Lana Penrose is the author of To Hellas and Back and Kickstart My Heart first published by Penguin/Viking. She is a former record company promotions manager, music journalist and MTV producer. She has appeared on national breakfast television and she and her books have featured in numerous newspapers, magazines and radio shows.
Tell me about your book. What is it about? Can you describe it in just a few sentences?
To Hellas and Back is the story of a woman unraveling in Greece (me), pulling herself together, then spontaneously combusting! A bittersweet bestselling memoir, I believe it nicely demonstrates the different ways in which my partner and I adjusted to a life less ordinary (he, very well, me, um … not so much).
My other book, Kickstart My Heart, is about me negotiating life in London like Bridget Jones with an axe through her head.
Why did you write it?
I wrote ‘To Hellas and Back’ because in the absence of a solid support network it at times felt like my greatest confidante. I found myself confiding to the page which was extremely cathartic. I also wrote it because I wasn’t legally permitted to work in Greece. I became my partner’s ‘manbag’ with plenty of time on my hands and paralleling that to my former existence as a frantic television producer, authoring a book seemed the only thing to do.
What qualifies you to write this book?
I was qualified to write it because I lived it! Sometimes life as an expat straddling cultural nuances or as someone going cross-eyed in a cross-cultural relationship can be confusing, so I faithfully documented my experiences to make myself and others laugh (and cry).
Why do you think your book needed to be written? What will it do for other people? How will it help? Did you have any competition?
You know how travel tales generally depict life abroad as idyllic affairs, full of Tuscan home renovations, cooking extravaganzas and unexpected revelations that lead to enlightenment and/or falling in love? Well, my story comes closer to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ face-plowing into a steaming mound of moussaka! I guess my failure makes for good reading.
Who do you think will read your book? What made you think that there was a market for it? If your book has been out for a while, what proof do you have that you were right?
Although ‘To Hellas and Back’ has been surprisingly embraced across the board, nobody ‘gets’ it like expats or those in cross-cultural relationships. It has brought comfort to many already, which brings me comfort as well. So many people go through similar experiences to mine, only few talk about it because it highlights our human frailty. As one journalist put it, “‘To Hellas and Back’ breaks the code of silence of overseas experiences”.
It does not matter how good a book is, or how good your writing is if no one knows about it. What steps have you taken or do you plan to take to promote your book? Are you a speaker or trainer? Do you have a blog? A website? A newsletter? Do you use Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools? What about press releases and sending out review copies and free articles? Have you had any other ideas? Which methods do you think work best and can you give me any examples?
Some people quite like self-promoting. I’m not one of them. That said, I understand how crucial publicity is thanks to first hand experience. I was privileged to have my own publicists at Penguin and it is through their efforts that my books have received so much traction to date.
How did you publish your book? Did you find an agent, a publisher or did you publish it yourself? Please describe your process and tell us how you found the experience. Is there anything you would definitely do again or never do again?
My books were first published by Penguin/Viking. I did everything sans agent, considering they all told me that my work was rubbish. Funny, considering ‘To Hellas and Back’ went on to become a bestseller! I knew they were wrong and was incredibly persistent.
Now that the new wave of publishing has hit the industry like a tsunami, I’ve decided to try it out for myself to see how it goes. What I’ve discovered so far is that self-publishing is positively liberating. You have control over everything. However, it takes up more time, and I’ve already stumbled across my fair share of imposters posing as ‘experts’ poised to ‘help’. After working with pros, I find that disappointing.
What was your biggest challenge regarding the writing of your book? How have you overcome that?
Writing a quality book takes time – in my case a couple of years apiece. Despite the millions of books being churned out today, it’s harder than most people think to produce one. It seems that there’s something within us writers that can’t be switched off. From a logical perspective (if you’re trying to etch out a living from it), it hardly makes sense to continue, yet continue we do!
Now you have written this book, what has writing done for you, your family, your self-esteem or your business?
Writing my books was cathartic. Getting my first publishing deal saw me burst into a flood of tears, because I’d always thought that if I could just get a book out detailing my plight, it would help me understand the purpose of going through it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t endure incarceration or physical torture, but it was still a trying time in my life.
Through this, my greatest reward has been having people read my books and connect with the story. I now know that I’m not alone in what I experienced. I’ve lost count of how many people have written to say that I articulated their personal experiences almost identically. So through my own craziness, I’ve made others feel sane, if that makes any sense!
If you were to give advice to someone else who is thinking about writing a book, what would be your number one tip?
Persevere. Never give up. Everything is rubbish to begin with. Don’t listen to idiots. Keep polishing away and do it because you love it.
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