Agatha Zaza has inadvertently become a nomad. In the last decade, she’s called three countries home and all three have had one important thing in common—excellent public library systems. Wherever she goes, she takes her imagination and a lifetime of memories, including of great books. Agatha has always recognized that being highly literate and having access to books throughout her life has been of enormous advantage. Therefore, she decided to help others develop not just functional but empowering and transformative literacy in Zambia, where she’s from. Hopefully the project will be launched this year.
In the meantime, through a series of arbitrary choices, her family has found itself in New Zealand, enjoying nature and the relaxed, family friendly atmosphere. She’s hoping to complete her next book this year—fingers crossed. Meet Agatha:
You are an author, but is it your day job? If not, what does fill your days? I’m a grants coordinator in the social services sector here in Auckland. I spent years in international development specializing in gender and HIV/AIDS programming. I eventually became an independent consultant and so I was an expert on working from home long before the COVID lockdowns began.
Did you always want to be an author? At different phases in my life, yes. But it hasn’t been a lifelong dream. It’s an idea I flirted with from time to time. I grew up in a house filled with books and loved reading and writing fiction, which is not unusual for a writer, but never seriously considered writing fiction as a career. While I was at university, I had a few short stories published and felt quite a lot of pressure to be the next Zadie Smith or Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie. It’s only when I was able to free myself of these expectations, did I start to write again. My first full length novel was a vampire romance; thankfully, I didn’t pursue its publication.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? My debut novel, The Pretenders, was published in November 2020 by Agora Books London. I wrote it while living in Singapore, my son was settled in day care and I was working from home part time. I decided that if I was ever going to write a book it had to be then—I had to find out if I could do it. I finished my first draft in a few months and then spent about six months refining it before looking for a publisher.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? That’s a difficult question. I’d say The Pretenders emphasizes that people aren’t necessarily good or evil, right or wrong. It also emphasizes our ability to recover from traumatic periods in our lives, to move on and how love and friendship can play a crucial part in that recovery. It’s also the good old story about it’s never too late to live your dreams; I was well into my forties when The Pretenders was published.
What are you most excited about with this book? Being able to call myself a published author and some of the opportunities to participate in authors’ events, for instance, the Auckland Writers Festival.
How did writing a book help your career take off? I am by no means a professional writer; writing is a hobby that enriches my life.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? Write that first book. Once it’s published, you’re already ahead of the crowd. Far more people talk about writing a book than actually do it.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? Learn to evaluate criticism, not all of it is worth anything. Learn from setbacks, it could be useful for your next project. For instance, I queried places that were not interested in the type of book I’d written. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I’d studied their back catalogues a bit closer, rejection hurts even if it’s for a legitimate reason.
Being an author today is like running a business. How do you manage all your publicity, social media and keep your engagement up with readers? I’ve had to shake up my social media plan, which was non-existent. Unfortunately, as my book was published during the pandemic, many in-person opportunities to engage with readers haven’t been possible. I try my best to engage in social media positively and to avoid the kinds of people that spread conflict and trade insults. As a result, I find that, even on social media, I’m surrounded by interesting and uplifting people.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? My work in grants and development is fulfilling in that it builds upon my previous experience, my love of writing and my wish to remain working with social justice issues. I’m also surrounded by people who care deeply about what they do.
What book uplifts you? I read Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo last year and I was enthralled by how bold and daring it was. Her prose and her subject matter were strong and original. I also recently read Yertle the Turtle by Doctor Suess, which fired me up again to participate in social justice initiatives—it’s an excellent description of the exploitation of citizens by their leaders and this really must change.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? I’d like to encourage readers to remember smaller presses and independent authors. There is so much original, high quality work that hasn’t been selected by the larger publishing houses that doesn’t get the publicity and fanfare that it deserves.
Visit Agatha at her website.
Images Courtesy of Agatha Zara