whammy. I feel constantly torn in competing directions and regularly end up feeling that I’m not doing anything terribly well. That said, I feel lucky to have a job that aligns with my values (working for the Education Union) and appreciate that work lends my life some structure. It’s the housework I could do without!

Rachel Power's drawing of her son, Griffin, as a baby (charcoal on paper)

How do you go about developing ideas for new writing?

Ideas come to me quite easily. It’s having the confidence to believe I have what it takes to make something of the ideas that I struggle with more. Over the past few years I have been trying to make a shift away from non-fiction towards writing fiction, and I feel like I’m grappling with this whole new, mysterious process: the art of storytelling, I guess. I am used to being able to just spout off my opinions and ideas without having to bury them beneath a narrative, and I am still getting used to this kind of mediated way of communicating. It’s a challenge, and I’m not yet sure that I will succeed (I can see myself scurrying back to the known world of non-fiction the moment a strong enough idea arrives), but I feel compelled to try.

Do you like to write by hand or computer and why?

Hand first, computer later. There is something very particular about writing by hand that, for me, is more instinctively aligned with the creative process. Notebooks are much more portable than computers, too, and most of my writing is done in sporadic little grabs as a thought or line comes to me. I already have a bad tendency to excessively edit as I go, so writing in a notebook helps me avoid fiddling with the work too soon. And I just love the effect of black marks on paper ― whether it’s writing or drawing.

Rachel Power: 'This is typical of my books, which are full of my kids' drawings. They are always scrawling on the other page when I am trying to write in cafes. This is probably a drawing by my daughter Freya of her mad mother!'

What do you do when you have a creative block and need to 'refill the well'?

Above all, it’s other people’s art that fills me. Of course life itself is the greatest source of material ― but it is books and film and music that makes me want to turn life into something more. I think life would be unbearable without music. A lot of The Divided Heart was written in direct response to other women’s books and essays on the subject. Also, I love walking. One thing I miss most about my life before children is having time to just wander about, both on the ground and in my head. I used to walk everywhere, which not only allowed me to observe the world outside but also gave me time to reflect. But that time will come again, probably all too soon.


Thank you, Rachel, for your time and generosity in your answers. And thank you sincerely for writing such an important and inspirational book.

Check out Rachel's blog: The Rachel Papers
The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood is published by Red Dog Books.