Anonymums: Authors of a revealing account of motherhood

image-anonymums200Anonymums is a book by 3 anonymous mothers, Mum A, Mum B and Mum C. The book started off as a game of Truth or Dare, a game they played with each other to relieve themselves of boredom in suburbia. However the end result is a book that is a raw and revealing account of motherhood. It’s funny and very honest which is why the authors have decided to remain anonymous. So they can admit in print what most mothers simply will not.

Mum A talks to us in this podcast anonymously, of course.

Click play to listen. Running time: 27.38

Anonymums-cover

 Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
So, thanks for joining us today, Mum A.

Mum A
Thanks very much for having me.

Valerie
This is all very mysterious, you’ve written a book anonymously, along with Mum B and Mum C. Let’s start at the very beginning, why anonymous?

Mum A
Well, when we started writing, I think we just realized that we could be a lot more truthful if we were actually anonymous. We could sort of say what we truly wanted to say without worrying about who other people already thought we were, or even who we thought we were, I suppose. Other mothers and other people in your family and your friends already have an idea of who you are. And I think, in some ways you also already have an idea of who you are.

It was kind of freeing to let that go, and to write exactly what we felt about things that we were asked without just worrying about what other people thought about it.

Valerie
Because it is certainly very revealing. I have you and Mum B and Mum C to thank for keeping me up ‘till 3AM, because I couldn’t put the book down.

But when you first started the game, which you detailed in the book –actually, first, can you just tell the listeners a little bit about The Game?

Mum A
Right, well, Anonymum is basically the story of three mums, bored out of their minds in suburbia. Just to add a little bit of zing to our everyday routine, because we all have this routine, we sort of decided to play a game of truth and dare with each other. And, well, we got something, that’s for sure.

Valerie
Now, you obviously knew each other – I mean you did tell in the book that you didn’t know each other that well, but you did know of each other. You weren’t anonymous to each other when you started the game. What point did you think this might be a book?

Mum A
Well, we were sort of anonymous in some ways. Two of us had never had any contact at all. And, really, none of us knew each other very well. We did know from the start that this was what we wanted to do. We did want to write a manuscript and see just if we could do it, really. At the start we had no agent, we had no publisher interest, so it was really for ourselves at the beginning.

Valerie
That’s quite a leap of faith to start a manuscript with someone you hardly know.

Mum A
Yes, leap of faith, stupidity, call it what you will, but it was fun.

Valerie
OK, so at what point then did you really think, “There’s something here, this could be a real manuscript”?

Mum A
I think when we started writing together. We actually saw that we wrote together quite well, and that we all had different strengths and different weaknesses, and that we could do it if we really put our minds to it; and we really did have to put our minds to it. It took us almost three years to come up with the finished product.

Valerie
Wow. Tell us, on a practical level, how did you collaborate? There’s three people – it’s hard enough writing with one other person, there’s three people writing a book, how did you actually just put it all together?

Mum A
Well, it was quite difficult, actually. The overall project was really steered by myself because I have the most experience with book publishing, and how a manuscript works, and how theme works, and things like that; how a book is even put together, I suppose. But the content was decided by all of us. As we got to know each other better we sort of started to see those weaknesses, and flaws, and strengths and what we could bring out in one another’s writing, and what we wanted to ask each other.

I think as we kept doing the truths and dares — there were a number of ones that we started and never finished, or we knew that they wouldn’t work out once we got them going, or we gave up after we started fleshing them out for awhile. We just knew they wouldn’t work in a manuscript because a book is a very – it’s quite a structured object. And it was that structure, actually, that was the most difficult thing for us. Three people and three narratives – it’s very hard to put that together in a manuscript without it feeling choppy. And that’s what we really needed to really work on the most. We did a number of huge structural rewrites to get the book right.

Valerie
I think you’re absolutely correct in saying that anonymity – that being anonymous allows you to be far more honest. I was reading it and going, “Oh my God, did she just say that?  Oh my god, did she just say that?”

At the time, you said that no one knew about your game, your husbands didn’t know about the game. Who knows now, really?

Mum A
Well, everybody knows now, as in our partners, husbands know. It was difficult to keep it a secret for three years. It did make us wonder what we could get away with with our husbands. If we could get away with this, we could get away with anything!

It has also been difficult because more than one agent, and more than one publisher saw the manuscript. The Australian publishing, as you well know, is quite small, and people talk. And we know they are talking, and we know some people know who we are.

