Friday 26 February 2021

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Soulla Christodoulou - Author

A Cup of Conversation with author M.P. Tonnesen

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Welcome to A Cup of Conversation! A wonderfully creative and beautifully intelligent author is joining me today and she shares how living in different countries has coloured her writing and we can learn a thing or two about book marketing from her too. You can feel the light shining from within as she says, “I guess it was written in the stars that I would be a wordsmith of some kind for a living.” How great it is to see someone following their passion!

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1. When did you start writing creatively?

Words and playing with them have always been a great interest of mine. I am a linguist at heart, grew up in a bilingual family, speak five languages, and read from an early age, so I guess it was written in the stars that I would be a wordsmith of some kind for a living. I have written for many years, but it was primarily non-fiction; academic papers and corporate communication.

Some years ago I had a career break during which I reflected on what to do with my life and what would bring me happiness – a lot like Chloe, the protagonist in my debut novel. I started with a few scribbles in a notebook and a creative writing course which whet my appetite further. When we moved to the Isle of Man, it opened the door for me to the opportunity of being more serious about my writing. I was lucky to become a writer there for magazines, alongside working on my novels, and running my consulting business at the time. I believe most people have a story in them, but few get the chance to express it. It takes time and dedication – fortunately, I managed to find both in between juggling work and my family too.

2. How have your experiences of living in a number of different countries coloured your writing?

I am originally from Denmark, but grew up in a multicultural family and have lived in Brussels, the Middle East, London, and the Irish Sea before moving to sunny Spain last year. My experiences with living in different countries and cultures inspire a lot of my writing, sprinkled with a bit of an anthropological globetrotter’s perspective on life due to my intercultural degree. I like to give the geographic locations a prominent role in my books. The sounds, the smells, the colours, and the people unique to certain settings and parts of the world all fascinate me and I hope they come across in a captivating way in my stories.

3. You have a Master’s degree in International Business and International Communication. How has this helped you in marketing your books and building your brand?

The publishing world was completely new to me. And with so much happening over the last ten years in terms of e-books and self-publishing, there was a lot to get your head around. One of the key challenges as both traditionally and self-published authors today is that you have to do most of your own marketing and build your author platform. I definitely feel that my previous marketing and communication experience has stood me in good stead in this process. From building marketing plans to writing engaging copy for promotions; from pricing strategy to knowing my target audience; all of this was the least daunting part of my publishing journey. Trying to get reader reviews on the other hand… Now that’s a challenge!

They key thing to remember is: Sell one book at a time. Someone once told me: It’s a marathon – not a sprint. I have found that a really helpful mantra. Instead of trying to sell your book to faceless thousands, find one person who needs and wants your book. Offer your book to that person. Then repeat.

4. You have two books published. Can you tell me what inspired you to write each one?

There is a lot of myself and my life experiences in my debut novel, “The Cosmopolitan Islander” – which is what you often see with debut novelists. Elements like my struggles as a young woman building a career in London in a male-dominated, cut-throat environment and later in life my own struggles of balancing the desire for a career with being a good mother too – these are all very close to reality. And of course my challenges of moving to the island initially. But I would not define it as an autobiography. Everything is amalgamated and wrapped in a fictional story with fictional characters and with a sense of exaggeration or hyperrealism to create an entertaining read. For the record, I have never had an affair with a delivery guy for example!

My memories of living and travelling in the Middle East were the catalyst for my second novel: “Desert Skies, Rebel Souls”. However, the cast of characters and the story are inspired by lots of different people and events, real as well as fictional. The news, TV series, films, friends, family, random strangers in the street, restaurants or when travelling – they have all inspired me and triggered different scenes and emotions I could channel into the adventures of Olivia and Chaim.

5. Are any of your characters in your books based on yourself?

I won’t deny that the main character in The Cosmopolitan Islander, Chloe, is partly based on myself. She is more extreme in her personality and behaviour, though; has different strengths and weaknesses – and most of her experiences are fictional, of course. Every author from Jane Austen to Nora Ephron and Charles Dickens to Stephen King, they have all been inspired by their own lives, drawn from their own experiences, and built their fictional stories and characters on what they know and emotions they have felt.

6. Which of your characters is your favourite and why would your readers like them?

I fell absolutely in love with my character Chaim when writing “Desert Skies, Rebel Souls”. Not only is he tall, dark and handsome (obviously!); he’s also smart, protective, tender-hearted and loyal. As my lovely editor put it: “He’s a brave, good, endearing man”.

My inspiration for my main male character originated from a tragic source: a photo online of a gorgeous Israeli soldier before he was killed in action. I did not know him, but the moment I saw him, I knew he was Chaim. Everything fell into place and the words started flowing to build this alluring character.

When Olivia, the female protagonist, meets him, he is an eighteen-year-old kibbutznik who is killing time, waiting to start his army duties like his peers. He has grown up in the semi-socialist, rural community of a kibbutz in Israel – in stark contrast to Olivia’s upbringing in an upper class, urban environment in Denmark.

Their mutual attraction is instant and intense despite all the obstacles to their potential relationship. Then disaster strikes! I will try to not give any spoilers, so let’s just say that their love story is a nerve-racking ride through the beauties and dangers of the Middle East.

What I also love about Chaim is his passion and how he has a balanced, diplomatic view of the world, but is still an Israeli soldier at heart.

He has flaws too, of course. He is as stubborn as Olivia. He can be hard to read and seem guarded. His enthusiasm and loyalty can come across as aggressive and possessive at times. But I believe these flaws make him multidimensional and human.

I hope you will enjoy getting to know Chaim and find him as endearing as I do – and that you will enjoy all my characters’ journey through the Middle East.

7.What are you currently working on?

I have been toying with the idea of a sequel to “Desert Skies, Rebel Souls” – spurred on by several of my lovely readers. I only have a few scribbles so far, and I have a really exciting “day job” at the moment which takes up most of my time, but who knows what the future brings?

8. If you were able to meet any author, who would you choose and what two questions would you ask them? 

I would be honoured and thrilled to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. Her book “Eat Pray Love” was very inspirational to me with her main character searching for the meaning of her life, the myth of having it all which modern women struggle with today, and the different challenges and benefits of the various geographical settings, i.e. cultural barriers, language, food and climate. She also seems like an interesting personality from what I gather on her social media.

9. You studied with Faber Academy. What was the most useful thing you learnt which you have been able to use actively in your writing?

The Faber Academy creative writing course was the best one I have done. The most useful part of the course was a day with the author Marcel Theroux (travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux’s son) during which he talked to us about setting the scene and story structure. He encouraged us to seek out the conflict, define the dramatic questions, and break scenes down to beats – the smallest elements of a story. He was such an inspiration, yet down to earth in his approach to sharing his knowledge.

10. What do you do to relax or recharge and how does it help your writing?

I read, of course, and then I watch films and TV shows which all inspire me in terms of story lines, characters and great dialogue.

Thank you so much for sharing your writing life with us and I wish you lots of continued success! For those readers wanting to connect on a  more regular basis with this wonderful author please find her links below.

And until next week, Happy Reading, Happy Writing, Happy You!

With much love, Soulla xxx

Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mptonnesen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mptonnesen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mptonnesen/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14705890.M_P_Tonnesen

Website: http://www.mptonnesen.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/M.P.-Tonnesen/e/B018H6ZTOK/

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