Author Soulla Christodoulou’s writing goes a step further than most. In addition to penning novels (she’s got two due out soon) and poetry (a collection of her poetry comes out this month), she also writes letters to women recently diagnosed with cancer and is looking to start some children’s creative writing classes in September. Come along as Soulla and I chat about all of her exciting projects, how she manages her writing life, and her inspirations for her poetry and prose.
Q: There is so much I’m excited to talk to you about, I’m almost not sure where to start. Let’s begin with your first novel, Broken Pieces of Tomorrow. Tell us about this novel. What inspired you to write women’s fiction and how does this novel fit into the genre?
A: Hi Kelsey and thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed. I’m fairly new to the author interview platform so I’m really grateful to have this opportunity.
I guess, if I’m honest, it was a way of dealing with something that had happened to me almost ten years prior. Writing the novel helped me to come to terms, finally, with the way my life had turned out which although was very different to what I had envisaged also gave me a second chance, if you like, at making things right not only for me but for my children too. I’ve always read women’s fiction and by that I mean novels where women have had to overcome an obstacle whether it be physical, mental, emotional or social. I’ve always been inspired too by real life stories of those women who have overcome adversity. It’s that ‘if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger’ scenario and it took me almost ten years to stop, and breathe and actually digest how my life had changed and how far I’d come. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying what happened to me was the worst life trauma ever but we all deal with our own situations individually don’t we? So discovering my first love’s, my husband’s, infidelity threw me into a totally new and fast-forward life for a while.
Broken Pieces of Tomorrow takes some of my own personal experiences and weaves them into a fictional story that many women will be able to relate to on so many different levels; the emotional trauma of infidelity and how it makes you feel, the carving out of a new life, the responsibility you feel as well as the guilt for what happens, the positive outcomes that eventually come your way, the impact on your beliefs and values.
Q: You mentioned that you wrote the poetry collection, Sunshine after Rain, as a way to take a break between writing your two novels. What draws you to poetry? Does your writing process for poetry differ from how you approach prose writing?
A: It’s totally different Kelsey, at least for me. Writing a novel is a planned, strategic long-term activity with plotting and research. I think different story themes through, discuss plots ideas with other writer friends and individuals as well as work with a chapter synopsis and running time line to ensure the story moves forward at a good pace that will keep the reader engaged and inspired to keep reading.
Poetry draws on different emotions and ideas for me. It’s about connecting with my emotions and different themes as they sit right with me on a particular day. I found that my poetry is influenced by the weather, how I feel, the news, thoughts, dreams, a book I’ve read or a TV programme I’ve watched. Each day is different and I can write up to four or five poems a day which is very satisfying in terms of achievement. Poetry kind of has a more immediate reward in that once the poem is written it is, at least I have found, far simpler to tweak and change. The gratification is almost instantaneous too. The poem is there written in front of me in its entirety with a clear message or theme or vibe.
Q: You mentioned that you are the daughter of Greek Cypriot parents and that Greek Cypriot culture and traditions influenced the writing of your second book, The Summer Will Come. Tell us more about that. What was life like for you as a child? Were there specific traditions you incorporate into the novel?
A: Ooh now this is a question! Growing up was all about family and food and to be honest it still is! I remember big family dinners with both sets of grandparents every weekend. Christmas and Easter were even bigger family gatherings with sometimes as many as twenty or thirty family members crammed around rows of adjoined tables. I will always remember being delighted by the fact that my culture and our traditions were different from the majority of my peers at school. I liked standing out from the crowd and back then there weren’t as many different cultures as there are now growing up in the one area. Life was always busy; I’m one of four siblings, two sisters and a brother, all younger than me and our house always seemed crowded with friends and family.
Summer holidays took us back to Cyprus but sadly our first trip was after the country was divided into two after Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1975. This impacted on our ability to enjoy the towns and villages that my mum had often talked about as my maternal grandfather originated from the north of the island; Afania, Famagusta. This was a no-go area and back then no-one was able to cross over into the north. I have since crossed the Green Line but found the visit to northern Cyprus really upsetting with scenes of a once vibrant life stood in a time vacuum as well as many destroyed, and even totally obliterated villages.
The Summer Will Come was inspired by questions I had of how my parents (who met and married in the UK) came to live in London. I wanted to find out more about my roots and how I have always considered myself Greek Cypriot and yet was born in the UK. It is the answers to some of these questions that prompted me to research further into the history of the country and hence the starting point of my story; 1950s Cyprus and how under British rule the country became unsettled and EOKA emerged as a way to provide independence from the British forces and unification, or enosis, with Greece. The novel looks at both traditions within the Greek Orthodox calendar but also these Greek Cypriot traditions and the pressure on the younger members of the families in the story, to conform to the British way of life. It’s a passionate story of family loyalty and betrayal, the hardship of war and having to start a new life away from the quiet villages of Cyprus in London.
Q: You take your writing very seriously. What does your writing process look like when it comes to your novels? Does it differ for your poetry collection?
A: So far my writing process has been fairly strict in that I write most days including weekends. Generally I am a morning person so I get up, shower have breakfast and then lock myself away in my dining room. It’s a beautiful room to work in although I’d love to have my own personal writing space one day! I have a huge oak dining table and the room overlooks the back garden with French doors opening onto my pretty back garden which is lovely in the summer months. I tend to write for three – four hours at a time or until my stomach starts rumbling! During this time I drink lots of tea – mainly Greek Cypriot tea scented with cinnamon sticks and cloves or a fusion of green tea like pomegranate or jasmine. If I snack it is usually 70% dark Lindt chocolate.
Q: You mentioned that you write letters to women recently diagnosed with cancer every month, via a charity called Girls Love Mail. How did you get involved with this charity?
