A Life in Words – Susan Maushart on writing about your family without being disowned

Ever texted your teen to get them to the dinner table, or had to resort to a Facebook post to get a message across to your family? How about being locked off the family computer by someone intent on playing games, or needing a TV for everyone in your household to stop the rows over what to watch?

For those of you who have been tempted to pull the plug, and the modem, meet journalist and commentator Susan Maushart. For her latest book, Winter of our Disconnect, she not only persuaded her family to allow their exploits to be published, but to sign off from the Information Age for six months. That’s no screens or social media in the home  – iPods, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter and TV were all out. How did they survive it, and more importantly, how did she persuade them to agree?

For Winter of our Disconnect, you persuaded your tech-addicted family to go offline and become a screen less household. How did you convince your children to let you write about them?

I bribed them!

Do they enjoy seeing themselves in print? Do you, or your family, ever “act up” for the story?

I think they more tolerate it than enjoy it. We are all pretty strong willed, opinionated and funny so there’s usually no need to turn on anything extra. Turn it down is more like it.

Do you ever have to run copy past them? Or offer sweeteners (and what sort – I’m thinking it would be a great chance to wangle for a pony)?

No. I have never sought their approval for anything. I’ve been rapped over the knuckles a few times… but I have to say, only a very few. They have been amazingly lenient towards me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing about them literally since they were babies…

If this had been a fiction novel, what would have happened?

Er, I would have met a Liam Neeson/Colin Firth lookalike while out on an ipod-free walk with Rupert … and we would have, er, connected?

While the book documents a change from being constantly being connected, what aspect of Social Media did you miss the most?

I didn’t miss social media at all really. I missed my podcasts the most. And not being able to watch movies at home all winter was a real bummer. The cosiness factor is something I hadn’t really thought about.

You describe yourself on The Australian as being a “control freak”. You get total control of the future direction of a social media site – Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, whichever. What do you do, and why?

I laugh about being a control sneak but the truth is I have TOO much control in my life, and too much decision making, and too many opportunities to showcase my life. For these reasons, I’m pretty blasé about social media. My Facebook page is very badly neglected, and I don’t do the others…

Have any of your children shown an urge to write about the family from their point of view, and how do you think you’d handle it?

My daughters have both assisted with publicising The Winter of Our Disconnect, and trust me they DO present their own point of view. The only way writing from life, or memoir, can work is if you are searing honest about yourself and your limitations. It’s a standard I continually strive for, and if they were to go down the same track I would hope they would too.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.