I have to admit that I was a bit nervous to pick up Pamela Power's Ms Conception. What petrifying nuggets of dried up baby turd would I uncover between its pages? Would it put me off parenthood for good? I'm so glad I braved the first page and kept going, because this is one of the funniest, most enthralling books I have read in ages. The story revolves around Jo, a fabulous, outrageous wine-guzzling Joburg mom whose life I didn't want to leave when I finished the book. The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing the book's hilarious author, Pamela Power. Read below for some amazing gems on motherhood, working moms, writing while raising a family and cracking advice on how to make an interesting...um...pate.
1. Tell us about Ms Conception?
Ms Conception is really about what it means to be a working a mom, how it affects your relationship with your partner, how it affects your relationship with your friends who don't have kids, and really what a life-changing event having kids is. I don't think you can warn anybody what it's going to be like. So although the book is very light-hearted, it was also a kind of therapy for myself. I was pretty appalled by the whole process. I wrote it because I wanted other women to go 'there is somebody else who feels that way. I don't have to feel ashamed that I'm not loving absolutely every minute of it.'
2. This was your debut published novel. What was your writing journey until this point?
In terms of novels, I wrote a chicklit novel called 'She-mail' that I may still get published one day. I got quite nice feedback from overseas agents on that one. I had my own theatre company, I did stand up comedy and wrote skits for that, I was doing my masters in creative writing, I wrote a musical and my son's music teacher came to watch it. She was related to someone from Generations, and so I fell into TV writing. Generations taught me an enormous amount and then the day after I left Generations, I joined Muvango. Since then I've had work on lots of other shows and during that time I had to write two chapters for my Masters report. That was really the start of Ms Conception.
3. What intrigued you about motherhood as a subject matter?
I had to write about motherhood to get it out of my system. I had to write about the injustice you feel as a working mom, and that injustice was served in part from other working women. It is really hard. With my first child, I was in labour and still doing salaries. You know everybody says to you, "You won't be able to just go back to work," but you don't actually take that seriously. You think, "I'll be different." But you have no idea of the tiredness you feel, you're an emotional wreck, your body has gone through hell with breastfeeding, it's insane. You've got to be kind to yourself and give yourself space. If you do that, you can slowly ease yourself back into work.
4. It felt like you had a lot of fun writing the book. Is that true or is it a glorious facade?
I had an enormous amount of fun. I love comedy and I don't think people appreciate how hard comic writers work to achieve humour, especially in dialogue. I spend a lot of time working on the rhythm and comic timing of a phrase. Comedy is a lot of fun, but you also spend a lot of time crafting that.
5. I find there's this chasm between new moms sharing 'this is what motherhood is really like' posts and then people on the other side thinking about having kids. I mean, I want children but everyone who has them seems so angry! Do you have any thoughts on getting the two camps to understand each other?
You know, I think the chasm is about the media portrayals we buy into. Such as, "My body's going to bounce back the next day and I'm going to look like Kate Hudson." Also the cute little clothes that your child is never going to wear except for the occasional photo opportunity. They're going be wearing that same grungy baby grow because its easy to get them in and out of and they've puked on it seven million times. We buy into all this stuff we think we need. There are all these things we think we need to buy and these classes we think we need to go to and in actual fact, a lot of the time those classes are just helpful to bring other moms together because we don't have the village anymore. So a lot of it is the media side. Then you've got these mothers that have just gone through it and are saying, "Oh my fucking God, nobody told me." All that stuff is very hard to take and the media dream is making it harder. I think new mothers are trying to give you a dose of reality, but they're ignoring that along with all that stuff is the wonderful stuff. But that's the real stuff. It's the wonderful moments in the second trimester of pregnancy when there's no more morning sickness, you're glowing and the hormones have done things so you're a sex maniac and you're looking fantastic. It's when you see your baby for the first time. And giving birth, while the labour is appalling, when you get that rush of endorphins and see your child for the first time it's incredible. It's all these amazing moments wrapped up with this incredibly tough stuff. So you've got the media saying 'you'll have this gorgeous baby and take a picture with your bump and we'll airbrush the stretch marks and random fat deposits out, then you've got new mothers going 'fuck don't do this.' But the truth is somewhere in between.
6. On the front of the book, the blurb says, "Jo didn't realise motherhood is a competition." Tell us more about that.
This is something we as women have got to stop doing. I was the worst kind of nazi for breast-feeding, natural birth, organic etc. We really have to let everybody find their own way. Some people want epidural, others want to book in for their cesarian. More power to you. Thank God we've got the choice. Stop seeing it as some kind of test. A healthy baby is the only result you need so do whatever gets you through the night. The same with breast-feeding. Nobody tells you how hard breast-feeding is going to be and you've got to cut yourself some slack. I didn't at all. Really, do what is best for you and your kid. Stop intellectualising it, and start allowing your intuition and instinct to take over.
7. When did you practically carve out the time to write this book?
It took me ages. I started writing the book when I was 36. Between the ages of 36 and 39, I wrote three chapters. I talked a lot about it, but I only wrote three chapters. But at that stage I'd just had my daughter, I was finishing my Masters, I had a full time job, I was working in TV, so I was fairly busy. That January, I said that by the time I turn 40 in August I will finish this book. I just made that decision. The theory - and it didn't always work like this - is I would write a page a day. Then, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June. This gave me a huge wake up call. She was this funky, vibrant person and was only 64 when she passed away. It spurred me on and made me realise that actually time does run out. She was such a huge supporter of me, she always came to see my plays, she was very excited about my creative career. One of the saddest things is that she hasn't been around to see my book launches. I have this ring of hers and I always wear it to launches. I always think she would love that.
8. How has Twitter impacted your life as a writer and reader?
Twitter has been a wonderful force in my life. I really became a complete Twitter addict when my husband was doing his MBA. I just found this whole community on Twitter. I met Karina Brink and became absolute close friends. I met you, I met Gail Schimmel, Joanne MacGregor, Helen Moffet, Missy and, of course, Black Twitter. My favourite is when I get some racist tweeting at me, I release them to Black Twitter....
9. Can you list of your favourite SA releases at the moment?
At the moment I'm loving Paige Nick's Dutch Courage; Yewande Omotso's The Woman Next Door; I loved Jen Thorpe's The Peculiars; Bontle Senne's Powers of the Night; I'm looking forward to Joanne McGregor's book; I loved Little Suns by Zakes Mda; Sindiwe Magona's Chasing the Tails of My Father's Cattle; Flame in the Snow and of course I can't wait to read Karina Brink's memoir The Fifth Mrs Brink.
10. What are you working on next?
My psychological thriller called Things Unseen is coming out in October with Clockwork Books. I'm also working on a griplit/domestic thriller which will be coming out next year. And after the Kingsmead Book Fair I'll start working on my next book!
11. The outrageous placenta pate recipe at the end seems too real to be made up...Is it based on research or fact.
Oh gosh! It's based on research and a great liver pate recipe I've got at home. It was inspired by the outrageous advice to women to eat their own placenta. Believe me, when you see your placenta the last thing you think is "oh that would be great on some toast."
So there you have it. Go out and buy Ms Conception now for yourself, your new mother friends or friends that just need a bit of a laugh. Even better, if you're in Joburg, grab a copy from Love Books in Melville so you are not only supporting a local author, but an indie bookstore as well!