There may be a pandemic on, but that does not mean that I am unable to provide any learning opportunities. Just scoot on over to my Virtual Events page and you’ll find regular Speedwrite Live sessions, Book Writing Circles and my popular In Conversation interviews. In November I am delighted to have two fabulous ones lined up…
In Conversation with Berni Nason
Thursday 12th November at 2pm UK time
When the pandemic put paid to her acting and storytelling assignments Brit in Texas, Berni, decided to write her second memoir, Stealing Baby Jesus. Find out how she did it so quickly, where she looks for ideas and how her experience of acting and storytelling help the writer of memoir.
Register to listen to my questions and ask your your own here.
In Conversation with Olga Mecking
Thursday 26th November at 2pm UK time
If you have missed the news lately then you may have missed the extensive coverage my friend, Olga, has been experiencing as the result of publishing her book, Niksen, The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing. Not only did publishers fight over it but foreign language rights have been sold across the globe. So, how did a Polish expat, with English as a thirdl language get so lucky? Learn tips and tricks from the writer I (not so secretly) have nicknamed The Rottweiler.
Register to listen to my questions and ask your own here.
And, God willing, my popular, successful residential course will take place next August. Hurry, if you want to grab yourself a place.
Start Writing Your Life Stories with me at The Watermill at Posara
Sadly, the pandemic prevented my 2020 course from going ahead in Tuscany, but I’m all booked in and positive that 14-21 August 2021 will be fine. Most of the students rebooked for this week, but a couple of places remain. Don’t miss out. It’s usually full. If you want to learn how to write with SPICE and enjoy the best of Tuscan scenery and hospitality then this simply cannot be beaten. For more information and to reserve your place visit https://watermill.net.
Don’t miss my Virtual Events page to sign up for more great stuff and catch up on past In Conversation videos.
In flimsy limbo...
This month the Monthly Inspirer is in limbo. I've been moving house and country and I think that's a valid excuse, don't you?
It's been a moving experience in so many ways. Not only have the last four weeks been made out of cardboard, but many things have also been impermanent, flimsy and weaker when damp.
I took a month away from my desk in order to handle the sorting, culling, selling and giving away. Life as we knew it disappeared into hundreds of boxes and were sent out of the windows of our three storey apartment over a shop and packed into a container via a special escalator. The metaphor of things 'going out the window' seems appropriate. We had to say goodbye to beloved places, friends and rituals and doing so rendered me flimsy, worn and damp from tears.
Five days ago, Ian and I took the overnight ferry from the Hoek of Holland to Harwich in a terrible storm that had us sleepless, rocking and rolling (not in a good way) until dawn. We'd booked the best cabin on the boat for the first time, complete with massive porthole that would be lashed with spray every couple of minutes. The facemask and the keys on the bed will remind us in years to come that we relocated during a pandemic. It is perhaps no surprise that we were still reeling and swaying 24 hours after reaching England and the bliss of stopping for two weeks' quarantine.
It's been a moving time, a testing time, a time when my personal 'connecting bit' has encouraged me to connect with those who matter most and say a 'good goodbye'. A time when my personal 'inspiring bits' have hit me full in the heart with wonder and appreciation at the love we found in the Netherlands and hard in the gut as I recognised the beauty, community and belonging that I left behind. My 'learning bit' has been, as ever, that 'partir c'est mourir un peu', as written by Edmond Haraucourt in his poem, Le Rondel de L'adieu – to leave is to die a little. But, as we know, 'it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all', as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote so accurately. It's bittersweet, this moving lark. We feel deeply moved emotionally as we move physically.
Meanwhile, as I write this all our possessions are in a container somewhere. We are in limbo, still feeling fragile like cardboard, but we can look ahead, past the spray, beyond the roiling seas of discombobulation, towards calm, and peace and wide horizons.
Forgive me. This month's Inspirer is, like me, in limbo.
See you next month on dry land.
Trust your gut
There are so many rules about writing. The way to spell a word. How to punctuate dialogue. How you need a verb in a sentence. Not like this. And you how you shouldn’t start a sentenced with ‘and’. But you can, and you can start one with ‘but’ too.
Rules are there for a reason and for many they are incredibly helpful. But sometimes you ‘just know’ when something is right even though facts or common sense tell you otherwise. You know, some decisions refuse to allow you to consider them carefully. Take my decision to marry Ian as an example…
We had only been going out together for six months when he got a job offer in Dubai and left England. For the next year we only got together three times for a handful of holidays after which we got engaged. Six months later Ian flew in the day before our wedding and we left together the day after for what would become 32 years together, mostly oversease. Back then my better judgement told me that we hardly knew each other and were slightly crazy but my instinct told me it was the right decision. I tried hard to weigh up the pros and cons, to analyse my decision and to work out whether we were doing the right thing, but my mind refused to go there. I ‘just knew’. It would not take any amount of reflection. If you are someone who knows me well, I am well-known for analysing the life out of every decision I take. Usually. But not this time.
