Today we are talking to one of our members who has devoted her writing life to non-fiction. Lesley Lawson Botez says writing is her passion, psychology is her motivation. With professional qualifications and active in both communications and psychology/counselling, she enjoys exploring new topic and understanding underlying patterns. She is coordinating this year's Geneva Writers' Group Literary Prizes, after being a runner-up in non-fiction herself in 2014.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/writing come from?
I was very lucky to have had wonderful English teachers at each school I attended. Miss Williams and Mrs Tobias in boarding schools in Sussex, Peggy Sutcliffe, now Mrs Peggy Strong, at Brilliantmont in Lausanne. I am still in touch with Peggy Strong, now over 100 and living in Bex. She told me that she had never had a pupil like me, not before nor since. I was very proud and delighted to receive many prizes for English.
What sort of writing do you do and why?
I write non-fiction and have made my living as a commercial writer. I began as a copywriter at Saatchi then set up my own communications agency specialized in industrial communications. I love to know how things work, to research and glamourize them. I wrote some articles for the Financial Times and Newsweek and was the Romandie correspondent for Swiss News which allowed me to give a more factual base to my writing. I went on to become head of communications for a private banking group and later was a staff writer and in charge of field publications for the ICRC.
My book, Holding Out for a Hero, Five Steps to Marriage Over 40 is non-fiction and sprung from my PhD research and my own experience as a 40+ bride.
Who or what inspires you to write?
I have entered the Goodreads challenge for the third year running and am a member of Geneva’s beautiful Société de Lecture library which gives me access to many books I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. Amongst those I’d mention Mohsin Hamid’s How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Teju Cole’s Every day is for the thief. I enjoy Joyce Carol Oates for the depth and consistency of her work, Kate Atkinson for her sense of humour and Ian McEwan for his range of subjects. My favourite book in recent years is Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending and my all time favourite writer is Doris Lessing. Her work shaped the thinking of women of several generations, my own included.
Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey.
When my book was ready to be published, I approached agents that I had met through GWG. The first needed me to have 50,000 Facebook friends before she could present my relationship self help book to a publisher. Apparently it is a huge market but very oversubscribed. The second said this was not her market although she was faced with the decision of whether to marry at 40 herself. I then approached John Hunt Publishing through a Swanwick Writers School contact. They immediately responded that I, unlike some 90% of writers who sent them manuscripts, had been selected for further discussion. I was flattered and decided to accept their offer rather than risk refusal elsewhere. I think that John Hunt did an excellent job on the cover and the layout, a bad job on the editing and a disappointing job on promotion.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I like to research and get the facts for a story and I like to see the product blossom under my pen. I have to have a deadline and be commissioned to write a piece. This spurs me on. I need to know that I will be read, I can’t just write for the sake of it.
How did you hear of GWG and in what ways has it been significant for your writerly career?
I knew of GWG from its very beginning. I joined the American Women’s Club Writing Group through fellow Swiss News journalist Sally Alderson, one of the original GWG members, in order to have my copywriting critiqued. When Susan Tiberghien set up GWG I didn’t join at first, as I was writing commercial non-fiction at the time.
GWG has been an inspiration to me in getting my book out in the world. The support of the group, the Forgers small critiquing group and of course Susan Tiberghien has been precious to me. This is why I wanted to become involved in the voluntary side of GWG. This year I am the coordinator of the GWG Literary Prize with its three categories – fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The deadline for submissions is 24 April so I expect to be very busy around that time. You can find more details about how to submit below.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Join GWG and a small critiquing group. Writing is a lonely activity and you need support around you. Enter competitions, such as the GWG Literary Prize, as they will give you the stimulus to write. In terms of a creative writing MFA, I am in two minds. I began mine at Kingston University London’s Low Residency. I enjoyed the low residency part but found the on-line courses frustrating. Nevertheless I did my best writing there and met many exciting writers.
Geneva Literary Prizes 2017
Judge for poetry
Poet, songwriter, and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye has won many awards and fellowships including four Pushcart Prizes and the Paterson Poetry Prize. In 2009, she was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com's first peace heroes.
Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, one of her lifelong areas of focus. Other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi and a picture book, Lullaby Raft.
Judge for non-fiction
Nick Barlay's latest book, Scattered Ghosts, explored his Hungarian Jewish family history and was longlisted for the Wingate Prize. He has also written four highly acclaimed novels and was a Granta Best Young British Novelist nominee in 2003. His wide-ranging journalism has covered London, including a long-running series for The Times, as well as East European culture and politics. He regularly teaches fiction and non-fiction, including Guardian Masterclasses in family history.
Judge for fiction
Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books, was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. She moved to London from Canada where she worked for a small publishing house before leaving to forge a career as a health editor and writer. She wrote about raising children, emotional health, discipline, bullying and nutrition. She returned to publishing through a part-time job in a small independent, which soon became full-time. Realizing how much she missed ‘front-line’ publishing, she set up Orenda Books, specialized in 'beautiful, readable, unforgettable' commercial fiction 18 months ago. Orenda Books was shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Newcomer Award at the Independent Publishing Awards (twice).
Guidelines for submitting to the GWG Literary Prize 2017
Entries need to be submitted by 12 mid-night on 24 April, 2017.
There’s no fee to enter the Literary Prize but you must be a fully paid GWG member. Make sure your membership is up-to-date.
Send your entry as an attachment to your email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line GWG Lit Prize: Poetry (or) GWG Lit Prize: Fiction (or) GWG Lit Prize: Non-fiction.
Your entry should not appear in the body of your email.
Give your name in your email as you’d like it to appear should your entry win, and add your contact details as listed in GWG membership records.
Make sure your entry has a title which you will mention in the body of your email.
Do not include your name in the attachment – only identify it by its title. Obviously both titles must be the same.
You may enter only one category.
If you have won FIRST PLACE within the past three years, please do not enter that category again this year. However, you may enter a different category.
Only previously unpublished work may be submitted.
Your entry cannot be altered once it has been submitted.
Winning entries will not be published by the GWG online or in print. Writers retain full rights to submit their works elsewhere.
Each category has a first place, a second place, and a third place winner.
For fiction or non-fiction, double-space your text and save as a Word document, 12-point type. Do not exceed 3,000 words.
For poetry, format as you wish. You may submit one or two poems, number of lines up to the poet. Do not exceed a total of 3,000 words for both. If you are submitting two poems, attach each as a separate file. Save as a Word document, 12-point type.
Any questions? Feel free to email me, Lesley Lawson Botez at email@example.com