Author

ZOE DELEUIL

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Former engineer and Perth mother-of-four, Loretta Hill, has found a new career penning best-selling novels about life and love on the mines. She chats to Zoe Deleuil about how she combines writing and motherhood.  

Mine sites in the Pilbara aren’t generally considered the most romantic of settings, but for Perth author and mother-of-four, Loretta Hill, they’ve provided the inspiration and characters for two successful romance novels, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots and The Girl in the Hard Hat, which was published in January.  

Although she always loved writing, publishing her first short story in The West Australian at the age of 11, Hill followed her father’s advice to pursue a ‘sensible career’ and completed degrees in both engineering and commerce at UWA. Upon graduation she was offered a scholarship and a job with a West Australian engineering company and went straight to work in outback Queensland and the Pilbara. But, after three-and-a-half years, she’d had enough. 

“In the mining industry, I worked twelve hour shifts for five weeks straight, and at the end of that you’re so zonked, it takes you half your week off to recover.”

“I felt like a workaholic, and I never saw my friends and family,” she says. “In the mining industry, I worked twelve hour shifts for five weeks straight, and at the end of that you’re so zonked, it takes you half your week off to recover.” 

She found another job in Perth as a design engineer, meeting her husband and starting a family soon afterwards. Throughout those years of work interspersed with maternity leave she continued writing. She’d completed her first novel, The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots, when she’d returned from the Pilbara and her experiences were still fresh in her mind.  

“But real characters kept walking onto the page, so I left it for awhile and then I had my first child, Luke. I was so sleep deprived that I decided to focus on editing rather than writing, and I ended up spending about three years revising it.” 

The next step was finding a publisher. “I’ve been very lucky,” she says modestly. “In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested. Normally you need an agent to send your work to publishing houses, but by pitching it directly I managed to skip that step.” 

  

“I was so sleep deprived that I decided to focus on editing rather than writing, and I ended up spending about three years revising it.”

The next step was finding a publisher. “I’ve been very lucky,” she says modestly. “In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested. Normally you need an agent to send your work to publishing houses, but by pitching it directly I managed to skip that step.” 

While waiting for news, Loretta found a literary agent, which was easier with a publisher already interested. Eventually the original publisher rejected her novel, but her agent sold it to Random House soon afterwards. It was published in January 2012 and became an immediate bestseller, enabling Loretta to employ a part-time nanny with the royalties while she began work on a second book.  

“I had Beth, my third child, in January 2012. Random House wanted another book within nine months, so that was a busy time,” she says. “Mum helped out a lot and my husband gave me all day Sunday to write. I got the second book done but didn’t have much family time, which was hard. Luckily my editor said the quality was still good, otherwise she would have pushed it back.” 

“I’ve been very lucky. In 2010 I went to a writers’ conference in Melbourne where writers could give five-minute pitches about their manuscripts, and I managed to get someone interested.”

Loretta now has four children, Luke, 5, James, 4, Beth, 2, and Michael, 7 months. Writing is squeezed in between the demands of raising a family, with the two worlds sometimes colliding in unexpected ways, such as having to bribe her children with Freddo Frogs to return the missing ‘f’ key of her laptop, which had become a little loose and then vanished after creating a particularly foul-mouthed character in her second novel.  

“I have a nanny on Fridays and my mum does a half day once a week. Anything else I can snatch is a bonus. Sometimes my husband gives me a couple of hours on the weekend, but generally we try to reserve those for family time. I suppose I love writing too much to not do it. When I’m looking after my kids, my stories are always playing in the background. I can’t seem to escape my alternate reality.” 

“I had Beth, my third child, in January 2012. Random House wanted another book within nine months, so that was a busy time.”

The novels are page-turning romances that capture the tensions and intensity of living day-in, day-out with the same faces, the rough humour, the harshness and physical beauty of the desert landscape. Hill has drawn heavily on her own experience of working on a port construction site where men outnumbered women 350 to five.  

