#7: Inspire Interview Series – MICHELLE KEILL, NOVELIST

I have LOVED working on the Inspire Interview Series this year (catch up with any you missed here!) and getting to chat to so many amazing people about the cool stuff they’ve done with their lives. To round off 2018, I wanted to share with you a really special one.

1409DC03-D1AD-4569-897C-F37D4E88C22ELast year I was quite stressed out and disillusioned and needed a break and some inspiration, so I disappeared off to Paris for a weekend as it’s my favourite city in the world. Outside the bookshop (my spiritual home!) Shakespeare and Company, I discovered a book on a bench that had been left as part of a BookFairy Drop (where people leave books all around major cities and towns for others to discover)… and I was hooked. That was how I first connected with Michelle – through her gorgeous, haunting novel The Four Women (available here), and its characters, and I suppose above all – Paris.

Michelle Keill is a beautiful writer and novelist, and has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my Inspire Interview questions… so here’s hoping this kickstarts your New Year with a little creativity.

Writers are some of my favourite people because I’m fascinated by what they create, I get so excited when I get to talk to them – so without further ado, let’s chat to Michelle about her awesome work!

B: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

M: I’m not sure it was something I wanted to ‘be’, but it’s something I’ve always done. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house writing stories with a crayon (in those days I also illustrated – badly, but more competently than I would do now).

B: What is the best thing, and what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

M: The best thing, apart from the excuse to drink tea to excess and buy lots of pretty notebooks, is the opportunity to take myself out of reality and create a new one. Also, the potential to provide an escape for people: hearing from readers who’ve connected with the book is wonderful. As for the most difficult thing, any form of creative expression makes you vulnerable, and that feeling is hard to get used to. I find writing the first draft is the easiest part of the process – from there it gets harder, with all the rewriting and editing.

B: Can you give a little teaser about your novel The Four Women for anyone who hasn’t read it?

M: The book is about a young woman living in Paris whose world is drastically transformed by four women who enter her life, seemingly from nowhere, and introduce her to a reclusive and enigmatic tutor whom, they promise, can teach her French. On meeting him, she discovers that although he is indeed as brilliant as they described, he may not have the best of intentions. It’s a love story, but a dark one, and explores the theme of how much of our lives is predetermined, and what is simply chance. If I could give my characters one piece of advice it would be to be careful what you wish for, and to follow your instincts and stay true to yourself. Advice I try to keep in mind myself, actually.

B: What are you currently working on at the moment?

M: A collection of short stories, which should be published in 2019. I also have a romantic comedy and another Paris novel in the works.

B: Any tips for aspiring writers?

M: Write what enthrals and engages you, rather than what is popular or selling well at the moment (unless that is what enthrals and engages you!). You’re in charge of what you put on the page, so be sure it’s a genre or story that you feel passionate about. And read a lot. But, mostly, just write. 

B: Can you describe a writing day in the life of Michelle Keill?

M: Despite not being a morning person, my best time to write is first thing, so I try to make an early start. Then I’ll keep going until about two in the afternoon, which is usually when I feel my creative energy fading. I might push on into the evening if I’m working on a key scene or if I’m really in flow, but I find my mind is clearer earlier in the day. I need to be free of distractions (i.e. no phone), but I need music on when I write, otherwise it’s not happening.

B: What has been the most challenging part of getting to where you are today?

M: I developed a serious illness in 2014, which struck without warning and came close to getting the better of me. I ended up having emergency surgery to save my lung, which was frightening. From there it was a long road back to health. I wrote ‘The Four Women’ as I was recovering: while my body was restoring itself, my creativity was resetting too. I look back and I’m amazed that something good came from such a harrowing experience.

B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?

M: Happiness for me can be as simple as spending a rainy day indoors lying on the sofa with a book and a cuppa. Same for success: if one person reads my book and enjoys it, then I consider that a win.

B: Best life advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat other people as you’d want to be treated yourself. And, from my mum, always make sure you have a decent mascara.

B: Best career advice you’ve ever been given?

M: Treat everyone you encounter at work, no matter what their role, with equal courtesy. The person at the bottom today may be at the top tomorrow. I think that came from my mum too.

B: Do you have a role model or mentor you look to for career inspiration?

M: My friends inspire me with their kindness, loyalty, and courage. Also, if I’m in a tricky situation, I often think, ‘What would Michelle Obama do?’ That always gets me on the right track.

