Welcome to the two hundred and sixty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist, non-fiction and short story author Nerys Parry. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Nerys. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Nerys: I’m based in Ottawa, Canada, and began my writing career in kindergarten with my first diary—it’s pretty well been non-stop since.
I think being a writer sprang naturally from being such a passionate reader. I have been devouring books since I was three, and was raised by an English major mother who put me to bed with Rudyard Kipling and the Best of British Poetry. My mom is the kind of woman who spouts Shakespeare at the mere mention of “sleep”, and she was also the one who insisted I read Milton while completing my engineering degree. She felt no education was complete without a complete grasp of classical literature, and to this day, I love classics, both old and ‘new’, and can think of nothing better than reading on a beach, unless it’s reading by a fire!
Morgen: Or a beach fire. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Nerys: I’ve had many rejections over the years, particularly while trying to sell short stories. I can’t say I like being turned down, but I do try to learn what I can from the rejection, especially when an overworked and underpaid editor bothers to write me a personal note providing some suggestions, guidance or encouragement. I always send these editors a thank you note even if I don’t necessarily agree with what they’ve written, because I believe it’s important to be as polite and professional in this business as in any other. When it comes to rejections, there’s one thing I often tell people (and try to remember myself): it doesn’t matter how many no’s you encounter along the way, you only need one ‘yes’ to be published.
Morgen: Absolutely. No’s are just one person’s opinion – often just the right thing at the wrong time. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Nerys: I’ve been shortlisted and longlisted for many competitions. My novel was a finalist for the Colophon Prize, and tied for seventh in the Giller Prize Reader’s Choice award. Prior to this, my creative non-fiction work was shortlisted for the Kenneth R. Wilson Canadian Business Press Award, and twice for the Event Non-Fiction Award, and one of my stories also placed second in FreeFall’s Fall Fiction Contest.
Do I think they help with a writer’s success? If you write literary fiction—absolutely. Some prizes, like the Giller or Commonwealth, can really launch your career in the literary world, and many readers I know read almost exclusively prizewinners. But if you’re writing more mainstream fiction, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. Take the Harry Potter or Twilight series—I don’t think prize winning had much to do with those success stories. Nothing guarantees success but a darn good story.
Morgen: That’s what readers want, although a nod by a peer never does the CV any harm. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Nerys: I do have an agent, and I value her guidance tremendously. She has been a great support, and will continue to be for many years, always thinking of the long-term prospect of my career and how best to build it. While I have read that many people don’t consider agents vital to a writer’s success, especially in Canada, an agent has access to areas you don’t as a writer. They also have insider information on the publishing industry and will work hard to get you the best deal they can. It’s also fantastic to have that second eye on your manuscripts, and someone who believes in your writing pushing for your success. As for myself, I wouldn’t want to be on the journey without her.
Morgen: It’s great to hear you talk so passionately about your agent – some authors I’ve spoken to have had agents but felt they’ve not been supportive enough so they’ve parted ways. Are your books available as eBooks? And do you read eBooks?
Nerys: I have just received news that my novel will be made into an e-book. The publisher is just working out the dates, but we’re very excited. I never read an ebook until I knew I was going on a nine-week vacation to New Zealand and Australia. I couldn’t lug around all those books while backpacking in the Abel Tasman, so I loaded a few on my mom’s Kobo and set off. I’ve since read several books on it and enjoy it, but I have to say nothing beats a hardcover. For all the convenience, I still have a passion for the physical beauty of a book—something I write about a lot in my novel.
Morgen: So many people say that. I’ve always thought that paper books are for home and electronic books for away and now, having a Kindle, really that’s not changed. Until I read all the books I have at home (probably more than I could ever read) I think that’s how I’ll be. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Nerys: Even though my press is an amazing support, especially the marketing director who is a godsend, I still work every day to promote my book and myself. As a first time novelist in the tough and tight world of literary fiction, it’s all too easy to be overlooked. While my press organizes many of the reviews and readings, I need to build the website, grow my network, twitter news—all those things to reach out and connect with readers. I won’t lie—it’s an awful lot of work. The only thing I can compare it to is having a baby. Giving birth to it is only one small step; once it’s out in the world, you need to spend a lot of time taking care of it, whether you’re self-published or not.
