Interview with Anna M Townsend, author of “Destination Transformation”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I don’t think authors are socially inept at all, the best authors are the ones who offer real insight into human nature and how people think and behave. They are observant and insightful, able to look behind people’s actions and see what drives them. Destination: Transformation is about my experiences of setting up a charity in Nepal. I’m an introvert, which has definitely helped me to get the job of writing the book done, but I wouldn’t have been able to share my story, or set up the charity, without interacting socially with some competence – at least I hope that’s the case!

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

No, not at all – I have a wonderful editor who sorted out all my grammatical mistakes. I’m British and wrote the book whilst living in America, so I was fearful I had put in American- spellings, expressions and grammar without meaning to, there are a great many subtle differences between the two languages. I sent the book back to England for editing as I unquestionably wanted English spellings and style (sorry Americans, you’ll still understand the book though!)

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

I’m not a fiction writer but if I were I would love to write like Charles Dickens. He used fiction to highlight the social evils of his time and his books, like A Christmas Carol, still have a message for us today. I would love to be able to write entertainingly whilst simultaneously addressing injustice. Perhaps someone who reads Destination: Transformation will go on to do that.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

My book is practical and aimed at Christians. I love being able to encourage other Christians in their lives, it is such a privilege, and I hope many of them will go on to transform the world for the better because of this book. I feel quite overwhelmed when I think about it.

What inspires you to write?

Mostly other people. As someone who has set up and runs a charity, friends often tell me that they wish they could do what I have done. I’m not special and I believe anyone can change the world if they want to, even if they feel like they have too much baggage. So, Destination: Transformation is for them, my friends, and I hope it helps others too.

How often do you write?

Now that Destination: Transformation is written, I am back to my day jobs which are running the charity in Nepal and teaching English as a foreign language (no, not to Americans! I mainly teach refugees). I plan to produce a small group guide for Destination: Transformation this year and have some other ideas for books as well, but I currently don’t make time to write on a regular basis. Whilst writing Destination: Transformation I typically wrote twice a week.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I suppose I actively seek inspiration, from reading and speaking to others, then I produce pages of notes before actually sitting down to write. I have a busy life so I don’t like wasting time feeling uninspired. If I really don’t feel like writing I will do something else that’s useful instead.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Starting is certainly the hardest part, my editor and I came up with a book plan prior to writing and I had a structure for the chapters as well, so in many ways when it actually came to writing all I was doing was filling in the blanks.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

I’m definitely independent and a bit of a loner, partly it’s because I’m a military wife and as such I have to get on with life wherever my husband takes me. I’m not sure if these traits are nature or nurture now. I love the military life though, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to set up the charity or write the book without the opportunities to travel that the military has offered us.

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Destination: Transformation is my personal story and in it I expose my vulnerabilities, such as the pain I felt following two miscarriages. I fear criticism the most and that is hardest for me.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

Whether a book is fact or fiction, to me it has to offer something original and creative. I’m an ideas person and I love encountering a new concept or discovering a twist in the tale.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

Yes, so long as I feel I understand the point they are trying to make. I’ve no interest in getting into debates or arguments with people, but I love to thank readers for positive feedback. Hearing their stories is also wonderful.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

I was very shy and conscious of what I thought other people thought of me. I would tell my younger self that most people spend most of their time thinking about themselves so there’s really no need to be worried.

Which book inspired you to begin writing?

I read a book that also promised its readers that they would go on to change the world. The book was impractical and rather hopeless; I thought I could do better! I’m not telling you which book it was!

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

My hope is that by sharing some of my personal struggles and lessons learned, readers will find it useful and helpful for putting into practice the ideas in the book. Each ‘day’ contains a short letter from me to the reader.

What books have influenced your life the most?

Biographies and personal stories both simultaneously inspire and daunt me. I have enjoyed reading biographies of Aung San Suu Kyi and the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry has an equally amazing story.

Are there any books that you are currently reading and why?

I’m about to start reading The Spirit Level by Wilkinson & Pickett. It has been on my wishlist for ages and I know it has influenced the thinking of lots of people I admire. I want to find out for myself what the book is all about.

If given the opportunity to do it all over again, would you change anything in your books?

I’m an ideas person and I keep thinking and coming across great organisations and people that are transforming the world in impact-ful and original ways. I wish I could have included those in the book. My charity in Nepal is about to start working with Days for Girls making sanitary pads, they have an original, sustainable idea and I love it . I wish I could have mentioned and promoted them in the book for instance.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I think other people find my writing challenging, the book encourages people to pursue God, chase their God given dreams and to live life counter-culturally, so not everyone wants to read that. Destination: Transformation isn’t necessarily a comfortable read.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

My day job is running Women Without Roofs – Nepal, which I absolutely love, and teaching English which is also perfect for me. WWR involves me sitting behind a computer most of the time, and teaching is a great chance for me to get away from that and actually meet people. I love learning about different cultures and my students make me laugh.

Do you believe it is more challenging to write about beliefs that conflict with the ones you hold yourself?

Destination: Transformation explores some of the beliefs that are held by Hindus in Nepal and how, as a consequence, our charity has stepped in to restore, love and show grace to abandoned women.  These are difficult subjects and I have tried to demonstrate in the book how Christian love should be outworked in society.  We don’t always get it right, but I hope we are going in the right direction.

Now when you look back at your past, do you feel accomplished?

I feel a huge sense of accomplishment for setting up the charity in Nepal before I turned thirty years old. I am all too aware though that it would not have been possible without God and that it was his grace demonstrated towards me that allowed me to be involved in it.

How are your relations with your family? Do you like to stay in touch?

Since I’m living in America right now away from my family I miss them hugely. Skype and whatsapp are great for keeping in touch, as is facebook for keeping up to date with my global friends. I’m glad I live at a time when they are available to me.

If you die today, how would want the world to remember you?

Hopefully as someone who cared about and inspired others. In Nepal, I pray I have made a positive difference, unfortunately the country’s macro-political and economic problems are holding the population back, it is hard to see much positive change, but I know there are some women for whom WWR has made a huge difference.

How many children do you have? Do you see any young writers in any of them?

I have two children, my son Zach is 12 and probably not a writer, he is a problem solver though and I hope he uses those skills to transform the world. My daughter Bethany is 9, she is very social and could easily become a politician, she’s passionate and articulate. Maybe one day someone will write her biography.

Do you have a library at home?

It’s an ambition. We live in military quarters and are about to move to our 14th house. There are boxes and boxes of books we lug from house to house, it will be good to settle and house the books in a beautiful room one day.

Do you think translating books into languages other than their origin forces the intended essence away?

Destination: Transformation is currently being translated into Nepali, as I don’t read Nepali I will have no idea if the essence remains in the translation! I pray that the translation will be effective in mobilising Christian Nepalis to act to transform their nation.

Do you blog?

Yes, but I am opinionated and almost vitriolic on my blog! I use my blog to cope with the cultural challenges I encounter when living abroad – I’m in the US at the same time as Trump is vying to become the Republican candidate so it’s hard not to get a little grumpy. I’m at annamtownsend.wordpress.com

How active are you on social media? And how do you think it affects the way you write?

I’m pretty active and Destination: Transformation has it’s own facebook page https://www.facebook.com/destinationtransformationtownsend/ I hope to use the page to inspire change among my readers and to connect like-minded people. I even have ideas to start another charity off the back of the book – like the page if you want to keep up to date please.