Tetyana Denford is a Ukranian-American author who lived for some years in the UK. Becoming a mother meant that writing was put to the back of the queue of things she should be doing, but a dinner-time planning chat with her husband sent Tetyana on a soul search about her future life and future self.
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For this episode, I'm speaking with Tetyana Denford, a Ukrainian American author who lived for some years in the UK, becoming a mother meant that writing was put to the back of the queue of things she should be doing. But it didn't time planning, chatting with her husband, sent Tatiana on a soul search about her future life and future self. Let's find out what came of that deep down. Hi, Tetyana. Hello, Claire. How are you? As good as I can? I'm taking every day as it comes. As most people are, you have a busy life with family and commitments, again, as lots of people do. How do you express yourself creatively, I will carve out moments for myself as often as possible. Wendy mark, who's an illustrator, I saw the other day that she was actually on a train. And she was looking out of the window and she saw these amazing clouds and she could not let it go. So she actually drew on her arm and her hand, the clouds so she can take them with her. And I think that, for me is a great representation of what creatives right now are trying to do. They're trying to hold on to these moments as often as they can even if it's, you know, two lines that you think of? I say write it down. I have to otherwise I feel like I'm letting the world get in the way of what I want to do. That's really interesting outlook and approach to it. Did you have positive creative experiences as a child at home schooled? Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't go back there. Only because, you know, I love where I am now. But I really began my kind of creative journey when I was sat at home reading books, and drawing and writing little stories to myself because I was an only child and I was a little bit left to my own devices. My parents were both working. And they're great people, and I'm really close to them. But there's only so much that they wanted to kind of sit and play with me. They were very focused on work and stuff. So I just wrote and I imagined and I read and then I started writing poetry and I entered short story competitions. And you know, my parents were always really, they're always they always have been and will always support the arts. But when it came to me, they were very encouraging. They did not want me to just, you know, focus on things that would make me successful financially. And they really instilled in me that doing something creative that I love was really important because they saw that they saw how it made me feel so those experiences from the home kind of then bled into me finding people that were like minded at school, and finding teachers that I really connected with I had an amazing mentor in high school this English teacher mr. He was very encouraging of any kind of writing that I did. And he would meet with me one on one and give me kind of little coaching on how to write certain things, or the difference between memoir and nonfiction. And it was, it's just yeah, so all of that was just the formative time in my life where I just I thought, well, that's just who I am not just what I do. You know, it sounds like you did have some good influences there. What direction did you take for further education? And did you know what you wanted to do? Not that it was the most important thing, but did you know what you did want to do in the world of work? Now, I didn't know for a long time because I was a little bit of the kind of person that would try everything. And I really didn't know what I wanted to do until I was in my third year in college. And I always find it funny that people ask kids in high school well, what do you want to study? The there's still babies they don't know. They won't know until maybe they believe college and even then, nobody knows really, because we're constantly evolving and learning as human beings as we should be. So I, I did a lot of creative stuff. I went to a liberal arts college after high school because it offered so many different things for me to try. So it was perfect for me. I studied languages, I studied poetry analysis, I studied philosophy and religion and all of those very marketable things. In a modern world. Would you do nothing with really, but um, no, I, I am. I tried a little bit of everything I studied abroad. And when I left college, I went to live and work in New York City, and I spent time there. My first job was in television ratings analysis. I mean, it was just a steady job. But after a year of that I got really stifled, I felt like I wasn't being the kind of creative young person that I imagined that I could be. So I took temp jobs here and there. I freelanced for Elle and Vogue, and I was also a waitress and a barista at Starbucks, I auditioned for off Broadway shows, I did some professional singing, I just basically did everything. I just really wanted to find out who I was and what I wanted to do. And I think that should really try and being encouraged I think, with especially our generation, like they need to feel like they're not pigeon holed into one specific direction. I think especially in America, that there's a tendency to do that. It's like, oh, take a do a course that will make you money eventually as an adult, right? Well, yeah, okay, money is great, but it's not everything. So, yeah, I completely agree, it goes back to what you said about, you know, not necessarily know what you want to do at college. What you want to do afterwards, either. And I think the beauty of this podcast is that we get to express that, once you do make