helen hayward

life writing

Month: June, 2020

o.w.p. out without a phone


I used to carry a phone so that the school nurse could contact me if one of my kids fell off the play equipment. It made me feel safe, knowing I was connected, out of sight not out of mind.


These days, when I go out in the morning, to walk the dog and to work outside, I leave my phone in the boot of the car. I do this so that I can be in nature and focus on my work. And to prevent my good energy leaking away into the innards of my phone.


I think less of myself when I keep checking my phone during the morning. Each time I do it, a bit of my life force seeps away. With each click on a New York Times story, my preferred poison, I feel my morning draining away. It’s not just time that I lose when I do this. It’s also self belief. How can my own writing compete with the slickly edited stories of weighty world events? But mainly it’s time that I lose. The number of minutes that I spend reading New York Times stories has to be doubled to reflect how long it takes me to get back to my own work, after reading on-line. It takes this long to silence the self-doubt that invades me when I read other people’s beautifully edited stories.


Last week, fed up with wasting time on my phone, I went into System Preferences, clicked on Accessibility, and faded the screen to grey. Then I wobbled into oblivion those apps that stole my time when I tapped on them compulsively. And I hinted to my family that I might not see text messages they sent during the morning.


I always assumed that one day my kids would pack their bags and leave home. And that, when they did, I’d feel inconsolable and useless. I’d feel left behind, like the family dog waiting in vain for the front door to open. But now I think that something else might have to happen before my kids leave home. I might have to leave my kids first, to give them unconscious permission to leave me.


I used to think that motherhood was all about surviving my kids unconscious attacks on me. Their taunts and criticisms were, I felt, their way of projecting on to me what they couldn’t bear about themselves. I had to appear stupid so they could be clever, that kind of thing.


I was right, I have had to survive my kids’ attacks on me. But now I face something just as hard, perhaps harder. I have to communicate to them, at a deep level, that I will be fine without them, without being sure of this myself. Going out without a phone, or at least having it switched off in the boot of my car, proves to me that I am fine on my own – just as my kids will one day be without me.


But perhaps the most important part of being out without a phone is that it gives me a freedom and spaciousness that I thought may never be mine again.






new website


It started out as a new year’s resolution, of a kind I felt up to making. This year, I told myself, I will redo my website.

For a month I did nothing. The bushfires raging across the country burned a hole in everything. What a vain, shallow thing to want, I thought, whenever the idea of a new website crossed my mind. Besides, I reasoned, I still like my old website. It’s still beautiful. And who but me would know that the photo of my daughter, on its opening page, was taken seven years ago?

Me. I knew that the photo of Emma in a Scottish landscape, wearing a woollen beanie with donkey ears, was long out of date. Just as I knew that eight of the stories on the ‘other writings’ page were taken from a magazine that died eight years ago. Even if no-one else cared about this, I did.

At the start of February, my writing coach put ‘new website’ on my list of things to do before we met next. I nodded. I had in mind what I wanted the site to look like, and felt sure that I could find someone to do it without paying over the odds. Sitting outside at a café, that late summer morning, a new website seemed doable.

A month later, in the middle of mentoring an accomplished writer with a project of hers, she mentioned that she’d created websites for clients in her old job. ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Would you be up for making one for me?’ ‘Yes, of course’, Susie said, her eyes lighting up.

Then came lock down and we switched our meetings to on-line. Susie was upbeat. She liked not losing time to traveling and spending time on zoom. Besides, she pointed out, it would be just as easy to create a new website via zoom, as in person.

Having taken the lead in our writing workshop, I let Susie take the lead when it came to discussing my new website. Luckily, we agreed on most things. I needed a modern, fresh site. I needed google analytics to help me reach a younger, busier audience. I needed a user-friendly mobile app. I needed to promote my blog and to downplay the fact that the publisher of my last book went bust a month after publishing it. And yes, I probably did need to start a newsletter that drew more readers to my work.

The next day, walking my dog along the beach, I felt less certain. Did I really want to write a newsletter, and about exactly what? Or did I just think that I should want to write one?

As promised, Susie emailed a mock-up of my new website a week later. I clicked on the link on my mobile. It looked great. I texted Susie, thanking her warmly. The site looked different from my old one, in a good way. With this new website, I thought to myself, I’d be free of the old me. The dead magazine story links would be dust. My work would be fresh on the page. What a relief.

Busy with my yoga course, three days went by before I opened the website link again, this time on my computer in the kitchen. It was Sunday afternoon and the light was fading in the garden.

‘Take a look at this, will you?’ I asked Emma, who’d wandered into the kitchen. ‘It’s my new website. I think I like it, but I’m just not sure’.

