Episode 68: Demystifying Mental Health Through Fiction with Charlotte Lobb

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

In this episode I talk with New Zealand author, Charlotte Lobb, about her writing process, publishing experience, and her debut novel, Hannah and Huia.

Other topics we discuss include:

  • How three words in the middle of the night – sun, rain, bye-bye – was the catalyst for Charlotte’s debut novel.
  • Why Charlotte wants to normalise and demystify the experiences of those in the mental health system.
  • How writing helped Charlotte move through feeling shame around her mental health journey.
  • How fiction can sometimes reach people who are struggling in a way non-fiction can’t.
  • Why Charlotte works best when she edits as she goes.
  • How imposter syndrome impacts Charlotte’s writing process.
  • Why Charlotte is a cheerleader for New Zealand authors.
  • Why it’s okay to go about the author thing backwards.

Listen as Charlotte shares a little of her mental health journey alongside being an author, and be inspired by her willingness to go against traditional writing advice.

Visit Charlotte’s website here: https://charlottelobb.com/

Purchase Hannah and Huia here: https://charlottelobb.com/buy-a-copy-today.cfm

Follow Charlotte on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/charlottelobb_author/

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review. You can also support the show by buying me a coffee at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. Your support helps me keep this podcast going.

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Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 68: Demystifying Mental Health Through Fiction with Charlotte Lobb

Jo: Hello, my friend. Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors. This is episode 68: Demystifying Mental Health Through Fiction with Charlotte Lobb. So first off you may be wondering why this episode was not out at its usual scheduled time and yeah, it’s a bit of a weird one. Personally, I really, really dislike missing deadlines, even if they’re deadlines that I give to myself. And for 2023, I have been releasing an episode every fortnight on a Monday, in New Zealand at least. And as this releases, it’s going to be Thursday here in New Zealand. The reason being just with all my best intentions, it was just not possible for me to get this episode out on time. And that is purely because I had everything lined up as I normally do as to when I was going to be able to work on the show. And I will tell you that as I’m a one-person podcast, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes and it is actually quite a time-consuming thing to put this show together.

But I had a good few days to finalize everything and get it out on time. And unfortunately, on Friday, a family member went through something pretty traumatic and pretty tragic. And so I had to make being with family my priority over the weekend, that meant that I also fell behind with deadlines for my day job and a few other things too. So I put in some kind of crazy hours around dealing with some grief and other things that were going on with family. And I just did not have the capacity in all honesty to, nor the time, to put this together and get it out on time. And, yeah. So I felt really kind of horrible for not having that consistency of getting this out on time. And I’m treating this as a bit of an eye opener for myself and a learning experience that, you know, life happens. Sometimes things go sideways despite all of our best intentions and most people are going to be okay with that. They’re going to understand that.

So, the fact that this episode has a lot of discussions around mental health is probably quite serendipitous at this time. If you’ve been listening to this podcast over the past few months, you might’ve heard me talk about the fact that it’s been a pretty rough few months for me. I had my stepfather pass away after a very long illness and, yeah, just, it wasn’t nice. There was, it was just, it was a really horrible experience that had me in quite a difficult place for quite a while waiting for the day when he would pass and when he did pass, it wasn’t a nice thing to be there and to go through, to be completely honest. And then of course, there’s the aftermath of grieving. And that was in August. And since then, it has been insanely crazy with the day job. Like, yeah, I can’t even express. There’ve being trips. There have been little dramas here and there. There have been just the usual work stuff and workload and all that kind of good stuff on top of me being my own worst enemy and taking on things like, two writing deadlines, one for a novel, one for a short story, a five-week writing course, which ended up being about seven weeks, and a myriad of other things that just all kind of piled on top of each other. And, I am in education. And so this is what we call term four here in New Zealand. And it is probably the most intense time of the year as we’re wrapping everything up, and there’s been trips and there’s been events at school and outside of school time, and there’ve been lots of report writing, which generally happens in our own time over weekends and things like that. And it was quite a time-consuming thing. And, yeah, just other kind of admin things to wrap up and that.

And so I’ve definitely had to withdraw a little bit from social media, from answering emails, from just everything. Cause it was really stacking up pretty heavily. And right now, I’ve got just over a week before I’m on summer break, and yip, you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to it, but also a little bit anxious about it because all the things that I’ve been putting off or not getting to, um, like yard work. The yard is looking like a jungle out there at the moment. It’s all on my radar that I need to start to tick some of these things off my to do list a little bit too, and get on top of things a little bit better.

So yeah, you can probably hear it a bit in my voice. I’m not probably in the best mental health state myself at the moment. Definitely feeling burnt out, definitely feeling a lot less resilient than I normally am. Yeah. And also, just trying to be there and support people around me who are going through some really tough, dark, horrible, horrible stuff right now, too. And so that takes a bit of a toll as well, I guess. And I’m sharing this with you because I know we all go through it. And it’s a weird thing about the end of the year in that a lot of people quite often find that this is the time of year that things really start to get quite tough for a lot of people and start to pile on a little bit. And, yeah, it just takes a little bit more of a toll. You know, it’s the time of year where we’re heading towards Christmas. There’s time with family. And as everybody knows, families, we love them, we hate them, yeah, they can be tricky at times. So there’s all of that too. And everybody’s going through a lot of their own stuff. I mean, we’ve all got our own things that we’re going through. The world’s going through some pretty crazy things at the moment too.

And so mental health is definitely on my radar and on the radar of people around me at the moment. And so, like I said, it’s pretty serendipitous that this is the episode that is coming out this week, Demystifying Mental Health Through Fiction. I am talking to a wonderful Kiwi author, Charlotte Lobb, and she has written a debut novel that she had traditionally published called Hannah and Huia. And it’s quite unique. She’ll talk about it in this interview. I read it maybe a month or two ago and it’s really insightful in a lot of ways, and does get you thinking about the fact that we all have things going on and you just don’t know what other people are going through at any one time, because what we quite often show the world isn’t the whole story. It’s just not.

