Writing a Memoir with Linda Decker
A warm welcome to award-winning travel writer, Linda Decker, whose fascinating travel memoir, Bombs and Bougainvillea, has been published to great reviews. Linda has enjoyed some success at the Scottish Association of Writers conferences, where she was the 2018 winner of the Non-Fiction Book Competition. I'm delighted Linda has agreed to tell us more about writing a memoir. First, here’s the exciting blurb to tempt new readers!
Bombs and Bougainvillea
If Linda and her family had foreseen the hardships of relocating to Israel and Palestine, they might have hesitated… They have no idea of the horrors in store. No idea that murders will take place on their doorstep. No idea they’ll be so close to a fatal bombing, or that they’ll adopt a dangerous dog.
As they enjoy delicious local food and immerse themselves in different cultures, will the unspoiled countryside and friendships help them overcome the difficulties, or will they flee from an area which at times seems to have one wall, but two prisons?
Thank you very much for taking time to answer my questions, Linda. It’s a delight to find out more about your travels and writing life.
How did you come to write a memoir?
When we moved from Jordan to Jerusalem, I was writing a novel set in Glasgow, a legal crime novel and studying for a Diploma in Journalism. I was a lawyer in a previous lifetime.
But when I arrived in Jerusalem, I was totally fascinated by the culture, conflict and the relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories, and what life was like in Israel. I had moved 80 kms from Amman in Jordan, across the Dead Sea, but for the first time in decades of being a global nomad (we have had various postings in the Far and Middle East), I felt totally alien in the new environment. I wanted to record the strange new way of life, life on the edge, but in an idyllic setting on a moshav, overlooking vineyards, before it became commonplace, so I put my crime novel to one side and wrote a memoir.
How did you find the experience? Was it difficult to know what to include or leave out?
That’s a really good question. There was so much to observe and learn about the people and the places that I was never short of things to write about. We love travelling, so whenever we could we would pack up the car and drive to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and so many other amazing destinations I had only read about. We regularly crossed into the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Bethlehem was a favourite of mine. I even had my regular falafel stop, just off Manger Square, and the traditional market used by the locals for daily shopping was a treat.
I got into a good writing routine too, dropping our son at school at 8 am every morning, walking round the moshav (village) and then settling down for a couple of hours work on my book every day. It was like keeping a diary, and in the beginning I wrote in a large spiral bound notebook freehand. I didn’t pay much attention to the prose. I just wanted to get the first impressions and facts down. I was worried that I’d forget the detail, the colours, the smells if I didn’t write about it straight away. So that part was easy.
What was not so easy was the fact checking and research which comes with writing non- fiction. I do find it much easier to create imaginary characters and my own world of fictional legal drama, than to understand a complex political environment and several religions all practised with varying degrees of fervour.
How much did winning the SAW competition help? If it did.
Winning the Scottish Association of Writers Non-Fiction Book of the year helped enormously. In the beginning the book was written for family and friends, so that we could share the amazing time we had in Jerusalem, and the West Bank and our travels round Israel. Just as Bombs and Bougainvillea was finished, it won the SAW competition and I dared to have more ambition for its future, and who might read it. So winning the SAW competition validated my writing in a way, and pushed me forward towards publication.
Was it difficult to get the book published?
Yes and no. I had read a lot about submitting to publishers and agents and I am the owner of a well-thumbed edition of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and other titles on getting published. I started by following the advice of the experts to the letter - ‘don’t submit to more than one publisher at a time’, ‘allow six weeks for a reply’ - and I wrote to two or three publishers following the rules. I then worked out how many years it would take to work my way through the list and decided I needed a change of approach. I wrote to one or two simultaneously and got encouraging replies, saying they liked the book, but it didn’t quite fit their list.
I spend half the year in Andalucía, Spain, and it was around this time when I discovered Victoria Twead’s New York Times best-selling Two Old Fools series, published by Ant Press. I researched Ant and wrote to them as they were specialists in memoirs, and had numerous glowing testimonials.
Ant were very quick to reply. Again, the gist was that they really liked the book, but had concerns about how big a market there would be for it. We agreed that they would do the editing, formatting and cover design, and I would work on getting the book published. Working with Ant made the whole process easy and gave me a quick way forward. I was working on other writing projects at the time, and I did want to see Bombs and Bougainvillea published while the SAW award felt current.
I’m really happy to say that the book became a No 1 best seller in two of its Amazon categories on its release date, which was thrilling. Even more thrilling were the wonderful reviews it received from all over the world.
I love the cover – can you tell us a bit about it?
The cover was painted by the British watercolourist Peter Lawrence who is an old family friend. I love it. Peter and I have been collaborating on a new coffee table art book, Impressions of Andalucía, which features 70 new watercolour paintings. I have written about our journey through Andalucía, to some well-known travel destinations, but also some hidden gems. We were thrilled to receive a written contribution by Victoria Hislop who set her best-selling novel The Return in Granada.
Thank you so much for such an interesting post, Linda. Bombs and Bougainvillea deserves huge success. The Impressions of Andalucía art book sounds wonderful and I wish you and the artist much success with it.
Linda Decker is an award-winning travel writer whose memoir, Bombs and Bougainvillea, was awarded first place for a non-fiction book in 2018 by the Scottish Association of Writers. She enjoyed a career in both corporate and criminal law in the UK before moving overseas with her family. Living in Jordan she was a writer for a general interest magazine circulated widely in the Middle East and gained a British Diploma in Journalism by distance learning while living in Jerusalem.
She now divides her time between homes in Andalucía and Edinburgh and continues to write. She has just finished a coffee table book, Impressions of Andalucía, which showcases 70 new watercolour paintings by the British artist Peter Lawrence which will be published in 2020, with contributions by bestselling authors Chris Stewart and Victoria Hislop.
Linda was planning to focus on her legal crime fiction series, set in her native Glasgow. The first novel, Not Proven, was commended by the Scottish Association of Writers in 2019. However, she has been persuaded to write a sequel to Bombs and Bougainvillea. This will tell the story of what happened to the family after they left Jerusalem, and of their life in rural Andalucía.
You can connect with Linda at the following:
There is a gallery of 40 photographs to accompany the book on the website gallery, and Linda regularly posts a selection of photos of the family’s time in Jerusalem on her Facebook page.