Tanya’s top tip for aspiring authors: Just write. Write if it’s crappy, write if you can’t find the right sentence, write. Sometimes I trick myself when I am sitting waiting for the most perfect sentence to appear, I start typing “Blah, blah, perfect sentence and then this happened…” and I write whatever came next and then I come back and write the first sentence later.
Tanya Southey is a grown-up. Well, most of the time. She has lived in multiple worlds – business, charities and consulting. Ollie and the Starchaser is Tanya’s first published book. The book is close to her heart as it explores family, the place she likes living in the most.
Tanya grew up in South Africa, has lived in the USA and now calls Australia home. She has a husband, a daughter and three dogs. The dogs keep the family entertained and are lively characters in her book. Tanya has always worked to help people reach their potential, navigate life and all its challenges. Her books whether for children, adults or poetry all touch on the beauty of an ordinary life and she hopes they resonate with her readers’ desire to lead their best lives.
Visit Tanya’s author Website to find out more: http://www.tanyasouthey.com
Why do you write? This question is a little like “Why do you breathe?” I have always written, from when I was about six years old. It’s a way for me to process the world with all its emotions. I let it lie for some years, but I still scratched the occasional poem in a journal.
What inspires you creatively? Inspiration comes from two of my senses; the most dominant are visual prompts, beautiful photographs, scenery or art. The other is music. It could be a song with lyrics or an instrumental piece of music that evokes a feeling in me. I also find wide open spaces, trees, beaches, blue or rainy skies just open the valve and get the words flowing.
What was your path to publication? Please share a little of your writing journey. I am self-published at the moment. I sent my manuscript to some traditional publishers, but the path to publishing seemed long and I had this distinct feeling that the timing for my current book was now. I had already ruminated on the story for nine years and I had the time to get it into the world, so I decided to “just do it”. I wanted my mum to hold the book in her hands and she’s not getting any younger.
My path involved getting a first draft out and I ruminated on that for nine years while I did writing courses and learned about the publishing world. I found an editor, worked closely with her and then self-published in six months. I also had a long-standing girlfriend complete a final proofread. She is like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld, with grammar, and she made sure that commas, tenses and spelling were all correct.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? My current book Ollie and the Starchaser was a collaboration with my daughter, Jess Southey. Jess is a professional artist and I wanted to work with her. I handed her the manuscript and got out of her way. I gave her very little artistic direction. What was amazing for me, was seeing the imagery of the story through her eyes as an artist. She has created a drawing for the beginning of each chapter and this has brought the story to life in addition to the words.
I am also working on a project called #52words52weeks. On New Year’s Eve, I posted on Facebook, and asked my friends to give me 52 words and I am writing a poem a week for this year. Three weeks in, my friend in London who is a street photographer (or as I call her ‘poetographer’) teamed up with me and we have been pairing her images with my poems every week. This has been a joyous project and we plan to publish a coffee table book with her photos and my poems at the end of the year. The cover will be one of her beautiful pictures. You can follow this on project on my author page on Facebook (Tanya Southey – Author) or on Instagram @tanyasouthey.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best part of writing is creating worlds and characters that don’t exist anywhere except in your head. Since being published, my new best feeling is everyone else’s reactions to what I have created. My biggest surprise is how much Ollie and the Starchaser has resonated with adults. I didn’t expect adults to feel so much in a children’s story. I have loved that.
—the worst? The obvious is writer’s block. But I have so much different writing happening at any moment, that if I am stuck on one project, I just move to the next and come back to it. My other ‘weird’ worst is that I often ‘download’ a whole poem, or perfect sentences for a book, while I am driving. The problem is that if I don’t pull over and write it down straight away, it often disappears or loses the perfect wording. I have been known to pull over (safely) and quickly write a poem on my iPhone.
