Today I’m speaking with Melissa Addey. Hi Melissa! What made you decide to become a writer?
I have loved reading since I was a small child and also wrote little stories and essays for schoolwork. I let it drop for awhile and then began writing again: a few articles on being home educated and some children’s stories. I took some lessons in writing, both by correspondence and at evening classes. Eventually, I thought I would like to take the writing more seriously and started writing novels and non-fiction, which got me a literary agent. Having had two children, in 2015 I decided to stay at home and write as much as I could fit round the kids!
Kids are a full-time job. You must have been very busy. How long did it take to get published the first time and how did it happen?
I got published in a few magazines on a range of topics, then had a close call with a major publisher for my novel. After that, I decided to self-publish. For now, I’m happy self-publishing, but am always open to new ways of working. I self-published “100 Things to do While Breastfeeding,” which is now on some La Leche League recommended reading lists around the world which is wonderful, as well as “The Fragrant Concubine,” which got me long listed for the Mslexia Novel Competition 2015 and was Editor’s Choice at the Historical Novel Society which felt great.
I bet it did. I wish your book on breastfeeding was available when my kids were younger. There were lots of women into breastfeeding then. Would you do anything differently the next time and if so, what would it be?
Self-publish quicker! I did learn a lot through working with my agent and an editor and going through the submission process, but I do very much like having the control back in my own hands and think I’ve learnt a lot from it.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Write a full-length piece, then redraft till you think it’s as strong as you can make it alone. Then work with an editor – it will be excruciatingly hard work but you will learn so much and your work will improve massively. Read lots. Write every day. Make a business plan to keep you focused and keep stretching yourself. Don’t be snobby about things like self-publishing, genre fiction, etc: you can learn from everything. Enter competitions. Learn to take feedback.
What or who influences or inspires your writing?
All the wonderful writers I’ve read over the years. Travel books and history books (I write historical fiction) – tiny mentions of some minor detail suddenly spark ideas. “The Fragrant Concubine” was a brief mention of a Chinese legend in a travelogue, which became my first published novel.
Cool. I like that. Do you have any works in progress you’d like to tell us about?
I wrote a novella called “The Consorts,” which is a prequel for “The Fragrant Concubine” (it’s a free novella for people on my mailing list). My next two non-fiction books, “The Storytelling Entrepreneur” (storytelling in a business context) and “Merchandise for Authors,” a book for writers who want to create their own merchandise as a way of engaging their readers and bringing in extra income are both out.
This past fall I started a Creative Writing PhD and that will involve writing another novel set in China. Keeping busy!
I’ll say. The two non-fiction books sound really interesting.
They are available on Amazon as ebooks and paperback. “100 Things to do While Breastfeeding” is also available as an audiobook.
I’ve thought about doing an audiobook as well. Tell me about your first experience with publishing. How did that go?
I did a lot of work with an editor and learnt so much from them – I looked back at previous writing and realized it needed so much work. It’s definitely something worth doing. I am always happy to take on feedback if I think it will improve the book and fits with my image of it. If a person likes your work, they will usually see how to make it better without drifting away from the heart of it.
So, Melissa, how long have you been writing professionally?
I’ve been working on my writing for over ten years. 2015 was my first year of doing it as my job.
So, what do you do for fun when you aren’t writing?
Read! Look after the kids, cinema, gardening, meeting up with friends, cooking. You’ll find a lot of food in my historical novels. Researching food is fascinating.
I bet it is, especially if you get to eat what you are researching about. Do you write full-time or part-time?
As full-time as I can manage with two kids in tow. That means writing in tiny, energetic bursts and finding gaps where I can write. But it’s wonderful to feel that your time is focused on the writing rather than on a day job, it does make a difference. I’m looking forward to the chance to really develop my writing at another level with the Creative Writing PhD I’ve started.
Good luck with that. I have a hard enough time focusing on my writing. I don’t think I could stay focused long enough to finish a PhD program. Where do you live, Melissa?
Tell us a little about your latest release.
In “The Fragrant Concubine,” there are many versions of the legend. It is true that in 1760, the Chinese Emperor, Qianlong, conquered Turkestan and that a Muslim woman from that region was sent to the Forbidden City as his concubine. It seems she was something of a favorite, being promoted twice and given many gifts. But other stories have grown up around her.
In China, they say that her body emitted an irresistible natural fragrance and the Emperor was besotted with her. She was homesick, but he gave her many gifts to remind her of home and at last she fell in love with him and they lived happily ever after.
But, in her homeland, they say that the woman was named Iparhan and born to a family of rebels. Brought to court by force, she kept daggers hidden in her sleeves to protect her honor. At last she took her own life rather than submit to the Emperor’s desire for her.
I found myself wondering which woman was the real Fragrant Concubine. Which ending was true: the sad one or the happy one? This novel is about what might have happened.
That sounds intriguing. Do you have any appearances scheduled?
During 2016, I was a writer in residence for the British Library, in their Business and IP Centre, which really was a dream come true. I worked there two days a week for ten months, looking at storytelling for businesses and business for storytellers. Keep an eye on my website for more information at www.melissaaddey.com . On my ‘about’ page, you can find links to my Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts.
Thank you so much Melissa. I’ve enjoyed our chat together. Melissa grew up on an organic farm in Italy and was home educated. Along the way, she worked for Sainsbury’s head office looking after the organic range of products as well as developing new products and packaging; for Roehampton University developing student entrepreneurs; she did a Masters focused on creativity and worked as a business consultant on a government scheme for over six years offering mentoring, advice, training, and grants to small businesses, mostly in the food sector. She now lives in London with her husband, young son and baby daughter, looking after the kids and writing.