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Mum’s are Multifaceted, Let’s Shout it from the Rooftops!

Interview of Dani Vee by Haylee Hackenberg

Every year as Mothers Day rolls around, I gird my loins to cringe at the displays of household appliances, cleaning gear and pyjamas that are proudly displayed ‘For Mum’. Reduced to an outdated stereotype, it pains me to think of us viewed as interchangeable vessels of help. In slippers. Even in some of our favourite kids shows and books, I can’t help but notice Dad still gets to be the fun one, the problem solver, the funny one! While Mum is relegated to cooking, cleaning and comforting. All important tasks, but we don’t exchange our personalities for mop buckets in the birthing suite.

When I discovered Dani Vee’s My EXTRAordinary Mum, I was excited! A picture book that demonstrates the fun, wild, and surprising side of motherhood without downplaying the importance of quiet nurture? Sign me up!

Accompanied by colourful illustrations by Alexandra Colombo, it’s the perfect book to read along with your kids to remind them that you’re a whole person, as well as their Mum. I spoke to author, publicist, and podcaster extraordinaire Dani Vee about why she wrote My EXTRAordinary Mum.

What inspired you to write My EXTRAordinary Mum?

Two things inspired me to write this book. Firstly, I was so sick of the tried narrative representing women and mothers in mainstream media, journalism and books. When women became mothers they became one dimensional and were only valued for being the nurturer. Apparently motherhood took away any chance of fun, adventure, silliness or rebellion, as this was always reserved for the dads. Mums were fun killers, reprimanding everyone and making lunch. Women and mothers are so much more than this and our kids deserve a more sophisticated representation of motherhood and women.

The second reason I wrote this was because I discovered that even though my kids lived in the same house as me, they didn’t know me as a whole person. I was the one who told them to brush their teeth at night, but they didn’t know I had travelled to Europe alone, gone bungee jumping or that I was a singer in a pub band. I found that surprising and a little sad, the humans you have brought into the world should know the whole you. Hopefully this book opens up those conversations between parents and child and leads to a deeper relationship between the two.

You wear a lot of hats in your professional life. Why is creativity important to you and how do you balance your day job with creative pursuits?

Balance is not something I’m very good at, but something I’m trying to improve! I have a day job because I’m a single mother and it’s always been important to me to be financially independent. The creative pursuits – and there are many – are the things that make me feel alive. I’ve always been creative and in my life it has taken different forms from drama and theatre groups, appearing in commercials, being in a pub band and the Tina Turner Tribute Show, podcasting, writing – you name it, as long as I’m creating I feel good.

Creativity is not something you choose, it chooses you. And with my recent diagnosis of ADHD, it also engages, excites and challenges me. I cannot stand boredom, it gives me brain pain!

Why do we need to keep challenging stereotypes in kid-lit?

Our kids deserve more and they need to make up their own mind about things, rather than have adults tell them what to think. I grew up thinking the only option for women was to live happily ever after with a handsome ‘prince’ and if you didn’t have that something was wrong with you.  I grew up reading magazines that I think were irresponsible for telling girls to be thin, to get rid of cellulite, to banish wrinkles and basically forever stay 14 years old. As women we’ve been told to be polite and quiet and subservient otherwise we are a bitch. We’re told you’re a bad mother if you have a life other than your kids.

Single mothers get the worst stereotypes of them all, ask anyone to give you three adjectives to describe a single mum and none of them are positive. Let’s change those narratives, because to be a single mother you need to be financially independent, resourceful, able to multitask and the emotional and mental toll is significant. How about we start with those adjectives?

What were the books you liked to read as a kid and have these informed the way you write the kinds of books you write now?

I loved all books when I was a kid! Judy Blume, Babysitters Club, Heartbreak High, Virigina Andrews (which I should not have been reading at 12 years old!) Then I moved into classics and fell in love with Shakespeare, Austen, Chaucer and all the nerdy classics in university. I’m not sure if there was anything specific that informed my writing, but what I do love about books is that they can make you think in different ways, they can challenge you, make you laugh, make you feel something and ultimately change the world. So whatever I write, I think about the reader and they might react, even if they might have a laugh, humour has never been so important with the rise of mental health issues.

Finally – you speak openly about your own mental health challenges and neurodivergence. Does this affect your creative process?

The right diagnosis that I only received in 2023 has been a game changer. For decades, I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder but finally I know it’s ADHD. So, what I thought were panic attacks is often being over stimulated.  This matters! I still have a high level of anxiety, but I am on a mission to better understand my brain and how and why it reacts the way it does. ADHD has been a gift in that I can do many things, it feeds creativity and it makes me positive and enthusiastic but it’s also exhausting and comes with anxiety.

ADHD impacts my creative process by having a never ending supply of ideas, it’s like a popcorn maker with no off button, mostly great but sometimes we need to rest and sleep! Sometimes all these ideas paralyse you because you can’t always channel them. However, creativity feeds my mind, it makes me present, it makes me happy, it puts me in the zone where my anxiety can be pushed to the side. I love my brain because it makes me more creative and helps me see the world in different ways but it’s also a challenge. A challenge I wouldn’t trade for less optimism, enthusiasm and creative ideas!

My EXTRAordinary Mum is written by Dani Vee, illustrated by Alexandra Colombo and published by Larrikin House. 

Haylee Hackenberg

Haylee Hackenberg is an author based in Brisbane. You can find slices of her life and writing journey here.

Dani Vee

Dani Vee is host of the popular literary podcast Words and Nerds. With over 35,000 listeners every month and more than 400 episodes, the podcast has become a significant part of the Australian literary community. She has interviewed Matthew Reilly, Trent Dalton, Jackie French, Tara Moss, Andy Griffiths and many more.

Dani’s debut picture book ‘My EXTRAordinary Mum’, published by Larrikin House will be released in August 2022. Her ‘Unlucky Dad’ picture book series and a short story in a crime fiction anthology are coming soon!

You can also find her facilitating panels at literary festivals such as BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival and The Sutherland Shire Writers’ Festival, as well as podcasting at literary events.

Dani loves nothing more than reading Oscar Wilde with a cup of camomile tea and dark chocolate. She is a single mother and intent on changing the narrative.

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