Interview with Susan Smith, author of Living with the Lions and Invisible Elephants What process…
Guest blog by Nelson author, Robyn Prokop
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Ernest Hemingway
If we agree with Hemingway’s assertion, then we might well be tempted to draw the conclusion that writing in Nelson, a small place, in a small country, at the edge of the world, must be a very lonely endeavour indeed. Nevertheless, while Nelson is certainly geographically distant from the world’s great cultural and literary hubs, we’ve actually never been this close to the action.
I was lucky enough to attend a conference last week. Held in conjunction with the London Book Fair, it offered 24 sessions and featured a host of best selling authors, publishing gurus and book marketing experts. There was even more choice than my local cheese shop, with presentations on the writer’s craft, how to sell more books or building a sustainable creative business. In the end, the decision was easy — I’d just go with everything. And the best part of all? I didn’t have to fly Jetstar.
There was no kicking my heels at Auckland airport, and no mind-numbing, energy-sapping flight to London. Neither did I fork out money on exorbitant accommodation or suitable clothes — between you and me, I attended every session wearing old track pants and my scruffy pink Ugg boots, which have gone a bit smelly and are sprouting fluff from a hole in one toe.
Yes. You guessed it! All of this expert, up-to-date and inspiring information was delivered directly to me in the comfort of my own home, via the wonders of interactive video conferencing. But wait, things get even better…
In October I’m going along to the Pukapuka Talks, as part of the Nelson Arts Festival. I’ve signed up for a variety of sessions, from poetry to fantasy to political brunch, and it’s all happening right here on my doorstep. What a fantastic opportunity to get up close and personal with some of my New Zeland writing heroes — and no, this time I won’t be wearing the Uggs.
The point that I want to emphasize is that there’s really no need for writers in New Zealand to feel alone, or isolated — even in a small place like Nelson. The key to feeling connected is to find your tribe, that unique set of people who are able and willing to support you on your writing journey and encourage you to meet your goals — bearing in mind that some members of that tribe might actually live on the other side of the globe. Although Nelson has a number of friendly writing groups which might be a great place to start, there are some excellent online options too, such as Scribophile. Who knows? Maybe that special mentor you are looking for, the one with a passion for Robot Romance second only to your own, lives in Madrid, or even up the road in Moutere!
The interplay between global and local opportunities is equally relevant when gathering the professional team needed to create and publish a quality book. Personally, my preference is to draw on the talented professionals here in New Zealand wherever possible, and Nelson is surprisingly full of skilled people who can help. For a comprehensive understanding of independent publishing and distribution in New Zealand, for example, and a top-notch print job, you can’t go past the lovely people at CopyPress. The Top of the South branch of the NZSA can also put writers in touch with local professionals offering a wide range of services, from book design to proofreading or editing.
Of course, it’s not just about New Zealand. Indie writers are now able to reach readers all around the world, and that means tacking platforms such as Amazon, Google Books, Apple or global print distribution services such as Ingram Spark. This entails a very steep learning curve, and to struggle on alone would be very silly indeed.
One of the best decisions I have made on my own author journey has been to join the Alliance of Independent Authors — and not just because it sounds like some sort of cool superhero league. ALLi is a global writing community focusing on ethics and excellence in independent publishing, with the imperative to help other writers central to their member code. Here’s the important bit: “I am an active part of the Alliance (ALLi’s) community and the wider self-publishing, writing and reading community, freely oﬀering support and the beneﬁt of my experience.” That means whether you need technical advice wrestling Amazon, help understanding publishing contracts, or feedback on your blurb — no matter how dumb the question, or what time of the day it is — somewhere in the world a writer is awake and ready to help. I fully recommend ALLi as just one of the many wonderful writing and publishing resources that can be found online these days.
I’m not sure what Ernest Hemingway would have made of the indie writing revolution, with its focus on community and building ethical relationships that benefit all writers. Perhaps he is still right to some extent, in that most writers do need ‘alone time’ in order to create. But that is very different from loneliness. I’ve included Hemingway’s full quotation below for your interest because, masculine pronouns aside, I think it illustrates that a fundamental shift has occurred in our understanding of the creative process. I believe it is an exciting time to be a writer in New Zealand because there are now so many new ways to learn from other creatives around the world, to improve the quality of the reading and writing experience. Every writer has a tribe out there, a group of people, including readers, who would like nothing better than to see them succeed. And as for Nelson, writers really do have the best of both worlds, with fantastic local and global opportunities to help them on their writing journey.
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”
― Ernest Hemingway
If you would like to connect, you can find Robyn and her books at robynprokop.com