The Writing Soul – with Suneetha Balakrishnan

Suneetha Balakrishnan had ‘just a job’ until she began writing full time. Now she combines what she calls work-write and write-write as her career.

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

It was not exactly a career, I would call it just a job with vertical escalations people call ‘promotions’. I worked with the public sector in insurance, a job I got at the age of twenty, and held a senior administrative post when I quit. I suppose I was good at what I did, but I was always restless. I never understood why.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

I think I have always been reading, and then writing, for myself of course. The trigger must be good books. My mom, a voracious reader and an academic, introduced me to the classics early on and made sure I had plenty to read all the time. I guess that never left me, and it was a natural escalation to writing.

Do you now write full time or part time?

Full time. I left my steady, well-paying and secure employment 12 years ago and I had 20 years of service left to enjoy. I don’t get a pension from that tenure. So now I work-write to make a living and write-write in response to what my writing soul demands.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

I suppose I enjoy all sorts of writing, so being able to write for a living is a rare skill I fully acknowledge and am thankful for. And working from home means you have a universe to yourself. The parts I least enjoy are when I have to chase payments, and when people don’t understand I am at work and think it’s okay to barge into your physical and mental space.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I think the job I left behind is not even a memory now, it’s like a previous incarnation. I miss nothing about it, not even the steady salary cheque and the perks. There are so many compensations in this life, freedom being the first and best of it.

Do you have any regrets?

I will gladly and proudly say, None. There was no better decision I could have taken.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Developing the right skill suited to the sort of writing you want to take on is as important as being disciplined. Your value will be your steady output delivered on time. And nothing can replace that, I have experienced. And ASK for money, please. People will pay the plumber, the electrician, the cook and the driver, but the writer they use for a crucial part of their work is usually expected to work for little or nothing. Develop bargaining skills, network with others who work like you to find out about ground realities and arm yourself with the right information. It’s a great thing to be a writer, just find how to manage the stress points, every career has it. 

Many thanks for sharing your journey, Suneetha.

The Guest by Suneetha Balakrishnan – Sameer is a ‘catch’, he is qualified, comfortably off, well-employed, young and has no bad habits. And when Sameer was proposed for serene Kavitha, she thought he was too nice. But is a girl allowed to say No because the groom proposed is unexciting? Then she met his mother…

The Guest is a day in the life of Mama, Sameer and Kavitha. A story of ordinary, everyday people.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Second Career Author – Tracey Warr

Author Tracey Warr answered the call when I asked for second career authors to discuss their journeys. She’s an eclectic writer with works of historical fiction set in the middle ages, future fiction, biography, art writing on contemporary artists and book reviews.

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

I worked as an art curator, organising exhibitions, and then as an art history university lecturer. I wrote non-fiction for the first 20 years or so of my working life – books, essays and journal articles on art.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

I left a university job, disillusioned, and not sure what direction to take next. Around the same time my daughter reached 18 and left home. I had been a single parent and she my only child, and the focus of my life until that point. I went to stay for six months in a friend’s house in rural southern France, while he was away as a visiting professor in India. In France, I was inspired by the history and landscapes around me and experienced a sense of new vistas opening up – anything could happen.

I had always written (but not published) children’s stories for my daughter and, then, for my nephew. I visited a castle and medieval village in the Tarn Valley called Brousse le Chateau with my nephew. The village appears almost untouched over hundreds of years. With its steep cobbled streets and mossy-roofed houses, it conjures a vivid sense of living in the Middle Ages. We expected someone in a doublet or wimple to emerge at any moment from one of the crooked doorways. My nephew asked me to write a children’s story for him about the castle.

I started researching and came across Almodis de La Marche, the Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona and a powerful female lord. She featured in the children’s story I wrote about a fay or fairy with a serpent’s or mermaid’s tale, based on the medieval story of Melusine. However, I felt there was an adult novel or biography to be written about Almodis. I did more and more research about her and her times – the 11th century. Writers are often told to ‘write what you know’, but I enjoyed delving, instead, into histories that I knew very little about when I began.

