Alba is an author, comedy podcaster, strategist in the not for profit center, a certified de bono effective thinker and many other things. Curious about choices and life situations Alba’s books offer the reader a chance to enter fictional and her factional worlds to have fun, encounter themselves, and perhaps even recognise the chances to change.
Her latest book is the self-help book, Relationship Maintenance 4 Men.
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About the Book:
Title: RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE 4 MEN
Author: Alba Lewis
Author: Alba Lewis
A practical guide to support men who love their women with 21 tasks, one each week.
Written a ‘just do’ guide and based on a survey conducted with over 100 women, the book aims to give actionable tasks that will create better relationships.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Welcome to My Bookish Pleasures, Alba. Can you tell us when the writing bug hit?
I’ve always doodled and taken notes. I have notebooks everywhere with observations or anecdotes, most of which make no sense when I look back. So it’s been natural for me to observe what’s going on around me. But the actual act of writing took me until I was in my late 30s. Although I had pronounced my career in writing at the age of 16 whilst illegally smoking at school, time had buzzed past me and I’d done nothing about it.
I didn’t know how to start. I was slightly obsessed with work and probably, looking back, slightly thought everything would fail if I didn’t work so hard.
But I felt uncomfortable getting to almost 40 and remembering I wanted to write. I did the best thing I could. I joined a course to write a book that was based in Devon, far from London, and which I would have to attend once a month for 9 months. I liked the gestation period of 9 months, it humoured me, maybe because I didn’t have, nor want, children so perhaps I was going to birth a book.
I did this course 5 times before I thought I had learned enough about structure and discipline to have a go. The book I wrote over these 5 years remains on the computer waiting for me to come back to it still.
But what I have done is written two fiction, 4 annual memoirs tracing my pattern and trials and tribulations, and one ‘How To’ book.
Once you start, one of the gifts for me is that you see stories and information everywhere. And it has turned life into more of that adventure people keep talking about.
Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?
Umm. Great question. I definitely want to pretend I write by the seat of my pants but the truth is that I think a lot about the story and create some kind of structure first.
What I’ve really learned from doing the same course so many times is that you cannot tell everything about everything. What I means is that you have a cake, but you are only going to be able to tell the story about on piece of the cake. You’re going to be able to deep into the layers but if you try to explain the whole cake you will get a confused and boring story.
What I now do is I think about what the theme is. What is it that this book is really trying to be about and what do I want the outcome to be. And then I write the theme and the outcome in big letters on a giant piece of paper a room I use a lot – so like the kitchen, and then I have it on top of the word document I use to start.
I don’t have to have it up for long, just until I get that that is the umbrella, the point of what I’m writing and therefore everything I do should be underneath that umbrella.
Themes are the big things like is it a sad book, is it about loss, is it about jelousy, is it about how society views something. What are the big things I want to personally explore, for me, while I write the book.
I think this helps me to stop waffling on about things that don’t move the story on or get the reader to feel where I want them to be.
I’m definitely not saying that I remember, or that this works all the time but it’s really helpful to telling a piece of the cake in its layers and not trying to tell the story of that whole cake.
After that I note the big moments that I think have to happen if it’s fictional and I try to really think what would a character think to do.
So basically after I have the theme and main characters I am flying a bit by the seat of my pants.
There is one other thing that I do if it’s a fiction book with the characters. I always base them physically on someone I know. Not usually a good friend but let’s say the wife of a boss I used to work with, who fits the physical idea and age range etc. I find that really helpful.
So that’s the fiction side.
When I write something that is about myself, like my memoirs, or something that aims to change things, like my current release ‘Relationship Maintenance 4 Men (who love their woman), I become more business like. I still write the outcomes but I write headlines of chapters and make notes under them before I do anything. And then I just think for a while until I sit down and just start.
Where do you write?
When I first started writing I always assumed I would need to write in a very silent room where I could immerse myself in the journey.
But it turned out this wasn’t me at all.
I like to sit in a busy café and write. I like noise and things going on about me. I can’t say why for sure but it might be because if I stop or have a moment I can join something else that’s going on and just have a space, something I would never be able to give myself if I were sitting in a quiet room. Or even just watch people’s mannerisms and why they are different and get an idea for a character or the next bit I am writing.
Anything else you’d say about writing if you were advising others?
Just do it. And don’t be the ‘editor’ or the ‘critic’ as you write. These two parts of yourself are useful later, but they are pretty useless as you actually try to get down the story so send them away and tell them they can come back later!
Can you tell us about your most recent release?
My most recent is actually a ‘How To’ book called Relationship Maintenance 4 Men (who love their woman).
It’s been something that has been bugging me for a long time now and I wanted to tackle a simple 21 week guide to give men something they can do each week that will cost very little or nothing but will make their relationship better. It’s quite a claim to make, I know, but I’ve watched myself and my female friends, and had deep meaningful sad conversations with my male friends, and though I can’t answer the big questions, I can do some simple clear action detail to support better relationships.
How did you get the idea for the book?
I’ve got a bit annoyed with using gender stereotype answers for why relationships haven’t worked or why someone doesn’t understand someone else. Because I don’t believe it is that simple an answer. But I also knew that I didn’t want to write psychobabble and I also knew I wanted to write something that was practical.
I also just need to add in that back in 2000 I went to do a free 10 day noble silent meditation course. The short answer as to why this is relevant is that the whole ethos of learning this meditation is that things will get better and you will become happier. So 17 years on I lean now to saying to people, just do it and see if it works, don’t think too much about it or try to understand it before you’ve even done it. And of course, I try to live like that myself. It’s not easy but it’s much more freeing.
So this book is about doing and seeing if it works. I thought I’d better add on to that that I would give anyone their money back if it didn’t work.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
The most challenging thing isn’t really about the writing, it’s about telling people you are writing or even worse that you have written a book. Because inevitably the next question is about sales and perceived success. And you’re just, like, I’m telling you I just wrote a book! But suddenly the book and all that time and pain and love that went into it is being judged by if it is a success.
That was a very hard part of writing for me. Not judging the book by if it sold millions or not.
I’m fine now because I write because I see stories or want to explore issues. It’s a bit like having some kind of exercise for the spirit – and just like physical exercise, I don’t like starting but when I begin to get into it, I forget where I am, and I am just there writing.
Will I become rich and famous writing? Who knows. That is really out of my hands, it depends if others like what I write, forgive my imperfections and buy more of the things I write.
Which authors have inspired your writing?
There are a lot of writers I love, but right now with everything currently going on in the world I was reminded of an author I came across about 20 years ago called James Baldwin who wrote Giovanni and other books. I remember being amazed by how he told a story and his kindness and complexity of his characters.
Other authors. I loved Aunt Julia and the Script writer by Mario Vargas Llosa,
Luis De Bernier’s latin American triology
And of course Lord of the Rings which remains my go to story. The ultimate quest. I suppose as a woman it’s not surprising that my favourite part is when Eowyn kills the Lord of the Nazgul because no man can, but she is a woman.
It doesn’t pass me by that answering this questions today, all these that I have picked today are male authors.
Perhaps it is not surprising that in my 30s I learned the tai chi short sword form and now own 3 swords….
What projects are you currently working on?
Funnily enough I am still working on the book I first started at those writing courses I mentioned earlier. It’s quite a violent story with the protagonist being a very dangerous woman. I hope to have it finished later this year.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Just write. Like everything in life unless you happen to be a genius (and almost all of us aren’t) the more you do something the better you are going to be at it. The braver you act the braver you will become, so don’t over think it, just get it out of your head and out into the world and let it go on its own journey.