So anyway, in today’s episode, Charlotte is going to share not only her writing process and a little bit about her debut novel and getting it published and everything, but she’s going to talk about some of the following things, like how three words in the middle of the night, sun, rain, bye-bye, was the catalyst for her first book. Why Charlotte has taken it upon herself to normalize and demystify the experiences of those in the mental health system. How writing helped Charlotte move through feeling shame around her own mental health journey. How fiction can sometimes reach people who are struggling in a way that non-fiction just can’t. Why Charlotte believes she works best when she edits as she goes. How imposter syndrome has impacted Charlotte’s writing process. Why Charlotte is such a cheerleader for other New Zealand authors. And why it is okay to go about this whole author thing backwards. So it really is a good episode and it’s not heavy like this intro. I apologize for the heaviness of this intro, but it is quite fascinating and just gets you thinking about things a little bit different.

On top of that, I just want to share too, that my lovely friend, Carissa Andrews, who has the Author Revolution podcast, is putting out an episode probably about the same time that this goes live. So right about now, Episode 212: Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone with Jo Buer. So we did this interview quite a while ago, maybe a couple of months ago now, and she’s asking me questions all about my writing process, about Hades’s Haunt, about getting out of my comfort zone. And so if you’re wanting to hear the tables turned a little bit and me being the person being interviewed, then you can go check that out. I’ll make sure that the link is in the show notes.

If you are having a bit of a rough time at the moment, and I know a lot of you possibly are, just know that you are not alone. There are a lot of us who’ve been going through some stuff, and yeah, just make sure that you do have someone that you can talk to or reach out to, and give yourself the grace to miss deadlines, like I have and, and do what you need to do to look after your mental health. Because, you know, our lives, they are happening right now, and to be as present in them as we need to be and want to be, we need to look after ourselves first.

So, on that note, when you are ready, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit down and enjoy the show.

Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. Today, I am chatting with debut author, Charlotte Lobb. Charlotte resides in Tauranga in Aotearoa, New Zealand, with her husband, two children, and their fluffy cat. She is a qualified speech and language therapist, was once a member of the New Zealand shooting team and high-performance academy, and has a desire to bring mental health issues out into the open. Hannah and Huia is Charlotte’s debut novel.

So welcome to the show, Charlotte. It is so wonderful to have you here.

Charlotte: Kia ora. Thank you for having me on today.

Jo: So I would love if we could start with you talking a little bit about your writing journey. What led you to become an author?

Charlotte: Yeah. So I think I have always loved writing. When I was at primary school, I was always the one constantly writing out the imaginative stories, even in my lunchtimes making up little plays with my friends. So I think it’s always been in my blood to write. However, saying that, I didn’t really like English at school because I think you were told what you had to write and you couldn’t quite go where I wanted to go.

So it wasn’t until I went to university, I was studying speech language therapy, but in my downtime, I was like, okay, this is a great time to start writing. So I wrote my first full length manuscript, which at the time I thought was fantastic. I’m reading back now. I’m like, oh my gosh, I’m so glad that that is completely hidden. So other than sort of some journaling and personal writing for myself, I didn’t really seriously go back to writing until my second child, he was just a baby. And I was quite struggling with being a mom of a new baby and I’d a three-year-old at the time. And I was like, what’s going to fill in time? What’s going to fill in, you know, when they’re sleeping? And so that’s when I started writing and that’s when I wrote Hannah and Huia. So I hadn’t really, I’ve done no formal training, no qualifications, not even writing workshops, when I first started writing. I just literally was writing what was in my heart and pouring it out onto the page. And then it took a bit of time to edit and stuff like that, because it was, you know, I had no training. So, yes, I think I’ve always known that I wanted to write, but it just took me a long time to actually get to that first novel. And I think I needed a bit of life experience, to be honest.

Jo: Yeah. I heard a lot of people actually say that. A lot of people who kind of come to writing a little bit later, say that as much as they might’ve loved writing earlier on, without that life experience, it just wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have.

Charlotte: Yes. Yeah. Cause I think I read back the one that I, you know, wrote at Uni and you can tell it’s coming from, you know, a 19, 20-year-old, there’s no depth to it. There’s a story, it’s got a plot, but it just doesn’t have any depth to it. So I think sometimes you do need to mature.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. But then you’ve had the success with your, you know, your first kind of novel, like real kind of novel being published and everything, which is really exciting. Can you talk a little bit about what Hannah and Huia is about and your inspiration for it as well?

Charlotte: Yeah. So about the book first for the actual, what it’s about. So you first encounter Hannah on a mental health unit where she’s struggling to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event. But it’s also here that she meets Huia, a long-term resident on the ward, that Huia lives entirely in her own inner world. So she sits in the far right hand corner. She picks and rubs at her left wrist, but never her right. And she speaks in strange sequences of three unrelated mutterings like catapult, powhiri, snake bite, but none of the staff know what any of it means, especially not the enigmatic words, sun, rain, bye bye. So through the story, Hannah forms this unique bond with Huia and slowly begins to interpret the meaning of some of Huia’s seemingly random words and oddities, and eventually begins to piece together the story of Huia’s heartbreaking past and a little bit of New Zealand’s shameful history.

So I always knew that I wanted to write a story with mental health themes. But the story actually came to me, which… It’s, I guess it’s not uncommon where things just come out of the blue. So it was in the middle of the night, woke up, three words just going through my head, the sun, rain, bye bye. I could see and visualize an old Māori lady, Huia, sitting in a mental health unit in the corner, just repeating these words. I had no clue at all, what the words meant. I don’t even think I had a clue of what the words meant and what her behaviours meant until maybe… Probably over halfway through writing the first draft, and then it just clicked and I was like, oh my gosh, okay, this might mean this. And so then I had to go back and do a bit of rewrites, cause I don’t plan at all. I just let the words flood out. So I knew… yeah… so I had this real distinct character in my head of Huia. I knew that she was in a mental health unit. So I had to, I guess, find another character and put another character there for them to meet, which is, how Hannah came about.

But, yeah, I wanted to write a story that helped to normalize and demystify the experiences of those in the mental health system. And I really wanted to write a story that reminded us that it can just take one person to reach out. And to change somebody else’s life so that was really important for me. Because so often I think, you know, we might see someone on the street and they’re judged: oh, my gosh, it’s that crazy person, you know, wandering around with no shoes or whatever. And we don’t delve into what’s led them to be there, or what could we actually do to maybe to maybe help them.

