Author Interview – Simonne Celestine
In the Shadow of the Acropolis
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Today I’m honoured to have Simonne Celestine, a local Sunshine Coast author talk about her book, In the Shadow of the Acropolis.
It is a true life story about an Australian woman who was incarcerated in Athens, Greece struggling to prove her innocence over drug charges.
Simonne is a an artist in the truest sense of the word, and has spent many happy hours painting, sculpting, and creating splendid pieces of jewellry. Now that she has retired from the workforce, she is devoting much of her time to writing. She has written and published a number of children’s books and is working on her new novel, a romantic fiction.
In today’s show we talk about the inspiration behind the story, Simonne’s writing processes and tips for new and emerging writers.
In the Shadow of the Acropolis is a gripping account of how an Australian woman, Julia was jailed without being formally convicted. Author, Simonne Celestine vividly describes what life was like in one of the world’s harshest prisons with women who had committed petty crimes as well as those who had committed gruesome murders.
“Julia valiantly concentrated on making the best of her adverse circumstances, never losing sight of the day she would walk out through the prison gates and back into the freedom she had lost. Her health suffers, and she overcomes a distressing accident, but she never gives up hope. This ordeal completely changes her outlook on life forever.”
For more information about Simonne or to buy the book, please visit her website at SimonneCelestine.com
Transcript from Podcast 2
Author Interview with Simonne Celestine – In the Shadow of the Acropolis
[00:00:20] Leeza: Hello and welcome. Today I have with me Simonne Celestine, author of In The Shadow of the Acropolis. And I’m so happy to have you here today Simonne because I read your book and I love it. I absolutely love it. Thanks for coming today.
[00:00:35] Simonne: Thank you. I’m very honoured to be here, and to be interviewed about my book, it’s very exciting.
[00:00:45] Leeza: That’s great. So I want you to tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to write the book.
[00:00:53] Simonne: I used to be an announcer on Noosa community radio when I first came to live in the Sunshine Coast and I got to be friends with a lovely man who was also an announcer and he came from the Caribbean. He used to have a Caribbean show and his wife became my friend also. One day we were talking and she told me about her experience of being arrested in Athens. She had kept notes and being interested in writing for quite some time I was really intrigued, she actually offered for me to read her notes which I accepted the offer, not really planning to write a full story.
[00:01:51] Leeza: You were just intrigued by her story?
[00:01:53] Simonne: Exactly.
[00:01:55] Leeza: Wow.
[00:01:55] Simonne: And yes in a way I’ve always believed that people who end up in prison are not always bad people, so I thought this would be an opportunity for me to really find out what it’s like.
[00:02:14] Leeza: That’s amazing, her story is mind blowing really isn’t it. You can’t imagine that an innocent person can be locked away in a foreign prison and be treated the way that she did.
[00:02:28] Simonne: Well that’s right, I mean all the way through reading her notes I was imagining how I would feel if that happened to me. I really don’t think I would have coped as well as she did.
[00:02:44] Leeza: Yeah, so what actually was it about the story? Was it just that it was an unusual story? Was it the way that she reacted to the situation? You hadn’t written a book before and this was going to be your first book, so what was it?
[00:02:57] Simonne: First book, that’s right. It’s hard to really remember because it’s taken me about ten years to actually get it done.
[00:03:09] Leeza: Well that’s good to know isn’t it. That it does take time to write a book.
[00:03:15] Simonne: And I think it was because of I was in writing groups and I was used to sharing stories. The notes she gave me was only about 50 pages and I just wanted to expand it as much as I could, which in the end became a bit of a mistake because people who read it said to me it’s too verbose, there’s to much, you’ve got to cut out a lot of the words.
[00:03:51] Leeza: Ok, well can I ask you then, was a lot of it your imagination? So did you base it on her initial notes and facts you just imagined what it would have been like?
[00:04:03] Simonne: Well yes and also in the groups that I was in, I had one lady that led the group who actually changed my whole way of writing when she said to me, ‘You don’t tell a story you show it’ – that changed everything. It changed my whole world, and that’s what I did with the book. I think I rewrote that book so many times. Probably eight or nine times I rewrote it, and just changing it and bringing in more descriptions of the people what they looked like in detail.
[00:04:51] Leeza: Like giving it more detail and padding it out.
[00:04:51] Simonne: Some people can picture the scenes.
