Neil with his children, Kiwa, 8, and Ngaire, 6.

I am… Neil. I’m from a small town in New Zealand but I’ve lived in London for the past 11 years or so. I’ve been in Brixton for much of that time and I love it here. I’m a solo parent and I live with my two kids, Kiwa, 8, and Ngaire, 6. They have New Zealand names, I wanted them to have a reminder of those other dark and rainy islands across the sea. It’s been a tough year for us as my partner and the kids’ mum died last year. I have to say, one thing that has kept our heads above water has been the care and support of work colleagues and people in our little community. Thank you all so much.

I work as… By day I’m director of communications at an international school in central London, but also I’ve recently started a photography side project called Weekend Photos. It’s for photographers like me who have a full-time, non-photographic job, but who’d like to dabble in some professional work on the side.

My role with looking after the kids is.. Well, I do it all, from the frantic search for matching socks at the start of the day to the bedtime stories at the other end. I’ve found that the best way for me to get to where I need to be on time is to jump on my bike. At this point I’m cycling over 100km a week. I have a heavy steel bike and my pollution mask and cycle helmet look rather medieval. I ride out to battle every day.

Do you worry about work-life balance? As a solo dad who works full-time, there are times when I feel exhausted and quite overwhelmed by it all. Even though I love being with my kids, I do find myself craving time to sit and not think about anything much. Just let the world go by. Those little windows are hard to come by these days. You cherish and are nourished by them. I’ve discovered that meditation helps me to burn away negative energy and to sleep well. After a good sleep you can handle most things, even missing socks. Any kind of creative endeavour is a good outlet for me, too. And I have had a couple of amazing therapists, Sole and Matt.   

I’m the kind of dad that… I try to be strong for the kids, although I know ‘being strong’ isn’t always the answer. You can’t meet everything in life with strength. In dark times, creativity, stories and playfulness sustain us.  

As a family we… We often go to the Brixton markets and we’ll have a treat, like pizza or gelato. Sometimes we’ll play silly games at home, like making up songs or dancing to cheesy music videos. Our (okay, my) current favourite is Sorry by Justin Bieber. I do this dance called The Crab where I pretend I’m a crab and walk sideways everywhere. I am a very bad dancer.

Parenthood is… It’s beyond anything I imagined.

The biggest challenges are… I think just keeping a grip on the life admin. If you let things slide for an evening, everything falls to bits the next day, then you’re struggling for the rest of the week. I know sometimes I can be grumpy and short-tempered, and I feel terrible about it.  

The life lessons I want to pass onto my kids are… The power of stories. I hope they enjoy reading, watching and talking about stories as much as I do.

My fears for my kids… The world can be a cruel place sometimes. But I know they’ll be strong enough, and playful enough, and loved enough. And people really are mostly wonderful, wherever they are from.      

My hopes for them… I just want them to have every opportunity to enjoy the world.

To make my kids feel special… I cuddle them up as much as I can. I tell them I love them and I’m proud of them. And then I pretend I’m a crab.

The biggest surprise of fatherhood… I never thought I’d like Justin Bieber.

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Writers Bloc #1 Val McDermid

By , 25th September 2018
Features, Regulars
From imposter syndrome to plotting, in a new series for Marie Claire authors give me chapter and verse on how the writing process works for them - starting with multi award-winning crime writer Val McDermid, who has written 32 books in as many years