So, I myself do have a history of mental health illness, a history of PTSD, depression, anxiety, a whole host of other things, and I have had time on mental health units. A few of the chapters of Hannah and Huia were actually written while I was an inpatient on the mental health units. You know, once I was sort of, you know, getting a bit better and sort of on the end stages. So I think because I have been there, because I have experienced it, it allowed me to give a little bit of authenticity to the story, to the characters voices, to the setting. And I’ve had a lot of people contact me and say that they can resonate with that, you know, that they might have had time on a mental health unit themselves, a family member, and they’ve said, you know, this is a book that even though it’s about tough times, it’s about healing and about moving past that. And that’s what I wanted to show: that good can come out of very difficult times.

Jo: Yeah. Such a powerful theme! I hear stories all the time at the moment about mental health and people struggling. And in the past, anxiety was definitely something that I struggled with really severely. But even in my family, depression has been very strong, suicidal ideation and all of that as well. And so it was nice, not nice, I don’t think that’s the right word, but it was enlightening to see, um, to get a sense, like through the setting and that of what it’s actually like to be in a mental health unit, and that I know family members who have been in there, but it’s different when you haven’t yourself, I think, experienced that.

And there’s just such a depth of empathy that you gain for the characters and, and everything through your beautiful story that I think is just so powerful: really, really potent. And you have this wonderful, I don’t know if it’s a tagline or something, but where you say that no one should ever be made to feel alone or invisible.

Charlotte: And that sort of probably drove the story because it’s so true. And so often, you know, in life I have felt quite alone and quite invisible. And I think people that are naturally anxious, you know, suffer with depression, we do hide and retreat and it takes these special people in our lives to step in and to be there. And to say, hey, you know, you’re not invisible. I can see you. I want to be there to help you. And that’s what Hannah, despite dealing so much with her own tragedy, with her own grief, she realizes that she can put that aside and actually give to somebody else, which actually then helps her through her own healing journey.

And so often we can get so trapped in our own issues and our own lives that actually reaching out to someone and saying, hey, you know, are you doing okay? There’s been times where I’ve done that to friends and it’s pulled me out of that rough time because it’s like you feel like you have a purpose in a way, when you’re not just living your own life, when you’re there to support others and to be a voice for others. Yeah, so it’s been quite an interesting journey. I will be honest, because I always held a real shame about my own mental health journey, even, you know, during my really, really dark and rough times, even when I was on mental health units, except for my own immediate family a lot of friends and I didn’t tell them I was really ashamed, they might contact me and I’ll be like, oh, I’m on holiday or whatever. And it’s taken me a long time to realize that there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

There are so many of us that have had our struggles; life is not perfect. Life throws us curve balls. We all react different ways. So for me to write this story, it actually helped me see and internalize the fact that I don’t need to be ashamed. And knowing that the story, you know, as soon as it got picked up by a publisher and knowing it was going to be out there, it was that real point where I was like, I’ve got to own this. This is a chance where my story and my voice can lead other people know that there is no shame. And I can’t try and support others and let that message be if I’m holding the shame myself. So now it’s like, okay, you know, I’ve been through some dark times. I wouldn’t say I’m completely out of the tunnel, but you know, I’m doing pretty well. And that it’s okay to reach out and it’s also okay if you get to the point that you need to be on a mental health unit. It’s not something to be ashamed of either. I’ve been in and out a number of times to be honest. And there are so many different people that I’ve met, you know, sometimes it’s just a mom that is really struggling and she just needs time away, to obviously, you do have people with schizophrenia and drug addictions and things like that, but there’s so many walks of life from top lawyers down to people that are homeless. So, yeah, there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Jo: I love that. I really, really love that. And that was going to be a question that I was going to ask you, because like, just in regards to how writing a book changed you, because I know regardless of our journey or whatever, I do find, particularly our first book, it does change us. And you’ve talked about that. It sounds like it’s been somewhat healing for you. Is that correct?

Charlotte: I definitely do think so because some of the darker parts of the story I was writing in some pretty tough times. So I was putting a lot of my emotions out on the page. And then as Hannah is going through that journey and finding her way through it, I myself was kind of doing the same in my own life, so I was kind of putting myself in Hannah. We were, it was, you know, with two different people. Our stories are very different, but we were kind of running the same journey. And so I could feel her emotions. And I think that just helped. That helped almost like having this buddy that’s like this character in my head and beside me that was living my journey and I was living her journey.

So, yeah, it was definitely, definitely a great way to process the world, to process my own journey, and to just impart that message of, you know, there is hope, even though so often I have lost that hope for so long, but it’s just trying to find something. Whether it’s a person, whether it’s some little hope or goal in life, just to kind of get you through. You will get there.

Jo: That is just so powerful. And I love how fiction has that ability to reach people on a different level. Not everybody’s willing to sit down and read a nonfiction book on mental health or anything like that, but through story we can take on so much and it can help us change our perception and our outlook and just feel on a different level.

Charlotte: Yeah, no, I agree with that actually, because sometimes reading nonfiction books on these topics, it’s quite hard because you know that all the events actually happened to someone and you over empathize and you start feeling… you know, it’s quite hard to take that on. But when it’s fictional characters, obviously these fictional characters have elements of so many real people put into them. But it’s not someone real. At the end of the day, you can go: this story didn’t happen to this exact way to anyone. Obviously, the story has happened to certain degrees to lots of people, but not specifically to someone. So I think you can separate it when it’s fictional versus when you’re reading the life story of someone and you know that every tiny little event happened.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. It allows us to feel those things and go deep even into our own emotions, but in a safe way because it’s fiction. Yes. Yeah. I agree. Yeah, I love that. And I love what you were saying also about how you are not a planner and the story, just those three words came to you. And then pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Charlotte: A bit of both. I do mostly type, but if anything comes to me, I will write it out in notebooks. I have so many notebooks scattered everywhere in my handbag and the car just everywhere. So I wouldn’t, I would, to be honest, I’d love to be a planner. I would love to know that this is where the story’s going to start. This is where it’s going to end. And this is what you need to put in to get there. Because I think sometimes not planning, it can take a little bit longer maybe because you’ll write it this way and your character takes you this way and then you’re like, oh, no, now I need to go back and none of that adds to this plot line. And you’ve got to keep going back and re-changing and re-changing all the time.