Our decision to run The Lindsay de Feliz Award for a New Writer of Expat Memoir was a bit like that. When Lindsay was found murdered last December, Jack, Jane and I were devastated. The author of What About Your Saucepans and Life After My Saucepans had been a dream to work with and her fans loved her for her optimism and vulnerability. In a flash I knew we had to create an award in her memory. We would ask Summertime authors and our team of freelancers to donate towards a bursary that would publish another first expat memoir for another writer. Entries closed at the end of July.
Judging the Lindsay de Feliz Award for a New Writer of Expat Memoir has shown, again, the role that gut instinct has to play in our decisions. Our winner was an outsider. As the team and I read the entries, scoring them on elements such as plot, place, characterisation and whether we were compelled to read on on or not, we added up our scores. The numbers were close. We had a heated discussion, Man Booker style, and selected our final five. Those five would be sent to our panel of expatriate authors: Robin Pascoe; Mariam Ottimofiore; Ilana Benady and Grace Olivo. The numbers had told us who should go forward but, as I said, they had been close. Something did not sit easy with me. One of the entries was bugging me. That night thoughts of the compelling plot, the vivid characters, the universal theme buffeted me awake. I ‘just knew’ one missing entry needed to be sent to the panel. And so I made an executive decision and added her to the list. Our final five became six.
A clear winner
Over this last weekend the results arrived in my inbox. This time the numbers were clear. There were three front-runners and one of them was way ahead of the race. The winner was my ‘gut feel’. Sarah Koblow, author of Count Only Sunny Hours, has won the Lindsay de Feliz Award for Expat Memoir and will be published by us at Summertime Publishing in 2021.
Sometimes you can’t just put your finger on why something feels right but it does. Sarah began her professional life as a social worker and is a trained emotional logic coach. She has lived in America, Bahrain, Qatar, France and the Netherlands and now makes her home in the Lake District in the UK. Her life in a sprawling, complex family of seven sisters was affected by secrets and her later life overseas with a young family coloured by loss, illness and addiction. Yet Sarah is a survivor with a positive attitude and faith that has beaten all the odds and led her to reconciliation. One of our panelists described her work as, “Really well-written, natural, vivid and insightful. A combination of light-hearted observation and sombre subject matter is handled effortlessly. I would definitely read this book.”
Count Only Sunny Hours is universal in appeal. We are thrilled that Sarah will get to share her story with the world and Jack and I are honoured to be publishing it.
Sometimes it pays to go with your gut.
Another highly commended...
We would also like to highly commend Claire Hauxwell for her entry. It impressed us so much that we are giving her a spontaneous bursary of £1000 towards publication.
How to show your authority
When I teach my Definite Articles and Release the Book Within courses I introduce my students to what I call ‘The 8 As’ they need to follow in order to write effective content that other people want. One of those eight As is authority.
You need to be able to prove your authority on a matter in order to be a credible writer on the subject. When I wrote the first edition of A Career in Your Suitcase back in 1998 I felt I had enough authority to be able to write such a book on portable careers. I had lived in four countries and maintained and grown a career as a writer and teacher while being an ‘expat wife’ and a mother for ten years. I thought that was enough. And, maybe back then, because my book was the first of its type, it was.
So, a reflexologist could write about reflexology. Someone who has run their own business for a number of years with a degree of success could write a book on entrepreneurship. Someone who has had triplets could write a book about having triplets and so on.
However, these days, just having ‘been there, done that and got the tee-shirt’ isn’t enough to convince a publisher or discerning reader of your authority. You need to be able to prove your theories are credible and back up your arguments. You do this by asking really established authorities or experts to say something about the topic in question too. You need to be connected to the experts in your field and know them well enough to ensure a response to an email. You are going to need to ask some of them to write a back cover review or a foreword to your book some day.
Now, the new author reflexologist can reach out to a reflexology teacher perhaps. An entrepreneur can reach out to an author business owner with a bestselling book of high-renown who lives in their town. The mother of triplets can ask a TV family psychologist she once went to school with for comment. But even that may still not quite be enough to convince a publisher.
Show the reader that what you say is not a load of subjective tosh by adding statistics from recent surveys or short quotes from leading newspapers that prove you may be right.
You also need to prove you know what you talk about with case studies, stories of people you have worked or interviewed personally who have experience of the concept you introduce in your book or article.
Four steps to authority
I advise my students and new author clients to ensure they show their authority in what they write by including the following four elements:
Follow this pattern and reach out to others with proven and authority for their own expert opinion and in so doing you prove you too have authority in the subject and have a right to be writing a book or article on the subject.
So, reach out, make connections, ask your contacts for referrals, use LinkedIn and ask. Most experts are flattered that you thought of them.
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer