This is a success story from the World-Changing Writing Workshop – our student, Fiona Leonard, went on to write and self-publish her book, The Chicken Thief. We asked her a bunch of questions which she enthusiastically answered, and we’re sharing it all with you in hopes of rubbing off some inspiration! We’re so proud!
P&K: Hi, Fiona! Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how our paths crossed.
Fiona: I’m an Australian writer, currently living in Ghana, West Africa. My husband and I met in Zimbabwe where I was working as a diplomat with the Australian foreign service. After Zimbabwe we spent twelve years in Australia trying to pretend we were good at staying in one place (which we’re not). At the end of 2008 we had a rush of blood to the head and in the space of seven weeks we sold our house, car, motorbike, put all our ‘stuff’ in storage and set out on a year-long journey driving across the US and Canada (with the kid and dog in tow). When we got to the other side we just kept going. That physical journey was accompanied by a more introspective journey of exploring my own place in the world. Through a series of stepping stones I found myself on Freak Revolution (as it was known then) and was inspired to stick around. As is always the case, the World Changing Writing Workshop appeared in my life at just the right time.
In addition to writing novels I blog and homeschool my daughter.
Tell us about your book, The Chicken Thief. What’s it about, and what inspired you to write it?
Set in southern Africa, The Chicken Thief is the story of Alois, a young thief who believes that dreams are a luxury afforded only to those who have money and privilege – the sort of people he sees when he comes to steal their chickens. Desperate to change his fortunes, Alois jumps at the chance to make some easy money acting as a messenger. But what should have been a simple job goes horribly wrong. Alois barely escapes, and in the process accidentally rescues a veteran of the struggle for Independence who has been held prisoner for twenty-five years. When he becomes embroiled in a plot to overthrow the Government Alois discovers that his dreams and those of his countrymen are there for the taking. All they need are courage, persistence and the occasional bold leap of faith.
The inspiration for this story comes from my time working in southern Africa where I developed a deep fascination for the back stories of the Independence struggles. I love asking questions like – what would have happened if this person hadn’t died? Why does this person really hate this person? What if this person wasn’t who we think they are?
As for Alois? Try googling “how to hypnotise a chicken”! After watching a few clips on youtube, I knew I just had to create a character who could do that! (Please don’t ask why I was googling “hypnotising chickens” in the first place!!)
What were some obstacles you faced while writing the book? How did you overcome them?
I had one very large obstacle I needed to overcome – I needed to give myself permission to write this book. I needed permission to do something that makes me blissfully happy, that makes me laugh and cry and wake in the middle of the night with ideas. But that’s not how it plays out in my head. In my head it sounded more like – “WHAT? You want to spend months and months plotting, and then writing something that may not be any good, and that no-one will probably want to read? How are you going to make money? Are you completely and utterly insane?”
The tipping point was reading a comment I think Kyeli made about NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I pretty much cut myself a deal and said that I would devote one month, and one month only, to writing my novel – I already had a chunk of it in draft form – and then I’d be done with it and I could move on. I hate admitting to the weird schizophrenic nature of it, but yes, I lied shamelessly to myself and then before I had time to notice, I jumped in boots and all!
How have you grown as a writer since you started this project?
I’ve learned to trust myself more as a writer; to have the confidence that I will find the right voice or nuance or plot development when I need it. I still don’t really know where it comes from but I know it’s there. I’ve also developed the courage to put my writing in front of other people. I’ve always found sharing my writing to be a terrifying experience. This time around I enlisted a number of ‘beta-testers’ from the start. I not only valued their advice, but to my surprise I enjoyed having the feedback as I went along. Having someone harass you because they want to read the next chapter is also a good incentive to keep writing!
How did the World-Changing Writing Workshop help you in your journey?
In 2003 I took seven months long service leave from the Australian foreign service to write my first novel. I loved it but I was lonely as hell. I went from a world where I received constant feedback on everything I wrote to one where I could go months and get nothing. Eight years later the writing world has been transformed and I think WCWW is indicative of that change. WCWW brings the lone/ly writer out of the shadows and into the midst of a community of people who want to change the world and are looking for tips on how to fine tune that goal. All of a sudden you’re not alone!
I love going through all the audios and also having a workbook and exercises to play with – I find they spring clean my brain and inspire me to explore new directions. (And there’s nothing like having Chris Guillebeau ask, “What’s your message?” to give you a swift kick in the pants!) I think it has also helped to lift me up out of feeling like I needed to do everything myself/solve every problem/create every moment of inspiration. It reminds me that there are writers out there – passionate and generous people – who are prepared to share their time and ideas and creativity.
Will you please give us a link to your book on Amazon?
Absolutely! I love steering people in the direction of my book. I will never forget the pure joy of first seeing my book appear ‘on the shelf’ on Amazon. I sat in front of the computer in all my glamorous pajama-wearing-first-thing-in-the-morning-bad-hair-splendor and had a good cry! At that moment I knew that all of the years of hard work were worth it.
As a teenager, Fiona took two career aptitude tests. The first said she was unemployable, the second returned only one result – coroner. She decided to ignore both (and give up taking aptitude tests) and instead became in turn, an Australian diplomat, foreign and trade policy consultant, freelance writer, theatre producer, blogger, home schooler and author (and sometimes several of these at once).
She has a gypsy soul that has carried her across twenty countries on four continents, including one year long adventure driving across the USA and Canada with her husband, daughter and the dog.
Her love of Africa was forged during a three year posting to Zimbabwe. She now lives in Ghana, West Africa. Her blog is at www.fionaleonard.net – check it out!