But we’d really like to continue to remain anonymous, if we can, because we can say more that way; we can be more truthful. I think it’s actually quite helpful for other mothers to be able to do this. Motherhood can be really isolating. And if you think that your views, the views you have, you’re the only person out there with them, that can be even more isolating.

For us to be able to say what we want to say, other mothers can read that and think, “Wow, I’m not alone. I’m not alone in what I’ve been experiencing.” That’s quite important to us, really.

Valerie
Wouldn’t it make them feel less isolated if you’re a real person? I mean I know you’re a real person, but you know what I mean.

Mum A
That by being anonymous we are definitely more truthful, I can say that for a fact. At one point, right near the end of the editing process we had to have the manuscript labeled because it’s so truthful, I think. And we had to make sure that our husbands had read it, and had OK’d it. That’s how truthful it is. By being anonymous, we can go that extra step with truthfulness I think.

Valerie
What were the respective husband’s reactions to it? Because you know there’s, “Who would you have an affair with in real life, a real person?” There’s your sexual fantasies – what were the husband’s reactions to it?

Mum A
They were slightly surprised, I think. I held out the longest, because I revealed the most, I think. My husband was – he was kind of surprised at some of my views, but I think it’s kind of refreshing for your partner, especially if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, maybe to see those things that you think about that they have no idea about these inner workings of your mind, and they probably think that they do.

Valerie
Has it been hard to keep your anonymity a secret?

Mum A
Definitely, definitely. Like I said the Australian publishing industry is quite small, and if you have a manuscript that has been shown to more than one agent, and more than one publisher, it’s difficult to do this.

Valerie
Do you plan to write another anonymous book with the three of you then? Is there a series in this?

Mum A
Well, at this point we’re not sort of sure. We’ve all got different projects to be going on with, and we’re all mums of small children. I think the things is – we’re open to that, but whatever we end up doing we’ll never forget the experience. It’s not everyday another mother can turn around to you and say, “Hey, go on, sit on Santa’s knee;” or, “Rip all the hair from your body;” or, “Wear red lipstick for a week,” and you actually go and do it instead of tell them to bugger off.

Valerie
I mean those dares and challenges were really interesting reading, but to me the thing that really stuck out was that sheer honesty, and the stuff that came out of your heads that people just don’t say. I have no doubt that a lot of mothers are going to be relating to this.

Was it liberating to be able to put this down on paper, and actually say it out loud, because it’s not PC to admit some of the things that you’ve written about in the book?

Mum A
Yeah, I think it was. I mean we’ve all had that moment in the playground when we’ve said, “Look at that spirited child.” When what we mean is, “Look at that little shit.” We’ve all had these moments where we have these things going through our heads that sometimes we can’t even say to our closest friends. So, it was really liberating to be able to say these things finally.

Valerie
It came across – it didn’t actually come across, it came across actually very well, it didn’t come across as a winge. But I have to say that it really painted a very clear picture of motherhood, and as someone who is not a mother, it doesn’t make it remotely appealing.

Mum A
I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? We were worried that we were going one step too far. And there are these moments that are just blissful being a mother, but they are they are the moments you can admit to, and I think what we really wanted to get into was the nitty gritty, because often you’re afraid that if you admit to being less than perfect people would see through that veneer, and someone would come and take your children away.

And you know that’s not going to happen, and we’re all great mothers really, but every mother has this fear. And I think it was these moments that we wanted to get into, because it’s very easy to admit to the Kodak one’s.

Valerie
The Kodak moments obviously do exist and are incredibly worthwhile. They seem to be so overshadowed – the balance though, they just seem so few and far between compared to the loss of identity and the boredom of suburbia, and all of that.

Is that for real? You’re being anonymous now, so you can be –

Mum A
I think it is real, because, when we finally go tot talking about how things really were these were the things we wanted to admit to each other. Because these were the things we had never been able to admit to before. It probably is a bit skewed in that way because when we got going, we just let it all hang out.

Valerie
Wow.

Mum A
I suppose. All of the Kodak moments we have already admitted to, and they’re all the ones that we share with other people, and laugh about. And these are maybe the ones that we had kept hidden inside that we couldn’t talk about until this point. It probably is skewed in that direction.

Valerie
It probably needs to be required reading for anyone thinking of having children. Because it’s like – I must admit the thought crossed my mind – and I think kids are great – a thought crossed my mind of, “Why would you have kids if this is the scenario for them only to grow up and have that life?”

