Ep 277 Meet AWC alumna Megan Blandford, author of ‘I’m Fine (and other lies)’

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 277 of So you want to be a writer: What happens when writing is hard? Meet AWC alumna Megan Blandford, author of I’m Fine (and other lies): Postnatal depression, motherhood and trying to actually be fine. We share tips on how to cut mundane elements from your story. Plus, there are double passes to The Chaperone up for grabs.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Links

8 Mundane Elements You Should Cut From Your Story

7 Things to Try When Writing Is Hard

Writer in Residence

Megan Blandford

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer, specialising in mental health, parenting and lifestyle topics.

As a features writer, her work appears in various print and online publications including Sunday Life, Australian Traveller, Good Food, Daily Life, Kidspot, Domain, SBS, Essential Baby and Body + Soul.

Her book I’m Fine (and other lies): Postnatal depression, motherhood and trying to actually be fine – was released in April 2019, by Wild Dingo Press.

Follow Megan Blandford on Twitter

Follow Wild Dingo Press on Twitter

(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN double passes to ‘The Chaperone’ starring Elizabeth McGovern

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Megan.

Megan

Thanks, Valerie. Lovely to chat with you.

Valerie

All right. Your book is I’m Fine and Other Lies: Post-natal depression, motherhood and trying to actually be fine. Now for those readers who haven’t read your book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Megan

Okay. So it’s about… It’s my story of going through post-natal depression and coming out from that. So it goes through right from when my first daughter was born, through the crazy early years of motherhood, having another child, and then finding hope and getting through the challenges of all of that.

Valerie

Now, I have to admit that when I’m reading a book written by someone I know, it’s quite a stressful experience for me. Because I have certain expectations or, you know, you just don’t know… It’s like a box of chocolates. You don’t know what you’re going to get. And I have to say I just love your book. I love your writing. I love the way you have told this incredibly personal story. And you haven’t sugar coated it but it’s also not mired in the depths of self-pity or anything like that. It’s really, really a fantastic book.

Megan

Thank you.

Valerie

So well done. But first I want to know, why did you want to write this book? Because you previously had a career in a corporate job and then you started doing freelance writing. But writing a book is a very different thing to freelance writing. Why did you want to write this book?

Megan

Okay. So I generally have always wanted to write books. Since I was a little kid. That was the dream, I guess. When I was reading to myself as a kid. When I sat down to write a book, I certainly didn’t sit down to write this book. I sat down initially to write some fiction and it just wouldn’t come out. There was this block there, is the only way I can describe it. All of this stuff that I’d gone through was just blocking anything else in terms of longform creativity from coming out.

So then I thought, okay, I’m going to have to face up to this topic. I’ll write a fact book. I’ll write a kind of how-to guide of how to get through post-natal depression. And so that’s what I started to do.

And quickly kind of realised that that wasn’t going to fit the bill either. And that I needed to get my story out.

Valerie

Why did you realise that that wasn’t going to fit the bill? Let’s just stop at that point.

Megan

Actually I engaged a writing coach. Because like you say, writing articles in the freelance world and writing a book are two very different things.

Valerie

Very different.

Megan

So I sat there and I thought I’m not quite sure I know how to go about doing this and I’m not sure I know how to stick with such a personal topic, as well. Because whether it was going to be a fact book, a safe kind of fact book, or my story, it was still a highly triggering topic for me to cover at the time.

Valerie

Sure.

Megan

So I engaged a writing coach. And when I sent her what I was playing around with, which was some facts and some ideas about interviewing experts and things like this, and a little bit of my story, she said, “that’s great. But write more of your story.” And I said, “well, that’s very scary.” And she said, “exactly. That’s why it’s going to be good. Do it.”

So I can’t take full credit for coming to that realisation that I needed to tell my story. But I embraced that with everything I had.

Valerie

Yes. Sorry to talk over you then. When you decided to tell your story then, as you said, it’s scary for a whole range of reasons. One of which being it’s very personal. How did you get over that?

Megan

Well, writing it, I completely put out of my mind whether it would be published or not. And so I created this really safe space for myself to just let everything out. And I wrote probably more than double of what’s ended up in the book. Everything came out.

So I was writing, I was never really thinking about anyone reading it. So I was able to really get honest with myself and tackle things in a really raw kind of way. And it was later through the editing and everything, things get a bit more practical and you start talking about whether it should be something that you send to publishers or whatnot. But that rawness still stayed in there as well.

Valerie

And obviously the book goes through your experience with post-natal depression, among other things. But you could have picked a whole range of other topics to write about. Why did you pick this? Even as a fact book you picked postnatal depression.

