Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


My Writing Corner

I write in my bedroom, which is not ideal, but thanks to Germany’s Top Husband, who put up the shelves, my writing corner is now pretty (essential to me) and looks like this:

Here it is from a slightly different angle:

I love the white shelves, the flower pictures and the photos of my family. It makes me a very happy writer.

Yours sincerely,
Charlotte in the Corner


Cafe Society

One of the most appealing things about Germany is its cafe society; places where you can nurse a coffee, read a book and watch the world go by. You are never hassled to move on, they serve breakfast all day long and usually have an array of freshed baked cakes. German cafes tend to have a handy stash of magazines and newspapers, so if you happen to leave your book at home, there’s always something to read.

Writing at home is fraught with booby-traps: the laundry, the phone, members of my family, so I have spent large chunks of the last three years writing in Heidelberg cafes where I have no alternative but to knuckle down. I thought that over the next few weeks, I’d introduce you to some of my favourites.

The first candidate is my newest find, the Literature Cafe. On arriving in Heidelberg, the first thing we did was join the library, a lovely glass building overlooking a small park in the centre of town. It is light-filled, groaning with books and scattered with cushions for readers to lounge on. My family and I felt immediately at home.

Attached to the library is the Literature Cafe and yesterday, without my small attendants and in need of a quiet hour to face my novel revisions, I went there. The cafe is glass-walled, like the library, so even on a gloomy, rain-bespattered day, it was light. There is a terrace that will come into its own in a couple of months time.

The cafe has a small menu of hot and cold drinks, breakfast items, sandwiches and cakes, which are apparently baked by the owner herself. There is a short daily specials menu, and since I was there at lunch-time, I ordered the spicy vegetable coconut soup, which was delicious and an extremely reasonable €3.50. Along with a large Milchkaffee and a mineral water, my bill came in at €7.50. The service was polite and efficient, and in the German manner to which I have grown happily accustomed, not over-friendly. On Sunday, the Literature Cafe does a brunch for €6.50 per person, which is a bargain. There is a selection of 50 newspapers from around the world, which customers are welcome to pick up and read with their coffee.

For me, the Literature Cafe’s biggest selling point is its proximity to  the library. You can get your books and head straight for the cafe to start reading. The clientele yesterday were mainly people on their own, either reading or writing. Those in couples or groups spoke quietly, as if in deference to the library next door, and the only person who broke the quiet was a four-year-old who had a spectacular melt-down but was quickly removed by his mother. I could still hear his screams of  ‘Mean Mummy! Mean Mummy!’ going down the road as I smugly returned to my personal oasis of coffee and words.

Heidelberg’s Literature Cafe can be found at Poststrasse 15. It is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am till 8pm, Saturdays from 10am till 5pm and Sundays from 10am till 3pm.


Writing From Home

I love being a Hollywood correspondent! Here’s one I wrote yesterday, while cooking sausages for my kids’ lunch.

Meanwhile, it dawned on me that I have been working on my novel for a year now. It all started when I took myself on an artist’s date to Heidelberg last January, sat in a cafe and wrote the first three pages. Now I have 80,000 words and am still going strong. I am not sure how much more I am going to write in this first draft, but I sense the end is nigh – a raft of crises are happening to my protagonists and the resolution (or not) is pending.

For those of you writers who have moved onto your second drafts, do you have any tips? Do you take a break from the manuscript and think it over, or do you just dive right in? Do you work through it according to categories, or do you go chapter-by-chapter?

And do you have any means to treat the slight sick high-wire feeling of anticipation as you approach the end, or will lots of whisky do it?


My New Gig

My writing life has taken many turns, and now it’s following a new path. Check out my new gig, corresponding to Hollywood from Germany. I have other articles in the pipeline and will let you know when they appear.

Now, I may be a correspondent, resplendent with fabulosity, but I also have brownies in the oven and a child to take to a playdate, so I have to go.

Have a wonderful weekend.


The Feminist Motherhood Meme

This is so much more than a meme. I found this list of questions about motherhood and feminism (which originated with bluemilk) over at Penguin unearthed, and have enjoyed chewing over them. Warning: slight rants ahead.

How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism comes from outrage at injustice: I am outraged that fundamentalist religions of all kinds oppress women in the name of their beliefs, I am outraged that women die, are trafficked, raped, abused, have their genitals mutilated, are blamed for the HIV virus that their men pass to them, do not have a voice in their own homes, do not receive an education and must serve men.

My feminism came very young: probably at 11 when my father divorced my mother and left his family for another woman. That was a defining moment for me – I grew up overnight, and took on board the message that I should rely on no-one but myself because other people let you down. As I grew older that began to mean getting into a good university and following the career of my choice: journalism and writing. As I head into my forties, my feminism becomes less about me and more about women in general.

