7 July 2023
By day I’m the Managing Director of a creative advertising agency called VMLY&R and in the time I have left over I’m a novelist. My role at VMLY&R sees me lead a team of 160 across our Melbourne and Sydney offices and my responsibilities centre around team performance, client relationships, commercial success and maintaining a high standard of creative excellence. I’ve been working in advertising since 2003 and I really enjoy it. I like the mix of creativity, business, and people management, and have been lucky to work on some incredible campaigns and initiatives over the course of my career.
I’ve been writing seriously since 2016 and since then I’ve had five crime fiction books published, with two more contracted to delivered over the next two years. I’ve always loved to read and write and often toyed with the idea of trying to write a novel throughout my teens and twenties. I attempted starting to write a book a few times but life got in the way. It wasn’t until my early thirties that I decided that it was something I really wanted to do and so I set myself a goal to publish a book by my thirty-fifth birthday. I made a few people aware of my goal and started carving out time to write around work, on the weekends and afterhours during the week, plus I enrolled in a writing course as well as joining a few local writing organisations. Once I got started it took just over a year for me to get my first draft complete and then another year to secure an agent, a publisher and complete all of the required edits. My first novel was published the day after I turned thirty-five.
I have three children, all boys. I had my first son Oxford when I was twenty-seven, my second son Linus when I was thirty and my third son Ripley five days before I turned forty-one. It’s interesting having a teenager, a tween and a newborn and I’m looking forward to navigating the full spectrum of parenting over the coming years!
I’m currently on parental leave and re-adjusting to life with a newborn and two older children. I’d forgotten how primal the first few months are, and how centred on logistics. In some ways the days become smaller, and my focus feels very limited: it’s a continual loop of feeding, sleeping and admin tasks, but as was the case the last two times I was on parental leave, the creative part of my brain has kicked into overdrive, and I have a bunch of new ideas and a reinvigorated sense of ambition.
I have edits due on my next book in July and another to write within the next twelve months. There are also a few other projects I’d like to explore before I return to work in 2024 so we’ll see how I go easing back into writing over the next few weeks.
Typically, I write around my full-time work and whatever obligations I have with the kids. Usually this means I write on the weekends and one or two nights per week plus I try to ring-fence off at least a week over the Summer holidays. I try to use the time I have rather than bemoan the time I don’t, and consider every word I produce as progress. My full-time job is very demanding and does limit the time I have to write but I think it also provides a healthy perspective and in a counterintuitive way gives me more energy to dedicate to writing. Advertising is a very social, very inspiring fast-paced industry and I feel like being a part of it works to feed my other creative projects.
Over the next few years I’d like my creative pursuits to be a bit more strategic and for the time I do have to be used more effectively so I’m working through what needs to change about my current approach to achieve this.
I can’t deny that finding time to write is one of the biggest challenges in terms of my writing output, but I think that worrying about this can take on a life of its own if you let it feel like more of a blocker than it is. I’ve got to the point where I know it’s about being smart with the writing windows of time I can navigate around everything else. This might be early morning before work, in the car while I’m waiting at soccer practice, at a bar while I wait to meet a friend for a drink – anywhere I can get out my laptop really.
I draw creative and time management inspiration from a lot of people, both high profile personalities and people I know in my everyday life. I love finding out how others fit in their art and I enjoy hearing about the challenges they face and what works for them. Regardless of profile, I think that most creative people juggle their projects alongside work or family responsibilities, illness or study, and while I know it’s often hard, I think this tension tends to make the end result all the more satisfying.
I am lucky to have a supportive family who regularly step in to look after the kids when I’ve needed time to finish a draft or finalise edits and have looked after them when I’m at writing events, as well as a supportive manager at work who has allowed me to take the occasional day off to promote my book. The freedom this support allows is priceless and enables me to balance and enjoy the competing priorities in my life.
"Having three sons I’m especially conscious of them having a healthy attitude toward working women, motherhood and fatherhood and parents making time for their art."