Mum A
Yeah, and that’s the thing, I think as we were saying before, it is probably skewed in that direction. These are things that maybe I wouldn’t even want my children to particularly read, I suppose, because it’s not the whole truth, as in it is part of the truth, and it’s part of the truth that we wanted to admit. And it is that sort of truth that we really wanted to get into because you just don’t see it around.

Valerie
No, it doesn’t get talked about.

Mum A
Maybe we should look at giving away a free tubal ligation with every book.

Valerie
Tell us, then – you started doing this email thing with each other, and doing your truth or dare — what was the actual process then of converting those emails?  Because then you would subsequently share the results of your truths or your dares with each other via email. What was the practical aspect of converting those emails into what ended up being a compelling manuscript?

Mum A
Well, we would truth and dare each other to do things, and then we would have to go away and completely write that up by ourselves. So our own sections are written completely by ourselves. It was only really at the end that we sort of went through and read each other’s pieces and made sure that we thought they flowed, and things like that. Each of our sections were definitely written separately.

Valerie
You had to this in secret because you didn’t want your family, your husbands to know. What excuses did you give? How did you keep your screen hidden when your husband walked past and you’re talking about who you’d have an affair with, and how you’d do it?

Mum A
Well, every time they’d walk past the computer and they said, “What are you doing,” I said, “Well, we’re shopping on eBay.” And they’d totally believe that every time, so that works quite well. All of us do have writing time, so we were able to use that as well.

Valerie
Right, and one of my favorite lines is, “Thank God for feminine hygiene protection issues and wireless internet.”

Mum A
That always works, it’s like, “Sweetheart, I need to go to the supermarket for more tampons now.” And they’re never going to say “no” are they? That always works.

Valerie
Tell us did you get into a routine, like a writing routine?

Normally, people when they write a manuscript they sit down, and they might have their cup of tea, or whatever it is, and then they get going and they produce 1000 words, 2000 words, whatever it is.

Mum A
Yeah.

Valerie
This is far more fractured because it also required collaboration. Did it end up being fractured the whole time? Or did you end up in some kind of routine somehow?

Mum A
No. That is the nature of motherhood, everything is fractured, and everything is crammed in sideways into small holes and small windows of time. Even though I write full time, full time is never full time when you have kids. It’s always somebody’s sick, or the cat’s sick, or the car has just died, or something like this. So we’re quite used to sort of fractured time like that.

Now if you have five minutes, you have five minutes. You can get 100 words down really. So yeah, it was extremely fractured, but that’s the nature of writing and motherhood.

Valerie
Well, great result from something so fractured.

Tell us now about the process to publication. How did you get someone interested? What did they think when you wanted to be anonymous? Tell us about that.

Mum A
We did actually have more than one publisher interested, which was good. We did know from the start that it would probably sell. There was quite a bit of interest from a couple of parties, actually.

But we did sort of look around and see who we thought could do the best job. It was interesting to see the publishers all had different ideas about the anonymity. One publisher would say, “Well, you know you’ll be outed,” whereas another publisher is like, “We can do this and this and this to keep you anonymous,” which was all quite interesting. People had very different takes on how the manuscript could turn out.

Valerie
A normal part of being an author these days is the promotion. There’s interviews, they go at sunrise, they go on radio, they go in magazines. Obviously, if you’re going to remain anonymous, you can’t do that to the same extent. You can’t appear on Sunrise.

Mum A
No. TV is definitely out.

Valerie
And print, in a sense, if they want to show your picture. Has that been difficult, because that’s been such a normal part of the author process these days, the promotion of it. Has that been difficult? Do you think that’s going to hinder the book at all?

Mum A
It’s actually been good in some ways. Definitely TV is out, which is difficult, but radio has been fine. It’s actually been a benefit to be able to do so much print because writers always do better in writing, which does make you feel a little bit better about the whole promotion process.

Valerie
Tell us what you think have been a couple of the most raw and revealing parts of the book. You don’t have to go into great detail because of course you want people to read the book, Or that you found difficult to write, or to admit?

Mum A
I think, definitely for me, writing about having an affair, having a secret affair was probably the most difficult in the way that I started out writing it quite lightly, and then I realized it was going to go somewhere else, where I didn’t particularly want to go, but I would do it because it needed it.

