I first met the incomparable author, Daphne Kapsali about a year ago through her groundbreaking debut work, 100 days of solitude. Since that time, she has written two more novels, you can’t name an unfinished thing, and This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world and embarked on a fundraising campaign aimed a bringing her debut effort to a wider audience. Daphne was gracious enough to be my very first interview on my blog, and boy did we have fun.
How long have you actually considered yourself a writer in a professional sense and was there a defining moment or a gradual process that gave you that distinction?
I think it was both a process and several moments along the way. I have always identified as writer, in a vague sense, but in the past it mostly took the form of “Yes, I’m working in this crappy bar, but I’m a writer, don’t you know” – it was my “one day”, my excuse and my safety net, all at once. And this despite having studied Creative Writing for both my BA and MA. I think the real shift began a couple of years ago, when I left my job and life in London and took myself off to a small Greek island called Sifnos, to write full-time and explore whether I actually had it in me to be a professional writer.
Defining moments have included seeing my book on Amazon for the first time, receiving reader reviews, and being contacted, randomly, by people who’ve read my book and want to tell me that they liked it. Those are the moments when you go “wow, this is actually real!”. I now sometimes even manage, when asked what I do, to mutter “I’m a writer”. But tentatively.
You have so far published 3 novels, “you can’t name an unfinished thing,” “This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world (next on my hit list),” and the piece de resistance, “100 days of solitude.” These 3 books were published in a span of six months. How did you accomplish such a feat?
Haha, you make me sound like Stephen King! The truth is, I’m not one of those prolific writers who produce several titles a year, and my publishing history to date is a bit of a fluke. The most accurate answer is: ideal writing conditions. 100 days of solitude was written over 100 days, between September and December 2014, while I was doing my “reclusive author” thing in Sifnos. I was living alone, on a small island off-season, and my time was entirely dedicated to writing: I produced one piece a day, for 100 consecutive days. Unfinished came straight after that, and was written in just over three months while I was still living in Sifnos. This Reluctant Yogi actually predates both of them: it was adapted from a blog with the same name that I’d been writing in the months preceding my move to Sifnos. And, after having published 100 days and Unfinished and gotten the gist of self-publishing, I thought “hey, I’ve got some more material, and I haven’t published anything for a month or so – let’s get this thing out”.
What is it that drew you to the genres of contemporary, memoir, and creative nonfiction? Do you see yourself writing in another genre in the future?
It’s funny: I always had this idea that I was a novelist, a fiction writer, but ever since writing 100 days, I’ve had to seriously reconsider. I don’t really do plot, and I don’t think I have the sort of imagination that I associate with fiction writers. My talent, if I can call it that, seems to lie in “essays on living and being alive” (as I recently tried to describe it on one of my blogs): pieces inspired by actual events, current or past, things I’ve seen and things I’ve thought about, that develop into essays exploring themes that make up our experience of the way we live now. With fictionalised bits thrown in. For example, in 100 days, you’ll often see me conversing with characters such as Antagonist, City Girl, Sifnos Chick and The Writer, who represent different parts of my personality. I can assure you these incidents didn’t actually take place – but they’re not strictly fiction, either. This style of writing seems to work best for me, as it allows me to convey ideas and messages with a clarity and immediacy that I think would be lost if I tried to disguise them as fiction.
The process of writing 100 days was when, as they say, I found “my voice”. Having said that, Unfinished is a straight-up novel, though entirely character-driven, and with very little in the way of plot! It was a book I needed to write, and I wrote it, but I can’t honestly say if I’ll be venturing back into novel-writing in the future, or letting go of that idea and sticking to what I’m good at.
What motivates you to write and what has been a stumbling block that you have overcome or are overcoming?
At the risk of sounding very cheesy, it’s innate, even primal. It’s a need, as well as a desire. I never feel quite right when I’m not writing; when I do finish a piece, I feel grounded, at peace, like I know where I am in the world. It’s almost like writing justifies my presence here, like it proves that I exist. In addition to that, as I grow, I come across small insights and understandings that help me be a happier and more positive presence in this life – mine and other people’s – and writing allows me to share them. Not in any kind of teachy way, but more like “hey, look what I found, isn’t it cool?”.
What I stumble on is insecurity, which is also innate. It’s the voice that says “who do you think you are?”, the fear that you’ll run out of things to say, that you’ll never write anything worth reading again. I think we’re all plagued by this, to an extent, and it’s our challenge, as writers, to just write through it. And hope for the best!
What are you views on the different avenues of publishing i.e. self-publishing, indie-publishing, hybrid publishing, traditional publishing etc.?
