The Long Journey from Steam to Cyber — from first fiction novel to Amazon best seller, Gracie Stathers – not her real name – has made it a short journey. After telling a story about her family history to amuse passengers on a long-haul bus tour, Stathers realised that the deeds of her ancestors belonged not just to her family, but were a part of the history of the settlement of the New World. The story belonged in the public domain.
Stathers had a head start – a boxful of anecdotes collected from her family over fifty years, written on scraps of paper, serviettes even, turned into booklets for her grandchildren. “Our stories must not be lost,” she says. “They’re the fabric of who we are.” As a sixth-generation New Zealander, she has a wide repertoire from the four Europe-wide families who bravely crossed, or were forced across, the oceans to the unknown.
“The Long Journey is neither a history book or fiction. It’s a hybrid, a cross-genre. I had the facts, but I had to imagine how the people felt, make assumptions, invent conversations. That’s when a story becomes fiction.” While collating her ‘story scraps’, Stathers discovered the gaps between them, highlighting the need for research and verification of the information, gleaned from Google, to tie the scraps together to become a cohesive work.
“I’d wake at five each morning with a solution to a problem, or a realisation that I had a problem, and set to work,” she says.
“The process of writing a book is stepping into the unknown. I’d like to encourage people to write the story they have always dreamed of writing. I had a loose plan and found putting the information in chronological order suited me. If you’re serious, all you have to do is sit in a chair and write daily.”
What advice would she give to someone wanting to write a book and self-publish?
“The first thing I found was that I needed a good and trusted friend to send the odd paragraph or chapter to for feed-back. Their response was all-important; it told me whether they understood what I was trying to say or more relevant, if it was exciting or just plain boring.” Stathers feelings over not being boring were evident.
She continues, “I was fully aware of how much self-editing was required because I had written other books and a thesis for my Osteopathic diploma. If I was having difficulty with a new chapter I would leave it and use the time to recheck what I had written and rewrite where necessary. Often it was at this stage that the emotion in the scene became truly evident to me so I would rephrase sections to impart those feelings to the reader. By the time I was ready for a professional editor I was sure of my material and ready to put up good arguments to keep the integrity of my work.
“I had help from two editors and for a first-time writer I believe that may well be necessary,” Stathers says. “It takes time to find the right person for you and your style of writing. There are always parts of your book that you know need attention, but can’t quite find the words or ambiance that you are looking for. Working beside an experienced editor helps to make those parts not just ordinary but extraordinary.” Her body language emphasises her belief.
“Once you are happy with your edited story, a good proof reader is essential. Some editors are proof readers as well, but by the time pieces have been reworked it may be a good idea to use completely new eyes to find the pesky little errors or introduce changes that make a truly professional manuscript.” We both understand the pain when an error is spotted in printed copy.
“Next you need to find a printer,” says Stathers. “How many copies do you want? The more you order, the cheaper per unit it will be. There are many reputable printers in New Zealand. Ask around. Get quotes. You may like to publish a digital e-book on Amazon as well as having printed copies. I had a few books printed locally for a family launch – this allowed me to see any changes that needed to be made, before the work of creating The Long Journey as an e-book.”
Stathers joined a writing group, Tauranga Writers, and attended a workshop where she gained her knowledge of formatting. This enabled her to format the book herself to meet Amazon’s requirements. She says, “If you’re not confident or don’t have time to format your work you can pay someone to do this for you.”
The step by step process in the Amazon uploading site seemed an impossible task at first to her. However, she just kept biting away at it. “Like any online process,” she says, “it is a matter of getting to know the program you are working with. I used the Amazon, Print on Demand (POD) option and ordered fifty books. Fifty to 100 books don’t require much storage space.”
Stathers took the books with her to promote them in a re-enactment of the landing of the first French ship of immigrants at Akaroa, near Christchurch. Her family was among the group that first stepped ashore on August 19, 1840.
And why the pseudonym?
She is using the pen name Gracie Stathers for her debut novel. “This was my mother’s name and it was she who taught me to appreciate history and understand how things in the past impact future generations. And because it’s a book about the trials my ancestors lived through, I felt it was important to step back from the personal and write it from an onlooker’s point of view.”
Stathers The Long Journey from Steam to Cyber may be purchased from Books a Plenty, Grey Street, Tauranga and Amazon.
Gracie is happy to answer any queries about writing a family history. Contact her at email@example.com