Megan

It was something I’d try to run away from for a lot of years, the fact that I went through this. So I think it was time to face up to it. And to really explore what the impact it had had on my life. Yeah. It certainly wasn’t an easy topic, that’s for sure. And like I say, I thought I’d be writing fiction or I thought I’d be doing something with this topic that might be a bit safer. But this is what came out. And I’m really glad it did, actually. As terrifying as it is in some ways to put my personal story out there, I’m really glad that that’s what it’s ended up being.

Valerie

So we’re going to circle back to the book in a sec. But I just want to give listeners an idea, now, you said that from when you were little you wanted to write a book. So obviously there was some kind of desire there. But can you just give us then just a bit of a potted history of your career, so people can understand your path and how you got to where you are?

Megan

Sure. So let’s start with that. I had always wanted to write. And I used to get in trouble from my mum because I would write in my books, in my very favourite books. I would open them up and write in them. And you can imagine my mum’s horror as a book lover herself!

But I was pretending that I was writing the books. So to me it was a great game.

But then of course you grow up a bit and you come to this realisation that a creative endeavour is not really a sensible career path. And everyone around you is very vocal in saying that.

So I chose a much more sensible mainstream career path and ended up working in human resources. And I worked my way up into managing an HR department, created my own team, all of that.

And it was after I took maternity leave with my first baby, and I tried going back to my job. And I tried to be the fulltime working mother in the corporate world, and it just wasn’t right for me given the particular circumstances that were going on at the time.

And so I was at home and I thought, well, what am I going to do with myself now? I was never going to be a stay at home mum. And this childhood idea of writing just hit me in the head. This is the time to try doing this. And so I started blogging first of all just to see can I actually even write? And do people want to read it? Do I have anything interesting to say?

And that caught some attention and started the ball rolling and got a few jobs coming my way. And then of course I did, as you know, the Australian Writers’ Centre Freelance Writing course, and got the confidence to start freelancing. And then really made a career out of my writing.

Valerie

So you freelance fulltime. I mean, you are a prolific freelancer. You write features, you write content, you do corporate stuff. You earn your money as a writer.

But it’s busy when you do that. So tell us on a practical level, when you decided I’m going to write this book now, how did you fit it in? How did you structure it? Did you divide your days up? You know what I mean? What happened? Or was it only bit by bit over a really long period of time. Just give us a bit of an idea of how it actually happened.

Megan

I wrote it really quickly. I wrote this book within a couple of months. Because when I started writing it just all needed to come out.

So I brought my freelancing, the first thing I did was I brought my freelancing back to four days a week. So that I had a dedicated day to write my book. And then that would flow, so I would do that on Fridays, and that would inevitably flow into my weekend as well. And it was really that my family was not used to seeing me without my head in a computer for a good couple of months there.

And it would, to be perfectly honest, it would also creep into my work time a little bit. Because once you start letting this stuff out, if something comes to you, you kind of have to go with it. So I did cheat a little bit and take a little bit of my worktime as well.

But also, night times, I didn’t sleep very much during the writing of this. I was up remembering things and writing on the couch at 3am and things like that. So time just kind of opened up for me to do it in a not necessarily very healthy way.

Valerie

Yes. So it sounds like it wasn’t as if you were just doing four days a week with your freelance stuff and one day a week on this. It was more like four days a week on your freelance stuff and the rest of the time on this.

Megan

Yeah, pretty much. Yep.

Valerie

So obviously your Friday was your dedicated day which you allocated to it. Did you have any kind of weekly wordcount goal? Did you plan out, here are my chapters and I’m going to write them in a linear fashion? Or did stuff just come out in bits and pieces and then you put it together? How did it actually come out?

Megan

I really, really want to tell you that it was all really planned and structured. I really want to say that, because I’m such a structured organised person. But when I come to this stuff, I don’t. I just wrote. And then I dealt with the structure later.

Valerie

Was that hard? Because…

Megan

Yeah, it’s not the easiest. In some ways, it’s not the easiest way to go about things. But I think that with this topic, it kind of needed to be this loose kind of way as it was. Just to let me really open up to…

There were experiences in that time that I was writing about that I had just pushed down so far, that I didn’t even remember they were happening until I started writing. And I would go, oh my gosh, there was this other thing.

So it wasn’t really stuff that I could plan out terribly well, in that sense.

Valerie

And so when you say that you started writing kind of with the mindset that no one is going to read this in order for you to be a bit more liberated and free with what you put on paper. After you got it all out then, did you read it back and go, oh my god, I can’t tell people that? Or did you think, oh no, this was a bad idea because there’s so many things that I actually won’t put out there? What happened?

Megan

Absolutely. So there was some stuff that was immediately cut. A) because it’s not relevant. And b) because it’s just too much to share.  And that’s a lot. You’ve read this. I share a lot. There’s certainly some stuff that was even further than that.

And then I guess it was a case, probably the next thing I did was I ran it past my husband and my mum. And tried to gauge, because they feature heavily in this.

Valerie

Yes.

