Kiwi author Emma Mildon talks about writing her first fiction book, Stitched, which she describes as “a read for anyone that’s kind of hanging on by a thread”; the eye-opening power of travel for creativity and why she knew that having a child would make her an even better writer.
One of the most popular – and depressing! – quotes about parenthood and creativity comes from English writer Cyril Connolly, who drolly stated that “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” It’s a sentence, in more than one way, that can hover in the back of many creatives’ minds: what if having a baby is the end to my creativity?
Luckily, for bestselling author and 11:11 podcast co-host Emma Mildon, this was not something she feared before giving birth to her daughter Ada a couple of years ago, because she had already been reassured by the group of working mothers she had met while writing her first book, The Soul Searcher’s Handbook.
‘Wow, we can’t wait for you to have a kid, because your creativity is going to go through the roof; you’re going to be way more productive and more efficient… we just love working with mums.’
“I remember sitting at a board table, with all these authors and publishers and editors, who were all mothers and they were all saying, ‘Wow, we can’t wait for you to have a kid, because your creativity is going to go through the roof; you’re going to be way more productive and more efficient… we just love working with mums.’”
So, basically the exact opposite of this famous grouchy quote that famous male author had to say. But there was an even more interesting perspective to come, Emma says. “They all agreed that when you write a book, it’s the exact same energy and process as when you have a child. And now that I’ve had a child, I can agree with that. That’s why I always call them my book babies; you incubate this thing, you spend hours and hours of time, sacrificing all your energy to build it and grow it and then you have this book go out into the world and you have to nourish it and cheerlead it and defend it… it’s exactly the same.”
Emma is about to release her third book, Stitched, her first published foray into fictional writing after her two successful non-fiction releases, The Soul Searcher’s Handbook and Evolution of Goddess. Stitched is described as Eat Pray Love meets 13 Reasons Why and it was born out of a beautifully relatable stage of lockdown: Netflix binging of YA shows like Never Have I Ever and Riverdale.
“My life was already lockdown anyway, because I’m a creative with a kid, and so when I had a bit of free time, running off three hours of sleep, I’d watch all of these shows that would bring back this sense of nostalgia of bringing you back to high school. I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’m a grade-a creep but I love this!’”
After going down what she calls the “YA wormhole,” Emma realised that all of her books – including her two published non-fiction titles, and her three unpublished fictional ones – were all about self-discovery and the different realms of new age living. When she first released The Soul Searcher’s Handbook in 2015, the whole new age realm was a lot less common than it is now.
“It’s definitely a lot more mainstream and that’s cool, that was the whole goal of my work, that you can pull a crystal out of your handbag and people don’t look at you like you’re crazy,” she laughs. “I thought, maybe I can weave that into my fiction books, which were my first love, where it all started, and make it entertaining and connect with an audience in a way that I was getting from all of these series I was watching.”
With hints of YA nostalgia, travel and self-discovery, Emma describes Stitched as “a read for anyone that’s kind of hanging on by a thread,” which has to be the best marketing line to use in 2021. It started off as a book that Emma wrote in her early 20s while she was working on super yachts in Europe, where her nights mostly revolved around refilling the drinks of the drunk guests on board.
“There were times when I was staring out on the coast of Italy, looking at these people drunkenly kissing each other and thinking, ‘I have a degree… how did I get here?’”
“There was a lot of time to kill and I realised I could do something with that time, I needed to find something that would give me purpose in my day and make me feel like I was still using my brain,” she laughs. “There were times when I was staring out on the coast of Italy, looking at these people drunkenly kissing each other and thinking, ‘I have a degree… how did I get here?’”
Coming from small town New Zealand, Emma says the lifestyle of on-board decadence was a bit of a culture shock and that’s reflected in her lead character, Sophie, who navigates Europe in this travel-filled novel.
Writing a novel while at home with a toddler wasn’t as hard as you might imagine, mainly because Emma had written her two previous books while working a full-time job, so she was well-versed to stringent time management. “I know that when I write, I need to write on an empty stomach and I need to write first thing in the morning and it’s pretty much a Cinderella syndrome, as soon as the clock strikes noon, my brain is gone, all of my ideas are gone and I switch off back into work mode/mum mode/chore mode.”
Her key piece of advice to aspiring writers is “Don’t overcomplicate it,” Emma says. “It’s so easy to procrastinate not writing or stop writing or not finishing a book. You can plan all you want but if you sit in the chair and write and don’t think, don’t put music on, don’t have a coffee or any sort of distraction next to you, you’ll find you’ll write at a flow. But if you try and whiteboard it, or write a plan, it just overcomplicates it.”
I remember the week that my first book was going to be published, calling my editor and saying, ‘Yo, let’s delete it. what were we thinking?’
“The biggest thing is, you’re never going to feel like your book is ready to be published, because there are always going to be edits, there are always going to be things that need to be changed,” she says. “I remember the week that my first book was going to be published, calling my editor and saying, ‘Yo, let’s delete it. what were we thinking? I don’t want to do this.’ Apparently that’s very common,” she laughs. “My editor called it ‘talking people off the publishing ledge.’”
“We spend so much time as creative people completely belittling and doubting our talents and what we create and then it goes out into the world… there’s a real fear in that and that doesn’t go away. But you’re better off to get it out there and know rather than just sit in fear, otherwise your life is in lockdown if you write like that!”