Becoming a parent has influenced my writing in a few different ways. In practical terms I think the forced career pause of maternity leave gave me time to reflect on what I had achieved up to that point, it prompted me to think about my unrealised ambitions and to dig into what makes me happy. This self-review absolutely led to my decision to actively pursue writing.
From an emotional point of view, I think that motherhood has given me an insight into the unique intimacy of a parent/child relationship and the ability to realistically bring that to life in my writing. I think parenting has also given me more scope to consider things from the perspective of a child and that also helps me to craft realistic stories and scenarios.
I actively reject the concept of mother guilt and have spoken about it regularly with my older children over the years. I figured that if I openly communicated the concept with the people who were likely to make me experience the guilt, it was less likely to manifest and become insidious. As a result of these conversations my kids understand how important my work is to me, and how important my writing is to me and that I have hopes and dreams and passions, just like they do.
We talk about how critical finding purpose is for everyone and that sometimes my work will mean I can’t be at a school activity or a sporting event and that’s okay.
Ultimately I think that everyone is doing their best with the time and flexibility they have. I make hundreds of decisions each week about where to direct my attention and I don’t want to spend too much time fretting about the division. If I intuitively feel like one of my kids needs some extra support I lean in, but I have no qualms about letting them know if I have an important writing deadline to meet or have to travel for work. They understand I have responsibilities beyond parenting and their dad and grandparents are and we talk about what this might mean in practical terms I don’t see ‘me time’ as selfish, I see it as critical for me to be a good parent and a happy human.
I felt like a fully formed person prior to becoming a parent and I don’t feel like I’ve fundamentally changed since having kids. I see having kids as a new role so in that regard I think it adds more depth but doesn’t change what was already there.
It’s very important to me that I continue to work toward my goals and pursue things that I find rewarding and I feel that would be the case whether I had children or not. I ensure setting time aside for making art is never done in an apologetic way, it simply needs to be scheduled in like everything else. I talk about my interests and book ideas with my kids and encourage them to share theirs with me, I think it’s nice for family members to know what floats everyone’s’ boat and to be a part of the desire and excitement, and to share in the ups and downs,
Having three sons I’m especially conscious of them having a healthy attitude toward working women, motherhood and fatherhood and parents making time for their art.
I think I will always write in some capacity. I enjoy the craft and find it to be a helpful way to organise my thoughts. I particularly enjoy creating characters and stories and find the process of novel writing extremely rewarding. It’s also very time-consuming and takes me over twelve months to develop a first draft and another twelve months to get the book publishing-ready, so for this reason I’m not sure if I would write books if there was no financial payment. I’m not sure I could justify dedicating that much time to something that did not have commercial value, especially not at this stage of my writing career and considering my current financial position.
"They understand I have responsibilities beyond parenting and their dad and grandparents do, and we talk about what this might mean in practical terms I don’t see ‘me time’ as selfish, I see it as critical for me to be a good parent and a happy human."
My mum has always worked and only just retired this year after fifty years in the field of nursing so I’ve always been exposed to the idea that women work and can pursue a meaningful career. While my father was the primary earner it was never questioned that my mother worked. She actually completed further study and secured an additional degree in HR when I was I was young, and I remember feeling inspired by her desire to continue learning and improving her prospects in the workplace.
From a young age I was aware that my dad’s job was the big job and that he was away from the home more often but I simultaneously knew that my mother was ‘needed’ at work, just like she was needed at home and the fact that she worked just like my dad did I’m sure is part of why I place a lot of value – both financial and emotional – on women being an essential part of every modern workplace.
My next book, the fourth in the Detective Gemma Woodstock series, will be published in March 2024 with Allen & Unwin.
I’m currently finalising the new Gemma Woodstock book and will complete various editing milestones until it’s published in March 2024. Then I’ll be working on a new manuscript, a sequel to crime thriller, The Housemate. I’m also working on a few other creative projects including a rom-com mystery concept as well as being part of a writing team on the screenplay of my first novel The Dark Lake.