I am so excited to present to you today another fab interview in Magic Is In the Doing series with a creative making her dreams happen, this time it’s author Louisa Deasey.
Louisa has recently published a memoir titled A Letter from Paris and it is a very special book for many reasons. Louisa went on the ultimate creative journey, she followed her curiosity and had the chance to get to know her long lost father’s hopes, dreams, loves and adventures after a mysterious letter arrived from Paris.
Over to Louisa…
You recently published a memoir A Letter from Paris… which unfolded after you received a letter out of the blue from the granddaughter of a woman in Paris who once knew your father.
This was the ultimate creative journey, you used your curiosity and allowed it to take you on an adventure that ended with you writing a book about it. Can you tell us about ‘the trail of breadcrumbs’ you kept following to bring this journey to life? When did you think it had legs?
Pretty much as soon as I received the email from Coralie (in Paris), I had this feeling of impending doom – lol! You know when you just know you’re going to have to follow something through no matter how or where or what it takes from you? It was that intense and that immediate. It was about my dad, who I’d never known, and I just had this immediate feeling that it’s now or never. If I don’t pursue this now, it won’t just be me who never knows dad, but none of my siblings and their children or this family in Paris who had apparently been wondering about him for decades. I felt like I was the only one who could tell the story, and research the story, and that was a huge responsibility; a huge thrill, a huge fear, a huge risk.
Like anything creative and authentic! It was just ‘huge’.
I should also add that I’d been fruitlessly pitching a fiction novel, I’d worked on for 6 years, to various publishers for about 18 months when A Letter From Paris landed in my lap. Before I’d even written a synopsis for A Letter From Paris I had an offer from a publisher, so I also had this feeling then that – my god! this story was a gift. As much as I knew it would take out of me, it was a gift if I wanted to write another book.
A Letter From Paris is a creative project of love, sweat and tears; it embodies the ultimate sense of ‘creative living’ – using your life as an art form. How did this project enrich your life, what experiences, people or insights did it give you? What were the challenges?
This is the whole thing about a memoir that I love – we are creating art from the material of our lives, which is oftentimes from pain. It also unites us with people we may never have met. It is a very intimate and personal form of writing. The whole thing was just miraculous. Not only did I find my dad’s memoir (of life in France in the 1940s and 1950s) when I started to research it, I also connected with people who’d known him all across the world; through letters, diaries, and social media accounts.
I opened my self up a lot, writing this book. It was quite painful, which I write about in the book – having to keep repeating that I didn’t know my dad and asking if anyone had any memories or letters to share I would be grateful. 99% of the time they were open, but the ones that didn’t really hurt, because I had put myself in such a vulnerable position to ask.
But I met this incredible French family and I made new friends in France, London and Australia. One of the most special connections was a woman whose dad had written a very long eulogy for my dad, which was never published. I found the full eulogy in the library and went on a wild hunt to find his children (the author is no longer alive). After a strange bump into a long-lost friend on my way home from the supermarket, I sent an email to someone he suggested, who then forwarded it to the children of the man that night. By morning, I woke up to three emails with recalled memories of dad and their phone numbers. Two of the children lived just streets away from me!! I called one of them up and she was home, looking through her family photo albums and invited me to come over. I saw all these photos of my dad I never knew existed, because I’d dared to take the risk.
She’s still a dear friend and has been a huge support in this journey!
But the writing was tough. It’s so emotional – excavating your family history. Unravelling stories that do or don’t have truth in them, exposing yourself on the page. At the same time, I felt in some ways I didn’t have a choice, as the story fascinated me so much. I was quite obsessed!
I have a saying that ‘magic is in the doing’. That we can all take our dreams to reality if we take inspired action. What were 5 key things or actions that you did to bring this project to life?
- Listen to your gut. Like I said, the moment I received the email from Coralie I felt this buzzing in my stomach, I knew I had to pursue it. Follow those feelings.