Online reviews enthuse about the characters, the confident storytelling and the detailed picture Loretta builds of life as a FIFO worker – something that, for all the wealth it generates, remains mysterious to many Australians.  

The novels are page-turning romances that capture the tensions and intensity of living day-in, day-out with the same faces, the rough humour, the harshness and physical beauty of the desert landscape.

The success of her novels, after years of work, hasn’t stopped Hill, who is already hard at work on another FIFO novel, The Girl in the Yellow Vest, this time set in Queensland. “I get a lot of fan mail from women in the industry, as well as FIFO wives who want to find out more about life in the mining industry. It’s a gruelling way to make a living, hard on relationships, and I think people who know that life enjoy my books. Other readers are simply curious about life in outback Australia.”  

Perth mother Imelda Bhalsod has two exceptionally gifted children, both now accepted into Mensa. She chats to Zoe Deleuil about the unique challenges and rewards of raising her boys.

“There’s a difference between high-achieving kids and ones with high IQs.”

Many parents secretly believe their offspring are somewhat advanced, but beating the usual milestones by a couple of years is a less common experience. When Caversham mother Imelda Bhalsod’s son, Isaac, could identify more than twenty colours at eleven months of age, started reading at two and could complete 500-piece jigsaws by the age of four, she wondered if she needed to do more to satisfy his appetite for learning. “He was different,” says Imelda. “I was with him all the time so I just knew. Maybe it was my maternal instinct.”

She had him sent for a psychometric assessment in January 2013, where he was found to have an IQ in the 99th percentile rank (the top one per cent of the population) at the age of five. This meant he could join Mensa, the best-known high-IQ society in the world, which accepts people with a score within the top two per cent of the population.

His younger brother, Jeremiah, now four, soon followed suit with an IQ in the 99.7th percentile rank. He is currently the youngest person in WA to be a member of Mensa. “We could see a pattern this time, so we weren’t surprised when he showed early signs of being exceptional.”

The boys are also members of The Gifted and Talented Children’s Association of WA (gatcawa.org), which gives them the opportunity to mix with other bright kids, play in a chess club and go on excursions, and also provides resources to parents.

Although genes clearly play a part, with both Imelda and her husband, Ashwin, being University educated, the couple believe that the boys’ giftedness is a blessing from God. Imelda also feels that providing her boys with a secure base has benefited their learning.

“We’ve always stuck to a routine, with set times for naps, music practise, play time, TV. Every night we read in bed with them for half an hour. If they know what the basic routine is then that frees them up to be learning and exploring. They also spend a lot of time on the computer, but we’re strict about what they do. They have a wide range of literacy-based computer software which are great fun and wonderfully educational, and they can play strategy games such as chess, but we don’t allow computer games.”

“The boys love rock climbing, golfing and fishing with their dad. We try to give them a balance between fun and work.”

As well as school and extracurricular activities such as violin and chess, the boys are given every opportunity to learn and discover in their own time. “The weekends are much freer – there’s no routine. They spend a lot of time outdoors and we go on short trips away to caravan parks so they can roam around. The boys love rock climbing, golfing and fishing with their dad. We try to give them a balance between fun and work,” says Imelda.

And are there any challenges to raising a gifted child? “When Isaac was in pre-primary his teacher told us that he was often playing up because he was simply bored. He was then accelerated into Year 1 at the recommendation of a psychologist. Jeremiah has also skipped a year in school. Once they’ve mastered something they don’t want to repeat it, they want to move on,” says Imelda.

“And you have to be aware of peer pressure. Lots of Mensa parents are afraid that their children will underachieve in school because they want to fit in, they don’t want to be the ‘nerdy’ one. And you can’t talk freely about these issues because people might think you are suffering from ‘First World problems’. Fortunately their school has been fantastic – they are always asking us what they can do to help.”

