This is what Defying the Box Look Like- Fiona Leonard

I’m trying out something new today!

I thought it would be cool to share the stories of some real people who are defying the box to create their own version of a Kick-Ass Life.

If you all like this I’ll do it again… please be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below. There will be potential prizes for you if you do.

Meet Fiona Leonard. I first met Fiona in a Law of Attraction  program that I was part of  about 5 years ago. She had just sold all of her belongings and was setting out to travel across America with her family. She is a fine example of someone who is blazing their own trial.

Fiona is a storyteller and storyseller whose diplomatic background provides the perfect skill set for writing about the world, talking her way out of difficult situations and inspiring people to read what she has written. Her wanderlust has taken her across 20 countries on four continents. She now lives, loves, writes and home schools in Ghana, West Africa, while plotting ways to travel some more.
After years of doing every other sort of writing, Fiona has finally returned to crafting novels – it has proved to be a joyous reunion.

How do you Defy the Box?

Over the last few years I’ve climbed out of a lot of boxes.

Career: I’m self-publishing my second novel as an e-book having decided to forego the traditional publishing route.

Culture: I’m an Australian writer married to a Ghanaian/Filippino photographer, living in Ghana, West Africa. We married while we were both living in Zimbabwe.

Education: I have a ten year old daughter whom I have home schooled for two and a half years.

Stuff: In 2009 we sold up our house and car and put everything in storage and left Australia to spend a year travelling across the US and Canada. At the end of the year we moved to Ghana where we live with my in-laws. If we had to move again tomorrow I think we could fit all our possessions in a car. (And if we threw away all my husband’s photography gear and my daughter’s art supplies, it would probably fit in a suitcase!)

Oh, and I’m also a vegetarian!

Have you always lived an unconventional life?

This question made me laugh out loud! No! Absolutely not.

From a career perspective it’s all been pretty mainstream – I went to a good school, was VERY well behaved, got good grades, went to university, got a job with the Australian foreign service and was a bureaucrat for ten years. After that I spent five years working as a consultant in foreign and trade policy. But I think the unconventional yearnings have been there for a while.  We lived in five different houses in ten years (in the same town) so I think you’d have to suspect there was an urge for something different. When I finally jumped I did it in a big way.

What made you take that leap?

This question reminds me of hearing Alanis Morissette talk about winning the Best New Artist Grammy after ten years of gigging and hard work. While there were a number of catalysts – a very dear friend dying of cancer in her 60s, holding a girlfriend’s nine month old son the night before he died, standing under the clothesline and looking up and thinking “Is this it?” – there were also years of inner work, of reading inspirational writers, listening to podcasts, participating in conference calls and diligently journaling day after day.

Why do we take any leap? Because in that moment a lifetime of experiences converge, a good idea is infused with a healthy shot of courage and suddenly you’re airborne.

What does your Kick-Ass Life look like?

I decide where I work, when I work and what I work on. Sometimes that’s a blissful experience; sometimes it’s juggling a lot of balls and wondering how to hold it together. It’s  knowing that I’m living a life I’ve actively chosen and one that’s heading me in the direction of where I want to be.

What were the biggest pre-packaged beliefs that you needed to break free of in order to start living it?

There were three main beliefs I needed to move beyond (note: this is still a work in progress):

1.“Lots of people do it that way so it must be right” – When everyone else is doing something a particular way (especially friends and family) it’s hard to stop and say – But I don’t want to do it that way! or But that way just doesn’t work for me!

2.“If you’re not making money you’re not successful” – I have tended to fall into the trap of judging my success by how much money I’m making (or not making) at the time.

3.  “Accepting generosity is a sign of weakness” – Asking for help and accepting help is not something I’ve ever been good at.  I think that has been exacerbated by my recent lifestyle choices – maybe something akin to “you’ve made your bed now you have to sleep in it.”

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced due to living such an unconventional life?

Knowing where to start is always a challenge. Doing what everyone else is doing is much easier because there’s a road map and you can just follow the rules. When you’re doing something unconventional you’re the one making up the rules. Even if there’s lots of information available (I do a lot of research) you always reach a point where you realize you’re just going to have to make it up as you go along.

Holding my nerve is the other big challenge. For example, it’s one thing to really believe that travel is a great thing for your child, but when it’s the middle of the night and she’s crying and saying ‘I want to go home!’ it tears at your heart. At times like those I really need to come back to my most fundamental values and decide whether how I’m living is in alignment with the sort of person I want to be. I can’t tell my child that she should live a passionate, honest life if I don’t live that way myself.

Writing is very much like that. It’s easier to see how I could be making money writing articles for newspapers and magazines but I really don’t enjoy it, whereas writing novels makes me blissfully happy. When I’m plotting or writing, my mind is going at a hundred miles an hour: I wake in the middle of the night with ideas and I long for the time when I can sit down and write. I never, ever feel that way when I’m writing articles or reports. So I just have to trust that I’m on the right path.

Tell us about your book!

My novel, The Chicken Thief, is set in southern Africa and narrated by Alois, a young chicken thief who wants nothing more than to steal his quota of chickens and go home to bed.  But accidents happen and almost before he knows it, he finds himself at the centre of a struggle to rescue a war hero and transform the political landscape. In shouldering another man’s mission, Alois discovers strengths he never knew he had. The result may topple, not just enemies, but an entire government. And it will change Alois forever.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing?

While I do mentally file away bits and pieces I see or hear, a lot of the time, I would have to say I have absolutely no idea, which is one of the things I love about writing. I will often start off with a single idea and then just build out from there. When I’m plotting I ask a lot of questions. I tend to think of my characters as real people and interrogate them – “why are you doing this? what’s your family like? do you have a sister?” and then just play around with the ideas that pop into my head. I then go over the details to make sure they fit logically into the story. In the past I’ve been a very impatient writer – I always want to just get to the writing part. With this novel though I spent three months on the plotting, writing notes on the characters, drawing continuity grids to work out the timing and fleshing out some back stories. That sounds very organized and structured, but in reality it was just me in a chair with a notebook and a pencil scribbling furiously! Having a substantial plot/plan made the writing stage a lot easier.

One of my favorite moments in writing is when I’m typing quickly (I write about 1,000 words an hour) and all of a sudden one of the characters says something unexpected. That sounds odd because they’re my characters right? But somehow it happens. I had one moment with this novel where a character blurted something out which was perfectly logical, and sounded good, but then messed up all my subsequent plotting. It took me two days to sort out the rewrites to make it fit.

What advice would you give to someone who was interested in publishing a book?

I’d pass on a fabulous quote I read recently: “What do you call a writer who persists? Published.”

I think it’s crucial that writers ask themselves what they want from their writing – not, what does Dan Brown want from his writing, but what do you want? Do you want to make money? Do you want to see your ideas on paper? Do you want someone to read what you’ve written? Do you want to leave a legacy? Preserve a particular story? Pass on advice? Inspire people? It may be a combination of those answers, but how you proceed will depend on what you want.

And I would add that you shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed by being honest about what you want. Some people just need to write – getting published is an added bonus. Some people may want to just record a bit of family history that will only be relevant to a few people. While I love writing, there needs to be a point to it all. I get very discouraged if I write something and then it languishes in a drawer. I want to write, I want to be read, and I want to inspire other people to write and publish.

OK…here is where the prizes come in……

Fiona has offered to give away copies of her fabulous new book to three lucky readers.  All you need to do is take a minute to write a comment saying how you are inspired by this post. On Thursday we will randomly select three lucky winners to receive a digital version of the book that you can use on your kindle or your computer.  We will post the winners on Friday morning.

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