I’m a big advocate of doing what you want, in any way you can, and it’s a great time for this. With the advent and recent growth of self- and indie publishing, it’s no longer a question of if you get published, but how. Securing a traditional publisher is as hard (or perhaps even harder) as it’s ever been, but we now have other options, and it’s entirely possible to be successful following these alternative routes. The obvious drawback to traditional vs indie or self-published is the difference in resources, financial and otherwise, to reach your potential readers, although it is also true, in most cases, that no matter what route you take, marketing is largely driven by the authors themselves, anyway. Traditional lends credibility; indie and self-publishing allows you, perhaps, more creative freedom. There are pros and cons to any choice you make, and I think it’s down to individual authors to make their choice work for them.
What upsets me is that self-publishing (and some of the indies) often produces bad work, and that taints the rest of us. If we are ever to “legitimise” indie and self-published titles to the point where they can compete with traditional ones, we need to establish and maintain certain standards of quality and that means, at the very least, work that is – almost – technically perfect. There is absolutely no excuse for bad grammar, bad syntax, spelling errors and typos. Talent may not be available to all of us, but proofreading and editing services are.
What are some of your favorite novels and authors and why?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Small Island by Andrea Levy, and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I can’t say why, exactly, but these are the books that have stayed with me the most. And the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I can read and re-read those until the end of days.
I know for a fact that – like most of us independent authors – you are also acting as your own PR and marketing team. How are you finding that process? Were you prepared for it when you began your journey as an author? What would you tell other independent authors who find this side of things intimidating and/or undignified?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I did have an inkling that getting a book published would then involve getting it front of readers, but I wasn’t at all prepared how it would take over my life. It was a shock, because I went from reclusive author to social media slave in the space of a day and I’ve been there, chained to my computer, every day since. I found it hard, and I still do, because I’m quite reserved by nature, and attention makes me uncomfortable – let alone finding new, creative ways to talk myself up in public, which is basically what doing your own marketing entails.
The way I get through it, and the way I’d advise any new author to go about it, is by doing it my own way, being genuine and never straying too far from who I am. I’ve obviously researched marketing techniques, and I apply some to the extent that they serve my books and personality, but I never use “formulas” and approaches that make me sound like someone else and feel icky. I think that’s how you maintain your dignity and your integrity, and how you create real connections with readers. And yes, it is intimidating in the beginning, competing with millions of titles for attention and not even knowing where to start in this crazy world of social media marketing. But just start, and make your way through it slowly. Look around; connect with other writers and ask what they’re doing. It will soon begin to make sense.
Having said that, I’ve recently come to accept that doing it all on your own (thinking that you can!) is not only impossible but also potentially damaging to your books. I’ve handled my own marketing for over a year, but I’m now looking into paying for professional services that can bring my work to readers that I cannot reach myself. I think it deserves that, and it’s an investment worth making.
You are currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help bring your novel, 100 days of solitude, to a wider audience. Can you tell us more about the campaign, and why we should support it?
The campaign is called “100 days for everyone”, which stands for everyone’s right to do what they love and live a life that makes sense to them. It’s inspired by 100 days of solitude, and the insights I stumbled upon during the process of writing it, insights that apply to pretty much everyone and have already motivated hundreds of readers to make positive changes in their own lives. Hundreds, but it could be thousands, or millions, if only I could reach them: this is a book that deserves to be read as widely as possible, not because I wrote it and I’m in any way special, but because I’m not, and writing it actually changed my life for the better. It is a raw account of that journey that everyone can relate to, and it’s the accidental factor, the lack of any sort of agenda, that makes it different, and valuable to its readers.
But it needs more readers, more than my own limited resources and networks can stretch to, and this links back to what I said before: not trying to do it all on your own. Giving this book its best chance means making some serious investments in professional advertising and marketing and that, in the most part, is what my campaign is raising funds for.
Why should you support it? I can’t really tell you that. People’s motivations are as individual and as diverse as the people themselves. But if there is anything in the idea that we all deserve the chance to be our best, happiest selves, to live rather than survive, and to bring our unique skills and talents into the world that appeals you, that’s a good starting point. It should at least get you as far as visiting the project page of Kickstarter.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new writing project, similar in style to 100 days of solitude – but it’s not, as people have suggested, “another 100 days” as such. It’s just days and thoughts and words, put together in the hope of creating something bigger, something meaningful. My working title at the moment is “In praise of being selfish”. You can follow it’s development as I’m writing it on my new blog, 100daysofsolitude.com.
Tell us something different and unique about Daphne Kapsali that you haven’t said in any other interview?
I am addicted to crisps (or chips, in US-speak). I’m serious. It’s a problem. I like them quite thick-cut, and dry, and never flavoured: I’m a purist and will only eat the salted ones. Just in case anyone wants to send me some.
Please do check out Daphne’s 100 days of solitude and the Kickstarter campaign that will bring it to a wider audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re a reader or writer, what genre or even career you’re into, Daphne’s work is for all. As she says, everyone has the right to do what they love and live a life that makes sense to them. Let’s make this one happen.