I undertook a Creative Writing MA to give me committed time to write. I entered the Impress Prize with the first three chapters of the novel about Almodis and was runner-up. Impress Books offered me a publishing contract and I’ve never looked back. I returned to nine more years of university lecturing and struggled to write more novels alongside a full-time job. Eventually, I ignored another piece of advice frequently given to writers: ‘Don’t quit the day job’. I took early retirement from my academic art history job to focus on fiction writing. Now, I have published four novels, all set in early medieval Europe, and have a fifth novel in progress.

Do you now write full time or part time?

I see writing as my main job, but continue to do some freelance teaching, non-fiction writing and editing to augment my income. I bought a very small, very cheap house in France overlooking a river and, for a few years after starting my second career, I lived most of the time there, where my financial outgoings were low. I’ve recently returned to spending more time in the UK, to take care of my 1-year-old grandson, part-time. Living in the UK puts pressure on me to earn more from freelance work, but my fiction writing momentum is well established now, and I have contracts for three more books in the pipeline. Perhaps my grandson will be the inspiration, too, for me to finally dust off my children’s stories and see if they might be publishable.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

The only thing I don’t like about my writing career is that I can’t afford to write full time.

I relish the autonomy of being a writer. I love research. I used to be a voracious fiction reader. Now, I mostly read history books, medieval chronicles and the like – the more obscure, the better. If only they would let me, I’d be happy to move into the British Library. I draw on my former career, using objects and images in museums as inspirations for my writing. A statue of the Virgin in Albi Cathedral, for example, was the inspiration for my physical description of Almodis. A Viking serpent brooch in the British Museum was a recurring motif in my second novel. A particular landscape in Wales – the triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay – inspired my current trilogy of novels about the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys.

I love making up my characters and stories, thinking my way into the characters’ motivations, interactions and decisions. I revel in the moment when I have a whole first draft of a novel printed out and know that this big wodge of paper contains a world, a story that I have completely made up from fresh air. And then I love working on that first draft: editing it, starting to see what the story is really all about, bringing that out in rewrites. And I enjoy hearing about readers’ responses to the stories.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I miss my students. I always enjoyed teaching itself. However, I continue to do a little art history teaching for an American University in France, and I teach on residential creative writing courses.

I don’t miss the overwork, the bureaucracy, the shifts that are occurring in universities now, away from an educational philosophy – pursuing knowledge together like hunters – towards a corporate ethos.

Do you have any regrets?

None.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Go for it. Don’t expect to get rich or even earn enough to live on as a novelist. Only a small proportion of writers make a lot of money. I always say that I live cheaply so that I can live richly. You will take something useful from your first career into your work as a writer. It’s useful to think about what that is. Be nosy, observant, keep a journal. Even though I am writing historical fiction, I often use things that I’ve seen in contemporary life around me. A couple parting at a bus-stop in Oxford, for example, became two medieval lovers separating at the harbour of Narbonne. Buddy up with other writers. I share manuscripts in progress with a couple of writing buddies, and we give each other critical feedback. Join a writers group, and reading groups are also useful for writers. Be proactive about engaging with other writers and with readers. I speak at literary festivals, at libraries and bookshops, at castles, and at universities, and I very much enjoy sharing aspects of the writing process in discussion with other people.

So many bits in your post resonate for me, Tracey. Many thanks for sharing your journey.

You can reach Tracey at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter @TraceyWarr1

Conquest: The Drowned Court by Tracey Warr – 1107. Henry I finally reigns over England, Normandy and Wales, but his rule is far from secure. He faces a series of treacherous assassination attempts, and rebellion in Normandy is scuppering his plans to secure a marriage for his son and heir.

