The Writing Life of: Soulla Christodoulou
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:‘ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Soulla Christodoulou. Soulla will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘The Summer Will Come‘, which was released on 7th March 2018, and answering a few fun questions too.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Soulla
Born in London to Greek Cypriot parents Soulla Christodoulou spent much of her childhood living carefree days full of family, school and friends. She was the first in her family to go to university and studied BA Hotel & Catering Management at Portsmouth University. Years later, after having a family of her own she studied again at Middlesex University and has a PGCE in Business Studies and an MA in Education.
Soulla is a Fiction author and wrote her first novel Broken Pieces of Tomorrow over a few months while working full time in secondary education. She is a mother of three boys.
She is a compassionate and empathetic supporter of young people. Her passion for teaching continues through private tuition of English Language and Children’s Creative Writing Classes as well as proof reading and other writing services.
Her writing has also connected her with a charity in California which she is very much involved in as a contributor of handwritten letters every month to support and give hope to women diagnosed with breast cancer. One of her letters is featured in a book ‘Dear Friend’, released on Amazon in September 2017.
When asked, she will tell you she has always, somewhere on a subconscious level, wanted to write and her life’s experiences both personal and professional have played a huge part in bringing her to where she was always meant to be; writing books and drinking lots of cinnamon and clove tea!
She also has a poetry collection, Sunshine after Rain, published on Amazon and The Summer Will Come is her second novel. She is currently working on a third novel Trust is a Big Word about an on-line illicit relationship that develops between two people.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
I longed to be a teacher growing up and would often play ‘teachers’ with my two sisters and brother and two local children. I’d collect scrap paper and ask my mum to sew them together on her sewing machine to make little books which they’d use to write in. I had a black board and an easel and would ‘set’ work for them to do. I was a strict teacher but in reality, when I trained as a teacher in my late thirties, I was ‘school mum’ to many of the students I taught and found I could never be as strict as I would have liked.
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
One of my earliest most favourite books was Cinderella which I read in the school library independently during reading time at Junior School. It was a great privilege and I was only allowed to do this because I was so competent in reading and didn’t need the support of a teacher. Another favourite, which I still own, is a red leather bound copy of The Secret Garden with gold lettering on the front; a gift from my God-sister on my 13th birthday.
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
In 2014 I had a particularly tough year with my mum’s ongoing diagnosis of and treatment for cancer. I began to struggle with various changes and demands at work. I loved my job, I was teaching Business Studies at the time and I was a Deputy Head of Year for the Sixth Form, but I needed something to keep me buoyant outside of work and away from home.
It was during the Christmas holidays that I came across a local creative writing class and signed up as one of my New Year’s Resolutions to do something for myself. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The feedback I got on my writing encouraged me to pursue my writing.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
In truth, I wrote every day at every opportunity I had. I wrote Broken Pieces of Tomorrow within a few months and then spent a year revising, editing, proofreading, going over the plot, dialogue, till I was almost nauseous reading it.
I took the advice of my fellow writing buddies, my creative writing teacher and my beta readers. I listened and ‘studied’ and researched writing tips and creative writing sites to glean as much information to help me as possible. I slept, dreamt and lived ‘writing’. It became my escape and my saviour. I work every day to improve my writing and write the best that I possibly can. Writing for me is a journey of self-discovery, daily learning and encompassing personal change and making room for growth; emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
I don’t put any pressure on myself at all. If I really don’t feel like writing, then I don’t. This also avoids feeling guilty or struggling to get past writer’s block which I hear many writers talking about. When I start writing and I see the word count adding up I then push myself to write another 200 words or to reach 3000, for example. Small steps, big achievements.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I considered writing under my maiden (and still might one day) but somehow got carried away with the writing and promoting everything under my married name and it felt silly to suddenly start mentioning my work in relation to a different name to that which people associated with me.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
I don’t actually other than turning my mobile on silent and ‘setting up’ my workspace so I have everything to hand such as notes, research and any scribbled feedback from my creative writing buddies.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
I type my manuscript on a laptop. However, I have many very pretty notebooks which I use for making notes in. I write often using a form of speed writing which I developed while at university many years ago. I record my own notes and thoughts from research material I have consulted via the internet or other sources such as library books or reviews, social media such as Instagram and Pinterest, face-to-face interview notes.
I also write down any interesting words or phrases I have come across when reading. My Kindle makes this easy as I can highlight anything that attracts me; it might be a word, a phrase or a certain description which resonates with me.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
I have written three novels and a collection of poetry. The first book, which was published on Amazon in August 2017, is titled Broken Pieces of Tomorrow. The Summer Will Come will be my second novel and I am currently 43,000 into a third novel called Trust is a Big Word. My poetry collection Sunshine after Rain was published on Amazon too last summer.
I have the skeleton of a period ghost story written and a few chapters of another book which falls within a similar genre to that of The Summer Will Come although it is set in modern day Cyprus.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m more of a plotter. I write a chapter synopsis and try to keep a running time line but this changes as I write and I’ve come to recognise that no plan can be set in stone. My imagination takes me where it wants to go and so I’m often changing my plans; they have to be organic and fluid to support my creative, sometimes messtangled and confuddled mind. I pantsed Trust is a Big Word but now I have to go back and try to piece it together and work out which order to put the chapters in so I’m not sure being a pantser suits me.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
I read and respond to all my book reviews from my readers; if my readers have taken the time to buy, read and review my book I think the least I can do is acknowledge them personally. I love reading my reviews and I swell with delight every time. So far, I’ve had no negative reviews.
