I discovered Mother’s Milk after seeing a submission request for adult fairy tales and was delighted when Teika Bellamy (who, with perfect serendipity, had just read and liked my poem ‘Namesake’ in Mslexia‘s One That Won section) accepted my Grief trilogy for The Forgotten and The Fantastical anthology. I was even more delighted when she agreed to publish my first poetry pamphlet. There could hardly be a more perfect publisher for a collection about mothering than a publisher that places motherhood at its core.
Teika may not be the most famous mother I’m covering in my blog but she is someone I deeply respect. She is a full-time mum who runs the publishing company from her kitchen table – no easy task – and sees mothering as integral to the other work she does. You can read my interview with her below.
- What was your journey to publishing?
Well, after my first child, my daughter, was born I decided not to go back to work after my year of maternity leave. When my daughter was sleeping I wrote, read or slept and it was during those times that I realized that although I’d found teaching to be a rewarding profession, it wasn’t quite for me. I got involved in the charity La Leche League GB, who were incredibly supportive of my decision to continue breastfeeding beyond what a lot of people thought was an already unreasonably long time to feed (one year) and so I wanted to give something back to them. I learnt how to go about editing, typesetting and publishing a book (mainly from reading books and useful websites) and then produced the fundraising anthology Musings on Mothering, which was met with huge enthusiasm. Many people emailed me to say that they loved the idea of Mother’s Milk Books, and so I decided to keep it going.
- What are the challenges of being a publisher and a full-time mum?
Now that my youngest is at school I can get a fair bit done in the six hours when both my children are busy with school, but of course I could theoretically be working a ten-hour day, because the work is never-ending. But I do stop (mostly) when they get back from school. I make them lots of snacks and we play games or do something creative together. My authors (some with young children themselves) are all very understanding of the Mother’s Milk Books ethos that ‘family comes first’. I think I strike a good balance between meeting the needs of our family as well as carrying out my publishing work. But I’m aware that the sense of guilt over doing neither fully (i.e. 100% mothering or 100% working) is always there in the background. Particularly when things like book events and festivals take me away from my family for many hours. But that is the reality of the choices I’ve made and so I have to remind myself of that, and try to be gentle with myself, too.
- What are the joys?
I think there are so many joys of being a mother I would find it difficult to list them all! Just watching my children grow into their own individual selves is a joy and a privilege. And I particularly love snuggling up with them and reading to them. When it comes to the publishing, it is rather the same (though maybe not the snuggling bit!). Watching my authors continuing successfully along their own and unique literary pathways is wonderful. And I love the buzz of holding the books that they’ve written (and that I’ve produced) in my hand.
- Mother’s Milk’s remit is to ‘normalize breastfeeding and celebrate femininity and empathy’. This is an unusual aim for a publisher. How is your choice of what to publish informed by this remit?
It is unusual! The books that I choose to publish don’t have to have breastfeeding in them, but if breastfeeding is a part of the book, then I’m looking for it to be written about in an educated and authentic way. There is far too much misinformation about breastfeeding in the world already, and I don’t want to add to that. If books come to me that don’t have breastfeeding in them, then I’m looking for them to be written with intelligence and to have a theme and characters that readers can empathise with. Oy, the hero from Oy Yew by Ana Salote, is one of the gentlest, though strongest and most empathetic characters in a children’s/crossover book that I’ve come across in a long time. So I just knew that I had to publish Oy Yew and its sequels.
- How does your work as a publisher fit with your mothering in a practical and ideological sense?
Practically, my publishing work fits in well with my mothering because, in essence, I am self-employed and so I can fit work around family commitments. (Although it’s worth mentioning that I still don’t pay myself because there isn’t enough money in the press’s pot!). In an ideological sense, I think that publishing is a powerful, yet non-aggressive, way of bringing new ideas to light, of spreading truth and disseminating facts about the issues of our age. It’s also about getting marginalised voices out there, and of making unheard stories heard. Women’s stories have been dismissed for centuries, so publishing in this day and age is a good way of making sure that women’s voices are given a platform. These are all things that I care deeply about. I believe that independent publishers, who care more about the stories and authors than they do about their profit margins (unlike the traditional publishers), are providing a vital service to society. And I’m proud to be part of the independent publishing scene.
- Which Mother’s Milk achievement are you proudest of and why?
Well, I’m incredibly proud of all that I’ve achieved with Mother’s Milk Books over the past four-and-a-half years, but just keeping going and staying afloat has to be the achievement I’m most proud of. Running a small press, without grants or external funding, is incredibly hard, and I’m just pleased to have got this far.
- Tell us about the award you won recently
I recently won the Women in Publishing’s New Venture Award for pioneering work on behalf of under-represented groups in society, which was amazing, really. It was just lovely to be nominated, actually, and to win it was the icing on the cake.
- If you could change anything about the way mothers are seen or treated today what would it be?
There’s probably a lot that I’d change. Mothers play a huge part in making our society run smoothly; I think all carers do such valuable work, but they aren’t rewarded, or even acknowledged for what they do, day in, day out. Bringing up children — raising the next generation — has to be one of the most important jobs there is, but the vital work of mothering is often dismissed or taken for granted. I wish there was more support for all carers, mothers, fathers and families, in general, and I wish that mothers who choose to be at home with their young children were supported more too. There is an idea that mothers who don’t return to paid employment after they have children aren’t contributing to society, which is a false and unempathetic notion. I’m glad that the charity Mothers At Home Matter speaks up for those who have actively chosen to be at home with their children and I very much agree with this, their statement online:
A progressive, modern society makes sure that its citizens have time to care for each other, and especially for their children and young people. A civilised society makes sure families can afford time to care, can afford a decent home to rent or to buy, can afford to nurture relationships and aren’t forced to all work ever-longer hours outside the home, leaving no time for family, for the young or the elderly and for the care we all rely on at some points in our lives. http://www.mothersathomematter.co.uk/
The western world is incredibly fixated on material wealth and the individual’s needs, as well as only measuring success – and worth – in economic terms… but time and time again this neoliberal model has been shown to fail to meet the true needs of society and the needs of children and families. But change is possible, and we can all play a part, no matter how small, of making the world the way we want it to be for our children, the next generation.
I look forward to seeing some of you on Sunday.
Order Pamphlet Echolocation from Mother’s Milk Books