Feminism definitely preceeded motherhood for me. I only began to seriously think about motherhood when I was 28 and started meeting ridiculously cute infants. I thought, “I want one!” but never for one minute thought about how that would change me or my goals. I was after an adorable accessory of my own.

What has surprised you most about motherhood? How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

The intensity of emotions, both positive and negative, surprised and continues to surprise me about motherhood. I cried for days when all my children were born, sad tears, happy tears, confused and anxious ones. I remember thinking, “A baby won’t change MY life! It will have to fit in with whatever I want to do”, but then on Day Six of Life, Lily developed colic and cried for three months, so there was no going to restaurants and whisking her places because she would scream and scream. I was more her accessory than she was mine. I learnt fast to shape my life to hers, and nothing has changed since. My children have taught me flexibility.

My feminism has become far more general and less specific. I no longer rail at any personal glass ceiling I may have encountered (nor the idiot – no gender mentioned – boss who broke the news to me at the last minute that I couldn’t telecommute from London to his team in Germany, thus leaving me without any maternity benefits when I became pregnant working out his company’s insane six-month notice period. No. I won’t mention him.) or any ridiculously paternalistic boyfriends I might have allowed to patronise me as a teenager. I believe I am living out my potential. However, I am enraged that there are so many millions of women who are prevented from doing so. THAT makes me angry.

Motherhood has softened me in that I see my husband’s (different but equal) style of parenting as beneficial and lovely for our children. At first, I wanted him to parent My Way. Now I see that His Way is equally wonderful and that the children love it. Motherhood has been a kind of sacrifice for me, a putting-on-hold of putting-me-first, but has also allowed me to forge intensely close and satisfying relationships with three individuals who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me. The joy of watching them grow and become themselves far outweighs any superficial strokes I might be receiving now in a work environment. Plus I manage to raise them AND work as a writer, so I feel lucky and honoured to be doing both.

What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I’m not sure what makes my mothering feminist. My expectations of my children are identical, regardless of their gender. I encourage my children to be true to themselves, regardless of their gender. I encourage them all to show kindness to others, to listen and be polite. I kiss them all equally. I support their choices and always will, though I might disencourage them from becoming lap-dancers or suicide bombers. I like that they see their father perform household tasks, and I like that they see me at my computer working.

Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

Occasionally, I’ve wondered how I, with my feminist principles, have ended up as a work-from-home mother but I believe that’s a choice I’ve made out of love and good fortune. I feel compromised and grumbly if my family have left the house in a mess and since I’m the one at home, I’ve got to make the choice of ignoring it or clearing it up. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve failed as a feminist mother.

Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

No, I think at times my feminism has been subdued by the all-consuming task of parenting. But I have no trouble saying I am both a feminist and a mother.

Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

I try to accept the sacrifice gracefully. My time in the big, wide world – should I choose it – will come.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

He accepts it as part of me. He doesn’t see it as some weird addendum to my personality. He is also one of the most fair-minded, kind and non-judgmental people I know.

If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I have used aspects of attachment parenting (sleeping with my babies, fairly long-term breast-feeding, some baby-wearing) but am not an attachment parenting proselytizer. However, there were times when all three of my children were small that I felt “in service” to them. At very tired, over-wrought moments I might have resented that, but I am grateful to the attachment parenting now – and my husband loved all the wearing, carrying and cuddling too – because we have such intensely close bonds. Our children are at home with us, wherever we are in the world.

Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

I don’t think feminism has failed mothers, but I do think women fail each other. Women judge each other for ridiculous reasons, usually because someone has made a different choice. Feminism has given women freedom of choice, and we should embrace the fact that some of us can go out and be CEOs, others can be stay-at-home mothers, others can juggle work and kids, others may not want kids, others will breast-feed while some would never consider it. Women need to accept each other’s choices and support each other more. We are so damn lucky to HAVE choices – there are millions of women in the third world who don’t have that luxury. Whether we’re feminists or not, mothers or not, we should stop failing each other, and start loving each other a little more and judging each other a little less.


Whipping Myself With the Protestant Gene

I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. Today alone I have had two deadlines to meet, a NaBloBlastedMo post to write, a birthday lunch to plan for and cook, all amidst my usual daily tasks of delivering, collecting and shepherding my clan. In between I managed to fit in an hour-long walk and a visit to a friend for tea. The rest of the week, next week and forevermore contain a stream of deadlines like a vapour trail I’ve not yet created. The Season, a six-month period which contains all our birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, lantern festivals, Easters, has started. And I actually imagined I would manage NaNoWriMo!