But at the same time, I love the process. I love the journey of not having a clue when I go into write, where I’m going to be led. So the characters are guiding me versus my pre-planned formula that it’s like, this is what I’ve got to stick to. It can make it very slow though. Also, I’m quite a perfectionist, over perfectionist, my husband would say. So I can spend a really, really long time just working on a few sentences. If they don’t sound right to me, I will just rehash them and rehash them. And I can’t move on. Like so often people are like, just leave those sentences and move on. But for me, until I’ve got those sentences, right, that guides what comes next. And then I need to get those. And then that guides what comes next. Because for me, actually getting the sentences right helps spark that next process. Because I’ve tried to do it, I’ve tried just going, okay, this is not perfect, this paragraph, just keep moving. And then I’ll just be sitting there going, I don’t know what the character’s doing. I don’t know what’s coming next. And so I’ll just work on this one. Work, edit, edit, edit. And then that spark will go, oh, okay, this is where I’m going. So I’m almost wondering whether some of my ideas are almost formulating in the background, and they’re doing it only when I’m kind of focused on more of an editing, more of a grammar, more of rearranging the sentences, and then that will ping.

The other time where ideas will come is usually the moment I turn the light out at night. And it would just be ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. And then I’ve got to turn the light back on and I’m frustrating my husband because he’s just wanting to get to sleep and I’ll be like frantically writing. Yet I could have spent an hour at the laptop and nothing came until that moment I turned the light off.

Jo: Oh my gosh, I can relate to so much of that. Not the editing part because I’m definitely the person that… so when I do my first draft, I just throw words down on the paper. And if I can’t think of the word, then I’ll just literally write the word ‘something’, like just ‘something’ in brackets or highlight it. Or if I think of a couple of phrases that I could use for one sentence, I’ll just quickly jot them down and highlight it to remember to come back.

Charlotte: That’s great. Yeah.

Jo: Well, yeah, yeah. It does mean though, sometimes when I’m going back through and editing, before I send it to my editor, sometimes she will pick up, she’s like, you’ve just written the word something here. I’m like, oh no, I missed it. Okay.

Charlotte: I would love to be able to just get the words on the paper. I mean, for Hannah and Huia, it took me six years. Like that’s a really, really, really long time. Like I’m a very slow writer and that perfectionism I think does hold it back because I can’t continue with the story until I’ve kind of cemented what I want. And then sometimes I’ll just rehash, like rather than continuing writing, I’ll just go rehash what I’ve done again and again. But sometimes it will change. Like, I’ll suddenly, when I’m doing that rehashing go, oh, okay, this could lead it to there, and if I didn’t do that, sometimes I’m like, maybe just the story would never be the same. So I don’t know. I’d love to just try and get it out and maybe one day that will be a challenge and something that I will try and do, but for now I just didn’t, I enjoy, you know, sometimes just sitting for an hour just pottering on the same paragraphs.

Jo: Yeah. Oh, well that’s good. That’s good. I am, I think similar to you, in that discovery writer process where I usually just have a glimpse of a scene or a glimpse of a character and then I’m just giving myself permission to write whatever comes and I have no idea what’s going to happen and my characters surprise me and I, yeah, and don’t do what I’m expecting them to do. So I’m not a plotter either, as much as I would love to be. But yeah, but it does mean that my first drafts are incredibly messy and I have to do lots of rewrites.

Charlotte: Yeah.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. So I totally understand that. But yeah, six years. So six years is a long time to keep a story alive in your subconscious. Was there anything in particular that you did to keep that story alive or was there times where you were just ready to give up on it or…?

Charlotte: There were definitely like months where I wrote nothing. I mean, I think over those six years, I think there was even a patch in like a year where I virtually wrote nothing. Like it was a pretty tough year. But I think I was constantly drawing inspiration and ideas like the characters were always there in the back of my head. Like often I would sort of have dreams about them overnight. I think even though if I wasn’t writing, they were there as a comfort. I know it sounds really silly, but it was kind of like they were friends that I could carry with me at all times. And then I think probably come that sort of 5th year, I was like, okay, this has been dragging on forever, I just need to get it finished. And I probably in those last sort of that, you know, 5th, 6th year was when I actually probably did most of it. Because it, it did feel like this is forever.

Over the time, and I think it is that imposter syndrome, except for my husband and my kids, not even my parents, none of my close friends, none of them knew that I was writing. And I think there was always that fear of, if this just turns out to be terrible, there’s no one in the sidelines going, oh, how is it? Can I read it? Like no one checking in with, you know, are you finished yet? Are you finished? Particularly when it took so long. I mean, that would have been a really long time to have friends going, so is it finished? And so, you know, part of it made it easier to write because there was no pressure at all.

That’s the one thing that I’ve found different now, having a book out in the world, I’m really struggling with the writing process because it’s like, this is not good enough. It’s not matching up with Hannah and Huia. It’s, you know, I’ve got to get stuff out because people aren’t going to want to wait six or eight years for the next one. So it’s quite a different writing process than just secretly doing it at home when I felt like it. So part of me wishes I could kind of go back to that space again where it was just me and the writing and no one else knew about it and it was just because I wanted to do it for fun. But anyway, you can’t go back and I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t change anything. The book’s out there and you know, obviously I’m so thrilled. I’m so thrilled cause it’s not easy. It’s not easy, particularly in New Zealand. It’s such a difficult publishing world in New Zealand to be in. We’re so small.

Most of our readers are like, they buy the international titles. Even some of my close friends were like, oh, I don’t read New Zealand authors. And I’m like, seriously? Like, you know, we have so much talent. I make a point now, I pretty much will only ever buy New Zealand books. You know, unless it was a title that I really was desperate to read. I read international titles, but I would say 90 percent are New Zealand authors because we have so much talent. To be honest, more than I ever thought like, you know, five, six years ago, when I probably did mostly read international titles, which is really shocking. But now it’s opened up a whole new world to me and I can recognize the voices. And it’s just, there’s just something different, I think, about a Kiwi writer that you can connect with so differently. Go New Zealand writers!

