Fiona is a dear friend and we have volunteered together on the Association of Christian Writers. Her encouragement and support during my pregnancy and in the following months of my son’s life have been so helpful. I caught up with her to find out more about her recently published book ‘The Diary of a (Trying to be holy) Mum’ and to chat about all things parenting. Thanks for joining us here, Fiona!
Tell us a bit about you!
I’m a part time music teacher and writer. I live in Leeds with my husband and I’ve got three children who have grown up now. My parents took me to church from a very young age – I grew up around church learning about God but it wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I had a real understanding of how God loved me personally. One night at a church meeting I suddenly had this overwhelming sense of how much God loves me – that was the day when I definitely knew I became a Christian.
I went off to university and met my husband there. I’ve always been interested in music so when I was growing up in church, I used to play the electronic organ and sang in the choir at the church I went to at university. As I got married I started a teaching career. Our minister said ‘it would be good to get more people worship leading, so why don’t you have a go?’ I didn’t really expect that I’d be any good at it but I felt that when I stood up and did it, God really helped me to lead people into His presence. Since then, that’s been something that I’ve focused on. I love being in times of worship and sometimes I write my own songs. I’ve always felt a real strong call to lead people into worship – that’s quite a big thing that God’s done in me.
Motherhood and writing
I was a maths teacher for a few years then I had my children and made the decision to stay home when they were small which is something I’ve never regretted doing. I started teaching music privately to help make ends meet. I was also praying to God about how I could serve Him and I felt Him nudging me to start writing. I didn’t really know what that meant initially. I thought maybe it meant writing bible study notes or something but I kept experimenting with different things. I had one or two stories published early on but it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I am now having just had a book published. When I was growing up I dabbled in bits of writing. I’ve always loved reading and I’ve had that desire to write on and off for a long time but I think it was after my kids were born that I felt God niggling me to take it more seriously.
What would you say to encourage mums who are torn between staying at home and going to work?
I think you have to pray about it and talk about it with your partner and decide what’s right for you and what’s right for your child. I think there’s too much pressure on mums to go straight back to work as soon as they can. Actually it’s really hard work looking after a baby. I know there are good childcare facilities around but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be doing any better job than you could do yourself. If your heart is to stay at home with your children then that’s absolutely fine.
I felt that God had called me to be a mum and look after these children. My first child was a really bad sleeper so it would have been really difficult to get into a work routine and look after him as well. I think there’s too much pressure on mums today to have it all: you’ve got to have a full time job and a high flying career and perfectly behaved children and I don’t think life is as simple as that. We all have different gifts and different desires and that’s OK. If you’re a mum who really wants to be back at work and you’ve got good childcare options then that’s fine but I think if you’re a mum that wants to stay at home and look after the children and the finances work, then I think I’d go for it. You don’t get that time back. My children have all grown up now and it feels like it’s shot past in some ways and I can’t believe how old they are. Where does all that time go? I’m glad I had that time with them.
What gave you the idea for The Diary of a (Trying to be holy) Mum? How did it develop?
I think it was in the early stages of me feeling that God wanted me to write. This thought floated into my head one day about this mum and how she tries so hard and everything seems to go wrong and it’s all a bit chaotic.I thought that feels like my life when I had my children – it felt there were a lot of people saying ‘you’re doing that wrong and you should’ve done it this way’ and not many people actually saying ‘you’re doing a really great job’. It was until my first started school that the teacher was so pleased with all the things he could do and the way he reacted at school. I thought maybe I’m not doing it all wrong after all! I wanted to encourage other mums particularly but all of us; we beat ourselves up and think we’re making mistakes all the time and forget that God uses us where we are and as we are and you don’t have to be perfect to please Him. You don’t have to perfect to raise emotionally healthy children. We need to forgive ourselves and recognise that people struggle with parenting at times despite what you might see on the TV – it’s not always easy.
How was the writing process for you? Planning, writing, editing, publishing etc.?
Like parenthood – very up and down! I had this character and her family but I wasn’t really sure it was going anywhere. I kept thinking maybe I should abandon it but something in me made me keep going. A quote I read somewhere said ‘you should write the book that you want write’ and ‘if the book you want to read hasn’t been written yet, you should write it’. I thought this is what I would like to read and certainly when my children were small I would like to have read something like that. I kept on pressing on.
About three and a half years ago I did NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – for the first time and the idea is that you commit to try writing 50,000 words in a month which is quite a long way to a novel. I thought there was no way that I was going to write 50,000 words but if I could write 10,000 words by the end of the month I’d be really pleased because that’s 10,000 words that I haven’t got. By the end of the month I’d written 20,000 words which made it feel like I’d suddenly got something substantial. It also gave me momentum.