What do you do when you aren’t writing? I read voraciously. I have done this since I was a kid. I spend time with my family and my three dogs. I also run a consulting business, a health product side-hustle and pretend that I have retired from the corporate world, but people keep finding me and giving me work to do.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I had found the space and confidence to publish sooner. I also knew intellectually from talking to other authors, how much time marketing your book takes, but the reality is that has been very intense. You really do end up becoming, a marketer, advertiser, event coordinator, administrator, public speaker, book packer, post office runner and social media guru. With all of this, I think that I would have been more prepared and planned for when the book came out. It’s been organic launch chaos!
You are tackling the issue of grief and loss in your new children’s book, which many can find confronting. What do you hope readers will take away from your story? In all my work in corporations and consulting I have had a theme of dealing with difficult emotions or situations. The paradox in life is the more we try to protect ourselves and our children from difficult emotions, the less resilient we become. This book is a gentle introduction to love, loss, family and grief. The messages are hidden in an adventure story and it is an uplifting story that can be used as a scaffolding for difficult conversations. Children who have not experienced grief and loss have enjoyed the story as an adventure story, with younger ones not even realising that the grandmother has passed away. The secondary theme centres on Ollie’s grandmother Nanoo, who is a feisty, strong woman who has not only had a family but also succeeded in the male-dominated world of astronomy. I have also loved coaching and developing women to do anything they want, so it seemed natural that Nanoo was going to be a quirky woman who can become a role model for girls and boys.
Is there any area of writing that you find especially challenging? Grammar and tenses. Tenses make me tense! I sometimes get carried away in the adventurous parts and end up in the present tense when the book is written in the past tense. Thankfully, the editors are angels who can see this if you don’t spot it first!
What’s the best advice – writing or otherwise – you were ever given? I have been working closely with Joanne Fedler who runs a mentoring program for writers. I love how Joanne teaches to take the personal and strip it back so that it becomes universal. I am so looking forward to spending the next 12 months with Joanne and a group of aspiring authors as we write our next first drafts together. I also think being able to recognise when you are writing from a clichéd perspective. You need to try to stay fresh and original and true to your own voice.
How important is social media to you as an author? I know it’s important for building a platform and for awareness. I am not obsessing about getting 10s of thousands of followers. I love my loyal friends and followers and they make me feel accountable to write. For me it’s a way to stay connected with fans that I love and meet new ones. The rest is incidental.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I am suffering from writer’s block, then there is likely to be too much going on in my head or in my life. One technique to become unstuck is to do the “morning pages” that Julia Cameron describes in her brilliant book for creatives – The Artist’s Way. She also suggests a two-hour artist’s date, where you go out alone and do something that you love. I find I come back refreshed and with new perspectives.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Diverse, quirky, wisdom-seeking
What is your ultimate writing dream? I would love one of my books to become a movie. I would be so happy if I could reach non-readers through the medium of film.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Only one? I would love to hear from Maya Angelou and how she managed to convey so much emotion and wisdom in her work. A living person would be Brenè Brown. I would love to ask her how she takes such difficult topics like shame and vulnerability and makes them funny, accessible and engaging.
by Tanya Southey, illustrated by Jessica Southey
Nanoo is Ollie’s beloved grandmother and an astronomer who discovered the planet Terenza, in a gentle galaxy east of the moon. When Nanoo disappears on a trip to the Outback, Ollie cannot accept that she is gone. He is worried, sad and refuses to believe that Nanoo would leave him. He feels helpless sitting around on his farm with only his faithful Labrador, Chloe, to listen to his feelings. However, his luck changes when the Starchaser and his Star-fordshire Terrier, Buddy, plot a way to get to Earth from Terenza. The boys and their dogs begin an epic adventure to find Nanoo. Their journey takes them across the Outback, up the Steps to the Moon and into space. But will Ollie find her, and will he bring her home?
The book is available from the following sites:
https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001156396 – direct from the publisher
https://jesssouthey.bigcartel.com/product/ollie-and-the-starchaser – for a signed copy