January 31st, 2020
I asked Melina where she would like to talk:
I absolutely adore fresh pastries, good coffee and warm buzzy coffee shops that play Edith Piaff, softly in the background. We would find a spot in the bakery-come-coffee shop that had a small squishy sofa and a small little coffee table. I always carry a notebook and would be wearing comfy leggings and a big jumper, plus a scarf (easy to imagine right now as I live in Cape Town and the weather in winter is cold and grey). I think we would get on, and laugh easily, catching up and talking over definitely more than one cappuccino. I would order the freshly baked croissants and maybe you would have one too, although, you could be more of a cinnamon stick type person (not sure). The coffee and pastries would warm us up and we would end up with pink cheeks and sticky fingers. The waiter, ideally, would be cute to look at, but possibly not the brightest, definitely very charming though, with warm brown eyes and probably sporting a beard. He’d also have a bizarre tattoo on his arm. We would chat for ages and the shop would go through waves of really busy and then really calm. Our table and couch, as well as the table at the far end of the shop however; consistently full. The other table would house a bald guy, really skinny, typing away furiously at his laptop. We would watch him and wonder what he does for a living. In the end we would pay the bill, promise to stay in touch and part ways contentedly.
Laura Mae: What inspired you to enter the world of writing?
Melina Lewis: I always loved to write, or draw, and as a child would find solace in writing stories or drawing pictures. Doing something with my hands and expressing myself through some form of creating. I eventually began work on my novel when I had created a story in my head, that could no longer fit in the confines of my imagination. I needed to write the story down and create it – on paper.
L: How long have you been writing for?
M: Three years (but that’s in terms of books). I have written chapters for textbooks, as well as copywriting up until now for over 10 years.
L: What are you currently working on?
M: I’m currently working on my second adult fictional novel, I have two more chapters and then will have the hectic task of first edit ahead of me. This novel closes off some of the story that needed closing in my first novel After you Died…I’m also in the middle of editing the second book of my tween series, Libertalia. The first was launched in June (Libertalia. Lost Fortunes) and I’m hoping the second will be available for December. The third is also written but needs to be edited. So, there is quite a bit on the go from a writing perspective.
L: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
M: Definitely. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Stephen Pressfield’s ‘The war of art’ are both inspiring. ‘The artists way’ is a ‘manual’ or self-teaching book to help you find your creative spark and creativity – I swear by the book! And then other independent or self-published authors inspire me – especially people like Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson, who not only write but have incredible podcasts that are inspiring and informative.
L: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
M: As an independent, I self-fund everything. I work as a marketing and communications consultant in order to make a living, and fund my side-gig, namely writing. I have found it difficult to maintain a positive cash flow regarding books, especially as the industry pays only three months later – essentially – it’s a 90 day system. So, you won’t see a penny (if you do see a penny) until 90 days later. This makes it difficult to track sales effectively and manage social media campaigns, because you have to always try and remember what you did 3 months ago to see if it worked.
I have also found Amazon trickier to work with than what one would expect. I don’t mind the idea of having to pay for advertising, but I find their system very difficult to understand (maybe it’s just me) and monitor. It’s a complete guessing game and as a result usually doesn’t work for me.
L: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
M: I like to do too many things! I love to teach yoga, which I do about three times a week, I love to run, early in the morning, I love to bake – when I get a chance, I love to spend time with my family, I love to travel and meet new people, taste new food and experience new cultures (however, constantly printing one’s own books puts a damper on the travelling), and I do like to work in marketing. I love trying to figure out how to market a product and come up with the best way to get that product to its target market.
L: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
M: I wish I hadn’t used an intermediary company to help me publish my first ebook – it cost me a lot of money and I didn’t learn much from them at all. I had to teach it all to myself anyway.
L: In a brief statement, have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
M: I have self-published and will probably continue to do so, for a few reasons; for my first novel I really had no idea if anyone would like it, so I did the usual test case and gave it to a few friends to read and they were really encouraging and said I should try get it published. So, I went through the process of researching publishers in South Africa and sent my novel to the top three publishers. Unfortunately, or fortunately I was rejected. Luckily for me I had started listening to a few indie-publisher podcasts and a few friends who are writers kept on telling me to self-publish. It took a world of courage (and ignorance) and I decided to self-publish, for myself mostly. I went through a company that helps you organise all the various layouts (paid a neat sum in USD, which converted to ZAR is quite expensive) but I didn’t have a clue and was looking for help. Then I had the book laid out for print and printed 100 copies to see if I could sell the book and if I could get it into bookstores! I then held my own launch in the local library and my friends kindly attended, and then went and hounded a few local bookstores until they stuck three on the shelf. From there I started hosting events in friends’ homes where I would go and talk about my book. I basically just kept on pushing my book, over and over until I was seen. I luckily met a distributor at a bookfaire and they agreed to distribute my book for me, so that to date I have printed 700. That helped hugely in getting hard copies of my book into stores. Then I promoted myself and my books as much as I could on social media. It’s an ongoing process of trying to get people to try your book and hopefully recommend it to friends and family! It’s also an ongoing process of shameless self-promotion.
