Interview with self-published author Phil(ip) van Wulven
It always pleases me to introduce to you a self-published author. There is something special about these folks. Must be they breathe an aura of determination and self-possession. Qualities that are less developed in me when it comes to marketing my work. I still hang in mid-air, nursing my creativety and shunning the commercial side of writing. Loads to learn from these self-pubbed authors, valuable lessons in how to raise your baby to maturity and who knows…helpful one day soon?
Phil van Wulven is a dear friend of mine and of many of my writer pals but I had not yet read any of his work. I’m glad that’s changed now. I really enjoyed the first chapters of his thriller Eland Dances. Phil mixes suspense with beautifully polished writing that runs very smoothly and is easy to read but is the result of many hours of diligent work. His eye is in the detail and whether it is the description of a character or of the surroundings, it is always spot-on. A true delight for a fellow crafts (wo)man.
From the rough & tough style in Eland Dances, Phil changes effortlessly to a formal, almost old-fashioned English in Sherlock Holmes Investigates and back to the rougher thriller-like language in Stone Song. I don’t know whether it has been his globetrotter existence that brought him in contact with different language “registers” but Phil has surely mastered them and uses his skill lavishly.
Note: the last part of this interview is not by me but an interview Phil gave to someone else.
Where do you live (town, country)? Were you born and bred there?
I live in Ontario, Canada, now, on 3/4 of an acre between a cow pasture and a creek, next to a major road.
I was born in Durban, South Africa, and lived in Northern Rhodesia, England, and Jersey (Channel Islands, UK) in the first few years. We moved to Capetown just before I began school, and then back to England around the time I began high school. We lived just on the north edge of London, where I spent a lot of time roaming the countryside, much as I’d done back in Capetown.
I wrote something about this early time and place for Amy Tupper’s blog.
Our mother died when I was 15, so there was some turmoil, especially since my stepfather had just started work for the British Government as an agricultural extension officer in Zambia. Thereafter I stayed in lodgings in the UK, and spent school holidays in Zambia.
I worked in the Zambian Fisheries Department, Ministry of Agriculture, between writing A level GCEs in England and starting University in Capetown. During that time I helped with trials of Tilapia fish as a farmed species. I actually caught some of the first fish in the Kafue River-this is written in Eland Dances as being done by the M.C., Peter.
I went to the University of Capetown, then spent a bit of time in South Africa before moving to Swaziland for 13 years. Finally we (I, my wife, & 3 children) emigrated to Canada.
What kind of food do you like? Are you a good cook? How important is food to you?
I like most food, but prefer flavour and interesting textures over both fast food and healthy stuff. I am a good enough cook for myself, and rarely cook for others, beyond barbeques and salads, or the highly desirable noodles/macaroni & lots of cheese for the shortest family members.
Do you do any sports? How often? What does exercise mean to you? Any other hobbies?
I was extremely active when younger, and played rugby, soccer, and cricket. I also ran cross country and rode horses – racehorses, in steeplechase, and wrestled and competed in gymnastics.
Later I walked/hiked a lot, ran regularly, and competed in 10 kilometer races.
More recently I walk, fish & canoe. The fishing was often with my kids, and now with the grandchildren, and my role mostly is to unhook fish with as little injury as possible and untangle lines, give advice, and so on.
Do you have kids/grandkids? If so, please tell us a little about them?
I have three children, two daughters and a son, and each has one child of their own, so far.
My eldest daughter is more conventionally achievement-oriented than the rest of us. She is an Eldest Daughter in the Confucian sense; responsible, reliable, and loving. She is married to a nice guy. They have a six year old daughter who sparkles when she speaks, and has taken ownership of her father’s iPad. She likes to read.
My middle child, the second daughter, has sought her calling for a while, and now cares for brain injured people, as well as teaching Yoga. Recently she has introduced Yoga Therapy to her workplace. She has a nine year old son, who has been an expert frog catcher since he was three, and now is a daring skateboarder, BMX rider, and trampolinist. He can ride his unicycle around the block after having it two months, and is enthusiastic about many things in succession, very few of them not related to animals, physical activity, or dirtbikes.