Even as we sort of read over the first draft of that piece Mum B was saying, “There’s something missing.” I knew what was missing, and I knew it needed to go there. And I think there’s a couple of points in the manuscript where we all realized that we had to dig a little bit deeper.

Valerie
Was it hard to – or was it easy to be that honest with each other? Not only in terms of bearing your souls to each other, but being critical of each other’s work, of each other’s writing?

Mum A
Yeah. I think that the hardest thing for us was revealing these things to ourselves. There were a couple of points, as I just said, where we had to go that bit further, and sometimes there’s just that little tab in the corner of your mind where you keep things under that you just don’t want to think about.

And we had to lift the edge of that tab back and go there, even though we didn’t want to. I think in a lot of ways it was more difficult to do that to ourselves than it was to read those things about other people. When you read them about other people you’re like, “Well, that’s not so bad.” But to you, it is that bad, yeah.

Valerie
Was the experience what you expected?

Mum A
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. At the very beginning, we sort of wrote a couple of chapters up and we did show it to a couple of agents. And we had one who just wasn’t interested because she was like, “In no way am I working with three authors.” We thought, “Uh-oh, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

Along the way we’ve had a few people say, “Wow, three authors, that’s got to be hard.” Actually, it really wasn’t. I think we ended up being quite surprised that we worked so well together. I think it was those strengths and weaknesses that were the big benefit. You really need to pick the right people to work with. That was the easy bit for us that we thought would be difficult.

The thing that was very, very difficult was the structure. Working with three people in that way was extremely tough, and we needed to do a number of very large rewrites. That was probably the hardest aspect.

Valerie
Did you approach publishers or agents with just your three chapters, or did you have the whole thing written by then?

Mum A
At the start, we had, yeah, like a proposal and a number of chapters. Yep. Because it’s non-fiction it’s always a little easier to get things out there that are non-fiction than if it was fiction. Plus, two of us had quite extensive experience, so could be trusted to finish a book.

But, yes, we did show a few people at that stage, but at this point in time it’s quite a tough sell to sell anything in Australia right now, so we did have to write the entire manuscript, as it turned out.

Valerie
What’s next for you? What, apart from motherhood, apart from the daycare run and the coffee afterwards, what’s next for you writing wise?

Mum A
Well, two of us, that’s what we do anyway, so we’ll be continuing on with our other projects. The third is finishing her PhD, so she’s quite busy.

Valerie
Do you think that you have another book in you? Are you working on your next book project? Can you talk about it?

Mum A
I’m always working on my next project. Mum B is always working on her next project. And, yes Mum C is still doing that PhD which is never ending, the poor thing.

Valerie
What would your advice be for people who want to write that – like you, they want to tell the truth about whatever it is, whether it’s motherhood or whatever situation it is that they’re in, and the truth is not necessarily PC? What’s you advice to them?

Mum A
I think that’s the thing, I think the real truth, as it really stands is actually kind of a rare commodity. You do see a few books come out where they’re like, “This is like the real truth,” and then you read it and think, “Really, that’s the real truth?   It’s not my real truth.” I think that’s what we really wanted to get at.

And if anybody else had feelings that they wanted to do that as well, I would really advise it. You do have to be — we’re lucky that we did ours anonymously, and that we could go to that level of truth. If you had your name on it, it may be a different kettle of fish for the other people in your life. If you feel that that’s what you’ve got to do, then I think you should go ahead and do it.

Valerie
The other thing is that apart from being very raw and very truthful, it’s very funny. There’s a risk when you’re dealing with two other writers that one of them is not going to be that funny. Was that a concern, or did you have to beef up some of the wit in there sometimes?

Mum A
Not at all, because Mum B I knew, even though we hadn’t met in person a number of times — we had met in person a number of times. Every time I met her we couldn’t stop laughing. We couldn’t wait to get the next word in, and I knew that we were quite similar in our writing styles, and I knew that we would write together very well.

Mum C I knew only online, but she was a very truthful person, and very witty. She was never afraid to let people know that everything wasn’t perfect in her bubble of motherdom, and I thought right from the beginning that she would be a good third person to add to that mix.

Valerie
Perfect. It’s great that it worked out so well.

Mum A
Yeah. We had a ball, we really did.

Valerie
Wonderful. We love the book, so thank you very much for your time today, Mum A, and good luck with the rest of your writing projects.

Mum A
Thanks so much Valerie, it’s been great.


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