A: My mum was diagnosed with cancer in October 2013 and the next three years were a living nightmare for me and my family. It was a time of total chaos in terms of diagnosis each time, the impact the ongoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy had on my mum physically, emotionally and spiritually. But thankfully, she got through, despite many complications, five surgical procedures and the odds against her. It was an exhausting time where I worked full-time as a school teacher and middle manager as a Pastoral leader for the Sixth Form in a local secondary school. Eventually I recognised I was close to burn-out and resigned from my career. It was during the early months of not working that I thought about giving something back to those who suffer daily from this cruel life-taking disease but I didn’t want to do a marathon or a run. I’m fit and healthy but I’m no keep-fit-fanatic either. The charity Girls Love Mail www.girlslovemail.com/ takes handwritten letters and distributes them to women recently diagnosed with cancer and this seemed like the perfect fit for me to give something back. It involved writing which I love doing, it was removed from my immediate life so I didn’t have to be emotionally involved on a daily basis.
Q: One of the letters you wrote for Girls Love Mail is going to be published in a book called Dear Friend in September 2017. How did this opportunity present itself? Can you tell us more about the book?
A: I signed up to sending 4 letters every month which I have been doing for almost 18 months now. I think it was after my second or third month batch that I received the news from Gina Mulligan, founder of the charity, that one of my letters had been selected for inclusion in a book called Dear Friend which is available for pre-order here on Amazon. I was absolutely delighted and it came as a total surprise as I had no idea of the charity’s plan to publish a book. I am deeply humbled that my words give women love, hope and encouragement in what must be for many their darkest hour. Dear Friend is a collection of the many handwritten letters received by the charity. It is made up of photographic images of the actual letters and so it makes it authentic and real and very touching to see the handwriting of so many touching the hearts and lives of these women.
Q: In addition to writing full time and contributing letters to Girls Love Mail, you also participate in a bi-weekly creative writing group, teach private English Language lessons and are looking to start some children’s creative writing classes. How do you balance your busy schedule?
A: Honestly…it doesn’t feel busy having worked full-time in education previously while bringing up three boys on my own as well as studying for an MA in Education. I suppose that’s because there are cycles of busier times and the stress is somehow less and more manageable than when I worked full-time in education and of course when you love something it isn’t a chore and your energy levels are high and abundant.
The bi-weekly creative writing group enables me to pace my writing and allows me to work to deadlines. I’m highly organised and a natural planner and as a former teacher of Business Studies I am used to setting my own goals and objectives using SMART which can be seen here for those readers who may need some guidance on what SMART means and how to set objectives which are SMART. Using SMART can help achievement and motivation. The private tuition for English Language lessons tend to take place after school hours so between 4pm and 7pm, Monday to Friday and the Children’s Creative Writing Classes take place on Saturday mornings – 2 groups back to back from 10am -11am and then 11.15am – 12.15pm. The rest of the time is my time for all things writing and for catching up with my friends and family. Both these activities bring in an income which I rely on but it’s also a way of keeping in touch with and supporting young people in their endeavours. Through both these activities I have seen young people build their confidence, improve their written and oral language skills and go on to achieve which let’s face it, is integral in achieving life-long success and happiness.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
A: I would say if you love writing then you won’t be able to stop. People ask me how I find the time to write but in truth, I believe that if you want to do something you make it a priority and you make the time. I schedule writing time and time for everything else just as I would a meeting or an interview. Once it’s on my planner for the week it stays there and I do not change my plan for anybody…well almost. It’s a long journey and for me, writing has become a way of life. I can’t separate writing from my life. I’m always on ‘writing alert’ and carry a notebook with me wherever I go as I just never know when something will strike a chord with me whether it be a conversation, a place, something I notice…and if I don’t make a note I do forget!
Writing can get lonely so try to connect with other writers and writing communities so that you feel less isolated and have the support of others doing the same as you. My Twitter and Instagram writing communities have been undeniably supportive from giving advice on Indie publishing to formatting my manuscript to sharing our triumphs and our mistakes too. It’s all about supporting each other in an open and non-judgemental way. If you can visit book fairs and other book or writing events – the information you pick up will be invaluable – here are my thoughts from visiting LBF17.
I would also say, as a new writer, that the opportunities to tell your story your way are out there more than ever now so don’t be afraid to write what you want and not what you think the world is waiting for. If you like it, others will like it too. There will be days when you struggle so if you’re forcing yourself to write in a genre or a theme you are not totally comfortable with you will make it an even more difficult journey. So be true to yourself, follow your passion and your dream…there’s room for all of us to be successful!
Meet the Author:
Born in London to Greek Cypriot parents Soulla Christodoulou spent much of her childhood living carefree days full of family, school and friends. She was the first in her family to go to university and studied BA Hotel & Catering Management at Portsmouth University. Years later, after having a family of her own she studied again at Middlesex University and has a PGCE in Business Studies and an MA in Education.
Soulla is a Women’s Fiction author and wrote her first novel Broken Pieces of Tomorrow over a few months while working full time in secondary education and is a mother of three boys.
She is a compassionate and empathetic supporter of young people. Her passion for teaching continues through private tuition of English Language and Children’s Creative Writing Classes.
Her writing has also connected her with a charity in California which she is very much involved in as a contributor of handwritten letters every month to support and give hope to women diagnosed with breast cancer. One of her letters will be featured in a book ‘Dear Friend’ out in September 2017.
When asked, she will tell you she has always, somewhere on a subconscious level, wanted to write and her life’s experiences both personal and professional have played a huge part in bringing her to where she was always meant to be; writing books and drinking lots of cinnamon and clove tea!
She also has a poetry collection, Sunshine after Rain, published on Amazon and is releasing her second novel, The Summer Will Come in Autumn/Winter 2017.