Megan

And I really needed to gauge where their comfort levels were in me talking about them.

Valerie

And of course, it is about motherhood and it is about postnatal depression. Have you at any point had a conversation with your children about the book? Because they’re in it too, obviously.

Megan

Yeah. That was a really interesting thing.  Again, as I was writing it, I was really worried about certain things I might be saying about my children. That they might later read it and construe it as, you know, was it our fault that mum had this? Or anything like that. So when I was editing I was really mindful of that as well.

They’re ten and six now, the kids. So they are really obviously aware of this book being out and what it’s about. And they’re hearing me talk about it. And they’re not allowed to read it, of course. Which they’re terribly disgusted by.

But we’ve had, yeah, we’ve had some really frank conversations about what it is that I’ve gone through. You know, at an age appropriate level.

Valerie

And so when you’re writing, you’re often reliving an experience. So were you at any point concerned that it would send you back into the depths of darkness?

Megan

Yeah. Yeah. There was definitely that concern. So I really tried to set things up. I was certainly going through counselling while I was writing it, as well, to have that support for myself.

Valerie

Oh, you did that on purpose while you were writing? Or you were already doing it?

Megan

I was doing it, but I certainly set it up and I said to my counsellor, “I’m doing this and I need this support through it.”

Valerie

Right. That’s smart.

Megan

And the people around me, as well. I made sure they were aware of what I was doing and had ways to let that out with them as well. Yeah.

So it ended up being a really freeing experience. It sounds really cliched to say that writing your story is really cathartic. But it’s a cliché for a reason. It’s just so good for you to get this stuff out when it’s been sitting inside for so long, holding on to it. It’s amazing to get it out.

So it was really freeing and it was really… I’d spent so much time running away from my story that owning up to it was a really empowering experience.

Valerie

Now, I don’t mean to harp back on this, but I’m interested in the structure and how the narrative thread panned out. Because I want to understand whether you wrote it in a linear fashion or whether you… Because it does have a strong narrative thread. And it does have a journey. And it does have an ending, so to speak.

Because the risk is, is there an ending? And to just write all this stuff and it’s not really a satisfying ending. You know what I mean? How did you know you had that narrative thread? Or how did you know you had an actual story with a beginning, middle and end? Or when did you know it? You know what I mean? And also, when did you know it was going to end?

Megan

Yeah, that took a little while. That took probably a little bit longer to come about. And I really did work heavily with this writing coach that I was working with on the structure. Because structuring a book was, again, such a new thing to me. Yeah. It’s really different to what I have done for years.

Gosh, I’m not sure if I have many gems of wisdom for you there. I just studied up on structure. And just tried to create… I guess I really had to do into what was the ultimate message that I’m trying to deliver here. And then form a structure around that. That’s probably the biggest thing I did.

Valerie

I guess another way to perhaps shed light on it is that when you’re writing about your life, I mean, your life goes on, right? And so at the end, when you’re choosing an ending for a book, you do have to choose a certain point in time. At what point did you know that your chosen ending was your point in your time, so that you knew, okay, I actually have a strong journey now? As opposed to ending it earlier or keeping on going.

Megan

It’s a tricky thing. Because you don’t want it to be this ending that’s really cliched and really like, everything’s happily ever after now. I really was conscious of not trying to say, well, that’s it. I’m never going to suffer again.

But I wanted to end on a hopeful note, as well. So finding that balance was interesting. So I think, again, it was really thinking about that message. And I really wanted this message about the way we talk to ourselves and those inner workings of our minds and our inner voices. And wrapping that in with that self-kindness. And once I knew that that’s what I was trying to say here, then I knew exactly where to finish the story.

Valerie

Now it’s received quite a lot of great press and reaction from people Have you had any personal comments from readers? It’s still early days, I know. But have you had a response from readers?

Megan

Yeah. Absolutely. People are responding I guess in some ways as I’d hoped they would, which is to say, thank you, I don’t feel so alone now. It’s so good to know that other people are going through this as well.

In another way, it’s been surprising. And I think the different types of people who are reading this book has intrigued me a little.

Valerie

Right. What do you mean?

Megan

It’s not just mums who are reading this. It’s not. It’s people who aren’t parents, it’s men, and again, who aren’t parents, and dads. It’s people who haven’t been through an experience like this. But certainly mums who haven’t had postnatal depression still relate to a lot of the feelings that come with that. And certainly all of the challenges of motherhood.

So I think that’s been really interesting. That there’s different parts of it that all sorts of people relate to. And I think, again, I was talking about the story about this being so hard on ourselves and our inner voices and the way we treat ourselves. And I think so many people can relate to that. So many of us are so hard on ourselves. And that’s certainly not something that’s exclusive to mums.

Valerie

Yes. And I think the title, I’m Fine and Other Lies, is something everyone can relate to. How did you come up with that title? Because it’s perfect.

