I met Valerie Wilson, a writer, when she followed me on Twitter. Soon I discovered she was a remarkable person as her writing drew on some amazing life experiences. Let’s meet her – and get a view of how a life and career evolves.
1) Valerie, right now you write among other things. Tell us about your writing focus and what you’re writing.
I’ve recently published a light and wacky sci-fi book called “Vivarium” about Baka-pygmies kidnapped into space by sentient Mould. This will be part of a series called the Nebulous Chronicles. I’m currently working on the second volume “DIY survival”. I’ve also posted a few travel short stories on Wattpad. My inspiration comes from vintage science fiction and adventure authors, and I have a soft spot for classics that make readers explode with laughter in inappropriate places –public transport or library- like the “Hitch Hiker’s guide” or Terry Bisson’s epic short story “They’re made out of Meat”.
2) What’s fascinating in your writing is you draw on your experience with other cultures. Frankly I think more people should do this, and I want to hear your thoughts on that.
We like to be able to relate to who and what we are reading about when we grab a fiction book after a hard day at work. While anthropology reports or documentaries on the Penan or Moroccans have value to support human rights or understand the news, for fiction it’s more appropriate (and fun) to have a story about how Abin betrayed his father’s trust or Nadia fell in love with Jim Bob. Yes, people do things differently in other cultures which must be tightly researched if you’re going to write about it, but mostly humans all have first names, a father, a mother, a lover. Exploring cultural factors in fiction (living in a community, fetching water on a donkey) is much more easily done once readers identify with the characters. If you would like to pass a subtle meaningful message, it’s best not to moralize but to help readers have a good time while discovering other cultures. That’s partly why I chose to send Baka-pygmies into space…
3) How can people expand the cultures in their fiction – as it seems so often culture is forgotten and ends up being repetitive or just based on one’s own culture.
Write from experience, get on a plane! With the benefit of hindsight, I much prefer a trip gone wrong in the middle of the Rainforest than a two week beach break in a five star hotel which will only skim the surface of another culture. Of course, when you’re up shit creek, you curse yourself and the people you meet in those circumstances, but that gives depth to memories afterwards, it creates the strongest friendships and years of exaggerated story-telling with fish getting bigger and rapids wilder and all that went wrong with a lot of laughter and thigh slapping. Discoveries about others and yourself usually come from hardship, so long as you survive it! Adventurers don’t bring back porcelain souvenirs, but keep with them a bit of Cameroonian banter, French grumpiness, British phlegm, US swag..
4) You did a lot of work in charity and human rights. Tell us more about that.
I was socializing with a drunk campaigner from “International Alert” in a pub when I had a Eureka moment: I realized you could make a living out of my passions, namely adventure and travel, while also supporting a positive cause. So I used my uninspiring business degree to join an environmental British NGO Global Witness. Working my way up and branching out (!), I quickly became director of my own NGO REM and co-director of another, Forests Monitor with HQs in Cambridge and offices in Yaoundé (Cameroon), Brazzaville (Congo) and Kinshasa (the other Congo), investigating corruption, peoples’ rights abuse and illegal logging in tropical forests… generally playing Indiana Jones with my now husband co-director, undertaking difficult muddy missions in tropical areas so remote very few people ever go there.
5) Here at MuseHack we focus on how people can apply their passions. With all your experience, how can you give us ideas to use our passions not just to create, but to do good?
Whatever your passion is, you can take time to think about what positive impacts your skills have, and focus on strengthening them. No need to be mother Theresa! You can be a hairdresser and give a jilted wife their confidence back, a game programmer and make a nerd happy, a boiler guy and help Granny get warm, a bin-man and prevent nature being soiled. Think of yourself as well, you are an important person. If a job makes you unhappy, start planning to get another one, whether it earns less or more money. Even if it takes ten years to get there, you now have a positive purpose.
All this may not help starving children but so long as you don’t do something like selling weapons closing your eyes to what they’re used for, that’s already doing a lot of good in my books.
6) So turning this back, how did you go the publishing route, and what surprised you?
Campaigning is exhausting work, and we started losing the passion. At the peak of our success, we handed everything over to the Congo Basin organizations that we helped our African staff create over a decade. To keep my inner fire and passion going and take a break from the heavy stuff that characterized the past fifteen years, I decided to draw out the fun aspect of my experience of indigenous communities, Africa, dense forest and motorbike wipe-outs in swamps by taking time to write. It started as a hobby and found myself shocked by the amount of work it takes to write and edit a book, I realized it is a craft I must take time to learn so I’ve joined a Writer circle and have done a lot of studying and research. I’ve also grasped the importance of marketing and the social media, so I have just started a blog and a twitter account @scififun
7) What are your future projects?
My goal is not to be an “A”uthor but to continue writing and publish a few entertaining tales which may also give readers a glimpse of different worlds from their couch; to create a good moment for people. I will also carry on traveling and continue work in Africa part-time to support our now partner organizations, and who knows, perhaps join the search for the Mokele Mbembe, a Congolese Loch Ness Monster!
8) Having led such a diverse life, what advice can you give people about following their dreams?
My advice if you have a dream would be to ignore those telling you to get a proper job, focus on becoming an expert in what you like and money is more likely to come to you, because you put consistent effort and passion into it. In some cases, you will work to cover the bills and free more time for your passion, in others you will realise you don’t need a lot of money because your hobby IS your work. If your dream is fulfilled and passion fades, don’t trash what you’ve built, help new brains with fresh ideas take it over, then don’t look for another job, find another passion.
- Steven Savage