[00:04:53] Leeza: It’s that whole ‘show don’t tell’.
[00:04:56] Simonne: That’s write, yeah.
[00:04:57] Leeza: So your first draft, it’s interesting because I just read a quote on the internet this morning from Coleen McCulloch, famous australian writer, and she said something about, it takes her six drafts to actually write her stories. The first are just getting ideas down, the middle ones are, as you said, padding it out in the last two or really editing and proof reading.
[00:05:22] Simonne: Exactly. Yes.
[00:05:25] Leeza: Was that the process for you?
[00:05:26] Simonne: Yes. Yes it was. And in the end I was fortunate enough to have three people who were more than happy to read it and give me feedback which was wonderful.
[00:05:45] Leeza: So was helpful to you to go to writers groups initially to learn the art and craft of writing. Did you read lots of books? Did you study? I mean did you go on the Internet? When you first faced that blank screen, what did you do? Did you do an outline? or did you just start from the notes?
[00:06:09] Simonne: Yes. I don’t plan, it’s funny really because I am in most areas of my life a planner but when it comes to writing I just, I’ve never ever suffered writer’s block. People who write look at me in disgust. But I don’t, as soon as I sit down it just comes and I just keep writing.
[00:06:35] Leeza: That’s great. So I was going to ask did you interview the woman? Did you interview her or how did you actually get the notes?
[00:06:45] Simonne: Well she gave me a little notebook which I read and then I just typed that on to my computer and just took it from there. The only time I actually asked questions was when one of the friends that read the story asked, suggested like she doesn’t say much about her marriage or the wedding, be nice to know a little bit more background about that and that sort of thing. That’s the only time I really went to her and said, ‘oh can you tell me a little bit more about the day you got married.’
[00:07:29] Leeza: So the rest of it. Did you just research online or read other books or just from your own imagination?
[00:07:36] Simonne: Mostly from my imagination.
[00:07:37] Leeza: Yeah well it’s pretty good. I think what I like about it Simone is that it’s like it’s a difficult situation that you’re writing about, that it feels so real because it’s the little things, it’s the little details in there like toothpaste. You know, she didn’t have toothpaste on her and she wanted to brush her teeth or to go to the toilet, what she had to do when she was first arrested to go to the toilet, like it’s all those little details.
[00:08:06] Simonne: I mean, I actually gave the story to her two or three times at different stages for her to read and basically to get her approval. And one of the major things she did pick up was I spoke about one of the prison wardens being a man and she said there were no men at all in the prison, all the staff were women.
[00:08:35] Leeza: Because it was a women’s prison.
[00:08:36] Simonne: Yes. So it was good for me to clarify points with her.
[00:08:42] Leeza: That’s right, and I like what you said about getting a few other people to read through it. So were these people that you trusted were they writers or were they just good readers or people whose advice you trusted?
[00:08:55] Simonne: Well one of them was a man that belonged to one of my writing groups and he read it and came up with a couple of points that didn’t quite make sense, which I read back and rectified and then another lady she belongs to a reading group, loves reading and I knew her through another craft that I was involved with, and she came up with a point that needed fixing as well. And then I was very very fortunate to meet a lady who lives close to where I do who is actually a qualified editor.
[00:09:41] Leeza: Oh that’s great, that’s handy.
[00:09:44] Simonne: She just was so happy to read my book and she didn’t want anything for it.
[00:09:51] Leeza: And the feedback was obviously helpful.
[00:09:51] Simonne: Oh yes. Yes. She was she was really thrilled.
[00:09:59] Leeza: So I think that’s a good lesson isn’t it for early writers. I think that’s the hardest thing to let it go, was it hard for you to let go of the manuscript or not? or you were happy to get the feedback.
[00:10:08] Simonne: No. Well as long as, I wasn’t prepared to give it to a publisher who would go through it and change it completely.
[00:10:21] Leeza: You wanted to honour her story.
[00:10:22] Simonne: Yeah. Yes that’s right. So But no it wasn’t hard to let go.
[00:10:28] Leeza: So why did you write it in the first person? See this is interesting because, I mean it’s as if it’s your story, it’s so real, you know, was it just easier for you to imagine yourself in her shoes by writing it in the first person?
[00:10:43] Simonne: I think probably, I’ve not really thought about that, when I write a story I seem to be the first person, and I think when she gave me the story it was in first person. So that’s why it stayed that way, I didn’t change that.