Concerning your latest book:
Pages – 492
Release Date – 7th March 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1976908040
Format – ebook, paperback
Set in the 1950s, the story begins in Cyprus. EOKA, British rule, and the fight for Enosis (unity) disrupt the world of two Greek Cypriot families, living in different villages on the island. They are desperately trying to cope with the unpredictability of this fractious time.
Circumstances over a five-year period push both families to escape to London where, as immigrants, they struggle to settle, face new challenges, trauma and cope with missing their homeland’s traditions and culture.
Both families’ lives cross paths in London and it seems that happier beginnings could be theirs. But at what cost?
A story of passion for a country in turmoil, family love, loyalty and treachery and how, sometimes, starting over isn’t always as imagined.
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
I wrote the first word on 10th January 2016 and wrote the last word, albeit the edited version (though I’m not sure there ever really is a last word) a few days ago so 27 months.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
Initially I used the names of family members which made it easy to keep track of who was who and who was related to who. Once I was in the final stages of editing I changed some of the names to uphold confidentiality in some cases and in others to use names which were easier to pronounce in English.
Being of Greek Cypriot background I am familiar with Greek names and in particular Greek Cypriot names which were popular during that time period; all I had to do was recall the names of my own family and friends’ parents, aunts and uncles.
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
There are two key characters, Elena and Christaki, although the story is told from the perspective of four people; Elena and her mother Evangelia and Christaki and his father Loizos.
Elena dreams of green fields and going to London to be with her father who, at the opening of the story, we are told has been in London for the past nine years. She has a fairy tale like view of the world and even as she becomes a young adult she believes in happy ever after even though her own life with her mother and twin brother has been thwarted by poverty, hardship, deceit and betrayal. She likes to have fun, embraces all that London has to offer with its hustle and bustle and music and clothes and fashion. But she also knows that to get what she wants she has to work hard.
Christaki, in contrast, is sensible, takes life seriously as head of the family for the time he is in London with his mother and younger siblings. He has great respect for his family and the traditions of his home country and tries to uphold these even when the family escape to London. The boldness of Elena intrigues him and excites and brings out another side to him which I think readers will enjoy.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
Strangely enough, it was the last scene. I’d written a wedding scene in my first novel, albeit a modern day Greek Cypriot wedding and I didn’t want to repeat the scene in the same way. I was also conscious of the time period being different, different generation and circumstances as well as the fact that the final chapter of the book is written from two perspectives; that of Elena and Christaki. I wanted to get the feelings of both these individuals across and it took many re-writes to get this to a point I was happy and my writing peers’ feedback and suggestions made all the difference to the final version which I re-wrote and tweaked many times.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
The title of my novel The Summer Will Come has been taken from the poem written by Evagoras Pallikarides. Evagoras is a hero and poet very much associated with the time period in which the story unfolds. It is said that a day before his trial, and having decided to join the EOKA fighters in the mountains, Pallikarides broke into his school and left a message and poem for his fellow students to read the following morning: ‘Dear school friends, At this time, someone is missing from among you, someone who has left in search of the fresh air of Liberty, someone who you might not see alive again. Don’t cry at his graveside. It won’t do for you to cry. A few spring flowers scatter on his grave. This is enough for him…’ I have included this information and the poem he wrote in the front of the book.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
I attend a bi-weekly creative writing class and so my chapters are read and reviewed by the group on an on-going basis. Once the book was ‘finished’ I asked 12 people to read the final manuscript before making my final revisions prior to publication. I also passed the manuscript to two authors and academics of Cyprus history for feedback and endorsements for the historical content which I am happy to say I received.
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Towards the end of writing the first draft I put a shout out on Instagram for a designer and connected with a student in Athens. He drafted a few ideas in sketch format and once we agreed on the design I liked he painted it using watercolour paints. It’s totally original. I then had the support of another student, who designed the cover for Broken Pieces of Tomorrow, to format it correctly for upload onto KDP. The e-book formatting process I did myself but the paperback formatting was commissioned to a company called Dragon Realm Publishing who also formatted Broken Pieces of Tomorrow for me.
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
I continued with planning the final elements of the Launch and Book Signing Party! I used to do event planning years ago so I absolutely loved this!
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’m 43,000 words into the first draft of a third novel called Trust is a Big Word so my main aim for the rest of 2018 is to finish that and work on edits before releasing it towards the end of 2018/early 2019.
1) What’s your favourite food?
I really enjoy home cooked Greek food but equally enjoy a Thai green chicken curry with jasmine rice and noodles!
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
It would have to be any shade of pink! As a mother of three boys I became conscious of typical ‘boy’ colours running through my life and made an effort to move away from navy blue (my staple colour through my teenage years and early adulthood).
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
This is so not an easy question for me to answer. I’m a real romantic and I love happy endings. In recent years I have watched Bridget Jones’ Diary, Pretty Woman, Ghost and My Big Fat Greek Wedding at least half a dozen times each! But equally I can watch dramas and the adaptations of classic tales such as Little Women, Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities over and over again; each time taking something different from the story and the characters.
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
I’m a real dancing queen so anything boppy with a disco beat…I grew up with Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, George Michael and Mariah Carey but I equally love dancing to Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Chris Brown, Ray Sean, Charlie Puth, Justin Bieber…the list is endless, lol!
5) If you won millions, what would be your first purchase?
It would have to be a home for each of my boys and to set up a school to teach basic writing skills to children and adults as well as life skills. The teacher in me will always lie waiting to come out!
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
‘Hey chick, wanna have some fun?’
You can find out more about Soulla Christodoulou by visiting the website/social media sites below.
I would like to say a big thank you to Soulla for sharing with us details of her writing life, and for a wonderful interview.