Can you give readers a “potted history” of your background and what led you to writing this book?
I am a journalist and presenter on BBC news. I am also a mother of three daughters aged 4, 7 and 9. And, I write books – Simply Wonderwoman was published last October and I am currently writing two more which are due out next year. I started writing because I love making things and doing practical stuff around the house, and friends and family would always ask me how I did it – both in the “how to” sense, and the broader issue of how I fit everything in. My answer is always that I do things the easy way – everything is simple, nothing takes long to do. I think a desire to simplify everything comes from my journalistic background – or maybe that’s why I went into journalism. That job’s about making the complicated accessible, which is exactly what I do at home. If I want to make something, I will work out a simple way of doing it that doesn’t require special skills or expensive equipment.
Striving to achieve the often unattainable ideal of the “doing it all super woman”, can sometimes have the reverse effect and leave us feeling inadequate by comparison. What is your view on this and how does your book differ from traditional “domestic goddess” publications?
I called the book Simply Wonderwoman to reflect the fact that it is very easy to look at other women – people we know and marketed images – and think that they do somehow have superhuman qualities that mean they are gliding along smoothly, while we are somehow failing. It’s very easy for us to put ourselves under too much pressure and feel like everything has to be perfect. What I wanted to say with Simply Wonderwoman is that you do NOT have to be perfect. Life isn’t about that. Simplify, cut corners where you can, and don’t feel guilty.
In your book, you mention that there was a time when life was slightly more chaotic. That the systems and tips that you have applied were in fact the result of deciding you’d had enough of running around like a mad thing trying to do everything at once. What made you decide “enough is enough!”?
The fact that I was sick of feeling like my head was always full and I couldn’t focus on what I needed to do. The thing is, I’ve always been great at finding time for the things I love to do, but terrible at focusing on the boring things that I have to do, until I’m faced with a deadline (that journalist thing again). I just finally got to the stage where I knew I needed to get a grip on the “boring” stuff to free me up for the “nice” stuff. I was feeling resentful, always under pressure, never enough time for myself, never appreciated. By stepping back and focusing on where I was going wrong, I realised that it’s not actually difficult to be organised with a few simple ideas, strategies and tips. There’s a saying that a minute spent organising is an hour saved. I actually think the equation is much better than that, because you don’t just save the time that gets wasted hunting out something that’s lost, or trawling through lists of places to stay because everywhere’s booked up… or whatever it is. If you’re one step ahead, you clear out the head space that gets cluttered with the constant low level panic of knowing you’ve got to do things that never quite get done.
Where did you start with the task of streamlining your day to day life?
One of the first things I did was work out a way to stop forgetting things every time I left the house. The shopping list, the school reply slip, letters to post. So many things I’d leave on the side and only remember before it was too late. So I decided I needed a way of having them right under my nose when I walked out the door – that way I couldn’t forget. So I stuck a peg to my front door with double sided tape. Genius – though I say so myself! So simple, took about 2 seconds to do, but changed my life! And that’s the principle I apply to everything – keep it simple. So, I write everything down. I have a long loop of leather attached to my keys to hang them round my neck when I’m dashing around so I don’t lose them. I write plans in the diary the moment I make them and book the babysitter – if needed – right away. I guess you could say, I have idiot-proofed my life. Although not entirely. I’m not perfect. I do still forget things or put things on a back burner when I know I shouldn’t, but it doesn’t get on top of me anymore.
What would you say to readers who might feel that bringing order to “chaos” might seem an insurmountable task?
Small steps. Do one thing each day. You simply cannot take on everything all at once. The problem is, looking at the sum of our problems often makes it too scary to deal with them. How to focus? Where to begin? Just pick off one thing first of all, that is causing you the most annoyance. For me, it was forgetting the damned school reply slips. And the lost keys. Make a list of what’s getting you down. Everything, from never having anything to wear through to the dripping tap. Then pick your way through the list, dealing with one thing at a time.
I find that getting things done with a toddler permanently attached to my leg can be tricky (!) plus I want him to learn at an early age that we all have to do our bit in the home. Do you have any tips on involving young children in household chores?
I remember often being desperate to “help out” at home when I was little and my mum not letting me because it was quicker for her to do it herself. I think of that when my daughters want to “help” and I know that actually they’re going to get in the way. It reminds me that sometimes I should let them join in, or they’ll get to a stage where they don’t ask anymore and just expect me to get on with everything. I’ve also realised as they get bigger how important it is not to underestimate what they can actually do. My four year old is perfectly capable of laying the table. And she makes her bed better than her sisters, without me even asking, just because she sees them do theirs and just copies.
But this book isn’t just for women with children is it…
I wrote this book for anyone who feels their life could be simpler. We’re all under a lot of pressure, juggling – whether it’s work and kids, home and kids, caring for another family member, like a parent or sibling – whatever it is, who doesn’t want/need to save time, money and effort…
Do you still have your “off” days when things just don’t run smoothly despite your best efforts?
Of course! I am not perfect.
Ok, I’m gonna be mean now! If you were to make just ONE recommendation from the many tips and tricks in your book, which one would most encompass the “minimum effort, maximum return” mantra you talk about? Your biggest “Eureka” moment…
Ha, obviously I would say all my tips and tricks are life-changing, but if I had to pick one…it would probably be “how to never have to clean your oven again”. I came up with this because it was driving me crazy that every time I turned on my oven a cloud of smoke would billow out from the carbonised remains spot welded to the surfaces. So, I got thinking about those steam ovens you can buy, that steam clean the oven after each use, but cost a fortune. I wondered whether I might be able to do the same trick for free in my own oven. The answer is yes! Just put a bowl of boiling water in the oven when you switch it off and it is still hot. The steam will emulsify the grease so it wipes away easily when it cools down. I literally have never had to clean my oven again, beyond a quick wipe down. THAT was definitely a eureka moment. You do need to give the oven a good once over first, if it’s really dirty – too boring to go into now, but plenty of tips in the book!!
The purpose of the first section of your book is to buy time “for the things in life that make your heart sing”. Why sewing and crafting?
I love the process of making – it’s when my head clears completely and I relax. It’s funny when people ask me how relax, as if making is a chore. I just find it pleasurable. I really enjoying doing diy and decorating too – anything practical. With sewing, knitting and making, I think you can so easily make things nicer than you can buy, for a fraction of the cost. What’s not to love?!
You are currently in the process of writing another book. Can you tell us a little about it and when we can expect to see it on the shelves?
It is due out next March, so my writing deadline is looming! It is all about things home made. It follows on from Simply Wonderwoman, with the same principles – minimum effort, maximum return. Everything is easy to do and useful. I can’t wait to share it!
And I for one shall look forward to reading it! Sincerest thanks to Joanna for taking the time to squeeze my little blog interview into her schedule.
***THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED***
It seems there is no end to this lady’s generosity since she has happily provided a copy of Simply Wonderwoman for one lucky reader to win.
Yay! The giveaway is open internationally. To enter simply leave a comment telling us your best tip or trick for saving time or getting organised. Your very own “Eureka” moment if you like. Additional entries by Tweeting, Facebooking, Linking to this Giveaway on your blog, following this blog etc. Just let me know which, and I’ll pop an extra entry into the hat. (You know how it works 🙂 The Giveaway closes midnight GMT on Friday 27th April. Winner announced here shortly thereafter, so be sure to check back.
If you don’t want to wait for the Giveaway Simply Wonderwoman is available here 🙂