[00:11:01] Leeza: No, I just find it interesting because I think usually when other people write about other people it’s like a biography, it’s you know third person, they did this, he or she did this, so I was really intrigued. I mean it reads beautifully, it’s easy to read. It’s like I couldn’t put it down, you know, you shouldn’t start a book when you’re in the middle of something like cooking dinner or trying to get the kids sorted, because it’s not good, but it was a really good read.
So it was a great read and it was very effortless to read, and I find this really interesting because you know, as a writer and as a reader I’m sort of always analyzing books on how they make it so easy to read, so were you very conscious of what you consider to be good writing? Did you already learn some little tricks of the trade in your writers groups, obviously you’ve learned about writing in scenes and show not tell, but things like you know, redundancies or cliches, did you know about all that? Or you didn’t worry about that until you just wrote what you could and thought, I’ll deal with that later?
[00:12:18] Simonne: Well to be perfectly honest I subscribed to an editing program and that’s some of the things that it deals with when you upload your story it will come back and tell you all the sentences whether they’re too long and you need to change it, to get rid of some of the adverbs and the cliches and things like that.
[00:12:47] Leeza: That’s good, what tool was that can I ask?
[00:12:53] Simonne: Yeah pro-writing aid and it’s only about 100 dollars a year and it’s be very useful and very helpful.
[00:13:01] Leeza: You’ve also told the story with a bit of humour even though it’s such a difficult story, I love your little spin on it. You got a few little things in there that you can’t help laugh even though it’s a shocking story, you sort of have a little laugh now and again.
[00:13:15] Simonne: Well I think that’s what helped her to survive, to be able to see some of the funny side of things. Like putting out a prisoner’s cook book, something like that.
[00:13:31] Leeza: And what surprised me is you know, she was in this situation through no fault of her own but so were a lot of other women. There are a lot of other innocent women or women who really didn’t commit big crimes were they?
[00:13:49] Simonne: No, no exactly.
[00:13:49] Leeza: They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the fact that you could be held for so long and not been proven guilty.
[00:13:56] Simonne: Well no reason for, I mean the legal process was slow, I think it is slow in every part of the world, but the reason for her to be actually held in custody was because she was a foreigner.
[00:14:14] Leeza: She had no rights.
[00:14:15] Simonne: No. Well, if they had given her bail, their fear would be that she would just hop on the next plane and leave the country. Which I guess the same happens everywhere, I would think.
[00:14:30] Leeza: Oh I guess we’ve spoken about this but you know, I love all the little details, that’s what really makes it such a good story isn’t it?
[00:14:40] Simonne: That’s right.
[00:14:41] Leeza: She’s arrested and she says to the guy, the prison guard, can you just order me a pizza please, and he just roared with laughter.
[00:14:49] Simonne: But she obviously didn’t realize where she was or you know, I mean she’s still loves pizza to this day but some of the details actually I didn’t put in ’til probably the last draft, like describing the women that she shared the jail with, I forget what they call it.. but where they help them before they go to jail. I thought be nice to describe them the way they were dressed and the way they behaved, makes it more interesting.
[00:15:27] Leeza: Yeah definitely, well it paints the picture doesn’t it?
[00:15:30] Simonne: That’s right.
[00:15:31] Leeza: That’s what writing is isn’t it, painting the picture and letting the emotion, the feeling come through.
[00:15:38] Simonne: That’s right.
[00:15:41] Leeza: Yeah it certainly got my blood boiling. So what does, I’m not sure I can say her name, but what does the subject think about the book? Is she happy with it?
[00:15:57] Simonne: She’s happy. I think on about three occasions I passed the manuscript onto her so she could read it and she approved of it every time. She doesn’t really want her face splashed over all the newspapers or anything like that, if it ever gets to that, where I get publicity, she doesn’t really want to become a public figure.
[00:16:29] Leeza: Well we can just help you promote the book can’t we, that would be good. So I guess so you think it’s hard writing somebody elses’ life?
[00:16:43] Simonne: Well it’s the first time I’ve actually done that, but having said that I have translated my uncle’s biography, well in his case it’s his autobiography, and I guess it’s not something that I’ve done from scratch I’ve actually being given, like Julia gave me her notes. So it’s not something that I’ve had to start right from the scratch.