Megan

Oh, the title was so hard!

Valerie

It’s really good.

Megan

That took between my publisher, my agent and I, we were, we spent months backwards and forwards, emails, what about this, what about this? And then my publisher ended up saying to me, “all the titles we’re coming up with are too serious.” She said, “the thing about your book is that it’s got this humour to it that makes it so readable and lightens the tone, and all of this.” She said, “I want the humour to come across in the title.” And I thought, oh, gosh, how do I do that? How on earth, in a few words, can I get this sarcastic kind of humour that I have across in a title?

So I sat down and I just let me absolute crazy sarcasm run free. Wrote down a list of about twelve things and sent it to them and this one stood out. Yeah. Because I think it is so relatable. Everyone, as soon as I say the words, “I’m fine,” everyone knows.

Valerie

Yeah. It’s great. Can you give listeners a bit of an idea of the timeline? When did you first start writing it? What happened after that? When did you get your publisher? Just so we can get a little bit of a timeline of the gestation of the book.

Megan

I’ve heard other people say this on your podcast, and that is that they wished that they had kept a nice little timeline of notes. And I’m wishing the same now!

It was written probably two years ago. And so kind of the first half of that year, writing it was quick. But then the structuring and the final stuff went on for a little bit longer. And then it was done.

And so the coach that I had is also an agent. And she said to me, “I want to represent you if you want to put this out there.”

So that all fell into place really well. And so she started pitching it. And I just made myself forget about it in the meantime and just went on with my freelancing and went on with writing some other stuff.

And so it was probably early last year, or mid last year I reckon, that she found a publisher for it. And so it’s a smaller publisher in Melbourne who really wanted to collaborate with me on it and make sure that my story was represented in a way that I was happy with. And that seemed perfect for this, for such a personal story.

Valerie

Did they have a lot of feedback or edits or changes or that sort of thing?

Megan

No. No, not at all.

Valerie

Great.

Megan

No. It was a very short process, the editing of it.

Valerie

Okay. So now you’ve written a memoir. So that was middle of last year, and then it’s been released now. Okay.

So you’ve written a memoir. So now what? Apart from continuing with your freelancing, have you had thoughts about writing another book?

Megan

Yeah. And I’ve written three fiction manuscripts in the meantime.

Valerie

Wow! Busy!

Megan

Because do you know, when you’re trying to distract yourself from thinking about what’s happening, whether a publisher might want you, whether they might be rejecting you, to distract myself I just write more.

So that’s a lot of distraction I’ve done.

Valerie

So what did you do? Did you leave your Friday open for that kind of writing?

Megan

Yeah. Yeah. I just stuck with it. And I thought, well, that fiction that I originally wanted to sit down and write, why don’t I do that? Because once I’d let this stuff out that’s gone into this book, that block that I talked about earlier that was there making me just have to write this completely lifted. And all of a sudden I had all of these ideas for fiction, and all of these characters coming to me. And I thought, oh, well, here we go. I’ll see where this takes me. So, we’ll see.

Valerie

Yes. I love it. Okay. So finally, what’s your advice, what’s your top three tips for aspiring writers, and I guess let’s focus on nonfiction for now, who want to write a book like yours one day? Not necessarily about postnatal depression. Just a nonfiction memoir type book.

Megan

Oh. I think it’s really worth taking the risk and putting yourself out there. Because stories are so powerful. And so important. Yeah. I think it’s just really worth letting that stuff out and going with it. And I think what I found most… The best way to approach that was that sense of not writing to be published, but just writing and letting it come out really honestly and openly. I think I’d quite recommend that.

Valerie

Okay, yep. It’s certainly a very liberating way to write. Any other tips?

Megan

Um… Gosh.

Valerie

What about for the discipline of writing?

Megan

Yeah, the discipline of it.

Valerie

What’s your advice there?

Megan

I think one of the things I found was that it’s not necessarily in writing this in this form, that’s good practice for writing in this form. So I think that it’s great to open yourself up to writing different things and in different ways to get that practice and get that idea of how you want to write, what stories you want to tell, how to find the right angle in it.

So for me, freelancing has given me all the skills to do this in a lot of ways. So it’s not necessarily just write books, write manuscripts in order to write books. It’s open yourself up to different forms and give yourself that practice.

Valerie

And just to be clear to listeners, you weren’t in the world of writing before. You were in HR as you’ve mentioned. But then you decided to get into freelance writing after doing the course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. And you earn a fulltime income through freelancing, don’t you?

Megan

Yes, absolutely, and I have done for many years now. And it’s been an amazing way to make an income and have a career around my family as well.

Valerie

Yeah. Brilliant. Brilliant. All right. Wonderful. So I’m Fine and Other Lies by Megan Blandford. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book, so congratulations and thank you so much for talking to us today.

Megan

Thanks so much, Valerie.


Comments