a decision in your younger years, you don't have to stick with it forever. And that's, that's what people used to be like, they used to have one career until they worked themselves to death at like 765 years old. And then they sat around going, Oh, finally, I'm done. You know, whereas now, we are so lucky. To be part of such a modern world where so many things are possible for so many people. You know, companies aren't like taking you just because you look good on paper. They want life experience. They want people to to try new things, and they want very well rounded and curious people. I always tell my kids, you should stay curious for your whole life as a human being Stay curious. Because that's ultimately how we learn. We should always be learning about who we are what we want to do, you know, I think, yeah, brilliant. Going back then, you did go into advertising for a longer time. How did that come about? How did you enjoy that? It sounds like a very corporate role. So what happened so I was still freelancing. I was still doing off Broadway shows but I was living hand to mouth and in the city living like that. It's very, very difficult and I probably could have persevered and if I wanted to stick with professional singing, but I think I'd I'd had kind of a little bit enough of that I was so tired of doors being closed all the time and just me not looking a certain way for certain roles and whatever. So I just wanted to try something new and I was still writing on the side But then I, I had a friend who said that advertising isn't a bad way to make some money. And sometimes it's really creative depending on what position you're in. And, and me being the control freak that I am, and always will be. I actually really like a position where I organise people and I plan events. And I put together presentations and all of that. So I was quite good at that even in college. So I thought, Okay, well, I'll just have a look around. And then I started getting some very short lived executive assistant positions. Through a recruitment agency, I found an advertising company that was looking for an assistant to the global CEO. And they were very well known as a great company to work for. So I got in there, and I had the most amazing time. And I'm still friends with him. His name is Charles, he was the best boss ever, ever. He was just absolutely kind and generous and funny and patient. And he just really made it so enjoyable. And I love the people I other people I worked with. And I liked the position because it was a little bit creative. So that part I had autonomy over, sorta, but then also there was a, there was a very standard way of doing things, which I don't mind either. And it was good money. And it offered a sense of security. And I enjoyed it. And I ended up working there for about a year, two years. But in the meantime, I met my who then become my husband, but my husband was working in the same company, but in the in the UK office. So I stayed with the company, I married the guy, and then we moved over to the UK. And because I didn't know anybody, I didn't have any kind of jobs lined up when we moved over. I just did temp jobs for advertising, advertising agencies, and they were fantastic. They were great, decent money, really fun people to work with. They work hard, they play harder, especially in the UK. And you know, it was it was really fun. Definitely not something that I knew was going to be a career. But I was good at it. And it afforded me some kind of financial flexibility to just have my writing going on the sides. Did you meet your husband to be who was working in the UK office in the US before he worked in the UK office. So he was in the UK office at the time. And he was he has like a very long career still does in media and advertising. He's brilliant at his job. He now has his own company. But back then he was working for the same company. And he came over to New York for a work dinner. And he like he was just just really funny. And you know, and yeah, and then now here we are three kids and 15 years later, so. So I highly recommend working in an advertising firm, you might think somebody interesting. Other than the working situation, how did you find your time in the UK, having come from everything you knew in the US what was life like for you? I because I've lived in New York City for 10 years at that point, before we moved over to the UK, I was actually looking forward to the change. I'm not somebody who sits in one spot for very long. I want to see as much of the world as possible. And I really wanted to kind of challenge myself with living in a different country for a little while. And it was amazing. I loved it. And I still love the UK. But I became a citizen because like it's just part of who I am now. It was much more polite in a lot of ways. Compared to New York, New York basically makes you earn your place. It does not care who you are, how much money you have, how nice you can be. They're basically like just put in the graft, and maybe we'll let you in. Whereas in the UK, especially in London, when we first moved, we were in central London and I was working for these different agencies and the friendship groups were very closed off to a new person that I'm Plus, I'm American, so that doesn't help. I'm, you know, so I'm trying to I'm trying to get to know people and they are very much like, not so much. They'll be really polite. So they're not like New Yorkers that are very unfiltered. Like Londoners are very nice, but they're like nothing. So it was it was difficult, and I didn't find a friendship group for a very long time. I think it took me about I'd say seven years. And but it taught me me a lot. And I am not somebody who says no to a challenge, I'm willing to push the limits of what I can do just to learn about