Jo: I love that because I will admit that I am one of those guilty parties who doesn’t really read a lot of New Zealand authors until recently. So I had a couple of New Zealand authors that I read, but it was because I knew them. And so it wasn’t really until the Local Author Book Fair in August, where I got to meet a whole range of other New Zealand authors and got all their books and everything, that I’ve really delved into that. But I guess, um, so I lived in Canada for several years and worked in bookstores and that. And so, I was kind of used to Canadian and American primarily, like authors and that. And then even for my own books, because I’m Indie published, most of my sales is in the U.S. and the U.K. and Canada.

Charlotte: And you kind of need to keep up with the trends and what they’re publishing and what they’re writing about. So I can understand that. Whereas, I guess for me. You know, I’m currently right in New Zealand, right in that publishing world that I want to be able to see what other writers are bringing out too, you know, and to support them as well.

Like I think we have such a supportive community in New Zealand, which I’ve only just really discovered in the last year. And it’s amazing, you know, like constantly, us New Zealand authors we’re banding together and it’s like, hey, you know, this book’s great. And I’ve read this book and it’s so lovely. It’s another way to just delve into it because it’s just such a beautiful, beautiful community of writers to be able to support.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, no, I agree. So I’m really enjoying the shift for me anyway, to read a lot more Kiwi authors, which is really cool. So did you always know from the beginning of Hannah and Huia that you wanted to publish it?

Charlotte: I guess like any writer, there’s always this tiny little hope in the back of your head that you’re like, oh, you know, I’d love to have a book published. It was sort of on my secret bucket list to have a book with my name on it. And, I did want to go traditionally published and that is partly because of the commitment that you guys have to put into your books. I mean, even though, to be honest, there is probably still a lot more that I’ve had to do, even though I’m traditionally published than I ever suspected, I just was kind of like, oh, I can hand it over and it’s just all done. But there’s a lot more. But I guess just for me and that sort of anxiety side of things, I wanted someone else to be able to take charge. I know a lot of people like yourself: you want to sort of keep that control and stuff, which I definitely, it was very difficult to, pass your little book baby over and to have to deal with the fact of you do lose that control. You have to have trust in the publisher, but you don’t always agree with decisions that are made. And that that’s something that, you know, you have to accept, that you have to be guided by them. And the fact that they’ve been in this for a really long time, and they’ve got a vision. Which might be different than your vision, but you have to trust in that.

So that is it. It is hard. And I can definitely see why, you know, a lot of people choose to not even consider going traditional publishing. And it’s not because they’re like, oh, I’m not going to go that way because I don’t want the rejections or the possibility of rejections, which I think some people go, oh, that’s why they’ve just gone that way because, you know, and it’s not, it’s solely because this is something that you’ve poured your love into, and you want to see it right through to the end, following each of those stages. And for me, yeah, I just didn’t have that in me. And so I knew that if it wasn’t picked up by a traditional publisher, I wasn’t going to do anything with it. So I was very, very, very lucky. And I know how lucky I am.

So once I finished writing it, I let my husband read it. When he cried a couple of times through it, I was like, okay, maybe these words will have an impact on others. So I was like, well, let’s get it assessed. You know? And so I trawled the internet, for accessors in New Zealand. Stephen, the late Stephen Stratford, unfortunately he passed away, but he kept coming up as quite like, he would tell it how it was. He would be quite blunt and so I figured, let’s go with him, you know, he’s going to tell it if it’s really terrible. I think literally my email to him was, please let me know if this should just be buried on my hard drive. So when he emailed back and he was just like blown away, he’s like, wow. He’s like, I’ve edited so many books and this is up there with the best. You’ve got to get this out into the world. I think at the time I was even wanting to not publish under my own name. And he’s like, what are you doing? Like you’ve gotta have your name attached to this.

So he gave me the name of a couple of agents. One of them, the agents, their books was closed at the time. So I went with the other agent. She picked me up instantly. And I think having Stephen Stratford’s review pretty much lead to the agent picking me up. Initially, we were pitching internationally, it was just before COVID hit. So it was quite a while ago when it was, completed. And there was a little bit of interest over there and then COVID hit and it just shut down. No one at all was interested in taking a debut, taking a New Zealand debut. And so we bought it back to New Zealand shores and, Quentin Wilson was the first publisher that it was pitched to. He loved it. And you know, it just went from there.

So I know that I’ve been really lucky because talking to so many other writers, there’s a lots of rejections along the way, which I haven’t yet experienced. I’m sure I will definitely experience that at some stage. So yeah, but I think in each stage of the process with Hannah and Huia, the comment that kept coming up is it’s such a unique story, like we’ve got so many different crime stories and, you know, psychological thrillers and romances and everything like that. There wasn’t, there’s not quite at the same story. I mean, I guess there is other stories that are similar, but it is quite a unique voice, quite a unique character.

Jo: And setting as well, I think. Yeah.

Charlotte: Yeah. Which, you know, it’s setting, but it’s not like, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or any of those ones, that is, I guess it is New Zealand. It is more soft and gentle. Like I kind of tried to keep the mental health unit realistic, but, being on a mental health unit, it is quite varying. There are days that you wouldn’t want to put everything that goes on into a book because, you know, you want to show that it is, they are healing places and they are great. But you kind of have to sensor it a little bit. But I think that’s any place that you don’t want to portray the worst on any side of anywhere. Yeah.

Jo: No, I just find it all so interesting. So interesting. So, yeah, it sounds like your publishing journey then was just, just wonderful. Everything just fell into place the way it did, but you also, but you’ve also said there were some challenges.

