“We call ourselves ‘The Famsquad’”, author Imbi Neeme says of her blended family of almost nine years. “When my husband and I got married late last year, instead of having my father give me away, we got the kids to give us away to each other. I still get teary thinking of it.” And while parenting a blended family hasn’t always been easy, it’s always been worth it…
With the publication of her debut novel The Spill at (almost!) fifty years old, Imbi has spent most of her life working in jobs that would give her the time and space to write. She created her blog Not Drowning, Mothering, when her youngest son was four. “I had been writing these long, anecdotal posts on Facebook”, she recalls, “and a friend suggested I might like to start a blog. After I googled ‘What is a blog?’, I signed up for a WordPress account.
When we ask Imbi what she’d like to see change in the way motherhood is portrayed in the media, she tells us: “less images of perfection and less judgement; we need to acknowledgment that it’s a hard job. In fact, it’s the hardest – and most important – job anyone could ever do.”
And that’s from someone who’s managed the entire editorial and publicity process of writing a book while at home on lockdown with five teenagers…hats off.
The Spill by Imbi Neeme, published by Penguin Random House on 2 June 2020, RRP $32.99
Tell us a little about your childhood…
I moved around a lot when I was young because my parents worked in the theatre and had to go where the work was. I ended up going to eight different schools and, as a result, can never quite shake the feeling of being The New Girl. Growing up in the theatre meant I spent a lot of time doing my homework in the corner of the rehearsal room and being dragged along to very long and not entirely age-appropriate plays. However, I like to think it’s really helped me with my writing in terms of my sense of story and my ability to write dialogue.
You published your debut novel at 50 - congratulations! Was writing a book something you’d always hoped to do?
I should add first that I still have a few months left living it up in my forties before I have to start ticking the 50-59 age-range box. But my debut novel is definitely coming out in the shadow of that ‘round number’ birthday. For me, this has been a forty-five year journey. I remember writing my first “book” when I was five, which got published in the school magazine. It was only a sentence, but I remember feeling an incredible sense of achievement and pride.
What did your career look like prior to becoming a novelist?
Other than a brief stint in the 90s trying to be a “multimedia producer” (CD-Roms…remember them?), I’ve never really had a career; instead, I’ve always chosen jobs that (hopefully) allow me enough mental space to write.
Tell us about the writing process. You have five teenage kids at home - how did you structure your days?
When I’m entering the world of a new manuscript, I get up earlier than everyone else to achieve my daily target of 250 words. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me to maintain daily contact with the manuscript. That way, during the rest of the day, when I’m stuck in traffic or in a boring meeting or doing the dishes, I’m able to turn the story over and over in my mind. Then, as I really get stuck into things, I increase the target to 500 words and I write at every possible moment to achieve that – or more, if I can.
You describe yourself as a ‘recovering blogger’ and have two blogs including the award-winning ‘Not Drowning, Mothering’. Why did you start the blog and what was it about the motherhood experience you wanted to share?
I started the blog when my youngest son was 4. I had been writing these long, anecdotal posts on Facebook and a friend suggested I might like to start a blog. After I googled ‘What is a blog?’, I signed up for a WordPress account and ‘Not Drowning, Mothering’ was born. With the blog, I really wanted to be honest about my experience of being a mother, but at the same time, I wanted to find the lighter side of it, even if just to help myself get through each day. My writing has always see-sawed like that – between humour and heart.
What would you like to see more or less of in the media when it comes to motherhood?
Less images of perfection and less judgement; we need to acknowledgment that it’s a hard job. In fact, it’s the hardest – and most important – job anyone could ever do.
Tell us about your experience of motherhood and raising a blended family...
We’ve been a blended family for almost nine years. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve worked very hard to develop a sense of “gang” through watching TV shows together and doing walks together and having a billion different small traditions. We call ourselves ‘The Famsquad’ and, when my husband and I got married late last year, instead of having my father give me away, we got the kids to give us away to each other. I still get teary thinking of it.
What’s been the biggest challenge of motherhood for you?
Always having to be the adult in the room! Seriously, who put me in charge?
And the most rewarding aspect?
The hugs and the conversations that I have with each of my children and stepchildren, at every age. They’re all people that I love to hang out with.
Writing a book takes incredible discipline. Were there other aspects of your life or commitments that you consciously pulled back from, to prioritise writing?
You should see the state of my house! Also, I must admit that I don’t read as much as I used to. When it comes to choosing between reading and writing, I’ll choose writing every time, except just before bed. Then, a good book is the best vessel to carry me away into sleep.
What’s your best time management tip?
I’m not sure if I’m the best person to give advice. As my husband can attest, I am like Mr Incredible in the opening scenes of ‘The Incredibles’, always looking at my watch and saying “I still got time” when really, I don’t. My reach is always far greater than my actual grasp when it comes to my to-do list.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got two unpublished manuscripts to dust off and an idea for a fourth one. I’ve loved getting published but, in between the editing and all the publicity, it hasn’t left much time for writing. But at least, when this thrilling ride is over, the blank page will be waiting for me.