IQ testing has been criticised over the years for focussing only on a narrow range of skills, without measuring qualities such as emotional intelligence. Some gifted children also feel isolated from their peers, preferring the company of adults, but fortunately Imelda has not found this to be an issue. “They will play with anyone – older and younger kids. The school has a great community that they feel a part of, and they have also made friends through Mensa, GATCA, music classes and Sunday School at church.”

Imelda also stresses that she’s no pushy Tiger Mum. “There’s a difference between high-achieving kids and ones with high IQs. The gifted kids work less because they already have the ability and you don’t need to push them. Our kids are dragging us behind them; we’re just trying to keep up. All we can do is make the resources available. For example, I introduced them to music, but it was their decision to play the violin, and because they chose it themselves they like it.”

Imelda doesn’t see herself going back to work in the near future, but plans to devote her time to giving her boys the attention they need. “I look at it not as a sacrifice but a privilege. A lot of women don’t have the option to stay home and be with their children for financial reasons, so I feel very blessed. I’ll be here for them as long as they need me.”

It’s natural to wonder what lies ahead for such bright children, but for now the family is happy to just let them enjoy being kids. “I don’t know what they’ll be when they grow up. That’s not something we can plan. At the moment Isaac wants to be a vet and Jeremiah a pilot, but that may change. We don’t want to push them in a particular direction, because if they choose it for themselves they will be happy.”

The gifted kids work less because they already have the ability and you don’t need to push them. Our kids are dragging us behind them; we’re just trying to keep up.

Is your child gifted?

As a parent you are in the best position to identify your child’s talents and passions. Signs that your child may be particularly gifted include:

  • An unusually good memory
  • Early reading
  • Unusual hobbies or interests, or an in-depth knowledge of certain subjects
  • An awareness of world events
  • Asks questions all the time
  • Developed sense of humour
  • Musical
  • Likes to be in control
  • Makes up additional rules for games

 

About Mensa

Mensa was founded in Oxford in 1946 by Australian barrister Roland Berrill and Oxford student Lancelot Ware. The test to join Mensa is now held four times a year.

There are some 1300 Mensa members in Australia, with five members under the age of five. Mensa does not assess children under the age of 14, but they can sit a Mensa-approved test, conducted by a registered psychologist, and submit the results. A qualifying score is a result at or above the 98th percentile – that is, a score in the range achieved by the top two percent of the population.

Being smarter than the average person can be an isolating way of life, so the main benefit for many members is a chance to connect with other, exceptionally bright, people, along with learning more about themselves. Parents of Mensa children also find they can talk comfortably about their children’s educational needs without feeling like they are boasting.

mensa.org.au

A magic touch goes a long way: How expecting mothers can now experience the benefits of day spa pampering, such as pregnancy massages, specifically for mothers-to-be.

Pregnancy. A time of joy, glowing health and a blooming figure. Not to mention cankles, backache, heartburn, piles and, at times, a less than serene temper. It’s a life event that has always fascinated Amy Mitchell, from when she was at high school and guessed there was a pregnant girl in her class, weeks before anyone knew. “I can pick a pregnant woman a mile away,” she says. “It’s something I’ve always been tuned in to. I don’t enjoy being pregnant myself, but I love helping women through it. You never have that time again that you have with your first baby. It’s such a precious thing.”

Amy studied massage therapy after leaving school, completing a business unit as part of her course. “That was a real light bulb moment,” she says. “Marketing and business development are my thing; I have idea after idea.” She started work as a therapist at the age of 19, and particularly enjoyed working with expectant mothers. “I’d get all warm knowing that there was a baby in the room, benefiting from the massage, too.”

But it was only while pregnant with her first child that she spotted that elusive gap in the market. “I felt so sick in my first few weeks, and all I wanted was a good massage, but every spa I approached refused to treat me because they didn’t touch anyone who was less that 12 weeks pregnant.”

I’d get all warm knowing that there was a baby in the room, benefiting from the massage, too.”