‘What about these uneven margins?’ Emma asked, peering over my shoulder and pointing at the screen.

‘It’s still a draft’, I said, feeling defensive on Susie’s behalf.

‘And why are the fonts on this page all different?’ she asked.

‘Oh, come on’, I said. ‘There’s lots of time to change things like that’.

‘How much are you paying Susie for this?’ she asked.

‘$50 an hour’, I said.

There was a pause.

‘I reckon I could do a website for you’, she said. ‘I’ve got nothing on right now. And it will cost you less’.

‘But you’ve never done a website before’.

‘Actually, I’ve been looking at websites for a while. I think I know a site that might work for you. It seems pretty easy to work with’.

There was another pause.

‘Okay’, I said, rising to her dare. ‘It’ll be awkward with Susie, who may not forgive me. But I’m happy for you to give it a go. I bet you can do it. How long do you need?’

‘I dunno’, she said.

‘How does three weeks sound?’

‘Yep’, she said, and left the kitchen, her phone buzzing in her hand,

I sent an apologetic email to Susie, explaining that Emma had put her hand up and that I wanted to support her. When, the next day, Susie emailed back, she couldn’t have been nicer about it. Yet I knew that what she was feeling must be more complicated than what she said in her email. ‘Good for you’, I thought to myself.

The next Saturday, coming in from walking the dog, I found Emma slouched at the computer on the kitchen table. ‘Why does this software have to be so annoying?’ she asked. ‘What can they be thinking?’ Refusing to be drawn in, I started getting dinner, confident that Emma would find her own way through if I didn’t interfere.

But she didn’t. Emma hated the time that she spent making me a new website, as much as she’d once hated doing school homework. From her moans it was clear that it felt closer to a chore than a newfound passion. ‘Forget it’, I said, coming in from gardening one day to find her slouched yet again at the computer. ‘I can ask Jo, my old web designer. She might be able to do it’. ‘Would you?’ said Emma, sounding relieved. ‘I’m so sorry, but I just can’t do this right now. There are too many other things that I want to be doing’. ‘Fine by me’, I said, lying.

If Emma hadn’t wiped my old website from the Internet, I might have done nothing for a while. Instead, I emailed Jo that night, who got straight back. She had, she said, stopped doing web design. But as it happened, a friend of hers had just had a good experience creating a website with wix, and it had made Jo curious to try it. If I didn’t mind waiting until she got the hang of using it, she was game.

The next morning, I sent through the website material to Jo, and told her not to hurry with the site. And week later, she sent through a mock-up. I was thrilled. The site didn’t look modern. It wasn’t attention-seeking. Even better, it looked like my website. The only downside was that there were too many photos with me in them. However, I decided to let Jo make the call on this.

But still I worried. ‘Is a new website just self-promotion?’ I asked myself. ‘No’, I said, silencing my inner critic. It wasn’t about the me who wondered what to cook for dinner, or who did yoga in the bathroom in the morning. It was about something else.

A few evenings later, clicking again on the link Jo had sent, I felt less sure. Lots of small things that I wanted to change jumped out at me. How had I not seen them before? Was I being a fuss-pot? ‘Don’t overthink it’, said Emma, filling a hot water bottle at the hob. ‘But’, I said crossly, ‘I am thinking about it!’

That Friday, I sat at Jo’s side in her study, a novelty after two months of lock down. It was a relief to be able to point out the little things that I wanted her to change, and to sit by as she made the changes. One by one, Jo fixed everything that had bugged me about the site. As she worked, she never said, ‘Oh Helen, what does it matter if these paragraphs are merged or not?’ She never said, ‘Who cares if that photo margin doesn’t match the text margin?’ Nor did she say, as she must have felt at 3pm, ‘I’m hungry, it’s time to stop’.

Three more times, in the following week, I sent through further changes. Each time, Jo made the changes, emailing me back when she was done. During this time, I stopped feeling like a fuss-pot. It was okay, I told myself, to care about what my new website looked like, and how it read line by line. It wasn’t about being a perfectionist. It was about paying for a service and wanting a good job.

Even if I had the skills to create a new website, and even if I had photoshop on my computer, I wouldn’t have been able to create my own website. I needed Jo’s help, her emotional support along with her technical skill. The resistance and self doubt that creating a new website provoked in me was huge. There were moments when I hated the whole business of creating a site. At other times I marveled at the options that the software threw up.

Having Jo at my side gave me permission to create a new website, making it possible –  just last Thursday – to press ‘publish’ on http://www.helenhayward.net. At which point I posted a link to the site on facebook, hung my ego on a peg, and sighed.