B: What does ‘balance’ mean to you?

M: It means leaving a bit of energy in the tank and not pushing too hard (I’m still learning how to do this!). It means pausing and not always rushing to the finish line. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.

B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?

M: To make a positive contribution to the world.

B: What inspires you to write?

M: People, faces, and places. Or sometimes just a line in a song. 

B: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be in another life?

M: Perhaps a doctor, if I could make the grade.

B: If you had to spend the rest of your life with one fictional character, who would it be?

M: Ross from ‘Friends’. He’s intelligent, sensitive, musical (!), and enjoys lounging around on sofas drinking hot beverages.

B: How do you take care of yourself and make sure you get the right ‘work life balance’, if there is such a thing?

M: Following my illness, I’ve learned to listen to my body (not quite sure I’ve mastered it yet). If you’re working too hard, or not getting enough sleep or eating properly, your body will usually drop a few subtle hints to let you know. I make sure I pay attention to those early warning signs, and try to take it a bit easier when I feel I need to.

Quickfire

Physical books or ebooks?

Physical, definitely. I love to see rows of bulging bookshelves.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Dinner.

Forests or beaches?

Forests. Bonus points if there are squirrels.

Walking or running?

Walking.

Favourite place?

Paris, Washington D.C., and my bed.

Dancing or yoga?

Dancing.

Nature or nurture?

Nurture.

Talent or hustle?

Talent.

Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese. I’m all about the cheese.

Fave self-care ritual?

A hot bath, a book, and a cup of Earl Grey.

A good book or Netflix?

A good book, but I can’t pretend I could function without Netflix.

Fave quote:

Not a quote as such, but JFK’s ‘we choose to go the moon’ speech always gives me a boost when I’m feeling overwhelmed, incapable, or my courage is failing me.

Top 3 books?

Hard to choose just three, but …

1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

2. Misery by Stephen King

3. Tampa by Alyssa Nutting

Tea or coffee?

Tea, all day long. With plenty of milk.

Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)

Frank-N-Furter, Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, Romesh Ranganathan, Don Lemon, Charlie Brooker, Stephen Colbert, and Freddie Mercury (I’d have to invite my mum too if Freddie was there).

If you had a ‘death row dinner’ – a last meal that could be anything you want, favourites, whatever… what would it be?

Pizza, followed by homemade apple crumble (custard mandatory). All followed, of course, by a large cup of tea.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights Michelle, I am so excited to read more of your work as I still get shivers thinking about The Four Women!

Hope you all enjoyed hearing more about life as a novelist, and if you’d like to connect further, you can find Michelle on Goodreads here, Instagram here and Amazon here.

B xoxo

#6 Inspire Interview Series – ALICE MAY PURKISS – FREELANCE WRITER & COPPAFEEL TRUSTEE

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Alice May Purkiss, Photo credit: What’sOnDarlington.co.uk

I’m so grateful for some of the interviews I’ve been able to do as part of this Inspire Interview Series – it’s mind-blowing to see the range of different but reeeeeally cooool shizz people can do when they put their minds to it! If you missed any of the previous installments, they’re all collated here on my careers page, so go and check them out!

Today, though, we have an incredibly special Q&A with a phenomenal woman tackling, among other things, proving publishers wrong, writing books, kicking cancer’s ass – in other words, grit and life wisdom from a gorgeous girlboss warrior.

I think  ‘career inspo’ style pieces can end up being very glib, trite, very ‘yeah! postivity woo, follow your dreams!’ and I wanted to make sure I’m sharing real stories, real experiences with breadth and depth and struggle as well as glossy corporate fairytale stories, so today I think this much deeper, harder, more real interview than any featured so far in this series is the most important – it’s definitely affected me the most of the pieces so far, and I hope you all find what you need from it too ❤

Alice May Purkiss (author of Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year)

While already battling depression, Alice was diagnosed with cancer. Ultimately, she kicked its ass and survived it, and continues to document her journey on social media (@Alicemaypurkiss) and she has written some incredible pieces on her experience and given a range of speeches and workshops. She is now a freelance writer, self-published author, trustee for Cancer Charity CoppaFeel and much, much more.

Upon being told by publishers that her social media following wasn’t big enough to publish her memoir about her experience of cancer, depression, and everything in between, Life, Lemons and Melons, Alice successfully crowdfunded the project, sourced illustrators and singlehandedly proved them wrong (click here to pre-order now!) She now works as a freelance writer and has written for Stylist, Metro, Red Online to name a few.