After the birth of her daughter Macy, Amy started talking seriously with her husband, Dan, about establishing a pregnancy spa. Taking a leap of faith, they sold their house and the proceeds – their life savings – went towards establishing the first Yummy Mummy Pregnancy Day Spa in Leederville in September 2010. The day the family moved out of their house Amy realised she was pregnant again, with son Fraser, now two. “I know my brain turns to mush at six months so I worked incredibly hard to establish the spa in the first few months. Luckily, we got busy really quickly.”

Since then the business has steadily expanded, with the original spa followed by ones in Woodvale and Kalgoorlie in 2012. “I only ever planned to have one, but the opportunities have just fallen into my lap. I’m now thinking of a franchise across Australia,” she says.

Taking a leap of faith, they sold their house and the proceeds – their life savings – went towards establishing the first Yummy Mummy Pregnancy Day Spa in Leederville in September 2010.

Like many self-employed mothers, Amy has mastered the art of working in short bursts, and switching from work to parenting as required, with a bit of paid childcare thrown in. “Being my own boss means I’ve been able to find the right work-life balance. It hasn’t always been like this, I’ve had to learn along the way. I once sent out 30,000 flyers with the wrong telephone number on them, and that was when I realised I couldn’t do both mum and work at once, so about a year ago we found some part-time childcare for the kids. I generally do a couple of hours a day and have two full days when the kids are at day care. I have a very short attention span so it happens in spurts, and then the rest of the time I’m just Mummy.’

She’s also highly appreciative of her husband, who provides both practical support and a patient sounding board for her endless business ideas. “He’ll take the kids to the park if I need to get something out fast. And he’s the polar opposite of me, more of a details person. I’ll come up with an idea and he’ll say, ‘So how are you going to do it?’ He’s been an awesome support, I couldn’t do it without him.’

“Being my own boss means I’ve been able to find the right work-life balance. It hasn’t always been like this, I’ve had to learn along the way.

And her number one tip for success?

Prioritise. My To-Do lists are huge, but I have to be content with what I can realistically achieve – I do absolute essentials, and just try and take a couple of steps forward each day so I am constantly moving forward.”

Everything you need (and a few things you don’t, but might find useful) to welcome your perfect first-born into the world.

Getting ready for your first baby can easily become a frenzy of internet research, earnest conversations followed by enormous bills in various baby shops, refunds, exchanges and 3am nightmares about getting laughed at by the midwives for not having any clothes big enough for your newborn (actually, that wasn’t a nightmare, it happened to me).

There’s something about the nesting instinct that can send even the most lacklustre shopper into a frenzy of credit-card swiping. Or maybe it’s the way everyone loves to tell you that once the baby comes you’ll never be able to do anything, ever again, let alone buy baby gear. Shopping? Forget it, they say. You’ll be wearing that exact same outfit in three years time. Eating? Get real. You’ll be living on toast crumbs and KFC. No wonder first-time mothers panic.

But post-birth, you realise that the shops are still there and you are more than capable of visiting them. However, you may as well use that ferocious nesting instinct while it lasts to get super-organised before the birth. Here’s a list of essentials, as well as a few things that will make those early days a bit easier.

First things first: packing your hospital bag

Ideally you should do this by 35 weeks. Before you start, find out what your hospital provides. Some hand out nappies, and baby clothes, while others don’t – check this out and save yourself extra packing. Don’t let your partner be the one dragging three suitcases and a birthing ball across the hospital car park.

For labour
  • Snacks for you and your birth partner, eg bananas, muesli bars, lollies or boxes of juice
  • Water bottle (one with a bendy straw works well)
  • Lip balm
  • Old nightie, sarong or old, loose dress to give birth in, sarong (or ask for a gown when you get in)
  • A water spray is good if it’s hot
  • A hot water bottle can help with pain
  • Music, massage oil and a birthing ball
  • Birth plan & hospital notes
  • Camera

However, if you leave the house in a rush or your baby comes early, don’t panic – the hospital will have everything you actually require.

