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Q&A: author Marjorie Simmins on the importance of memoir and how COVID-19 is affecting writers’ income

Marjorie Simmins, holding MacTavish, and Silver Donald Cameron, holding Franki

Shortly before the Writers’ Trust of Canada and The Writers’ Union of Canada launched their emergency relief fund, TWUC sent out a survey to gauge how much personal income its membership was losing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TWUC authors reported on average a confirmed personal loss of $3,267 from bookstore sales, events, school visits, and other work related to their writing.

Halifax author and writing instructor Marjorie Simmins is one of those affected. Her newly released book, Memoir: Conversations and Craft (Pottersfield Press), features inspirational conversations with masters of the genre, including Lawrence Hill, Plum Johnson, Linden MacIntyre, Edmund Metatawabin, and Diane Schoemperlen.

Simmins spoke to Q&Q about her recent experiences.

First of all, how are you doing?

I and my family are well! I want to preface my comments by saying I am in fact one of the luckiest people anywhere, to have a comfortable home to live in, good food and grog on hand, interesting work to do, and the very best of companions, by way of my husband, Silver Donald Cameron, and our two Shelties.

I would imagine there are people interested in writing memoir and non-fiction right now. Are you hearing that at all?

This is the absolute best time to have a book on writing memoirs come out! It took me a few days to twig on this, but think of it – so many stories, and many people with the time to actually write. People want to write about times gone by, sure, but most urgently they want to write about their current realities, which are astonishingly complex and in flux right now. Most people are having difficult, even harrowing times, as well. Writing can improve your life, make a tough day a bit easier to bear. You and your kids may also want a record of “The Virus Time.” Pick up a journal, start writing. Pick up MCC to give you inspiration and guidance. When your own pages start to pile up, you’ll thank yourself years down the road.

 

How are you getting the book into people’s hands?

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email, I have mailed out about 60 copies in the past few days. The majority of these have gone to buyers; the rest have gone to the interviewees, blurbers, and reviewers. I’ve done a good enough job in the shipping department (our kitchen table) that just this morning, I promoted myself to Master Shipper. The cheek! I await new orders with a smile and ready hands – and lots of tape, of course.

I teach memoir-writing workshops across the country, so many of these wonderful people have ordered the book. Readers who enjoyed my two memoirs, Coastal Lives and Year of the Horse, were keen to buy MCC. In the past two days, I’ve had interviews with The Chronicle Herald (Halifax’s daily); “Mainstreet” on CBC Radio Sydney; The Reporter newspaper in Port Hawkesbury; and just this morning, I spoke with the hosts of 101.5 The Hawk, also in Port Hawkesbury. I always start the promotion process from east to west.

I spend two to five hours each day promoting the book, and will do this for months, as I did with the first two books. I work with all the regular outlets: radio, television, print media, social networking, word-of-mouth, guest blogs, etc. Naturally, I won’t be doing any face-to-face interviews for the foreseeable future. But so far, and bit by bit, I am getting the word out.

I will lose a lot of sales from my cancelled workshops, but I have to hope that the MCC –which I refer to as part history, part inspiration and part craft – will be a perennial good seller, and will do well over the years at future workshops.

Did you apply for the relief fund? Are there other ways you believe you can make up that money lost?

Yes, I will be applying for the relief fund. In my whole life, I’ve only been on EI once, for six months – and I’ve freelanced for 30 years.

Three workshops cancelled [represent] approximately a $5,000 loss, excluding books sales. (I charge $150/person for a full-day workshop.) I was contemplating a fourth workshop for the fall, so throw in another $1,500. Two book launches cancelled; approximately $2,000 of loss in book sales. These are direct losses from my own direct sales. A dozen bookstore signings cancelled: $1,000–$2,000 lost in future royalties. This spring, summer, and autumn should have been my harvest season. The entire year, really. Approximate total for lost earnings: $10,000.

BUT, I am an optimist, so I hope to take on some new challenges to re-ignite my income. For example, I hope to start giving online workshops via Zoom; I’ve wanted to do that for ages, anyway. It’s not as much fun as face-to-face, but maybe it has other special charms.

How will this loss affect your life?

The income loss will only affect my life if I allow it to; that would mostly pertain to feelings of disappointment, sadness, and anxiety because more than anything, I am working on my retirement income at this point. I don’t have a pension. I don’t have large savings. But, my husband Don and I are very fortunate writers, very fortunate people. We live in a paid-for home and drive a paid-for car. We live modestly but well.

I am keenly aware of the financial and emotional difficulties faced by so many, the world over. So many challenges and hardships. The world, in a time of disease, death, sorrow and uncertainty.

So I count my blessings.

To order a copy of Memoir: Conversations and Craft: Contact Simmons for a signed copy to be mailed by email (mls@marjoriesimmins.ca) or via Facebook. The book is also available online from Silver Donald Cameron’s online bookstore or from Nimbus Publishing.