When we heard that Fiona Robertson, a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio is celebrating the publication of her first book with a launch at Waterstones on 3 March, we naturally wanted to find out more! We went along to meet Fiona at Wired to see how she’d gone from writing a blog to becoming a published author on both sides of the Atlantic… and how her 10-year-old self knew she wanted to be a writer…
Tell us more about your book?
It’s called The Art of Finding Yourself and it’s basically a collection of articles I originally wrote for my website. The articles talk about my experience of exploring my thoughts, feelings, issues etc using a practice called the Living Inquiries. As the title suggests, it’s a book about self exploration – what makes you, you?
How would you describe the Living Inquiries?
Well, it’s a practical tool for wellbeing, or a way of looking at things, in the same way that mindfulness is. That makes it sound deep and sometimes it is, but it’s also very down to earth. It’s a way of exploring your thoughts and feelings around all kinds of issues, from looking for love, to how you feel about politics. Plus, it’s a way to explore issues, such as anxiety, relationship problems, addiction etc. It’s about noticing how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally, and then just staying with that to see where it goes, how it develops, to go a bit deeper and get to the root of things. It helps you untangle those knots of thoughts and feelings we all have. In a nutshell, it’s a tool for life.
Is it something you have to learn?
Most people start off talking to a Living Inquiries facilitator like me, then just naturally start using the approach for themselves, in their everyday lives. It’s a way of looking at things, an antidote to today’s hectic pace of life where thoughts and feelings are often brushed aside and there’s a pressure to ‘be happy’ or ‘sorted’. It’s similar to mindfulness in that way, but it helps you go deeper into your thoughts and feelings. We’re very rarely taught, either as children or adults, how to really ‘feel’ our feelings, and this is what the Living Inquiries can help you do, it can help you really ‘look’ at your experiences and how they shape you. It’s not about trying to change anything, it’s about helping people feel things, even when that’s tough. Trying not to feel things, such as anxiety for example, can just exacerbate the problem.
What inspired you to write about your experiences?
When I was 10 years old I knew I wanted to be a writer. But somehow that got lost in the intervening years. Just a few months after starting to use the Living Inquiries that passion returned and I started writing a blog. I started writing and didn’t stop and now I’ve been writing consistently for around five years. Around three months into writing my blog, I came second in a national writing competition run by The Guardian and Way With Words.
Winning an award must have been a great confidence boost?
Yes definitely. It helped to give me the confidence to keep on writing which has now led to me having a book published. I’m also in the process of writing two other books, one about dealing with trauma and anxiety which I’m co-authoring with Scott Kiloby, who developed the Living Inquiries approach, and another about the ‘dark night of the soul’ – that process people go through where they feel as if things are falling apart, but in that, they find themselves and life takes a different direction.
Do you think writing a blog helped to get you published?
Yes! A blog allows you to hone your skills and share your work with a readership. Having access to online publishing tools has made a huge difference to writers. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my blog gave me a body of work to take to a publisher and led to me having a book published.
What’s it like making that transition from self-publishing to a book deal?
It’s great having your work recognised by a publisher who really knows the business – and the area I’m writing about. Publishers are the ones who invest in you as an author which means a great deal and they’ve been very supportive. Plus, I’ve had lots of new inquiries from people all over the world who are interested in finding out more about the Living Inquiries and working with me as a facilitator.
Has it helped being part of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio?
Yes, very much so. I’ve been a member for around four years and joining was an important first step in committing to writing. Writing by definition can be a pretty solitary experience so it’s great to be able to meet and socialise with other writers through NWS and have that support network. I’ve also been able to share notes with a wide range of writers working in other fields, including fiction, and have poetry published in two NWS’s journals, so it’s given me the chance to branch out and be creative in other fields.
Has it helped being part of Nottingham – a creative city?
Nottingham is very supportive of creativity and it feels good to be a part of that. It’s really important to have those support networks.
Which writers are you inspired by?
I’d say Alan Sillitoe was a big inspiration, he was the first author I read that wrote about ordinary people. In terms of poetry, Hafiz, the Sufi poet, made a big impression on me. I’m an ex-musician, so I’m also inspired by lyrics, including early Sia.
What advice would you have for new and would-be writers?
Do it and keep doing it. Just write. Make a commitment to getting it out there by doing something like starting a blog. It’s a good discipline, because it commits you to write and share that with your readership. Also, write for yourself, not to fit what you think your audience wants to read. It’s never too late to start either. I started writing at 50.
Tell us more about your book launch and how to get hold of your book?
It’s on Friday 3 March at Waterstones from 7pm. I’ll be doing a Q&A so people can find out more about me and The Art of Finding Yourself. Anyone is welcome to come along – just book your place here. If anyone wants a copy of my book, it’s available in Waterstones of course and online.
I’ve got a book signing coming up in London but more than anything, I’ll be carry on working on my next two books!