Hospital Stay
  • Pack comfortable clothes for afterwards
  • Toiletries
  • Breastfeeding bras if you’re planning to breastfeed
  • Maternity pads
  • Plastic bag for dirty clothes
  • A baby care book is useful for any middle-of-the-night panics if the postnatal ward is busy
  • Snacks such as fruit or muesli bars if you miss a meal
  • Phone and camera
    For baby
  • Baby nappies
  • Baby wipes
  • Newborn jumpsuits (eg. five babygros). You don’t know how big the baby is going to be, so better to bring footless babygros and little socks. (Make sure everything is freshly washed using a laundry powder for sensitive skin.)
  • A soft hat & vests are important as newborns need to be kept warm
  • A blanket

Back at home

Essential clothes
  • Six to ten cotton babygros. Footless jumpsuits worn with socks will last longer and are guaranteed to fit, while legless ones are good for hot days, or you can combine them with leggings for easy nappy changes. They will grow out of these in no time, so don’t go overboard
  • Six cotton vests
  • Tiny socks – six pairs should be fine; get longish ones that can be pulled up over leggings
  • A few cardigans or jackets if it’s a winter baby
  • A couple of soft cotton hats
  • Three rugs to wrap your baby in – flannel or light wool ones for winter, cotton for summer
  • Muslin wraps are handy for wrapping a summer baby in or for mopping up spills!
  • Nappies

It’s a good idea to stock up on disposable nappies – at least four packs. Own-brand supermarket nappies are fine, and considerably cheaper if you’re on a budget, or stock up when the named brands are on sale.

A wide range of cloth nappies is available locally from Booty Crawl www.bootycrawl.com.au Six is a good amount to start with, but if you decide to use them full time you’ll need around 24, if you do a load of washing every second day. With our sunny climate, cloth nappies really aren’t as much work as you might think, so worth looking into.

The average baby will go through some 7,000 nappies at a cost of around $3,500 before he or she is toilet-trained, so you might want to think about using a combination of cloth nappies for use at home and disposables when going out – both to reduce your contribution to landfill and to save money. And get in the habit of putting any ‘solids’ into the toilet, not the bin – it’s better for the environment.

For cleaning

Unscented wipes are good for when you’re out and about; at home water and cotton wool is gentler on newborn skin. A portable change mat is handy for taking out with you, while a wipe-clean one is essential for use at home.

For bath time, you can use a very mild soap and a sorbolene cream for afterwards. Blunt nail scissors are good for that first nerve-wracking nail trim.

Feeding your baby…

Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need some Lansinoh and breast pads, and may also need the phone number of a good lactation consultant, plus books or websites for any out-of-hours questions. Robin Barker’s bestselling Baby Love has a huge amount of straightforward information and advice on breastfeeding. And bookmark a couple of breastfeeding websites, such as Kellymom (kellymom.com) or La Leche League (llli.org).

You’ll also need suitable clothes – a few good breastfeeding bras and loose tops; you can always drape yourself with a shawl for modesty. Mothers Direct (mothersdirect.com.au) has a good range of clothes and other breastfeeding equipment.

Breastfeeding can mean being pinned to a couch on a regular basis, so remember to have some snacks ready to go: fruit, biscuits, nuts, muesli bars, cheese and crackers, hummus and carrot sticks or dried fruit, as well as the remote control and a large bottle of water to stay hydrated – it’s thirsty work. A Kindle is another good breastfeeding companion – light and easy to use with one hand, and no pages to turn.

Bottlefeeding

You’ll need six to eight 250-280ml bottles with newborn teats, as well as a bottle brush and disinfecting equipment (chemical soaking solutions or a steam steriliser), and formula labelled ‘standard from birth’. Check measurements carefully and always make up formula according to the instructions.

