Interview with Author and Illustrator, Laura Dockrill
Laura Dockrill is an award winning author and illustrator. What Have I Done? is Laura’s first book for adults. She has written thirteen books for children and young adults. She has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of The Year Prize, long listed for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018. She has earned plaudits like ‘Top 10 literary Talent’ from The Times.
Laura has appeared on a host of TV programmes: CBeebies, Blue Peter, Newsnight and BBC Breakfast to name a few. Her radio prowess spans across the entire BBC network, having performed works on Radio 1 through 6 including Woman’s Hour and Open Book. She has written for the BFI, BBC Radio, Channel 4, The British Council, The Young Vic and the National Theatre.
Laura is on the advisory panel at The Ministry Of Stories, and has judged many literary prizes including the John Betjeman Poetry Prize, BBC National Short Story Prize and the BAFTA Children’s Prize.
What Have I Done?, was described by Caitlin Moran as a, ‘humblingly honest and human war-report from the front lines of mothering, psychosis and recovery: there is no other book like it, and it is so desperately needed’.
It’s an honour to share Laura’s inspirational words on the blog.
Describe a typical day for you?
My boss is a two year old so generally, as different as the days are, I have boundaries. Jet needs to nap. I enjoy that time too- to get a bit of work done or read. It’s easier to stick to the postcode- especially in the current climate. I don’t feel that urgent need to drag us both on a train to some farm out in the distance or a gallery in central London where Jet is going to run around screaming or have a bending backwards like a banana tantrum when we all can have fun together at home or locally.
Day trips are fun but they are a treat! I usually need Hugo or a friend for support! I don’t want to be caught in the rain with a loaded buggy hobbling down a staircase at some train station. Luckily, both Hugo and I work from home, he has a studio and I have a little desk he made me in front of a window- which is all I need.
Jet can play with his toys and toddle between the two of us, he’s surrounded by music, books, paint and art. We have a structure but no ridgid routine- which I like. I enjoy the boys company and after everything that happened I want to spend as much time as possible with them both. We have loads of family and friends nearby, a beautiful park and the river!
We take turns to play with him- sometimes by the hour, day or week- depending on what we’re working on. Lots of Batman, dinosaurs, trains, cooking, cars and big long bubble baths! I don’t expect too much from a day- if we’ve all managed to eat, check our emails and Jet is happy then it’s a successful one! I think my life was zooming in anyway, a toddler does that but also it is needed for recovery.
To make your world safe and small and manageable and then you can add things in bit by bit. Time is golden and there isn’t much of it to get writing done. Hence why I wrote an entire book on my phone!
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
Recovering from my illness- I had postpartum psychosis two and a half years ago (when Jet was born) and it totally blitzed my life apart and smashed my family and I against the rocks. I’ve never had a mental illness before and I was scared and traumatised. I was hospitalised when Jet was just three weeks old, away from my baby for two weeks. It was a long, frightening journey which has shaped my life and getting better from that took everything from me- especially with the responsibility and pressure of a newborn to take care of. I never have worked at hard as anything as getting better!
Now, I am grateful for the experience and what it taught me. I think it’s made me a better Mum.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I gave up on big bags a while ago unless I’m going for a nice dinner! I do have- and very proud to say it- a bumbag/ fanny pack- called The Panther Pouch- because it’s slick and black and my sister gave it to me. I am happiest hands-free! Now that really helps me be less of a braless mule carrying baby crap around. In this climate- I have a mask, hand gel, airpods, keys and three different shades of lipstick- pink, red and purple. I’ve also just treated myself to a flask so I can walk around the park with a hot tea- I know- I’m v v v v cool.
What are your ambitions in life?
I always knew I wanted to be a ‘good mum’. That always came first. I think that’s also why I felt so ashamed and shattered when I couldn’t do it, when I wasn’t able to. I felt like everybody knew what a ‘selfish’ and ‘terrible’ person I was. Like I didn’t have a maternal instinct, like I was a failure and broken. Especially as I write for children and am usually so good with kids, it felt like a sick joke that I couldn’t care for my own. Workwise- they used to be SO big! Have a show at a theatre, write a TV series, have best selling books etc!
Now, thankfully they are a lot smaller- sleep. Keep Jet alive. Follow my bliss- and that means- see my friends, read, do a bit of writing.
My ambition is to keep well.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
To write from truth. I used to think I was so boring- that nothing of note had ever happened so I’d live in a dream fantasy land in my writing. Now I relish in the mundane. The sweet spot of relatability. Not everything has to be big and loud and dramatic. There is beauty in the simply domesticity of life.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I kind of hope more of the same! I’m looking forward to watching Jet grow up.
What advice would you give a budding writer?
Write hard. write clear. write a lot. write truthfully- even if writing fantasy or abstract- make sure it’s you. Write how you talk. Keep everything. Don’t give up. Show people but trust your instinct. Don’t sit on work too long. YES YOU ARE A WRITER, IF YOU ARE WRITING YOU ARE ALREADY A WRITER. If you think it needs work; do the work!
What advice would you give to a new parent?
ASK FOR HELP IF YOU NEED IT. The best thing you can teach your child is to ask for help.
But that said- don’t take unsolicited unwanted advice. People love to bark tips and knowledge at you. Nobody knows everything about parenthood- if they did they would know not to give you advice because it’s different for everybody and everybody is different. Trust yourself.
Finally, happiness is…
This. Right here. Right now. This is life. This is it. You’re not in a waiting room- you’re in it. The secret is trying to enjoy it!