Morgen: As an independent just starting out (without a press behind me) I can completely relate to that. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Nerys: I don’t really get writer’s block so much as I suffer through ‘bad’ writing patches when my prose dries up and sits stale and weak on the page. These happen mostly when I’m overworking, and my only solution is to go out and do something completely different, like browse through the salvation army racks for funky 70’s shirts, or visit a paper shop to pick up scraps of paper for a collage, or just take a long walk through the woods. One of my secret methods for curing the writing doldrums is to read poetry. There’s nothing like a beautiful, poignant poem to rekindle the magic of words and inspire me to go forward. In a way, these periods give me wonderful pause to restock my spirit and my writing, so I try to appreciate them instead of dread them.
Morgen: I’m really lucky. I rarely get stuck and if I do, I just do something different. It’s only temporary. The hardest thing for me is finding the time. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Nerys: That’s the funny thing, the more I write and improve, the tougher I get and the more I have to work to reach that next level. I thought when I took four years to study creative writing that I would emerge having reached a stage where the writing just poured out, easily and effortlessly, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. While it does pour out, less and less of it now makes it to the final draft. Not that I mind, because I love the writing process itself, and will often rewrite scenes over and over until something magical happens, and that can take time. What I do find is that I am more flexible as time goes on, and when I encounter a particular problem with plot or rhythm I now have many more ‘tools’ in my toolkit to resolve and fix what’s wrong.
Morgen: I’ve heard top (household) authors say they’re still learning, which is reassuring. I’ve been studying (on and off) for six years and although I’m confident in my ability, there’s always new things to learn… and of course lots of practice (first drafts don’t usually resemble the finished story). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Nerys: It’s advice from Epicurus, which I’ll have to paraphrase because I don’t have the translation handy: “Whatever you do, do your best, and above all, always be kind.” Best advice for living I’ve heard in the last few thousand years.
Morgen: Wow. You’re wearing incredibly well. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Nerys: Most of my information, including my media promotion, book reviews, and blog are on my website: www.nerysparry.com
Clips of radio and television interviews are on my YouTube Channel.
Book Club Reader’s Guide: here.
Discounts available for purchases of 5 or more copies for book clubs! Check out http://www.greatplains.mb.ca/guides for more details.
Loved the book? Take the quiz on Goodreads.
The book is available for purchase at Chapters, Amazon and local bookstores across the country. For those outside of the country, they can buy the book at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Morgen: Quiz? Ooh, I love quizzes. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Nerys: Man & Other Natural Disasters will be coming out in e-book soon, so for those who like to read digitally, keep an eye out for it. Also, I will be visiting Calgary in March and Toronto in April, and would love to see readers there. More information can be found on my website event page at http://www.nerysparry.com/upcoming-events.
Man & Other Natural Disasters also makes a GREAT book club read, and book club members can receive a 25% discount if they purchase it directly through the press. Details can be found here.
The press has also put together a fantastic reader’s guide, which can be downloaded here.
Morgen: Wow, you and your press certainly mean business. Thank you Nerys.
Nerys Parry’s debut novel, Man & Other Natural Disasters, was a finalist for the Colophon Prize and seventh in the Giller Prize Reader’s Choice Awards. Her writing has been described as “gorgeous throughout” (Kerry Clare, editor of Canadian Bookshelf), “compulsive reading” (Katherine Lyall-Watson), and “engaging and thoughtful” (Winnipeg Free Press). An engineer with a passion for hidden histories, Nerys has a Bachelor of Engineering and a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and lives in Ottawa with her husband, two children, one dog, two cats and numerous other creatures she suspects to be lurking around the house.
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