I wanted to share as much as possible of the insights from this awesome human with you, both life lessons, career and writing, because I think we all struggle with figuring out what we’re doing, where we’re going, career stuff… but this is a girl who did it / is doing it while simultaneously frying much, MUCH bigger fish… so without further ado, let’s go over to Alice.

The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. – Alice May Purkiss, Life, Lemons & Melons

B: Please could you give a little intro of your journey of the last few years for anyone who doesn’t know you from social media?

A: Writer. Avid eater of food. Northerner on loan to London. Feminist. Had a run in with breast cancer. Trustee for .

B: You’ve been through an incredibly difficult ordeal and what’s been amazing about following your journey is how you’ve managed to transform some of that into a force for good, with your advocating for women checking their breasts for lumps [#CheckYourChebs], writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons, speaking at various events and sharing your experiences… do you have any advice for people struggling with similar (or different but difficult) situations?

A: Life is tough. We are consistently thrown curve balls that keep us on our toes and these can have long lasting and far reaching effects. But there is nearly always some good to be found in the difficult situations, it’s just about switching your view up so you can see it. And it’s important to remember that while every day might not be good, better days will come. Like the sunrise and the sunset, time is constantly moving and the world is always changing, so you won’t feel like you do now forever.

B: This seems like a stupid question as it must change so much, but how has your journey with breast cancer and everything you have to deal with as a consequence changed you and your perspective on life, looking after yourself, and work?

A: I get asked a lot if being diagnosed with breast cancer has changed me – and the honest answer is I really don’t know. Some days I feel like the same person I was before I got sick, other times I feel like a completely different human. I’m a bit of a contradiction really because sometimes it makes me more cautions and other times it makes me more adventurous. I think the best way to describe it is I’m a bit like a twin of myself – with the same basic DNA (minus the cancery cells) but with tweaks to my personality and my outlook. I’ve always been “work to live” rather than “live to work” and this is SO MUCH WORSE now, which is a blessing in many ways but also means I need to give myself a kick up the arse a lot more than I used to. And in terms of looking after myself, this has become completely crucial to me. My body has been battered and bruised and my brain has taken it’s fair share of a battering too – so things like yoga and meditation have taken a bigger priority in my life than ever before.

B: Can you talk a little bit about your process and experience of writing your book Life, Lemons and Melons?

A: The process of writing Life, Lemons and melons has been a pretty long one. I started my “journey” towards publishing this book about 18 months ago, when I secured an agent and he began talking to publishers about my work. They felt that despite the fact that they loved my idea and my writing, I didn’t have a big enough social media following for them to take a punt on me. So I decided to stick it to the man and do it anyway. I launched a Kickstarter and raised £5000 in 30 days last October and since then I have been knee deep in the writing trenches, driven on by nought but my own perseverance and the 176 investors who chose to believe in me with their hard earned dollar. As the book combines a number of difficult topics, it’s taken me quite a lot of time to geth through the chapters, and it’s really important to me that I am looking after myself while writing, so I’ve taken my time and tried not to put too much pressure on myself to get it done. I also have to be in a very particular place mentally and emotionally to write it so I don’t make my way into a mental nosedive, so I have to be really careful. 

B: You moved from a marketing role to going freelance and writing your book – any tips for people looking to do the same?

A: Take your time – don’t rush. The move doesn’t need to happen immediately. Start putting some feelers out for freelance work before you take the plunge and leave your job. And don’t be scared of the peaks and troughs that come with being a freelancer – there are many and they never get easier but where there are troughs there are always peaks.

B: Can you describe a (working/writing) day in the life of Alice Purkiss?

A: God I’m so bad at sticking to a particular schedule so it varies massively from day to day. I still struggle with fatigue so I don’t usually rush out of bed – even if I’m awake (which I usually am) I don’t get up til about 8.30 or 9, then I’ll get my breakfast, have a wash and start my day at 10am, unless there’s anything in particular that needs to be done first thing (usually dealing with social media clients or responding to emails). Then I usually work for a few hours on whatever projects I have on, whether social media management, writing pieces I have been commissioned for, doing the copywriting work that pays the bills or banging out some words for the book. I usually work til around 2 or 3pm. But this can all change if I have an event to go to, or a meeting to attend, or if I want to go for a swim, to yoga or to another exercise class.