Charlotte: Yeah, well, I mean, COVID itself was definitely a challenge. So, there was a huge delay, just because, you know, the whole publishing world over that time took a hit and it took a long time to get the ball rolling again. So the delays were a challenge. The whole, handing it over to someone, I mean, the Quentin Wilson and his editors, the whole team, they’ve done a beautiful job. And I’m looking back, I’m pleased with everything that was done. The actual story itself had no changes. It was just brushing up a lot of, I guess some of the grammar and some of those things that were a little bit messy. The title was changed, but I’m so thrilled, that they’ve just changed the title, gone nice and smooth and, you know, but yeah. And I mean, I’m really pleased with the cover. Yeah, I mean, there are things that, you know, that I’d be like, oh, I might have done this differently or that differently. But I mean, I can’t really sort of get into those too much because I’m just super grateful that it was picked up, that someone had that belief in me. Because it’s not easy being a debut author, particularly, I hadn’t done a degree. I hadn’t won even any short story awards. I was a complete, absolute nobody in the literary world.

And that’s not always easy to take a risk on. Because if you look at all of the books that are coming out in New Zealand, a lot of them, you will see that they’ve got a journalism degree or a writing degree. Or they’ve worked at a local newspaper. They’ve kind of got one step in. So they’ve already got connections and a network, which publishers, I think, really like because they know that you’ve got one step in there that you can market yourself knowing that. And so I was a complete absolute nobody, but it’s worked out.

Jo: But it’s really inspiring as well. Like I find that really inspiring, because I’ve said this before on this podcast and I hope the right people hear me, but I know I don’t believe that you need a degree to be a good writer. In fact, I’ve had conversations with some people who say, oh, it kind of almost holds you back a little bit. In some ways I found that a little bit myself, just because with my degree, and I don’t know if all university courses are like this, but it was very much a competition to who could write the most darkest kind of, you know, like it just had to be dark. Like you couldn’t really do pulp fiction or, uh, you know, any kind of genre fiction. It was really all about the literary fiction, which is cool if you’re into that, but it also left a lot of people kind of on the sidelines or with a feeling that that was the only way to garner success or a traditional publishing contract. And that was to keep to the lane of traditional publishing. And that’s not always a fit for everybody. And yeah, so I think your story is actually quite inspiring because you didn’t have that. And yet you’ve claimed your space in the whole author sphere, which is awesome. It’s so cool.

Charlotte: Yeah. I mean, since it’s been published, I have probably been reading more books, going to more workshops. It’s like, I’ve done everything round the opposite way. It’s like now I want to, I guess, learn a little bit more about the craft. Whereas I think with Hannah and Huia, I was literally just pouring my heart and soul out and then, you know, reworking it at the end. So I definitely think like if you’ve got a story in you, if that emotion comes through, whether it’s, you know, I mean, even if the emotions, happiness and romance and love and everything, if it comes out on the page, that’s, I think, what publishers are looking for. And I know like Quentin has said to me that you can get a manuscript that is perfectly edited, it is perfectly polished, you know that the person knows how to write, but the story can sometimes lack that little X factor. Versus a story that might be a little bit more messy, which I know my very initial manuscript to him was a little bit messy, but if a publisher can see that story they know that it can be moulded and worked with, but you can’t add that essence back into a story that’s beautifully presented. And so I think that’s the thing is just sometimes set aside the rules, like, yes, there are writing rules. There are, you know, things, but sometimes it’s just better to set them aside, get the words on paper. And then you can kind of tidy it up at the end. Versus having to constantly think, oh, my gosh, you know, I need to do this course on this and this course on this and this course on this and this course on this. Sometimes it’s just better to just have your own voice rather than pulling other people’s voices and trying to fit within that, that mould of what you think you’re supposed to write.

Jo: Yeah, I agree with that and it can be a little bit of a crutch too, all that extra learning. I know I fall into that quite a bit and I put off writing my first novel despite always having wanted to write novels until I was, what 39 or 40 or so, and it was because, oh, I feel like I needed to do all the courses and I needed to read all the books and yeah, I don’t think that really helped. It wasn’t until I stopped caring about how it might be received in the world, and I just wrote because I wanted to write that, yeah…

Charlotte: ‘Cause the reality is, is not everybody’s going to like what you write and it’s, you could have the best written book ever, but you know, not everyone’s going to like your genre, your characters, your style. And I mean, that’s the same. So often people will be like, oh, this is the greatest book ever. And then I’ll read it and I’ll be like, yeah, it was okay. And then there’s books that I rave over. And then, like, I hear other people in the literary world going, oh, that was really terrible. Yeah. So we can’t please everybody. But I think, yeah, for me, I’m always trying to please myself and I’m definitely the hardest critic. And that’s probably my biggest hurdle is knowing that actually no one’s perfect and no one, not everyone will like it and that you will get bad feedback and you’ve just got to accept it. Which is not always easy.

Jo: No, no, not at all. I found it interesting how you said, um, because I think I saw maybe on your website or somewhere that you’ve got maybe another manuscript written and another one in the works or something, but you were saying before that you’re finding it more difficult than, Hannah and Huia. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like why you’re finding it difficult and what you’re doing to move through that.

Charlotte: Yeah, it’s quite hard actually, because to be honest, when I wrote Hannah and Huia, I was like, uh, this is not that great. I was quite hard on myself, so it wasn’t probably until, you know, different people in the industry and then reviews were like, oh, actually, that I was like, oh, okay, maybe, you know, I started properly accepting a little bit more that that maybe it was better than what I judge things as. So with every next project, it’s the same. I’m so harsh on it. I think Hannah and Huia though will always be my book baby. That’s the story that I just resonate with so much. And so the next one, I actually wrote quite different. Like it’s more contemporary, it’s, you know, a little boy with autism, he gets kidnapped. So it probably for me doesn’t, I guess, it probably has less of me in the pages maybe. And I also, I wanted to write something slightly different almost as a back-up just in case, I don’t know, just, you know, something different.

But yeah, I mean, it’s still sitting there wasting, like it hasn’t been put out to anyone because you kind of need to wait for your first one to be out for a little bit to get some sales and to get the reviews and to get your name out there which will then make it easier for further projects. And I mean, it might be that publishers say it’s too, it’s not similar enough to Hannah and Huia. We want something a bit more like that because your readers that have read that and loved that want more of that. Or they may say, actually, this is great. It’s something slightly different. Let’s go with that. So I don’t know.