[00:17:18] Leeza: Like you’ve had a seed of an idea and you could embelish it.
[00:17:18] Simonne: I’ve had the bones, so to speak, and just you know, plumped it out.
[00:17:25] Leeza: So do you think you’ll write your memoir one day?
[00:17:30] Simonne: Do you know what I have tried.
[00:17:30] Leeza: Have you?
[00:17:30] Simonne: and it’s very hard.
[00:17:34] Leeza: Is it harder for you to write yours?
[00:17:35] Simonne: Yes, very. I even got to, like we talk about planning, I’ve even set up an excel spreadsheet and in each row I’ve put the year to try and go in and put in details for each year. Just trying to get the memories in the right order, I’m not sure if that’s really necessary, but yeah that’s really on the back burner.
[00:18:14] Leeza: Ok, so you are working on another project at the moment I’d love to hear about what your next project is.
[00:18:21] Simonne: Oh yes, well this is fiction and I just find I’m living the story as it grows and things just come to mind.
[00:18:34] Leeza: because Simonne when you talk about the story, I swear, I keep saying to you, is this real? Is this real? and you’re like no it’s really my mind. It just sounds like it’s real.
[00:18:48] Simonne: Yeah. I really, I’m the same when I go to the movies, I get very much involved in the story, like I’m a part of the film, part of the story.
[00:18:59] Leeza: So Simonne which do you prefer writing? do you prefer writing real life or do you prefer writing fiction?
[00:19:11] Simonne: I think fiction.
[00:19:13] Leeza: It’s just easier?
[00:19:15] Simonne: It’s easier. You don’t have to worry about sticking to anything that could cause a legal problem.
[00:19:29] Leeza: And also you’re honouring when you’re writing about someone else, you are trying to honour that person, by doing a good job and what they experienced as well aren’t you.
[00:19:37] Simonne: Yes. I mean yeah you don’t really need so much approval for a fiction story.
[00:19:47] Leeza: So do the ideas, you were just saying how you know it just becomes your life, they become so real, you know where do they come from? the ideas, the characters ?
[00:20:02] Simonne: Good question.
[00:20:02] Leeza: are they composites of people or?
[00:20:02] Simonne: I mean the central character in my book that I’m writing now is actually a male.
[00:20:11] Leeza: Yeah.
[00:20:12] Simonne: And it’s strange whenever I do write stories I often write about a male aspect. I don’t know what you believe in it, but maybe it comes from past life or, you know who knows?
[00:20:25] Leeza: I understand, it would be interesting, maybe we should all write from a female or male perspective, write about the other to understand the other.
[00:20:38] Simonne: If that’s possible?
[00:20:40] Leeza: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about this story without giving too much away, tell us about your new fiction story?
[00:20:45] Simonne: Well I’m going to call it Barcelona Beckons, and it’s set partly… it starts off with this character going back to Barcelona after marrying his sweetheart in Barcelona. They decided to go to live on the other side of the world in Australia and he raises a family and they have a great deal of success and he is extremely happy but they have a tragic accident where he loses his family and then doesn’t quite know whether to stay there or back to his roots. He only has one family member still living and he just, I think he wants to unite with her for a while to try and get over what’s happened to him. And basically the book is about his progress, once he gets back to Barcelona and he often reflects on the last few years of his life leading up to the accident. So there’s a lot of flashbacks and a few juicy sex scenes.
[00:22:09] Leeza: Ok, we always like those don’t we, well that apparently sells well. I hear that they’re very hard to write?
[00:22:21] Simonne: Depends maybe on your own experiences.
[00:22:28] Leeza: Well they say you write what you know so it’ll be interesting to… So, I love that you actually went to Europe you went to Spain and Barcelona, so did you use that as part of research for your book?
[00:22:45] Simonne: Well I thought it would be a good idea, I was going over to France to attend a retreat meditation retreat, and whilst I was going there I thought maybe I should start my journey in Barcelona. I’ve never been to Spain and here I am writing about it, and it was such a wonderful experience just being there and feeling the energy, like I went to a flamenco show and it was so exciting. Then I went to montserrat where I was truly inspired to think about writing a sequel to the book that I am writing now.
[00:23:33] Leeza: That’s incredible.
[00:23:35] Simonne: It is, it’s like it wasn’t planned and it just happened.