who I am and what I can experience in this life and what lessons is going to teach me. So I still love it, though. I just I love so much about the UK. It was it was a lovely experience. I do miss it. We haven't been back for three years. And so you mentioned about doing a bit more writing for yourself? How did perhaps those experiences or your time in the UK? And generally, how did that help you get back to writing for yourself? Well, when I moved to the UK, I was trying to still keep up with my writing. So what I did was I started a blog, back when Blogspot was still running. And it was called I spy with my London Eye. And it was an American's perspective on life in London, and just like the mess that it feels like sometimes, and the loneliness and the frustration and the excitement and all of it, that kind of kept me in practice. And then I stopped for a little while, and we started having kids and I got really distracted. And as a lot of women do when they choose to have children, they put themselves aside. So yeah, I just felt like, Oh, let me just focus on this. But the danger with that, for me in particular, I think if I am not truly fulfilled, I'm a terrible parent. And I only learned that after around around my, when my third kid was born, I was I kept helping them out. So I was pregnant consistently, for five years, basically. And which, I mean, they are wonderful, but it's a lot of sacrifice. And like I need something else in my life. Because if I don't have that something else, I am just gonna resent having children. So I won, my third came out. And everything was we're all happy and healthy and whatever. And it was about probably eight months in. I remember my husband and I sitting down at the beginning of the year we have we sometimes have these dinners at the beginning of the year. And we go, what do we want to do? What are what's our plan separately? And also together? What do we want to achieve? What are we and I think it's a great way, like to kind of focus yourself instead of just drift around and kind of not know what you're doing, especially when you're in the swamp of early motherhood. It's just a little bit, you can get your bearings. And he said, What do you want to do now that the kids are getting a bit older and stuff and meanwhile, he's travelling a lot. So he has his stuff figured out? These kids are little, we don't have much help. So I'm like, I don't know, let's just I could just sit around and just keep having babies. And then I heard myself say that, and I was like, Yeah, that's a that's a really safe thing for me to say. And it's very easy to say that because you're in the rhythm. Of course, of course you want to keep doing that. Because it's wonderful. It's cosy. It's hard, but also like, you don't have to necessarily achieve anything else. You've you're doing this, it's hard work. But then I was like, yeah, that doesn't sound right. So I started writing again, and I started writing for a blog zine called selfish mother. And it kind of got me practising. thing is that it wasn't on my own website. So they kind of took my stuff and published it on their site, which is great for them. But I was like, I want ownership of my own stuff. I want to figure out what I can do. Slowly I began writing I started going to events and started meeting people within the kind of industry very creative and some of these events were all like fake crap. It's all like just for appearances. Everybody just wants to feel famous for five minutes and then they leave the event. I'm not a big fan of that but I learned along the way and I would say to anybody looking at those events going oh, they they're so fancy and I hope I belong like yeah, no they are not the be all end all like you can do it you can meet people that are creative that are not like these fancy influencers that think they're all without ship. And but the practice for me was the thing, you know, and then I started using my Instagram as practice little writing little pieces. You know, yeah, okay, it was putting up outfit shots for like a lot of it. Then I was like, What am I doing? What am I doing with my social media? I want to use it for something and I started reaching people with my writing. And then I started gaining a little bit of momentum. And around that time, it was in 2015 16. I found out this kind of a family secret. And then it all Basically catapulted into me going, I'm going to write my first book, I'm going to write a novel, I have this amazing thing that I just found out about my family. Why don't I write a novel, and then that's it. And then the doors opened. And back then I was like, Oh, I hope one day I can write and publish a book. Now, unlike I am where I wanted to be, however many years ago. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits, and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity, found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. As well as the writing side of things, that's an interesting look on social media, we have lots of contradictions within ourselves about what we might be doing with with social media. And for some people, they think, Oh, I have to do social media, because I want to tell the world about this creative thing I'm doing. Yeah. And for other people like yourself, the social media helped as a practice of the creative thing you were doing. Yeah. And building on it. So that's, that's a really interesting viewpoint of social media. Yeah. And you know what, I'm glad you said that. Because these are two separate things. I think, I think too many creatives think that producing, producing producing every day, in this unnatural way to produce content to produce engagement to produce likes, in order to promote their stuff. That kind of melts into them thinking that that's their art that does their work. And