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Expat Author Anne O’Connell’s Debut Novel

Today’s a special day for Anne O’Connell, one I’m excited to share with her and with you.

Fourteen months ago I reviewed her nonfiction book Riveting Expat Reads: Celebrating @ Home in Dubai. Anne’s been busy since then, relocating from the United Arab Emirates to Thailand and writing up a storm.

Not only is today International Women’s Day, we also celebrate the launch of Anne’s first novel, Mental Pause.

 

Not one to craft a meek tale based on ‘safe’ story lines, Anne has unleashed her sense of humor on that bane of women’s existence: menopause. As if that weren’t enough, she’s dived headfirst into the genre of murder mysteries and courtroom dramas. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but my back cover testimonial gives you an idea of Mental Pause:

‘Love, attraction, hot flashes, pending empty nest, sizzling nights, shifting identity, the meaning of friendship, surprising twists and missteps galore — it’s all here! Anne O’Connell has written a fun debut novel about one menopausal woman’s desire to let her hair down, and the trouble that can lead to.’

To mark the occasion, I’ve chatted with Anne on writing nonfiction versus fiction, NaNoWriMo, and using expat experience for book settings. So grab a cup of coffee, tea or your favorite beverage and settle in for awhile.

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I originally ‘met’ Anne through her writing blog Writing Just Because! and knew she had a background in public relations working in her native Canada and the United States. When she moved to Dubai in 2007, she made a career change so I asked her to start with that.

‘I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years now, mostly in my career as a PR practitioner,’ Anne explained. ‘The move to Dubai was the catalyst to setting up a freelance business that I could easily do from home. I had previously toyed with the idea of working for myself and this was the perfect opportunity. The one thing that I was passionate about that I had been doing throughout my PR career was writing, so I started working as a freelance copy writer focusing on corporate communications, marketing, PR and more recently social media.’

Her nonfiction book @Home in Dubai grew out of emails sent back to family and friends chronicling life in the UAE. It was published by Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing who Anne had met through writing workshops she planned and hosted for Parfitt. So how did she transition to writing fiction?

‘I loved the process of writing a book and as my first book was launching in late 2011, I had just moved to Thailand. I hadn’t met many people yet and found myself with a little time on my hands. I also had been experiencing some serious peri-menopausal symptoms and wrote about it totally for cathartic reasons. One night, after a particularly horrendous night sweat, I found myself giggling as I wrote. I contemplated starting a blog but then decided it would be more fun to turn it into fiction and really let my imagination go wild. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was about to begin so I signed up and just started writing. The challenge is writing 50,000 words during the 30 days of November.’

‘It honestly just poured out,’ Anne said. ‘I had these crazy thoughts and ideas rolling around in my head that seemed to take on a life of their own. I was grappling with my own symptoms but no matter how bad they were,  my main character Abbie’s were always worse! I actually started dreaming about characters and would wake up and run to the computer to get it all down before I forgot. My best plot twist actually came in a dream.’

Always fascinated by how other writers approach the writing process, I asked Anne to share a bit about how her preferences.

‘I write pretty much all day, every day. Whether it’s a copy writing project for a client, content for my own website, blog or other social media, magazine articles or guest columns, there’s always something to write. Once I have to get down to serious writing I prefer to be at my desk, usually with my cat stretched out on the half that my computer isn’t occupying.’

‘I tend to write one scene at a time because I don’t like to interrupt the flow,’ Anne continued. ‘If an idea or thought intruded that would fit later in the plot line, I would switch to my outline that was always open in the background; I’d quickly type a few key words so I wouldn’t forget about it later, then return to the scene on which I was working.’

So how does writing nonfiction compare to writing fiction?

‘I find writing fiction very freeing,’ Anne confessed. ‘The outline gets better defined as I progress. With non-fiction, I prefer to start with a more solid idea of where I’m going and how I want to get there, and use a more structured formula. I do just as much research and fact checking for both because fiction needs to be believable, especially when based on real-life scenarios such as court room scenes.’

As a Canadian expat who has lived in Florida, Dubai and now Thailand, I was intrigued as to why Anne chose Massachusetts for the setting of Mental Pause.

‘I was actually a few chapters into the novel when I realized I had to decide where it would be set. A good chunk of the book takes place in a courtroom so I decided I wanted it to be in the US since I had spent several years there, was more familiar with US law and had sources there who could help me check facts. I love Massachusetts because it’s the closest state, character-wise, to my home province of Nova Scotia. Since it was fiction I wanted the places to be a little further removed from my hometown as well. Also, I knew I wanted to publish through Create Space so the US market was key.’

Is there another novel on the horizon?

‘Oh yes,’ Anne shared. ‘I’ve started writing my next novel and it’s set in Dubai.’

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Want to learn more about Anne’s debut novel Mental Pause? Here’s the press release, and you can check out both her writing blog Writing Just Because! and the Mental Pause The Novel blog. Anne’s writing business site is Global Writing Solutions Online, she’s on Facebook as Anne the Writer and tweets as @AnnetheWriter on Twitter.

 

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