Sandy Bennett-Haber lets us in on the collaborative process behind You Won’t Remember This, 20 tales from around the world about journeying with a baby.
Can you tell us something about the inspiration for this collection?
I was writing a travel story and afterwards realized I had ‘erased’ my son from the story. At around the same time, I saw a photo of one of my best friends in Thailand on an elephant with her baby son. I began thinking about where travel stories with babies might find a home, and who else might have tales to tell.
I started with a call out on my blog and directly contacting anyone and everyone who I thought might have a story to share. I set a date and waited.
Can you tell us a little about the selection process? Any fascinating facts or fabulous stories that didn’t make it into the final draft?
As the project shuffled along lots of people told me amazing travel stories. The friend whose grandmother carried twins in shoeboxes under each arm across occupied France; the man who lives in Scotland and only just made it to the birth of his daughter in America, the family who spent months camping in outback Australia with a baby – these are all currently unwritten, and yet even from those fragments you are drawn in.
I received some interesting but entirely fictional stories as I went along – great to read – but not fitting into my brief. There was a submission I said no to, which eventually found its way into the book. As the collection grew I saw how the travel with a baby tales I received were stories not just of a vacation and an adventure, or of surviving a flight or a train journey (though the book has those stories as well). Many stories were of moments in people’s lives when true grit was called upon. The collection contains struggles to conceive a much wanted child, a single, teenage mother ‘alone, on a cold January morning, bringing her new-born baby son to see a woman whom she had only met once.’ (Bonny Dundee – A Modern Family Fairy Tale by Jo Smith) There is a story of a man's ‘unspeakable anxiety’ at becoming a father, and of falling in love with his infant son amidst fruit markets in Bali, even while a ‘shadow’ sits over his relationship with the child's mother. (Dear Gus, Rick Rujtens). There is a car journeys with perhaps no home to return to, and a son’s memory of his mother
That she could pass me to’
(In Passing Years, David Wilke)
One of the stories I did not have, however was a travel tale which reflected the lived experience of so many people now and throughout history – refugees. So I returned to Gary Yelen’s story – Eva’s Unexpected Journey – and saw that although it was not about a baby, it was about a family, and about a journey, and it felt like a good reminder that so many of us are in the privileged position of having a home to journey away from, and return to. When I went back to Gary more than a year after saying no to him, he was gracious enough to let me use the story, and to paint the picture which you see on the cover of the book as well.
Can you tell us a little about the cover design process for your book?
Initially when I started thinking about the cover design I thought I would base it around a photo, but as the collection grew I realised the book with its collection of travel essays, memoir, poetry and creative non-fiction was not going to be well represented by a photograph.
I commissioned the artwork for the cover, and I took that artwork to Edinburgh based artist and designer Jenny Proudfoot who designed the cover. I think Gary’s art and Jenny’s painterly style compliment one another perfectly.
Which were your favourite parts of the project?
As a full-time carer for a young child most of your interactions with other adults consists of interrupted conversations. By taking on this project, and editing the book I feel I've been able to have long, in-depth, intimate conversations with all the contributors. And I know that readers will feel the same each time they read one of the stories.
The collection has been an idea for such a long time – and now that the book is finished it is a buzz sharing it. Each piece in the book stands on its own. You can pick up the book, read a story and put the book down – and there are some great surprises in store for the reader! Each time you begin a new story you will meet someone new, from a new place in the world.
I was talking to a journalist about the book recently, and she had read the book and commented on a line she really liked in the book, which was:
‘what impact this lifestyle
of minimal home comforts but closeness
to nature’s nourishing terrain...’
(Helen Sheil, Blue Sarong)
I was thrilled that she picked that piece out to talk about, and had to tell her that it was written about me, by my mother.
I love that scattered across the book there are ‘characters’ from my family. My youngest Finn only has a brief appearance in the introduction, but Rafa pops up not just in the intro, and in the story I contributed, but also in the story written by my husband, Jon Haber. His story also has me and my mother, and she is in my story as well.
Can you tell us something about what’s next for you as a writer?
I have so many pots on the boil at the moment, book promotion, writing articles about everything from sleeping patterns to travel after you have children – but without the children! I have started my first piece of fiction in a long time – something that is a little darker than my baby travel topics – but I hope will be funny.
Top tips for writing with babies and children?
'a quick tap out of your brain'
With Lydia Teychenne's A Prickly Upside I had the pleasure of helping edit the story. She sent me ‘a quick tap out of my brain’ and over email we worked back and forth shaping her story. Lydia works in creative industries, but is the one behind the scenes making things happen – so the process of turning her ideas into something she was ready to present, was different from someone with a background in creative writing. All the ideas were there from the start – and it was great to work with her as she developed it into the piece you see in the book.
Writing with babies and children – as Lydia did, as I do, and as many of us do – I would say start with that ‘quick tap out of your brain’ – don’t be critical of what you are writing, get it out there, and later you can edit.
The more you write the more you write
My youngest is 20 months old and although I have written bits and pieces since my babies were born I am only now realising how rusty I am. I worked on the production side of the book for more than a year. Now I am free of the technical tasks I am writing more – and what I have realised is that the more you write the more you write.
At the moment I am having too many ideas. And some of them get written down. So I would say strive to exercise your writing muscles every day, but don’t beat yourself up when two weeks go by and you’ve done nothing. Whilst I genuinely believe that if you write every day it gets easier and you get better, I am not in any position to live by it. There are too many interruptions, distractions and too many bad nights’ sleep.
Go easy on yourself
I always remember novelist Vendala Vida (wife to Dave Eggers) saying that she just gets up earlier now that she has a baby – (this was years back – before I had a baby) and her voice visits me often, but then I think well that’s all well and good but if I get up earlier all that's going to happen is that the children are going to get up earlier as well. I say stay in bed and rest! Write when you can, write what you can. Keep going back to it. And never forget while you are living/ parenting you are nourishing the writer inside you.