Writers on Wednesday: Mary-Lou Stephens
Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week I am chatting with Mary-Lou Stephens, author of the brilliant memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation ...
I’ve lived half my life on the stage in one form or other. I played in bands, studied at acting school, performed wherever I could, however I could. In my mid-thirties, when it was time to get a proper job, radio chose me. Radio is a performance of a different kind. As is writing.
Tell us about your most recently published, or about to be published, book?
My memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was published last year by Pan Macmillan. It’s the story of how meditation changed my life, saved my job, and helped me find a husband. It’s compelling, funny and very real. But don’t take my word for it….
Tell us about the first time you were published?
Sex, Drugs and Meditation is my first book to be published but not the first I’ve written. I did a lot of practice first. I wrote short stories and a novel and made all the mistakes most writers make when they start out. Sex, Drugs and Meditation was a long time in the making, with many rewrites and lots of feedback from my writing group. When I knew it was ready I sent it to publishers through the open submission processes that are available in Australia. Pan Macmillan got back to me and wanted to see the entire manuscript. After a few agonising months they offered me a publishing deal. It was a huge learning curve and a wonderful experience. Working with professional editors gave me a whole new perspective on my writing.
As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?
Seeing my book in book stores was kind of surreal. In fact being published was kind of surreal. I remember when the box of my books from Pan Macmillan arrived I was too dazed to open it at first. When I finally did and held my book in my hands for the first time I said to The Hubby, “Now the work begins,” - meaning the publicity and marketing. He said, “When are you going to let yourself relax and enjoy your amazing achievement?”
Appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival was a dream come true. I love that festival and they looked after me so well. I felt like a real writer. And I was back on stage - familiar territory.
Being asked to blog for The Huffington Post would be my proudest achievement. Arianna Huffington is a big fan of meditation and to be invited to write for The Huffington Post was an honour.
What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?
I finished the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation last year. My agent loved it - yes I got an agent after I got the publishing deal - my publisher loved it, but Sales and Marketing at Pan Macmillan didn’t. Such is the truth about publishing. So Pan Macmillan cut me loose and my agent said she couldn’t sell it to any other publishers. Indie publishing has become so accessible I’m curious to explore that option. When I was a musician I was Indie through and through so it makes sense to play in that field now I’m a writer.
Married - the truth about my happy ending, will come out later this year. The manuscript is with my editor and I’m talking with a cover designer. Working out budgets and knowing there are no guarantees. But as I’ve learnt there are no guarantees with traditional publishing either. I’ve had a break from writing for a little while but now it’s time to return to the pages. Some fiction and a few more non-fiction books then a lot more fiction. That’s my very rough plan.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
At home, either in the spare room or on the couch. I’m not much good at writing in cafes but I have spent some time writing at picnic tables in parks on cool afternoons when no-one else is around.
Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?
As part of my job with ABC radio I interview writers. Publishers still send me paper books so that’s what I read. I’ve had no need to buy a Kindle. I only have a few books in iBooks on my laptop. Perhaps when I stop working in radio I’ll buy an eReader. The Hubby loves his and he always swore he’d keep reading paper books. He hasn’t. We sit side by side on the couch reading, him with his eBooks and me with my paper ones.
Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?
That’s a tough one but I’ll go with the first one that came to mind. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Big, sprawling and Australian. Any book that makes me cry at the end gets a big thumbs up from me. I’m a sucker for that bittersweet melancholy of loss and love, redemption and letting go.
Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?
Keep reading. We may only get one life but through books we get to live thousands of lives.