- Start wherever you are. I had very little information about my dad when I began. I had to just start with that…
- Find understanding friends – even one could make all the difference. A lot of my most understanding friends have come from the internet! It’s easier than ever to make connections with like-minded people, thanks to Facebook and Instagram and the incredible world wide web. It’s like a global portal! Not everyone gets how difficult the creative process is. I really learned who I could trust when I was working on this book – it’s so personal. Creativity takes a HUGE amount of risk and it may not pay off in the ways you expect (it rarely does!) but you have to do it for your own reasons. Find friends that believe in you or also value these special projects.
- Keep going, but have breaks when you’re getting overwhelmed
- Remember that creative work lasts a lot longer than any momentary agony that you might feel during the process. I have this funny quote from Leo DiCaprio while he was filming Romeo and Juliet with Baz Luhrmann: Pain is temporary, film is forever. Yes, you’ll have to mine the depths to bring forth your best and deepest work. But when it’s out there and finished you can rest and know that you’ve made the most of this one wild, beautiful life you’ve been given. You’ve created something that’s going to last longer than you!
How important was it to get your message out there? What were 5 things you did in those moments of difficulty that kept you moving forward and what did you learn about this process?
I wanted to get a publisher because I needed a deadline. If I didn’t have a deadline I could have researched my dad’s life for twenty years!! His material is in over a dozen library collections and who knows how many private collections across the world. So even though I didn’t even know the end of the story, and it was intensely personal, I pitched it to an agent and a publisher within weeks of hearing from Coralie. This was really emotionally tough as I felt so exposed. I found an agent for this reason as I needed someone to negotiate the money, business and contract side of things that wasn’t me (ie. grappling with accepting the value of the story and of my own writing.) A friend had said to me after I was made an offer on the book (before even writing the synopsis!) it was the only time I would have any power in the process so I should get an agent at that moment. So I did, and I’m grateful to her for that advice, as I’m not that comfortable with being in a position of ‘power’!
A Letter from Paris has now been published in Australia, the United Kingdom and will be released in the US in October – the ultimate creative dream!!! How does it feel to look back to that first email and now hold a book in your hand and see it on bookshelves or photos of them from around the world?
It’s pretty beautiful actually, but what makes me happiest of all is that the French family (Coralie’s family) love the book as they feel it’s brought their grandmother back to them. And Coralie read her initial email out on the BBC London podcast, which was amazing! I love hearing how it’s received in different countries. The English response about my obsession with European trains was funny – they don’t understand how bad our train system is in Australia! I’m really curious to see the response in the US. Dad wasn’t famous, and none of the book is set in the US, but there was a strong American contingent in Paris in the 1940s and 1950s (on the GI Bill) who dad associated with. So it will be exciting to see. It’s a dream come true!
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone else who wants to follow their dreams?
Have a vision and keep driving forward. If it feels right in your gut then you have to pursue it – until completion. Don’t give up when it gets tough! Have a break, sure, but don’t give up.
How do you keep saying YES to your dreams and what do you do when fear strikes?
I get scared all the time, but I also know that I can trust myself when I give myself enough time to listen to my intuition and check in with what feels right. It has to feel right. If it’s not authentic I just have no interest in doing it. When fear strikes, I just try and be a bit gentle with myself and see if it’s because of a valid reason or if I’m just feeling vulnerable. I put myself out there a lot with this book, and all the publicity around it, and the kickstarter to publish dad’s French memoir! So I’ve needed to just take lots of ‘cocoon’ breaks and get back to my study/cat/house and remember who I am: a writer who loves to sit and tap tap tap at the keyboard, and communicate with beautiful people across the world. I love writing – emails especially!
A huge thanks to Louisa for sharing her story and her creative process with us. You can follow Louisa on Instagram HERE and get her regular blog updates HERE.
Love, light, and creativity,
P.S. If you would like to know more about how you can realise your dream you can download my video series on how to Get What You Want HERE.