Sleeping

A bassinette is useful and portable for the early days, but babies aren’t in them for long – about four months – so can easily go straight into a cot from day one. There are plenty on the market, as well as secondhand ones on Gumtree or eBay.

IKEA does a good basic model (Sniglar, $99) that has two heights and removable sides, and can be bolted to your bed for night-time feeds and safe co-sleeping in the early weeks.

You’ll also need three or four cot sheets, a new mattress and some light blankets.

Sleeping bags are great for keeping babies warm (and asleep for longer). Grobags are good quality and will last through several babies if necessary – try The Sleep Store (thesleepstore.com.au) for a wide range. A mosquito net is also handy in summer – there’s nothing more guilt-inducing than waking up to a baby covered in mozzie bites.

SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents are the leading cause of sudden and unexpected death in babies aged one month to one year. Mattresses should be clean, firm, well-fitting and flat, and there should be no puffy or soft bedding, as this can increase the risk of suffocation. The Sids and Kids website has a useful guide to making up a cot to meet current safety recommendations (sidsandkids.org).

Getting around…

Car seat

This is one thing you definitely need before you leave the hospital

You’ll need one that has been approved to the Australian Standards AS/NZS 1754 for child car restraints.
Kidsafe (kidsafewa.com.au) recommends buying a new car seat rather than a secondhand one, particularly if it’s more than ten years old.
A baby’s car seat needs to be rearward facing, properly fitted to the car (you can have this done for you) and adjusted to fit the baby’s body. The car seat should always be in the back of the car where possible.

Prams and strollers

Essentially, you need an adjustable pram that can lie flat for the first few months and then move into an upright position once your baby can support her head – this will last from birth until he refuses to get into it. Buy the best you can afford, particularly if you walk a lot, or look for a secondhand one on gumtree or eBay – a cheap pram is a false economy as it will either break or drive you mad.

Other useful features to look out for are good sun protection and space underneath to store your bag. Lightweight models are preferable, particularly if you have to deal with stairs on a regular basis, but you don’t want it to be too flimsy. Look for good steering, suspension and an easy folding action – try them in the shops before you buy. And for safety, it should have a secure seatbelt that holds the baby firmly in place, good brakes and ideally a wrist strap so the pram can’t roll away from you.

Nappy bag

This needs to be big enough for a fold-up changing mat (great in grotty public toilets), a few nappies, wipes, a change of clothes and the usual phone, keys and wallet. Don’t feel compelled to buy the one with pink elephants on it – it’s really not expected these days.

Non-essential but nice to have

  • A baby bath is handy, but newborns can be bathed in the kitchen sink, and when they’re a bit bigger they are fine in a normal bath.
  • A breast pump can be useful if you want to go to bed early and let your partner give the first night feed, or to leave some expressed milk with a babysitter. But it’s also one of those things that you might find you rarely use, so don’t rush into buying one too quickly.
  • Equipment for getting out and about can make life easier, such as a waterproof picnic rug, a thermos, and a nappy mat with holders for wipes and nappies. A coffee cup holder for your pram is by no means essential but better than juggling (or spilling) your precious double-shot latte.
  • Baby massage oil is great to use after a bath or to calm down a fractious baby – warm it between your hands and make sure the room is warm, too.
  • Swaddling rugs or armless swaddle blankets work well for some babies, keeping them warm tightly ‘held together’ so they don’t wake themselves up.
  • A baby monitor is good for hearing your baby if you’re out in the garden or in another part of the house.
  • Slings are handy for walking the floor late at night to get your baby to sleep, or for keeping your hands free when out and about or doing things around the house. Baby Bjorn and Ergo are popular models, but it’s worth borrowing a few and seeing which one feels most comfortable for you. Babes in Arms (www.babesinarms.com.au) has a good comparison table of different models and brands.
  • A bouncy chair is great to sit your baby in so he can look around. A fleece or rug is also handy for letting him lie on the floor or for tummy time.