The third one is very much in its infancy. It’s taking me a really long time, I won’t actually say how long I’ve been working on it to only get a couple of chapters. We’ll just say a very long time. It is more back to the love of wanting to get my voice out there about mental health. It is the portrayal of different characters with different mental health illnesses. But I’m just, you know, I’m struggling. I don’t know whether I’m struggling because I’m in a better place now and I can’t put myself into those emotions and I don’t want to. So I don’t know whether maybe it’s just not the right time for me to be writing this, because sometimes you have to drag yourself. You, you know, well, when I write, I become the characters. And so if characters are not in a great place and you’re putting yourself there, it’s not an easy place to be when you’re like, no, I don’t want to be there. Like, you know, no, I’ve been there. I’ve done so much to get myself away from there. So I don’t know whether maybe that’s the issue or whether it is just that imposter syndrome of going, this has got to be better. This has got to be bigger. This has got to hit the mark. This has got to be able to do what I want it to do. And I’m just, yeah, fearing that it’s not and maybe it won’t. And I don’t know, maybe Hannah and Huia will just be it. And I will just have to deal with the fact that that’s going to be it. And I don’t know.

Writing is not easy and it’s definitely not easy once people know that you’re writing because they’re constantly, what are you writing now? How many words have you done? How much? And it’s like, yeah, there’s so much more external pressure put on you. When people are like, oh, I want to, you know, when’s the second book coming out? I want to know about that. And I mean, it might be years down the track and that’s just, I’ve just got to go with the process. I mean, that’s just what I’ve done the whole way along is just followed where it leads me. And I just have to follow this ride and see what happens.

Jo: I’m just laughing throughout this entire thing because it just resonates with me so much. Like, honestly, your journey in a way just resonates so much. I found my second novel, Unspoken Truths that was my real passion project. That was me getting all these negative horrible emotions and trauma and everything and pushing it into my characters and pushing it into the story. And even though the situations in that in the story are quite different than what I went through, that was my catharsis kind of story. And there were so many times as I was writing the story where I would be crying and going, oh my gosh, and I didn’t see this coming for my character. And it wasn’t really until the end that I realized that that book just encompassed so much of me. And then it was put out there to maybe put out a sequel to it. So I had a few people say, oh, it’d be really cool if you did another one. I want to know about these secondary characters and that. And I’m like, yeah, okay, that’s cool. And I tried and I tried and I just couldn’t because life got a little bit better. My mental health got a little bit better and it took me so long to recover from writing Unspoken Truths that I just had so much resistance towards writing the next book. And I’m only going back to it now. And even though my mental health is in a better place, I needed some distance to move through my previous book. And since then, I did just a fun, um, Hades’s Haunt, which is a paranormal cozy and was just fun and just, you know, like it wasn’t those deep emotions. It was just my fun little light-hearted book and everything, that came really, really easily ‘cause I didn’t have to go into those deep parts of myself. But now I’m back here and this is the, um, I’m writing the book that I started what a couple of years ago now, and only, you know, a handful of chapters in and, yeah. And it’s like, okay, well, I’ve got to be willing now to go a little bit deeper again, and I know it’s not going to be as full on as the first book, but I know now what to expect of myself and I know that it is going to colour my world a little bit and to just be aware that, yeah, I’m going to be in a slightly darker place for a little while because I’m living with these characters and they’re not in great places. So yeah. So I so resonate with everything you were saying there.

Charlotte: I think you definitely have to be in a space where you can still get yourself into those deep dark places through the characters, but that you’re in a good enough space to then bounce back and remind yourself, actually, that’s just the characters. I don’t need to stick there. I don’t need to take their emotions and maybe I’m not quite there yet. Maybe I’ll need another year or two. It’s funny how we, you know, we take on our characters. They are part of us and we have to find a way to be able to separate that. It’s quite weird. I mean, I know like my head is always constantly very busy and it’s just like, oh, shush, be quiet. And that sometimes you do kind of go, characters can you just take a holiday, please? Cause I really don’t want to have to think about this right now. I don’t want to have to be thinking about the plot and what you’re doing and where you wanting to take me and you’re telling me just write it. But I think that’s just what most writers that we live with, you know? We’ve got to just know that we’ve got to carry them with us and take them where we go. And even on a holiday, they’re just like, they’re in the background. So I don’t think you can ever step away from writing it.

Jo: It’s a weird thing. Like, I really did find when I was writing Unspoken Truths, there was a good few times where I’d be like driving to work and I was like, oh, I’ve got to tell my colleagues what so and so is doing. And then like, you know, like you’re a gossip and that, and I’m like, but wait, they’re not actually a real person.

Charlotte: Yeah. And that’s how you make believable characters by turning them into real people.

Jo: They were like my imaginary friends. And even with my husband, like, yeah, there would just be times and I’m just like crying going, oh my gosh, I can’t believe this happened. I wasn’t expecting it. And he’s like, you’re the author. Like, how did you not know this was coming? I’m like, I don’t know, but oh my gosh. Yeah. It’s weird. It’s such a weird, weird thing.

Charlotte: I think it is. And I think people who’ve never experienced that, they can’t understand it. But I wouldn’t live without it either. I mean, I would like to shut it off now and again and just be like, no, I just want to not have that, not think about them. Because it is constant, like, you know, you’ll be watching a movie and you’ll be suddenly like, characters are like, oh, maybe I could do that and they could do that and they could do this. And then you have no clue what’s going on in the movie because you’ve got your own movie going on in your head and it can be a little bit draining, a little bit frustrating. But that’s why we do what we do because we love it and we want to bring these characters to life and to bring them to other people.

Jo: Yeah. Absolutely. So what do you think has been either the most surprising or the most challenging thing for you during the writing or publishing process?

Charlotte: The most surprising is probably, definitely getting a contract on the first try. Most challenging would probably be the imposter syndrome. It would definitely be that. It would definitely be taking the confidence to put myself behind my book. To recognize that it’s okay to say to people, hey, you should read this. I still struggle with that. Just even probably on the social media side, like I would rather just hide away, but I know in this day and age that that is what does drive a lot of sales, you know, that that’s where people go, oh, I’ve seen this. I’ve heard about this. I resonate. I might read it. I would love to just hide away and just be this own like little person. And then like a book’s just pinged out into the world. But that’s obviously not going to happen.

