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Writing Dying for Cake

As a stay-at-home mother of two young children, I started writing because I was going 'crazy' devoting my whole life to my children and I felt that I needed to do something creative that was just for myself. I guess I wanted to find out who I was, apart from my children. I was, in a way, trying to reclaim a sense of self.

My husband was very supportive, looking after the kids every Saturday morning so that I could pursue my interest. He actually told me, "I'll take the kids out from 9am until 1pm and you can use that time to do anything you want to do, as long as it's not shopping!" I chose to write. I have written stories and poems since childhood and I have always found writing to be a centreing experience.

Initially I tried to write a novel based on the life of a family friend. It was called, "Descent into Dreaming". I sent the first six chapters to all the major Australian publishers (unsolicited) and, although I had some interest, the manuscript was ultimately rejected. This incomplete novel remains unpublished, a sketchy collection of stories that I might go back to one day...

I began writing Dying for Cake (published as Friends & Mothers in the U.S) the year before my son Peter started kindergarten (2000). I continued writing it throughout my third pregnancy in 2001. This time the story was more personal. I wrote about the constraints of motherhood, because that is what I was grappling with at the time. And the characters became like friends to me. The act of telling their stories helped me to come to terms with many aspects of my own personality and life.

I was completely unprepared when the manuscript was chosen for publication from the 'slush pile' of unsolicited manuscripts at an Australian publishing house in 2002. My third child was born in January that year and she was 11 weeks old when the publisher at Pan Macmillan rang me to say she "loved" my book, only could I lengthen the manuscript (by about 40,000 words)! I remember feeling the greatest sense of elation that day. So, with an infant still not sleeping through the night, I tackled my manuscript and began to prepare myself for the publicity and exposure that comes with publication of a novel.

The book surpassed all my expectations. Before it was even published, it was selected for the monthly book club run by the Australian Women's Weekly, and I was profiled as the Author of the Month. The book was released with positive reviews in national newspapers and reached the national bestseller lists for Australian fiction. Then, a year after the release of the book, I was selected by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of the Best Young Australian Novelists of 2004.

All the publicity and exposure was a surreal and daunting experience for a stay-at-home mother, but what pleased me most were the personal stories that trickled back to me from mothers who said that the book had made an impact on their lives. So many women came to see the characters in the book as part of a larger circle of friends, which is in fact how I saw them in writing the book. Some women found that the story inspired them to realise a personal dream, usually because they connected strongly with one or other of the characters. One mother was inspired by the book to finish her PhD, another to take up jewellery making, another to play a musical instrument that she had neglected to play for years. As readers' personal stories filtered back to me, I too was inspired, to keep going with my writing, whatever difficulties I faced.

I began writing to rediscover who I was. Ironically, as a published author, I have had the privilege to share my innermost thoughts with other people. I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity to become part of a circle of hearts and minds. For me it's another affirmation of self and an insight into the ways in which we are all connected.

Cake recipes

I'm often asked for the recipe for Sophie's birthday cake in Dying for Cake.  Here it is - I make it often and I hope you enjoy it too: