How I write: Allison Pearson
Published: January 2, 2004
|Can women today have it all? First-time novelist Allison Pearson explores the issues facing working mothers in her bestseller I Don't Know How She Does It. "I thought there were hundreds of facets to the dilemma," Pearson says, "and I wanted to shine light onto each one." The novel is a hilarious yet heartbreaking account of the life of Kate Reddy, mother of two and hedge-fund manager for a London firm. Like most working moms, Kate struggles to excel at work while keeping her home life running smoothly. This often involves multi-tasking (reading her son a story while checking stock prices), extreme sleep-deprivation and no time for herself. "Time off for myself felt like stealing," Kate admits.|
The author, a busy working mom, writes a column for the London Evening Standard and is adapting the novel for film. She is married to New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, and they have two children.
I've been a journalist for 12 to 13 years. When I started writing, I got a letter from an agent in London who said, "If you ever want to write a novel, I would be happy to represent you, but I strongly recommend you don't write a novel unless you absolutely feel you have to, because it is a terrible business." That was the only honest letter I got from an agent. I didn't write for many years and when it came to it, I only wrote the novel because I felt I couldn't not write it; the character came to me with such force.
The stuff you need to do for yourself--under which category the book falls--you do after the kids have gone to bed. I would put the kids to bed and start writing at 8:30 or 9 p.m. I would write to midnight, 1 o'clock. Then I would set the alarm, and I would wake up (and this is really the last few months, when I was trying to get it finished), very early--4 or 5 a.m.--and revise what I'd done. In the clear light of the morning you can really cut through the stuff that's no good. When the baby woke up, I'd go to him and I'd give him breakfast, and I might resume again mid-morning. But a lot of the book was written in the middle of the night. As it's about a sleep-deprived, stressed woman, it added an authentic touch to it.
I said to my editor at the newspaper I worked for, the Daily Telegraph, that I was going to write a novel about a working mother, and she said, "Write it as a column." I wasn't sure about doing it as a column, but I had never written a novel before, and boy, did it make you get started. I had to write 1,300 words a week regardless. That was a very good way of trying stuff out, and I did that for almost a year.
After that, I took about six months to pull the 'columns' together. I found it very useful to have episodes or concentrated passages of description--it wasn't this daunting thing of having to write it in sequence. I would have passages I felt quite confident about. I would be able to place those and then have linking material to make it all come together.
Absolutely write whatever you feel, the full intensity of it--don't hold back. The dark secrets, the bad feelings you've had, put them down because that is what people will be recognizing.
When I first started writing I Don't Know How She Does It, I found some of the things I was writing down a little painful or shaming to me. There's a scene at the beginning of the book where Kate's taking a long time to brush her teeth, because she thinks if she brushes her teeth for a long time, her husband will fall asleep and won't try to have sex with her--and then she doesn't have to shower in the morning. Well, you write something like that down and think, my God, what will people think? But then millions of people think, "Oh, do I know that." So be as fiercely honest as you can imagine.
--Posted Jan. 2, 2004