Am I addicted to stress? If I removed my work from the equation, which I could do seeing I’m freelance and not beholden to anyone, I would have time for creative writing, for pinning down that hovering novel and for meditative yoga practice instead of a few slapdash sun salutations of a morning. And yet right now, I can’t imagine my life without the work. The money’s nice, but it’s more about the work, the taking on and doing of work, that pleases me. I like the satisfaction of handing in a job well done, the religious meeting of deadlines, and knowing that people find me reliable and come back to me with more work.

Clearly, I’ve caught the Protestant Work Ethic really badly. Anyone got a cure?


Domestic BPO

I am outsourcing my business processes to an external provider, who is enabling me to focus on my core capabilities, thus impacting favourably on my profit margins and allowing more scope for my work/life balance and output targets. My KPIs are on track.

Granny Toni has arrived to look after her grandchildren. Hooray!

Can I just mention that I am tucked up in bed while she entertains, feeds, hugs, wipes the noses and stimulates the imaginations of my three children? We are clearly leveraging our synergies.

I am working (writing a white paper on business process outsourcing), but From My Bed In The Daylight Hours While All is Happiness and Light Downstairs. Someone Else Has Tidied the Art Table, Folded the Laundry and Even Ironed Some. We have substantially offset the risk of people not having clean clothes to wear.

Tomorrow, despite its being school holidays, I may achieve a key goal of Going Grocery Shopping Alone. There is every chance that I will fulfill this week’s target of Having My Teeth Cleaned, Going for my Bi-Annual Hairdresser Visit and possibly even Visiting Ikea.

The thrills, folks, are too innumerable to contemplate. I may just explode with excitement.

I do love a grandmother. Everyone should have one.


Dropping the Balls

I’m juggling two major deadlines, both due in two weeks’ time on the same day. One is a six-page story for a magazine and involves interviewing about ten people over the phone. The other is a deeply technical chapter of the book I’m helping to ghost-write.

I work in the fissures and cracks of my life, when people are at school and kindergarten (a grand total of three and half hours free every morning), during someone’s nap-time and then at night when all three are sleeping. This method has worked for me thus far, but is starting not to work so well anymore. I may just have too much on my plate.

Today, for example, I:

  • forgot Ollie’s rucksack – containing nappies, wipes and spare clothes – at home
  • imagined that an interview was at 10.30am when it was in fact at 9am
  • carefully planned my entire afternoon around an interview which I thought was at 2.30pm, only for it dawn on me at 2.20pm that the interview was scheduled for 2pm

Aargh! Embarrassing! Normally, I am professional, but today I am dropping all the balls.

The good news is that in two weeks’ time (yes, after these two deadlines are past), we are importing a lovely au pair to help me out. She is in her sixties, speaks excellent English, cooks like a dream and will run around fetching and carrying the children so that I can focus on my work. She will do anything to help. I will be able to work all afternoon if I need to, all morning without having to stop, collect people and cook their lunch. I can’t wait for her to arrive, and I hope that my professional standards improve as a result of having her help.

Her name is Granny, and she is that special kind of au pair – the unpaid, but much-loved, kind.


Red Shoes and Happiness

Today, I went to some meetings at the company where I used to be an employee. I walked its grey corridors in my red shoes. A small part of me was slightly envious that I no longer work there – there’s always an amazing buzz, the employees are young and trendy, the buildings are modern and stylish and the coffee is excellent. Despite all this, most of me knows that the last thing I need is an office, a boss and an access card. Where I am right now is exactly where I need to be right now.

Instead of my being an employee of the company, the company is now one of my customers. I work for various departments, doing different writing-related jobs: a bit of editing here, some white papers there, an online article or two here and there. Today I met with three different people who have work for me. They all have tons of work for me. I am trying not to hyperventilate.

There’s so much work.

There’s so much work.

There’s so much work. And I have three kids, and three hours four times a week free to do the work in, unless I want to do it late at night, in my pyjamas when all the world has gone to sleep. Not to mention the house I need to maintain, the friendships that require time and commitment, the novel I dearly would like to get bloody written, the handsome man who occasionally would like me to look up from my computer and acknowledge his sweet presence, the blog posts that need to be composed.

Luckily though, I was wearing my red shoes:

My red shoes, like those of Mma Makutsi, assistant to intrepid lady detective Mma Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s lovely Botswanan detective series, pinch. But, like Mma Makutsi’s blue shoes, my red shoes give me courage. If I can wear these and walk all over the company’s campus, keep smiling and nodding and saying “yes” to all the work they want me to do, then I can find the time to do the work.

I feel panic, but when I look at my red shoes I feel happy. They are coping shoes, getting-it-together shoes, working-all-night-and-meeting-that-deadline but still-getting-up-the-next-morning-to-feed-the-children shoes. If nothing else, I have to live up to my shoes. They are shoes with panache, with gusto, and with attitude.

Bring on those white papers! Bring on the 170-page editing job! Bring on the book chapters! My shoes and I are ready.