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How can you be a writer during the kids’ school holidays?

‘Mummy, you’ve been working forever. Stop it, now.’

This is my little boy, recently turned five, tugging at my sleeve and trying to force my laptop shut.  I explain to him that I really need to do a little more, then I promise I’ll play with him in half an hour.

Half an hour?’ he shrieks indignantly. ‘No. That is too. Too, TOO long.’

Oh, the joys of trying to be a writer during the school summer holidays.

I live with my husband and three children in Nairobi, but we’re back in the UK for a couple of months during their holidays. I am in the process of editing my second novel but, as I discovered last summer as well, trying to keep three young children happy whilst frantically attempting to work on a novel is no easy task. This juggling act is, of course, far from exclusive to writers and is an age-old problem for working parents the world over, particularly during those long holidays. For those who work from home, it throws up a whole new set of interesting challenges that need to be approached open-mindedly and creatively. Of course there’s always the option of writing once they’re in bed, but I doubt I’m alone when I say that writing last thing at night doesn’t work for me. The old brain just isn’t in gear.

After my five year old’s latest outburst, it got me thinking. How do you keep kids happy, filling their holiday time with memories, multi-layered fun and experiences whilst trying to sneak off into another room to work and feel like you’re making decent progress on that front too? Ok, I put my hands up here: I am no expert on this subject and many, many times I feel like I’ve made a pig’s ear of the day, achieving neither a decent amount of writing / editing, nor do I have a contented coterie of kids.

But I would like to share a few things I’ve tried both last and this summer which, if you have children around the same age as mine (9,7 & 5) could give you an extra five minutes of writing time or, if they roll with it, considerably longer. Either way, it’s crucial writing time so it’s worth a try, right? (Of course there’s always the TV, that perennial childminder, but there’s only so much TV a kid can watch.)

1) Get a ball of wool. Any ball of wool. Any colour. Give it to your children and say they have to decorate the sitting room in any way the choose. This is what my lot came up with, a rather lovely spider’s web:

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2) Read the part in George’s Marvellous Medicine to your children where he makes the potion. Then get a big pot or jug out and search through your cupboards for all those pots and jars stewing in their own ancient juices that – face it – you’re never going to use and let them give it a great big stir with sticks. (Probably better to do this one outside)

3) Ask the children to lay out an obstacle / assault course in the garden (or, if you don’t have a garden, the sitting room). Provide them with plenty of props such as blankets or sarongs, buckets, balls and bats or rackets, boxes, logs etc etc. At various stages around the course, suggest that the participant has to do a little task such as ten star jumps or chucking balls into a bucket. When they’ve finished making the course (the more elaborate the better for that extra writing time!), YOU have to try it out. Yes, that does mean you may have to be doing squat jumps or crawling through the mud but hey, it’s worth it 😉

4) Is there a storybook all your children particularly love? Ask them to chose between them a story (children’s picture books are best for this as are shorter and more manageable) and devise a play from it. If you only have two children and there are many characters, don’t worry! Add in teddies or just get them to be creative. They’ll know the story really well so even if they’re not reading properly, it doesn’t matter. If you have a dressing up box to accompany this activity, even better. At the end, they can ‘perform’ the story. I love seeing what my children come up with (I must confess I’ve used this on weekend mornings to get an extra half hour in bed, not just for writing time!)

5) Tell your children you want them to prepare lunch for you all with a starter, main course and pudding. They can use anything they find in the cupboards or fridge but cannot use the hobs or oven (Five year old boys and fire? Erm…I think not). Be prepared for some pretty (how shall I put this politely?) unusual flavours but children adore having autonomy in the kitchen and it’s not going to kill you this once if you eat mashed chocolate and apricot on bread and butter for lunch.

Enjoy! And let me know how you get on with any of the above 🙂

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My three little adventurers on holiday recently in Wales

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