B: What has been the most challenging part of going freelance and working for yourself?

A: Being kind to myself when things are difficult financially. Freelancing is so variable – some months I have lots of work coming in, others I don’t. That’s just the way it is for most freelancers but I have a tendency to tell myself I’m not doing enough, not trying hard enough, should be doing more etc etc. So working on treating myself better and learning to relish the downtime has been a big learning curve.

B: You’ve been very open about your struggles with depression before and during your breast cancer, and the importance of mental health which is so inspiring and I’m sure has helped so many people. What would you say to someone who is suffering and needs help or advice?

A: It’s such a hard question because everyone is so different but I think my number one piece of advice is that the sun will come out again. Better days are coming. You will know lightness again. Just hang in there. Kind of reminds me of this section I wrote in the book:

“There is one key thing I have learnt over the last three years. I think this lesson has partially occurred as a result off my extensive CBT and counselling but partly just as a result of living through a trauma and probably as I approach 30 and develop a bit of hindsight on the life that has gone before me. The lesson is this: depression or no depression, PTSD or no PTSD, cancer or no cancer, any emotions you are feeling are valid. You’re feeling them for a reason. We’re all guilty of shutting ourselves down when we’re experiencing emotions that feel more intense than we’re used to. But they are part of the human experience. They are part of what it is that makes us a human. Without sorrow we cannot know joy. Without loss we cannot know gratitude. I know it sounds trite. I know it sounds a bit airy fairy, a bit wishy washy and probably a bit like I’ve read too many books on feelings but we are consistently told to keep our emotions in check because we are scared of how our feelings will be perceived. But if your emotions are on extra loud, for whatever reason, sit with them for a while. Don’t try to get rid of them. Recognise them. Learn from them. Don’t beat yourself up for not reacting the “right” way to something. There is no “right” way. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can. And if the intense emotions you’re feeling are horrible or scary, find someone to sit with them with you, someone to hold your hand and remind you that everything’s going to be ok. I think every emotion comes to teach us something. We just have to be open to learning.”

B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?

A: 1) Living well and making the most of the life I’ve been given and sharing it with people I love

2) Managing to do the above!

B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?

A: My life’s mission in a nutshell is to do my bit to help stamp out late detection of breast cancer by educating the masses on the signs and symptoms that you should be looking out for when you do your monthly check (that’s why I volunteer with CoppaFeel!). I want people who are struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone – that they can talk when they are ready and things will get better. I want those people to know that the world is better with them in it. I want to tell stories and go on adventures, to laugh, to be happy and to be healthy for as long as possible

***Quickfire***

Swimming or running?
SWIMMING. Every time.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Dinner (or tea as we call it in the North)

Forests or beaches?
Beaches near forests?!

Nature or nuture?
Nature

Talent or hustle?
Talent

Chocolate or cheese?
Chocolate

Fave self-care ritual?
Yoga

A good book or netflix?
Book

Fave quote:
“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Tea or coffee?
Neither. I am a traitor to my Yorkshire kin.

Avocado toast: ridiculous or delicious?

DELICIOUS

Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)
GOOD ONE. Erm. Margaret Atwood, Bryony Gordon, my Grandma, Zadie Smith, Jon Ronson and Adam Buxton.

The best meal in the world is…
My husband’s mum’s roast ham Sunday dinner with all the trimmings. It’s honestly the best ham I’ve ever tasted. But I also bloody love seafood so anything fishy works for me.

Thanks SO MUCH Alice for sharing all of this, and I can’t wait to read your book!

Check out Alice on social media via the below links, and please do spare a minute to browse the CoppaFeel website and don’t forget to not only #CheckYourChebs but remind all of the lovely ladies in your life to do the same (breast cancer signs and symptoms explained here).

Spend more time with Alice over on her website, instagram, twitter, and read more about Life, Lemons & Melons, out later this year here.

You can also PRE-ORDER her book, Life, Lemons & Melons now for just £10 – click here!

B xoxo

Boobs, cancer, questions, queries…?

If you have any questions or concerns, whether you want to donate or have worries about your own health… have a look at the CoppaFeel website and other relevant charities but please do not hesitate to book a boob check, and speak to a qualified health professional. Other resources include:

Signs & Symptoms of breast cancer – CoppaFeel

Cancer Research UK

Breast Cancer Now – resources