The author Helen Fields on balancing writing with motherhood

“I’m allowed to feel as if writing isn’t some hobby or second stab at a career. It’s real, valid and important. My family always treated me as if I was inevitably going to get a book published.” Helen Fields on leaving her law career to become an author…

There’s no such thing as being ready to become a mother for the first time. I went off to the delivery room full of bravado, impatience, explaining that all the pain relief I wanted was paracetamol, and that I was having a natural birth. Thirty hours and an emergency caesarian later, and Gabriel (now 13) was in my arms. Six weeks to the day after that I was back in court ready to kick off a criminal trial I’d been preparing for a year. Being a barrister isn’t hugely compatible with having children, at least that’s my experience. So it was that when I had my second child – (Solomon, 11) – my husband gently asked me not to go back to the legal world, with all the stress and unpleasantness it brought. To my amazement, I agreed. One unplanned daughter later (Evangeline, 8) and I used my time at home to start writing, something I’d always loved but never considered as a career. It gave me back my sense of self.

It has been crazy, chaotic, full of sacrifice and doubt, but parenting turned me into a more human human, if that makes sense. And writing really works with parenting, as long as I stick within the boundaries of where my attention needs to be at any given time. I write between 9am and 3pm. Before and after that I belong to my children. To homework, clubs, discipline, reading, and playing endless games of Uno. I muddle along with the washing, cleaning, shopping and cooking, but the truth is that those activities get squashed and shoved into almost-free moments. I can write from home, but only when the children aren’t there. Somehow, one single person in the house with me and my focus goes. There’s my small study – messy but homely – and my Mac. It’s all I need.

My husband runs his own media company so whilst he works long hours, he can arrange his day around any pressing needs I have on the odd occasions of meetings with my agent or publisher. That helps a lot. I’m allowed to feel as if writing isn’t some hobby or second stab at a career. It’s real, valid and important. I think the reason it’s worked out is because my family always treated me as if I was inevitably going to get a book published. No maybes or ifs. Just whens.

As for parenting, I find it’s more fun now that I allocate time to it. That sounds clinical, but the children know when I belong to them and I can allow myself to really engage, without distractions. That was how, two years or so ago, I had a change of heart when it came to all their clubs. I decided not to be the parent who sits at the side watching. I forced myself to understand how hard their out of school activities can be by making myself join in. So now (don’t laugh) I am a karate yellow belt. Okay, so the belt level is pathetic, but I get on the mats, I do drills and I fight. I will never forget the looks on my children’s faces that first lesson. Not horror – which is what I’d imagined – but something remarkably close to respect. Then there was the indoor skydiving. Yes, a large glass tube of blasting air in which you learn to fly. I donned my unflattering onesie, ignored the prospect of helmet hair and jumped in. (It’s actually amazing. If you haven’t tried it, you should.) Then I followed them onto the ice during their skating lesson, but came off and hour later with a broken elbow, so I’m not claiming that one as a victory, but at least I tried.

So here I am, by day a crime writer who calls on her experience of police and criminals to construct hard-hitting stories of murder and mayhem, and by night (well, afternoon) a late-bloomer who will try anything and throw herself into life with a zest I thought I’d lost too long ago to count the years. I love writing. It gives me such satisfaction to create, and complete, and to transport readers. But families – raising children – requires the same creativity and passion. You find the narrative, have your eyes on the end game, who you want your children to grow up to be. You instill in them a sense of adventure; you help them find their own voice. You start their story with them and teach them the skills they need to finish it themselves. The truth is that I never compromised less than when I gave up my career as a barrister. I walked into a new adventure that allowed me to become my own, unique, often clumsy, but always striving hero. How amazing is that?

Helen Fields new novel, Perfect Prey (Avon), releases on 27 July in paperback and eBook.