Rants in the Dark, based on the book of the same name by Emily Writes, is at Baycourt on October 30 and 31 at 8pm. Emily Writes appears in the Speaker programme with fellow parenting author Dr Renee Liang on Saturday, November 2. Tickets from Baycourt box office or the festival website, taurangafestival.co.nz Earlybird offer ends September 13.
Sandra Simpson chats with crazy-popular parenting author Emily Writes ahead of her visit to the Tauranga Arts Festival.
Her second baby was 3 weeks old and Emily Writes (not her real name) was having a hard time of it. She was dog tired and her older son, 2, still wasn’t sleeping through the night. So she wrote about how she was feeling. She wrote openly, honestly and quite a bit sweary – and then she put it on her brand-new blog.
That first post on February 26, 2015 – F*** off, I’m grateful – had a million hits and saw more than 15,000 emails drop in to her inbox in two days.
“I had no idea, I wasn’t even on Facebook. I had two friends who’d both had children around the same time as me and we exchanged poems or pieces of writing about how we were feeling, sending them through the night while we were up. This was too long to be sent by PM [personal message] so I used [blog site] Wordpress because it was free. I didn’t think of it being seen by others so was surprised when people started sending it back to me, saying ‘have you seen this?’. I didn’t even know that could happen.”
Describing herself as a “really bad” journalist who’d been made redundant before her first pregnancy, Writes thought her longed-for writing career was over. Instead, she has a well-read blog, two books to her name and writes about parenting matters for The Spinoff website.
“I still have to balance being at home as much as possible with my babies and paying the rent,” she says by phone from a park in Wellington where she’s helping mind a handful of children and occasionally breaks off to pick up a fallen tot or untangle a swing.
“I’ve met a wonderful community online and have opportunities to meet mothers around New Zealand. I have to pinch myself.”
How to Survive the School Holidays: Tell your kids to pretend they’re dogs. Put leads on them and walk them to the dog park. Once you’re there, take their leads off and make them run until they fall asleep. Bedtimes are so much easier when you lock them in a crate. Tell the mums in that judgey Facebook group that you’ve been doing “imaginary play” throughout the holidays.
“The pseudonym is to protect my kids,” she says. “I just wanted to write, I didn’t want to be well known and in the beginning no one knew who I was. But having a book meant an author photo and I was outed really quickly. I had an idea life would go back to normal after the book but it didn’t.”
Rants in the Dark: From one tired mama to another was published in 2017, with Is it Bedtime Yet?, including chapters by other mothers, appearing the following year.
It’s fair to say, though, that not all the online community has welcomed her forthright writing, particularly males, but Writes says that when the “hateful stuff” starts, she pushes right back.
“I write in a really open way, exposing all my flaws and vulnerabilities so I’m providing the ammo for people who don’t like me,” she says. “The upside is that it’s incredibly freeing to write that way – and indirectly creates a connection with people in the same situation. I can give back some of the kindness I’ve been given.”
Over dinner we talked about the mum who missed one of my events because her husband called her five minutes after she’d left the house saying there was an emergency. She rushed home to find the baby sleeping on her husband’s lap. He said every time he wanted to get up to turn on the TV the baby woke up. No shit Steve. It’s a f****** baby.
She prints off each blog post and puts it in a shoebox for her sons, now aged 6 and 4. “They’re like love letters to my children, and a tangible reminder to me that I need to care about what gets put out there.
“That’s why I don’t think there will be a second Rants book. I don’t want my children to be characters. I want them to make lives. And I don’t write about my husband except in general terms – I’ve never named him. He’s a great and loving husband and I want him to feel safe.”
In a Spinoff column earlier this year, Writes revealed she was bisexual. “I almost threw up before that was published but I’ve had powerful long letters that really validated my doing it. I wanted others in a similar situation to not feel alone. I have a wonderful, happy marriage and I’m bisexual – I wanted to show another way that relationships can work, especially as there’s a lot of birasure [bisexual erasure] in the narrative around sexuality.”
Two years ago Writes established an online community for women to discuss sex and sexuality – which now numbers 600 members. “I’m shocked and saddened that I’m meeting women who’ve had three children and never had an orgasm, and I’ve been surprised by the depth of pain and shame women feel about their bodies after giving birth. On the other hand, a 64-year-old just bought her first vibrator and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.“A lot of my writing is from a feminist bent – as women we’re allowed to have desires but only if they’re in service to other people. It’s easy to believe there’s something shameful or wrong for a woman to have sexual desires and I want to push back on that.”