My youngest, my son, is the loving and attentive father of an eight month old daughter. He works in construction; masonry, concrete, paving, and roadworks. He rides dirt bikes (motorbikes) and is strongly physically oriented, though perceptive and empathetic.
Do you like travelling? Where do you go then?
I like travelling, and have done a fair bit. Staying in hotels is mostly beyond my means, so that restricts trips to family visits or camping / hiking. Since one brother, an artist, lives on a farm in County Kerry, Ireland, my sister lives in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, and my elder brother owns a house in Oliva, Spain (near Valencia) that involves some nice places.
Do you have another job apart from writing? For how many hours? How do you feel about the ‘other’ job?
Not any more.
While in Swaziland I made leather goods, then was farm manager on a ten acre fruit & veg. farm, ran a couple of trucks clearing waste wood from a pulp mill (heavy physical labour wit 10 guys), worked for several different engineering contractors on industrial construction projects, managed a wild mushroom picking & processing operation in the pine forests, and worked in a sawmill.
All that variety taught me a lot about people, as well as machinery. I learned the siSwati language and culture, and was able to become accepted as a Swazi under the traditional Khonta system.
I worked long hours, nights and weekends, and the same here in Canada, fixing and maintaining automated factory machinery. I am glad to no longer have the responsibility of being sole support of my family, and to have time to follow my own inclinations.
How do your family/friends react to you being a writer? Have their opinions changed since you became a published author? Which remark from your surroundings has stuck most with you?
“ My grandpa is an Author!”
Would you call yourself a social human being? Do you have time for going out and spending time away from the writing desk?
Not anti-social, but I like peace at least some of the time.
Can you describe the place where you write + the view?
I write a lot on a laptop, which allows me to do so in different places, such as outside under the trees (sometimes difficult to see the screen though) or in the living room by the woodstove in winter. My online stuff is via the desktop, with a window to one side looking through hedge branches to the cow pasture.
Is there something you always need to have near you when you work (beverage, cigarette, mascot, music, quote, etc)?
No. The cat, coffee, tea, snacks, are there, or not. When I write I am immersed in that. While editing I am more in the here and now, but don’t need any particular thing apart from a functional keyboard and a readable screen.
What genre(s) do you write in? How did that develop?
I began with short stories, some of which were strongly factually based, though what genre they are I have no idea.
I suppose my novels are more Thriller than anything else. Since I find books with little plot, only endless character and clever language, quite boring, I try to keep things interesting, with a story developing as well.
I have found people seem to like my Sherlock Holmes emulations, which I stumbled into during the course of a writing challenge on Authonomy. I have a sort of geeky fun with those, throwing obscure factoids and historical tidbits into the plot.
At some point you decided to self-publish. Can you tell us how that process developed?
After I found that anything I sent to an agent or publisher would first have to be approved and endorsed by an overworked intern, who would almost certainly be a recent Eng. Lit. Graduate, and then by a more senior person, and finally someone who would look at things from a purely commercial or marketing angle, I began to doubt my chances of ever being selected for the privilege of signing a contract. When query letters did not always elicit a response of any sort, not even a form-letter ‘no thanks’, from those who wanted ‘no simultaneous submissions’ I began to look for alternatives. I had some success with short stories for magazines,
especially online editions.
Then I heard about POD, and went ahead & self-published a short story collection, in 2006. That felt like a real achievement. I think around 40 copies sold, mostly to friends and family, since I made very little effort to market it in any way, and did not intend to make money from it. This was done at least partly to learn the process. There was some possibility of sales through Amazon, but my intention was more to prepare for self-publication of my novel, while still sending out queries and hoping someone would actually read my first chapters. At that time I was
working full time, 10 and 12 hour shifts, plus overtime.
That hope diminished as I learned more about the sheer volume of submissions, and the low percentage of acceptance. This was even lower for work outside of certain clearly defined genres, particularly Romance, Chick-lit, Horror, Science-Fiction and Fictional Autobiography from celebrities.
Eventually ebooks, and ebook self-publication, became better known, and I did the same as I had with print. I prepared and published a short story book to find out at first hand what to do, and how. That was in 2010.
