Take 5 With...Holly Wainwright, Author The Mummy Bloggers & Head Of Content, Mamamia
Holly Wainwright, the author of funny and thought-provoking novel The Mummy Bloggers, chats mum tribes and the power of social media...
From the first moment I met Holly Wainwright in a job interview some years ago, I knew we would be friends. Smart, witty, hard working and warm, she was far removed from the scary magazine editor stereotypes you often hear about. Fortunately, I got the job and learned a great deal from Holly over the four years spent working together on OK! magazine, bonding over our love of shoes and celebrity.
Fast forward a few years, and everything I admire about my friend Holly, (who juggles being a mum of two with her role as Head Of Content at Mamamia and of course being a fabulous author) is brilliantly packaged in her funny, clever, entertaining and at times eye-opening debut novel, The Mummy Bloggers. Revolving around the lives of Abi, Elle and Liesel, three "mummy bloggers" vying for likes, followers and a prestigious blogging award with a hefty cash prize, it sets the scene for a laugh-out-loud look at the sometimes not-so-rosy behind-the-scenes (and screens!) antics that comes with social media territory.
In this exclusive chat, Holly details how The Mummy Bloggers was born, the power of social media, overcoming her own self-doubt and why all women need to let go of our guilt. A fantastic read, as is her book, which you can buy here.
When did the idea for this book start bubbling in your head, and how did the three main characters Elle, Abi and Leisel come to be?
I had been toying with the idea of writing a book for a very long time, but last Winter I had the idea for The Mummy Bloggers. At the time there was a lot of press coverage of different bloggers that was seeping into the 'mainstream' press. I've always been fascinated by the different "tribes" mothers are supposed to belong to, and I began thinking 'Imagine what it would be like to have to keep your life that interesting, all the time'. And the plot was born...
How long did it take to write, and did you ever think it was a bad idea/ or get a case of self-doubt?
I wrote the great majority of it on a six-week break from my full-time job (I'm the Head Of Content at Mamamia) in February and March this year. A bit before, and lots of editing after, but most of it then. And YES! I had self-doubt the whole time. It's a very weird business, that much writing alone. You can't help but worry that what you're writing is just awful.
How did you get it from your head to into a publisher’s hands?
Friends. My publisher Claire Kingston from Allen & Unwin and I are both members of Business Chicks, and when another friend who's involved in that business suggested we should meet because Claire would love my idea, we did. And my friend was right.
What kinds of things did you do in the name of research while writing The Mummy Bloggers?
I spent a lot of time online. Including some weird times in Internet 'hate' groups where women bitch about bloggers. It was eye-opening.
What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome to get the book finished? Has the way it’s been received surprised you in any way?
The main obstacle was time. Time vs Perfectionism is the challenge of a writer on a deadline. So far the reception has been great and I love hearing people talk about the characters as if they know them.
There are lots of references to real-life incidents / Instagram influencers in the book –did you ever worry about becoming the target of trolls yourself once the book was out there?
The characters in the book are not based on any specific people, but they are inspired by a mixture of many. I knew there was a chance some people wouldn't like it, but I have always been careful to express the respect I have for the women who write online, and so far I haven't had much blowback. I think people also realise that the book a heightened reality, and it's humour, it's not an investigative piece.
How much of role does social media play in your own life? Do you have rules about what you post ie and how long you spend on the phone at home?
I enjoy social media, but I don't live there. I have rules for myself about the number of posts I'll put up and I try really hard not to be always staring at my phone at home. But sometimes (often) I fail at that.
Which character do you think you relate to most in the book? Why?
Leisel. Because she's a frazzled working mum and I'm a frazzled working mum.
The character of Leisel really resonated with me, and even made me go ‘oh my god’ I could be Leisel – why do you think it’s important that mums continue to share the real ups and downs of motherhood on social media?
I genuinely think it's a gift to share your life honestly with others. We're in this constant state of competition online, and everyone thinks that everyone else has it all together. We all secretly think we're the only ones who are failing. We're not. Everyone's failing at something, and it's fine. I think women need to let go of our guilt, so when I hear mothers say that, I think it's worth sharing.
I also love Mark and Grace, they are the voices of reason, the ones that really puts things into perspective in the book – did you deliberately use them as vehicles to communicate your thoughts on the whole social media / blogger scene?
Pretty much! I wanted them to express the "normal" people's perspective, to show that there's a negative, self-obsessed side to our obsession with social. I can see that side, no matter how much I love my Instagram filters...
On the flip side of that the character of Elle really highlights the lengths people will go to in the name of social media and gaining followers - did you hope your book would shed light on the fact that some people’s Instagram feeds are a constructed reality?
I think we could all do with remembering that what we see on our feeds is not real life. Elle goes to real extremes to disguise what's really going on in her life, but we all do that to some degree, even if it's just refusing to put any unflattering pictures of ourselves up.
You come from a traditional print media background but now work for digital media company Mamamia, what are your thoughts on the argument that in some way the rise of the “blog-ah” and digital and social media has been blamed for its demise? Do you think there is still a place for both?
I think there's a place for both. I loved working in magazines, and I think they're are at their best now when they're doing what digital can't so easily - beautiful photography, long-form content. But you can't put the genie back in the bottle - everyone wants everything instantly and no-one wants to pay. I don't know how you get around that.
The business of blogging and art of influencing can be quite a lucrative business but as your book highlights there’s still lots of grey areas around real life Vs Instagram life – do you think “influencers” have a responsibility to act with a bit more honesty, especially when they have so many followers hanging onto their every post?
I think you should declare when you're getting paid for something. Other than that, I think we all need to educate ourselves a bit more to be comfortable knowing that what we're looking at and reading about is a very curated reality.
What do you think of suggestions of your book being turned into a series? It does have all the right makings, that’s for sure!
I would be delighted! Of course. And yes, I think it would make a great TV show. But I would ;)
What’s next for you?
I'm up to my ears in lots of exciting changes at Mamamia. Digital is never boring and we've been working really hard on fine-tuning our content lately. And hopefully, another book. But first, a week off with my family in October. We're going to Lord Howe Island, my favourite place. BRING IT ON!