One or two people read the first chapter and said maybe it just needs a bit more direction so I thought and prayed about that. I got the idea of how Becky is going to grow in her relationship with God over the course of the book. I had a few days on my own over the summer holidays where I got to the point where I had finished it. Then I went back and did the rewriting and read articles on making your writing sharper, think about your dialogue and chopping out the bits you don’t really need. The bit I hate is when a whole section has to move somewhere else in the book and all the bits that relate to that have to be moved as well! I quite like cutting words out and making the dialogue sharper. Not many places are publishing overtly Christian fiction in the UK but somebody told me about Instant Apostle that do. I submitted it to them and fortunately they liked it and agreed to publish it.
How has the book been received? What were your expectations?
I went into it with my eyes open because I know that lots of books get published and some of them hardly ever get read or don’t get much response at all. I wasn’t trying to set myself an unrealistic expectation about it becoming a bestseller. I’ve been pleased and inspired by the number of people who have come back to me and said it was helpful and not just mums but other people have said that they realise that they don’t have to be the perfect Christian to earn God’s approval. That was really helpful and encouraging that this book is making a difference in people’s lives. In one sense that’s really what I want. If it can help people and encourage people, it doesn’t matter if thousands of people read it or hundreds of people read it. If I know it’s making a difference and helping people – that’s really good.
What are you hoping reader’s will take away from your book?
I think it’s that understanding that we all get things wrong at times and God still loves us. We can’t make Him love us anymore or less by trying harder. [An example in the book] is when Becky gets up ridiculously early in the morning because she feels that she needs to have a really long quiet time [with God]. She eventually realises that she doesn’t have to live up to people’s expectations and God loves her and uses her as she is. I hope people will learn to be more accepting of themselves and that God delights in them.
How do you find writing about faith themes within a fictional story?
The current trend is you don’t make it overtly Christian but you have a Christian worldview so you bring those themes in without mentioning it overtly. I really admire the people that can do that. When I started off writing mine, I wanted to write about the fact that she struggles with her relationship with God – it was much more overt so I think that it probably made it easier. I wanted to be honest and say that you’ve got a child who doesn’t sleep and you pray and pray and they still don’t sleep – you wonder whether God’s listening. I wanted to be able to say things like that. You think as Christians we should have all the answers – if we just pray a bit harder then everything will work out fine. I don’t think life is like that. When you have children, life is not like that. I wanted to be honest and say that sometimes a relationship with God can feel difficult. You see people around you who seem like they have it all together and often they don’t have it together either. Sometimes we’re just not honest enough about it.
What’s your advice to writers?
- For Christian writers, join the Association of Christian Writers (ACW). I’ve been a member for a long time and I’ve found it really helpful. It gave me confidence and I’ve met people through that who have helped me in my writing journey.
- Join a writing group if you’ve got one nearby or if you can find an online one. I joined my local ACW group, but I think any writing group where you can feel confident to read out what you’ve written and people will be nice about it, even if they want to pick things up that aren’t quite right with it. A writing group where you recognise that you’re all learning together and however much they’ve written, there’s still more to learn. It can be a real encouragement.
- Read books and articles on writing.
- Be patient. Keep practicing at it – it takes time to get good, just like playing an instrument! Think about how you can improve and don’t expect to write something perfectly straight away.
Any top tips for mums?
- Try to enjoy it. I know it’s hard when they’re screaming all night but try and look for the good bits as well.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’ve got a child who is a bad sleeper, see if someone can take them for an hour in the day so you can have a rest. Ask your church to help you by doing some ironing – try and find people who can help you. I think as churches we should be looking to actively support young parents because it can be quite a tough time.
- If you’re struggling with your moods or emotions, talk to your health visitor or doctor. In one sense it’s all very normal, but don’t feel therefore that you shouldn’t do anything about it.
- Forgive yourself and don’t try and do to much. It doesn’t matter if your house doesn’t look like a show home. What’s important it that you look after your child and their wellbeing and also your own wellbeing and your partner’s wellbeing.
- If you can find a group of mums in a similar position e.g. a mums and toddlers group, women’s bible study etc. that can be really beneficial. You realise that everybody struggles and we’re there to look after each other and support one another.
- Don’t compare your child to everybody else’s – there’s always someone’s child who is walking before they’re born and can string sentences together at nine months. Actually most kids aren’t like that. They all develop at their own rate.
It’s exciting to share that Fiona is currently writing the sequel to The Diary of a (Trying to be holy) Mum and I cannot wait to read it!
Fiona Lloyd is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers and is married with three grown-up children. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, was published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona has also written for Woman Alive, Christian Writer and Together Magazine. She has a passion to encourage others to grow in relationship with God, and to understand that they are loved and accepted. Fiona works part-time as a music teacher and is a member of the worship-leading team at her local church.