[00:23:38] Leeza: Oh my God I love that. That really gives me hope. That’s what I love about writing, you don’t know where the pen or the journey will take you do you.
[00:23:48] Simonne: It just unfolds. I think it’s a bit to do with being aware, and listening to what is unfolding and just grabbing the idea and running with it.
[00:24:09] Leeza: I love that. That is awesome. So who were you inspired by? Do you have any favourite authors?.
[00:24:17] Simonne: Well I used to say no, but in my book collection at home I have gone to a lot of trouble to buy all of Paulo Coehlo’s books, I just love his work. Probably because I’m quite spiritual in my beliefs and I just find his writing so beautiful.
[00:24:43] Leeza: It is beautiful writing isn’t it, I always talk about beautiful words, beautiful words, it’s just the way he can describe situations and things with just a minimal amount of words often in different ways. There’s no cliches in his writing is there? It’s all just a different way of looking at things.
[00:25:02] Simonne: Yes it sits in your heart I think when you read his books.
[00:25:07] Leeza: Do you aspire to write like him? I mean your writing is pretty good, but I mean, I suppose we all aspire to write like him don’t we. Is that important to you, to write such beautiful words like him, this whole idea of literary or is it just important to get the story out in a great way or do you really care about how literary it is?
[00:25:32] Simonne: Not really. I just like to get the story out there although I think I’ve always had a fairly reasonable command of the English language and I love words. So to put them down on paper and express myself I really love it. I’m probably better at expressing myself in writing than I am in speaking.
[00:25:59] Leeza: I feel that, I think a lot of writers like that, we’re all a bit shy, I don’t know, there’s something the magic happens between putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboards, there’s just something that happens in between.
[00:26:14] Simonne: That’s right. I mean if ever I have a situation in life where a relationship is perhaps on the verge of ending, I would always write something to that person or write a poem and express how I feel in my heart rather than talking to that person. Maybe it’s because when you’re writing something you don’t get interupted or when you’re saying something the person might just flip and change whatever it is that you really wanted to say.
[00:26:57] Leeza: That’s interesting. I guess it’s all just good practice for a writer anyway, to write your thoughts and feelings and details down. So what’s perhaps one piece of advice that you’d like to give to people who are wanting to write their first book?
[00:27:15] Simonne: ‘Just do it’ like Michael Jordan, I think it’s Michael Jordan said, ‘just do it’. It doesn’t you know, don’t try and write the perfect story with the first piece of the manuscript, just get your thoughts down and then like I said you know, before you have to go back over and over and over and tweak it.
[00:27:44] Leeza: Writing is rewriting.
[00:27:45] Simone; Exactly.
[00:27:47] Leeza: So how can we find your book? where can we get it? How can we find out about you? your website or any social media?
[00:27:57] Simonne: I have been published by [00:28:01] by XLibris [Publishing] [0.5] so you can go to their Website and I believe it’s on all the major book distributors on amazon.
[00:28:15] Leeza: And it’s called In The shadow of the Acropolis, by Simonne Celestine, and do you have a website?
[00:28:20] Simonne: Yes my Website is [00:28:26] https://celestineharmonicinceptions.com [3.9] bit of a mouthful.
[00:28:31] Leeza: Well what I’ll do is put notes under the video or podcast. People can click on that and hopefully that can direct them straight to your Web site as well.
[00:28:41] Simonne: That would be wonderful. The reason I chose that name was because I’m a great believer in chi energy and so I went with C H I, and that’s what I came up with, Celestine which is my second given name which I’ve now changed my surname and Harmonic is because I love harmony and Inception is a new thought it’s a new idea.
[00:29:11] Leeza: That’s lovely, because your books are symbols of that.
[00:29:15] Simonne: That’s right.
[00:29:16] Leeza: Really and with all of your creations you do a lot of wonderful things as well.
[00:29:20] Simonne: So you’ll find all that on my website.
[00:29:22] Leeza: Thank you so much Simonne, I really enjoyed you know, talking to you today. I always love to find out where writers get their ideas and their processes and what it’s like for them.
[00:29:38] Simonne: Well same for me. I mean I love to get together with people who write because you will always get new ideas and it’s also lovely to share. I read something just recently it’s not what you learn in life it’s what you teach.
[00:29:56] Leeza: That’s beautiful.
[00:29:57] Simonne: And I think that is important.
[00:30:01] Leeza: Thank you very much for your time Simonne.