How do you feel about self-publishing now? What are the advantages, disadvantages, pitfalls, etc.?
The present growth in ebook sales, the use of dedicated ereaders, and the retail outlets to supply devices and books, has opened the gates to what had been a closed fortress. Writers can now bypass publishers, just as was the case in the early days of print.
Since it has become so easy, of course, many are rushing in. Some have published sub-standard work, with grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as material that would be better for some more skilful arrangement. On the other hand, work which would fail to pass the interns, the editors, and the marketers, is finding an audience.
Since costs are low relative to the costs of a conventionally published book, that readership can be quite small and still bring money to the author.
Are you in a network of Indie authors? How do you market your own book?
I am in several networks of indie authors, on Facebook, Kindleboards, Goodreads, and Twitter. However, all of these are helpful with problems, news, advice and support, rather than being of direct benefit as markets for books. I spend a fair bit of time maintaining these networks, interacting, even just chatting, with an occasional plug. I suspect that more books are sold on such sites as Amazon through the passive means of the cover image and blurb than anything else.
Can you tell us some background information on the book? (How did you get the idea, how long did it take you to write and edit it, is it part of a sequel, how does the published book make you feel now?)
I always intended to write a novel, but wasn’t sure that I could finish such a long and difficult task.
Since I am fairly lazy, I am copying what I put in an Author Interview on Book Junkies Facebook group. This answers some of the remaining questions, and a little more.
BOOK TITLE: Eland Dances; Published 25th September 2011
SHORT SYNOPSIS: Peter Fitt uses a Soviet airplane in a development project, and the Russians use this opportunity to supply arms to both sides in the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe independence struggle. They intend to
escalate the civil war so their cadres can climb into power. Shit rises to the
top when stirred.
Pete sees that violence cannot be decreased by violent opposition.
He tries to maintain his integrity in the midst of growing chaos and incipient war in the region. He provides assistance to refugees, saves lives, and builds trust by his well meant actions.
Some on both sides in the conflict know and respect him, and so are persuaded that an amnesty/surrender deal between the Rhodesians and the Freedom Fighters is a good idea.
Some on each side are opposed to any compromise.
Pete instinctively dislikes the power-hungry men who see others as ego-food or enemies. In his family, with a memory of San beliefs, these are looked on as human predators, men possessed by lion spirits.
The eland opposes the selfish and destructive carnivores, the lions, and helps those who embrace the principle that the strong should defend others, not prey on them. In the eland dance their power is invoked for healing, for fruitfulness, rain, and positive, life-enhancing, communal benefit.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SETS YOUR BOOK APART FROM OTHERS?
This is about someone striving for peace in the middle of a war zone, which has been done, but not with this particular location and time as the setting. Also, I hope, the cultural background, especially the elements of San (Bushman) and other African & European traditions, contribute something to the perspective in which the reader sees events and people.
IS ANY OF THE STORY INSPIRED BY YOUR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCES?
DID YOU PLAN THE STORY OR DID IT EVOLVE AS THE WORK PROGRESSED?
Some was planned, but not the story as a whole. The background was chosen first, because of my own experiences in that time & place, and they do say ‘write what you know’
WHO DO YOU USE AS A SOUNDING BOARD FOR YOUR WRITING?
During the writing of this I took several Creative writing classes (University
extension) and had a small writers group who met once a month as well as emailing back & forth. Later I joined Critique Circle & then Authonomy.
Except for the writer’s group all of these tended to concentrate on short
pieces, rather than the work as a whole.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR PROSPECTIVE READERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU OR THIS BOOK?
I am a really nice guy, who likes sunlight, starshine, trees, and all that stuff. I won’t bite (no teeth) and my grandchildren have told me I am not a real grownup.
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE AIM?
World peace without world domination, a garden that looks good and produces ample fruit, flowers, and veggies, with minimal attention, and never to grow up.
Thank you so much, Phil!
His books -
On Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/philvan
On Amazon USA http://amzn.to/q75OW7
On Amazon UK http://amzn.to/pO05OL