“I write novels, plays, TV, film, radio and spoken word pieces, but WRITER is fine.” Steven Camden, 36, who goes by the stage name Polarbear, tells us about life as a freelance writer in London with two young sons to look after…
“We have two boys – Sol, nine, and Dylan, five (and a half). When Sol was born, I had just registered self-employed as a freelance writer/performer and moved to London for a girl. I took intermittent work after a two-month sign off, living on a credit card. I’m still freelance.
It was an intense juggle, but one we made work. I sacrificed more money and a few opportunities to be around more, because it felt right. I was also very fortunate in that most opportunities that came up, I got to set the terms.
My partner is freelance too, working as a director and script developer. We worked together on projects. She directed my first two theatrical productions with a baby strapped to one or other of our chests.
The boys are both at school now so our routine is pretty straight forward. We wake up about 7, one of us gets breakfast ready while the boys get dressed, we eat breakfast together, get washed and ready and then whichever one of us doesn’t have to be at work early does drop off.
My work isn’t separate from home. When I’m working on something, I’m talking about it at home with my partner and the boys constantly
Both being freelance, we’re lucky in the sense that one or both of us is always around. What we sacrifice in stability in earnings, we gain in time.
After school the boys often have clubs. One of us will do pick up while the other makes dinner. We hang out, make stuff up, dance a lot and there’s always stories before bed, which is usually 8/8:30.
When the boys are in bed I’ll get on with emails and admin stuff, any bits that need doing for the coming days. Often we’ll watch a film or listen to some music before bed. I’m normally the last one up, but still in bed by midnight on a typical night.
My partner works on projects and teaches like I do. We try and not overlap wherever possible, so that one of us can concentrate on the boys whilst the other dives more fully into work. Every now and then things overlap and we need help with school pick-ups and a bit of childminding.
Luckily, we have a small network of friends who get on with the boys and are all freelance artists too, so more than happy with the spare cash. It feels great sorting out a mate with a bit of cash for babysitting, knowing that it’s helping them work on something creative.
My mom recently retired and comes down from Birmingham sometimes when my partner and I have particularly time consuming periods. Her help, combined with my partner’s mother and the network of close friends mean that it feels less like childcare and more like an extended family thing. Like I said, we’re lucky.
My work isn’t separate from home. When I’m working on something, I’m talking about it at home with my partner and the boys constantly (the same goes for her) and there’ll be reference points, images, sounds and stuff all over the flat.
Our boys are very aware that we both do work that we love and feel passionately about and that feels great. My job is making up stories so it feels like I work hard at playing rather than having a job in the traditional sense.
Polarbear performing repeaT
With the boys being at school, the times in the morning and evening are about packing as much fun in as possible. I do sneakily have dreams sometimes about being a house husband who spends his days cooking, reading and walking a big dog.
At the weekend, we take trips, see friends, dance, cook, make stuff up or just hang out. Now the boys are older it genuinely feels more like four mates spending time together than having to look after little ones. Luckily, we like each other’s company so it often feels like we’re in our own little bubble.
I just read over what I’ve written and I’m aware that it sounds like I live in some kind of creative utopia. That’s not the case. It’s hard, and there are times when we question our choices, usually when financial considerations come up.
Sometimes people try and tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for your situation
Living in London, money is at the heart of all problems. The stability of a more 9-5 existence or choices that might make more commercial use of our skills every now and then rear their heads over late night cups of tea as the pair of us question whether we’re being stupid.
Fortunately though, so far, those questions all end up at the same answer, which is that the pros of how we live far outweigh the cons and our lifestyle suits the four of us and keeps us happy.
Another thing that can be hard is sometimes feeling like the separation of work and home might actually be useful. Perhaps I’m working on an idea and not having a set place where work happens can mean it gets blurred in with home-life, which can be frustrating.
Over the years I’ve learned to be better at using the pockets of time I have better and reduce the sense of work and home fighting. It’s an ongoing lesson.
For other working dads, I only have the same advice I have for anyone. Trust your gut. Whatever your situation is, make it work. Time is precious; for your kids, yourself, your partner, all of you. Things can go from feeling amazing to rubbish in a blink and then back again. We just do what fits us.
Sometimes people try and tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad for your situation. There’s a version of working parenthood that suits everyone and I find that the people most keen to give sweeping advice are those that feel slightly insecure about their own choices.”
Are you familiar with Polarbear and his epic spoken word? Do you have a favourite? Let us know in the comment section below…