I think probably just some of the other challenges is probably some incorrect preconceived views about publishing and traditional publishing, and probably not realizing that there’s still so much of, you know, going into bookshops, introducing myself, trying to garner that rapport so that bookshops might go, hey, actually, I will get that book in and probably just, you know, being with a smaller independent publisher, trying to find a way to push through with some of those bigger publishing houses. Which obviously, I’m still aware that I’m traditionally published over indie publishers. So I do have, I guess it is probably easier to get into some bookstores, but it’s probably not as easy as I’d hoped. Because I’m not with a global publishing house, I haven’t won any awards. It is still hard to break through, even though I’ve got a publisher’s logo on the book.

But I think for anyone who’s writing, it’s just to keep at it. It’s just to keep going to start writing to begin with. Even if it’s literally like 2 minutes a day, you know, it doesn’t need to be hours and hours a day as long as you’re getting something down. Because you’re never going to complete if you don’t start. But it’s just knowing that there is space out there still for complete unknowns. And I think, well, if you look at actually the books that have come out this year, like of New Zealand authors, there are so many debuts this year. It is a bumper year for debuts. Not so great for all of us debuts that are coming out competing with each other. And I think that probably is a little bit of that COVID knock on effect. All these books are coming out now. But it does show that there is still room for new voices. There are still, you know, everyone had to start as a debut novelist. Everyone had to start as a complete unknown. And just, yeah, just keep at it. And if you don’t succeed with the first, you know, if you’re wanting to go traditionally published, if you don’t succeed with the first one, it doesn’t mean that it’s not good enough. It might be that you didn’t approach the right publisher. It wasn’t the right time, maybe in another year that, you know, because sometimes it might be that they’ve just published four crime novels and you’re just pitching them a crime novel and they’re like, we’ve just had too many. So just keep at it, keep going and it might be your third, fourth, fifth project and then suddenly boom, that’s out there. And then they’ll be like, okay, now we want one, two, three, and four. So anything’s possible.

Jo: Exactly. I think you’ve definitely proven that and that is so cool and I’m wishing you so much success with Hannah and Huia and I know New Zealand being a small country, it can be extra tough I think getting into bookstores and that, but that perseverance I think is, yeah, so important.

So how can people, where can they buy your books and how can they connect with you?

Charlotte: Yeah. So my website, https://charlottelobb.com/, I’m also on Facebook, Instagram, I’ve tried Tik Tok, we’ll see, maybe I’ll get a few more on there. In New Zealand, it is in different bookstores. You can definitely go into a bookstore and ask them to order it for you. I know it’s on Paper Plus’s website and in some Paper Plus’s. Aotearoa Books, Mighty Ape, The Nile. It is solely in New Zealand at the moment. So for international readers, unfortunately they will have to purchase and ship, which we have actually had a few do, which is really super cool. And I think they just go on to different sites and just see which has got the cheapest shipping at the time. Yeah. Hopefully, hopefully in time it will find its way further afield, but I have to start somewhere.

Jo: I’m sure it will. And I hope your next two manuscripts find their place. And yeah, that’s exciting.

Charlotte: If they do, if they do. And if they don’t, I’ll still write because I love writing.

Jo: Well, thank you so much Charlotte for coming on the show. It has been such a blast chatting with you and yeah, so good.

Charlotte: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Jo: So here are some takeaways from today’s show:

  1. It can just take one person reaching out to change and sometimes save a person’s life. As the tagline on Hannah and Huia states: no one should ever be made to feel invisible.
  2. Good can come out of very difficult times.
  3. Sometimes being there or giving to someone else can help us with our own healing journey.
  4. Release any shame you feel around your mental health journey. Own your story.
  5. Don’t feel locked into thinking you have to plan your books. There are pros and cons to planning and to discovery writing, so do what works for you.
  6. There is no right way to write a book. It is perfectly fine if you want to edit as you go and equally as acceptable just to get words down and edit at the end.
  7. Read locally. Support other authors in your vicinity and stay abreast of what is selling and what is trending with your readers.
  8. It’s okay to sometimes set aside writing rules. That might just give you the X factor in your books that publishers are looking for.
  9. Be aware of your mental health as you write a book, particularly if you’re prone to embodying your characters. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself time to bounce back.
  10.  Start writing and keep writing. There is also space out there for you at the publishing table.

So I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. I know the takeaways are a little bit different than normal. They’re very heavily focused on mental health, but your mental health is so important. So again, I’m just going to say, if you are struggling right now, get help, find somebody to talk to, do whatever you need to do to look after yourself. Obligations, deadlines, all this stuff at the end of the day can wait. Your health is so much more important.

I do highly recommend you check out the book, Hannah and Huia by Charlotte Lobb. It is a really interesting read. It is a little dark in places, but it gets its point across very strongly how normal it is to go through challenges with your mental health and it is okay.

If you have enjoyed this episode or enjoyed any of my episodes, I’d really appreciate it if you would tell a friend. That is probably the biggest buzz for me, and the best way that I can help grow this show. If you want to support me in other ways. You can subscribe, you can leave a review, you can rate, any of those cool things. You can also support me by making a donation through buy me a coffee. Just go to the website https://www.buymeacoffee.com/jobuer and you can leave a donation of just a few dollars or whatever you like there. That of course just helps me keep this show going and keep things plodding along as they should. As well, it helps me out.

My hope at this point is everything going to plan, and we know sometimes these things don’t, but there should be another episode being released on the 18th of December here right on time. I will hopefully be a little bit better organized, so if there are any crazy things happening in my life it shouldn’t interfere with the show. But I do appreciate you tuning in and sticking around, even though this was a little bit late in coming out this week, your support in all these ways though, really does just make my day. It is fantastic for my mental health. So I really do appreciate it. And I really do appreciate you. So look after yourselves, my friends, and I will be chatting with you again fairly shortly here. Happy writing. Bye.

author mindset, imposter syndrome, mental health, New Zealand Author, writing a book