By Andrea McKenna Brankin

Many say they want to write a book while living here in Singapore. It can be a huge goal with a lot of talk, but some people actually do it!

American writer, Natasha Oliver, who lived in Singapore for several years with her family, has done just that, releasing the first instalment of a three-part trilogy, The Evolved Ones: Awakening. It’s a book about a 40-something woman who is working to recover her memories. The kicker is she has mysterious healing powers and is wanted by conflicting organizations for her gift. The book details her quest to find her family, as well as navigate dealings with not only violent opponents and harrowing physical experiences, but also emotional journeys, including love interests and thoughts of motherhood. A key interest point for expats is that Singapore makes its way into the story, a nod to Oliver’s time raising her family here while penning her novel.

I spoke to Oliver following her book launch at the National Library in Singapore last month, who shared her tips on writing your own book and gave insight into the mind of an author.

What motivated you to write this genre of book?

‘Urban fantasy’ (UF) is a subset of the ‘fantasy’ genre, but happens in an urban environment in which the narrative has magical rules. So, Harry Potter was UF, but because its protagonist was a child, and because it was written to that audience, it was classified as ‘young adult’, as was Twilight.

My novel doesn’t feature younger characters. In fact, it features the opposite: older ones. Characters who have a bit of life under their belts. They’ve loved and lost. They’ve suffered and wonder if it’s even worth getting back up again. And that doesn’t happen to your typical adolescent or teenager for that matter.

I was motivated to write The Evolved Ones because, at the time, my youngest wouldn’t sleep. I felt helpless in not being able to do anything about the situation, and so I escaped into a fantastical world where I had control.

Did you base any characters on people you know?

Well, not base per se, but yes, I did use art to imitate life. My main character, Rox, whose real name I can’t give you without spoiling the ending, is a combination of three very important women in my life. They were my rocks, my role models in very different fashions because they are three very different women, but their love and support has been instrumental in guiding me on this long journey called life!

Sam is my husband. The man who saves me and grounds me. Josh is also my husband. The man who pushes me and doesn’t ever let me rest on my laurels.

A few other very important friends have wound their way into the story. The head of the company, Global Frontiers, Katherine Luise Cheung, in the novel is based on a very good friend who’s become like a big sister to me. She makes the tough calls. She tells you what you need to hear even when you don’t want to hear it. And I have huge respect for her for that, and so I channeled a bit of my friend when I was writing her.

What was the process for writing while living here in Singapore? What resources, tools, groups did you use that helped you get the work done?

I’m a member of the Singapore Writer’s Group, and they have been instrumental in keeping me motivated when I had nothing to write, because I was severely sleep deprived and coming apart at the hinges.

I usually start by outlining first, usually up to the first five chapters, and then I usually lose patience and want to get started from chapter one.

I read. A lot. And I read a lot of everything. I read other UF authors, I read self-help, I am in love with children’s books because I read them to my girls.

Many people have an idea of writing a book while living here. What advice would you give them?

My advice to any new writer is this: Do it! Stop thinking about it, stop plotting it, just sit down and put your fingers to the keyboard. And from there, you will slowly begin to figure the rest out.

Writing is hard. The amount of dedication and discipline, not to mention the fortitude, is simply unbelievable unless you experience it. If you can get to the 50-page mark, you’ll know if you’re truly a writer or not.

If at 50 pages you feel like you’ve said all you need to say, then perhaps you’re a short story writer, or maybe your story is simply not novel length.

It’s important to note that there are many different kinds of writers, though. There are those who write not for publication, but for peace of mind, to express their inner thoughts, etc. Some are bloggers. Some are tweeters. Novel writing isn’t the only kind of writing there is!

What was the publishing process like?

The publishing process is grueling. It’s humbling. It’s character building. It’s the grind. I do not have an agent. Those I approached were not interested. Rejection hurts the ego and sometimes can paralyze you, but you’ve just got to keep going. Maybe it makes you angry, maybe you handle it with grace, but no matter how you react to it, it toughens you up. You learn not everyone is going to like what you put on paper, and that’s fine. (You secretly hope that you’ll have the last laugh, though.)

If you want the truth about getting the three-book deal some authors achieve, it’s by pure luck. I know no aspiring writer wants to hear that! You work, you hone your craft, you bleed at the fingertips, and your soul cries at each rejection letter, and so to hear that success boils down to luck just might push you over the edge. But the hard truth of the matter is that all you can control is your writing. Improve. Edit and write some more. Submit your writings. Get rejected. Grow stronger. Grow more determined. Write. Edit. And then repeat.

If you keep doing this, and never give up, at some point, I promise you, you will have some modicum of success; having something – be it a short story, an article, a blog – published, or liked, or recognized. Sadly, everything else is out of your control.

What surprised you the most about the whole process of writing a book?

How long it was going to take. How you can do everything right, you can write a very good manuscript, it can have an audience waiting to read it, but it may still never see the light of day. There are a lot of moving parts to bringing a book to market, and you have little to no control over the overwhelming majority of them, unless of course you self-publish.

You’re currently working on the second in the series, what have you lined up next?

I finished the first draft of book two and I’m taking some much-needed time away from it. I need to forget what’s on the page so that I come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve also had an idea for a new novel, and I’m allowing myself the freedom to explore that main character and her motivations.

You can find The Evolved Ones: Awakening, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions, in Kinokuniya and Times book stores in Singapore. The Evolved Ones: Sacrifice, will hit the book stores in July 2020, with The Evolved Ones: Acceptance, following the next year. You can find out more about Natasha Oliver at https://natashaoliver.com