With the King torn between his kingdoms and Nest settled with her Norman husband, can she evade Henry’s notice or will she fall under his control once more? As her brother Gruffudd garners support in an effort to reclaim his kingdom, Nest finds she cannot escape the pull of her Welsh heritage. While the dissent grows and a secret passion is revealed, the future of Nest and her Norman sons is placed in dire peril. In this riveting sequel to Daughter of the Last King, Nest must decide to whom her heart and loyalty belongs.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Second Career Author – Donna Croy Wright

Donna Croy Wright has recently launched The Scattering of Stones. She lives in the Sierra Nevada Foothills southeast of Yosemite and in addition to writing is an amateur genealogist and historian. Here’s Donna’s take on being a second career author.

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

My life has been a series of reinventions. First, in my twenties, I was a dancer and artist. Next, in my thirties, I was a mother (still am). Then, in my forties and fifties I was an elementary school teacher and principal. When I retired, everyone asked me what I would to do next, and I always replied, “I’m going to reinvent myself.” I didn’t know how at the time. Now I do.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

The usual answer to this question is: “I’ve always written.” It’s not so different for me. As a preteen I wrote Little House on the Prairie/Little Women knockoffs. My parents owned a dictionary with a list of boys and girls names in the back. I underlined and starred a host of names (in ink), a testament to my name research for the characters in my stories. I wrote in my Anais Nin style diaries incessantly during the college angst years. As a curriculum specialist, I focused on language arts and history, and my career as an educator required extensive writing. Then, while reinventing myself in retirement, I delved deep into genealogy and wrote an ancestral history for my family. I kept wondering about the emotion behind the lives I discovered, beyond birth and death dates on a page. So I included my imaginings in the book, using italics to separate them from fact. When my son told me he liked my imaginings most and thought I should write a book, I did. Then I wrote another and another.

Do you now write full time or part time?

I’m obsessive. With research, blog, fiction, and non-fiction, I “work” about 35 hours a week. My husband demands an equitable amount of attention.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

Taking a few factoids about everyday humans, pulling them up from the reaches of the past, and depositing them in the world of my imagination? That fills me with joy. Having these characters take over my being and write their stories? How exciting is that! Researching a time and a place? Traveling to that place, and meeting people who have the same passion? A world of learning has opened to me. (I haven’t figured out the time travel thing yet, except in my mind.)

I’ve even come to appreciate the tedious: blocking out the story, editing, editing again, waiting for publication, editing again, and waiting some more. While “appreciate” might be too strong a word, I see the importance of these tasks. However, because I started writing late in life, waiting for query replies, editor timelines, and publishing opportunities is, well, frustrating.

The hardest thing, though, is promotion—selling both my book and myself. I was the mom who bought all the See’s Candy my child had to sell rather than help them with sales—a version of task avoidance. I just don’t have the hard-sell gene.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

Which former career? Life is a journey. I love the places I hang my hat.

Do you have any regrets?

Of course, but they have nothing to do with my various career renditions of myself and are not for public consumption.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Beyond watching out for too many ellipses and the corralling of commas? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. If you are thinking it, don’t beat around the proverbial bush. ASK! Ask for help. Ask for a different typeset. Ask for that review. And definitely ask for feedback. Listen to it, prepare yourself to be hurt by it, don’t take it too seriously (yeh, right), and then digest it and learn from it. If you are doing what you love, as with any reinvention of your life, you will grow into your dream.

Many thanks for sharing your story, Donna. I can certainly identify with being obsessed as well as the frustration of watching time pass in the querying and publishing game.

Visit www.croywright.com to read her blog and follow her on facebook at @croywright or twitter @CroyWright.

The Scattering of Stones by Donna Croy Wright – Two women, each living in a different time and space, yet something inexplicable binds them. Maggie Carter Smith researches her ancestors’ lives from the comfort of her 21st century California home. But beyond births and death written on a page, Maggie chronicles souls. Mary Hutton and her family arrived at Wills Creek when treaty lines prohibited settlement. A marriage to Jacob Carter, orphaned, raised and then abandoned by the Shawnee, offers Mary freedom from a father’s reach and protection on the 18th century frontier. But prejudice and intrigue intervene, throwing tragedy, treachery, and murder in their path. One thing is clear, from choices made in a heart’s breath moment, whole lives will unfold.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.