L: What are you currently reading?
M: I’m currently reading a YA book called Trinity – On track. It’s based in South Africa (my favorite) and is about a teen and her adventures. It deals with a number of issues and is super entertaining. I love YA and teen books and can’t help myself. Guilty pleasure, and I tell myself it’s also research for my tween books.
L: What genre do you read?
M: I read quite widely, but maybe not that widely. It’s almost easier to say what I don’t read, which is: anything political, biographies, memoire, horror, psychological thrillers (or any thrillers – because I’m a scaredy cat). That leaves all the other stuff – YA, very little fantasy, bookclub type books (woman’s lit?), literary fiction (which means everything), historical fiction and whatever my children are reading (currently Enid Blyton’s Adventure series)
L: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Any rituals or ‘must-haves’?
M: Computer, earphones, music, and coffee. I squeeze writing into parts of my day, and often I only get to write a few paragraphs at the end of the day – when I’m tired, but at least then WhatsApp isn’t pinging through every five seconds, or skype, or emails or social media or client requests. It’s the only time I get to concentrate for a stretch longer than 5 minutes at a time. If I am feeling bolshy, I may switch off my data for an hour in the day and write then – but a girl’s got to earn a living, so I usually don’t. It makes writing harder.
L: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
M: It’s either classical music or, drum and bass. Which makes no sense but works for me. I can’t listen to words while I write as I love to sing along, so end up writing the words of the song.
L: What’s a word or phrase that people say that always irritates you?
M: “Bless” or “So blessed” – It’s as if those who say this are more ‘chosen’ than the rest of us. I can’t stomach it – its thick with innuendos I can’t even begin to unpack.
L: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
M: From people around me and different conversations and experiences I have. When people know you write, they also love to tell you stories that should be made into books! I find inspiration often hits when I’m exercising or walking along the beach – definitely being outdoors does the trick when I can’t figure out how to tackle a writing problem.
L: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
M: If you want to write – you should just do it. No matter your spelling/ sentence structure/ grammar issues. There are amazing editors out there who are better than you at that, and they will help you. So, sit your backside down in front of your computer/notebook and write every day, whether it’s a sentence or five pages a day. Just write consistently, and then when it’s done – go and edit and fix it. But you won’t have anything to work with if you don’t actually write.
Melina Lewis is a Strategic Marketing and Communications specialist by day and writer by night. Her first book “After you died…” is a fictional novel set in the seaside town of Fish Hoek, Cape Town, where she resides. Melina’s career began in health sciences but quickly leap frogged to something more fun, namely advertising. She has been working on creative copy one liners for over 15 years, and has amassed enough marketing knowledge to contribute towards several chapters of various Marketing Textbooks for South African colleges. Melina now consults to various businesses and is working on short stories, YA novels and another adult fiction novel.
Libertalia: Quest for Land – The intrigue continues – The usually upbeat Karabo is miserable, she has a broken arm and heart. Luckily the ancestors have chosen her to interpret another mystery. This time it will lead her to her William’s mother – Jessabelle. Who in turn will lead Karabo on a trail to Madagascar. But things aren’t that simple or straightforward. Karabo must learn to accept her calling as a sangoma, her mother’s interference, Isla’s advice, and William’s odd version of friendship. Will Karabo and her friends find Edward English and the stolen treasure? Will William reveal his true colours? And will Isla be able to win the heart of the enigmatic Mzi? The second book in the series, Libertalia – Quest for Land – will answer all these questions and more.
Buy it here!
After You Died – As the four friends jogged their regular morning route, along the sleepy suburban streets of Fish Hoek, nothing could have warned them of what was to come. Trying to take a short cut and win favour with his taxi boss, a young driver Tshepo Dlamini crashes into one of the runners. As Claire’s lifeless body lies crumpled on the ground, Tshepo finds himself trapped in a metal carcass. What’s left of his life is turned upside down. Watching the accident happen, Maureen stands on her balcony and is the only witness. Yet she harbours another dark secret.
To save his life, Tshepo’s leg is so badly injured that it must be amputated. Maureen must learn to deal with her husband’s addiction and build her own life. No longer the awesome foursome, Tanya, Liz and Kate reframe their friendship without Claire and overcome their fears and inertia. For James, Claire’s adoring boyfriend, his life begins to unravel as he wakes to the news that Claire is dead, leaving him to question life as it was and will be.
From shock to acceptance, each chapter is a journey, and as each person tries to move forward with their lives, they must face their mistakes, set against the complex backdrop of small town South Africa. Showing that there is always hope, and that change is inevitable, each character must learn to forgive themselves and others, but for some, the hope of closure may be harder than they thought.
Buy it here!