An interview with author and blogger Frances M Thompson
Author, blogger and freelance writer runs the travel blog As the Bird flies… where she chronicles her life as a digital nomad. She’s also a regular contributor to the Travelettes blog and the author of short story collection Shy Feet. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @bushbirdie.
You’re known as a successful travel blogger and have recently published a collection of short stories called Shy Feet. As a child, which books inspired your love of reading and writing?
What a lovely question… I don’t think about my favourite childhood books enough! Well, as a small child I remember reading The Hungry Caterpillar and Beatrix Potter books lots but they don’t really have much to do with travel. As I started to choose my own reading material and get full use out of my library card I remember reading quite a bit of Enid Blyton mixed with slightly less commendable Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters Clubs series, but again they’re less about travel and more about people. I did love Alice in Wonderland, but that’s a whole other way to travel! I still think about a few books I read in my teenage years including The Ballet Shoes by Noel Straetfield and A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian, which was the first love story that stayed with me for a long time. You could say I was more interested in people and love than travel when I was a child.
Is there a book that influenced your desire to travel, or that captures the freedom your nomadic lifestyle provides?
Books have always moved me – always emotionally and sometimes physically – opening my mind to new places and new horizons, but it would be a lie to say my lifestyle and love of travel was directly influenced by a single book or author. I think my reading tastes are just too broad. That said, literature does influence my travel choices. I love the Finnish author Tove Jansson (who created the Moomins but also writes other lovely stories) so it was a real joy to visit Finland for the first time this year. And I have long wanted to go to Botswana because of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. In terms of my nomadic lifestyle, strangely I don’t really subscribe to those “think/live more freely” non-fiction books that are out there – they’re just not my cup of tea – I find there’s greater comfort in just doing and I will always find fiction just as inspiring as real-life stories, if not more so.
Have you always written fiction, or is that something that developed from your work as a blogger and copywriter?
I’ve always written fiction – pages and pages of the stuff – from when I was very young and throughout my adult life. But being a copywriter and blogger was incremental in teaching me how to finish what I started as this was a constant problem until a few years ago. Blogging was also very important in my decision to self-publish as I already had a small but loyal and lovely readership keen to read what I was working on. My travelling lifestyle and freelance work also helped as it gave me greater flexibility with my time and after we made the big decision to go nomadic I realised that other fears I had could be faced and beaten. There’s a lot of fear-bashing involved in writing and publishing a book!
You chose to self-publish Shy Feet; what made you choose this route to publication? Short stories are notoriously hard to find a publisher for, if you wrote a novel would you publish it yourself or submit the manuscript traditionally?
Great question and something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, it would be fair to say that my anxiety of rejection stopped me from submitting Shy Feet to agents, because you’re absolutely right, short stories are traditionally very hard to sell (though maybe this will change thanks to recent awards recognising the art form, not least Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature). I also saw short stories as more of a stepping stone in my journey to become a novelist. I have two novel ideas I’m nurturing (I’m writing the first draft of one as this year’s NaNoWriMo) and I am certainly considering querying them when they’re ready, however, these days a manuscript has to be almost as well-polished for submission as it does to go down the road of self-publishing, so I take some comfort in knowing even if my novel idea is rejected I can still see it through and self-publish. As for short stories, I’m actually starting to think that they’re my real passion. I’m working on two new collections – albeit slowly! – and more ideas just keep coming to me for more. The feedback I’ve had from readers has also been great with people saying I’ve converted them to short fiction, which is fantastic. As both a reader and a writer, I truly love short stories. They’re so much fun to write and have been great practise for fine-tuning my editing and character building… I’ve almost started to wonder if maybe they’re more than just a stepping stone?
What advice would you offer to other writers hoping to self-publish?
Take your time and do it right. Compared with traditional publishing, self-published books see the light of day very quickly, which is great for authors eager to feed readers hungry for their work, but for a first-timer this can be a bad thing. I spent one and a half month’s writing the first draft of Shy Feet, but I spent nearly ten months editing it myself and then getting all twelve stories professionally edited, proofread and formatted. My stories are stronger, snappier and sweeter for that extra time and work. Also, be professional; when you become an indie author you become a business and you have to accept that you will have start-up costs with that, normally in the form of huge amounts of time spent on your work but also the outsourcing of the things you can’t do – a good cover, an unbiased editor etc. The profits are unlikely to come anytime soon – indeed it could take years and years – so don’t self-publish for the money, self-publish because you have something you believe in and you are happy and proud to share with the world; only then will you be in the best possible position to sell it, because yep, that’s your job to do too!
As something of a wanderer, do you find yourself with more or less time to read? Which books are you planning to read next? Do you have any that you secretly suspect you’ll never get round to?
I will always say that I don’t have enough time to read, but that’s mostly due to work and writing rather than travel. I’m completely certain that I’ll never have enough time to read all the books I want to and that does make me feel a little sad, you know. Actually, a few months ago I changed up my morning routine to include 10 – 20 minutes of reading over breakfast rather than eating cereal at my desk. This has been such a positive change. I’m currently reading three books – a bit naughty, I know! – a biography of Max Perkins (editor to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway), a collection of non-fiction essays about London (research for my next short story collection about my favourite city!) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, because I’m trying hard to read as many recommended classics as possible.
I’m terrible for buying books and having piles of them lying around the house waiting to be read. Travelling must limit your reading options: are you a Kindle addict, library regular or a paperback collector?
I’m a Kindle and Kobo addict – I have both because I like to search through new (and cheap!) self-published books and find new talent that’s emerging. It makes me realise how great it is to be a self-published author these days; there’s some really wonderful and exciting new work being published. That said, I love books and I have a small collection of vintage books that have been passed through generations of my family, I can’t wait to get them out of storage and treasure them one day. But for now it’s ebooks all the way; it just makes so much sense for travellers.
I like to keep my books as undamaged as possible. Do you have any pet hates about the way other people read or treat their books?
I used to dislike how people bent book spines all the way back to read them, folding them in half and curving the books natural shape. But now I like to see such enthusiasm and “book dismorphing” as nothing more than real enthusiasm and love for the words they’re reading. Though I’m not sure when my opinion changed. Perhaps it’s something to do with being an author now; I would love to see someone read my book with such passion.
And finally, do you have any random/funny/bizarre stories about books to share with us?
Well, I can share a few strange stories about my stories in Shy Feet, if that’s allowed? When I was writing the story called “Oh, Henry”, I don’t know why but I instantly knew one of the main characters – a posh, ex-private school, Army Captain “rah, rah!” kind of character – had to be called Henry. And the name of the story comes from the way his equally posh and pretentious girlfriend addresses him “Oh, Henry”. It was only much, much later that I remembered that O. Henry is the name of one of America’s most famous short story writers. That was a nice coincidence! Another bizarre turn of events is connected to “All the Beaches Are Made of Pebbles” – a story I always found myself tearing up at when I wrote it as it deals with some sad themes to do with family grudges and loss. From the outset Brighton & Hove played an important part in it – hence the name! – and I finished the first draft while travelling in Southeast Asia. Little did I know that six months later I would be living in Brighton for a summer. It was a lovely way to add some authenticity to the story when I started editing it while having a view of the pebbled beach there.
If you like the sound of Shy Feet, I’m giving away a copy of the ebook here.
If you’re a blogger, writer or book lover and you’d like to take part in Space on the Bookshelves, get in touch! You can email me at amy(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)tenpennydreams.com