I do not subscribe to that way of thinking. I think social media is a very different beast. And it is a machine that you can use as practice or engagement but your work. If social media exploded tomorrow, surely, you have your work separate. And that's the thing that you work on no matter what. But it's like, if you go for a walk, or if you do some exercise, and you'd forget to put your watch on, you think, Oh, I didn't do the exercise. But you did do the exercise and your body is still benefiting from the exercise. You just haven't recorded it. But it makes you feel like you haven't done it. That is a great way to describe it. 100% Yeah. Anyway, that was fabulous. Back on topic topic. Get back to the novel. So this, you said about a family secret. And this was an historical novel that you then began to write how is that different to the blogs that you'd been writing? And what did that process then open up for you perhaps the novel? I never thought I never imagined that I would write a historical fiction novel. But it just came really naturally. It just came flooding out. And I thought, well, I'm the only person I'm an only child. I'm the only person that can write this information down. And at first, obviously, it was like, I mean, draft upon draft upon draft. In the beginning, I was like, Yeah, I wrote a book. And I was like, No, this is not a book. It's a story. It, it's an account. It's 400 pages of just one thing and happened. And then this happened. And then this happened. So then I had to teach myself how to write a novel. I was proud of it, but I knew just kind of needed a little bit of help. And then I thought it was good enough to submit. And I really, I think it was like the eighth draft or something i and which is not even that many by people go through 3040 draft. But I thought, Okay, I think it's compelling enough to submit and I and I set myself months of making sure my query letters were on point that my synopsis was good. And that's really difficult. Anyway, I was like, you can write a novel, great, and it could be really good. But all of this other stuff, in order to kind of approach the industry with you have to have it all as a really good X Factor kind of package. Because if you don't have that nobody's gonna read your work. Honestly, like, they could still reject you, but they could still read it and go, that's great, not for me. And so I kind of really started realising that I might have a shot at this or I was really proud of my writing. So I just I went forward, and with it, and I submitted and I within the first I'd say three months, I got 12 for requests, which is, but it's like doesn't happen very often. I was like, Oh, I'm getting somewhere. And eventually, the full requests eventually came out to be, you know, this is not for us, but you have a talent for this, and I can't wait to see other work that you're going to put out. And at first, I was like, oh, you know, but it didn't discourage me because I had actually very in depth conversations with agents, who I'm still connected to, who were so supportive and so lovely. And it told me something, I was like, you know, I wouldn't say no, if a big agent came knocking on my door, or I got a publishing deal, obviously. But at the same time, I was like them saying no, does not mean that I don't have a shot at becoming an author and publishing my books. And that's when it hit me. And this is because of where I am now is because I reframed my perspective. After I wrote the novel. And after I got rejections, even though everyone was like, hugely supportive, I said, You know what, I'm going to start self publishing, because two agents actually said, revise, rewrite and send it back. And they wanted me to change certain parts of the story where I was like, wow, I know this could be better. But also this is partly a family story that I've helped fictionalised. I can see it in my head how I wanted it to look. Sorry, how do I wanted it to read how I wanted the cover to look, I saw it all. And I and I saw the title and how it was spelled out and everything like so I just knew I had to put it out there. And that's not me post rationalising. Like I just I could have kept going, I could have kept submitting. But that basically, to try and make this story shorter those rejections. And still, that support told me that I could actually start self publishing, which then put me on a journey of when this book goes out, and I started making money. I was like, I'm gonna start writing more. But the reason I started writing books of poetry is because a not novels is because my grandmother died a month after motherland, my first novel was published. And I was in such deep grief, that all I could do was write small pieces as like a catharsis for myself. And I thought this might resonate, because there was in the middle of a pandemic, people were dying, people were losing family members. And my first book of poetry, a collection of poetry was about grief and the conversations that I was having with myself, and with this entity that I called grief. So motherland basically propelled me not only into these collected kind of poetry books into this genre, but it also propelled me to Self Publish still, because I loved the process. I loved learning about it. And I had, I'm also aware that I have the luxury of taking time to be able to write and self publish, actually, being traditionally published, or traditionally agented with a book is much easier in a lot of ways for people because they don't have the time to sit and like do all the legwork. Anyway, so the Yeah, motherland basically, just really pushed me into like taking control of more of my work. Yeah, how did you get along with self publishing, with things like cover designs, we now live in a world where you can publish a book for free, I mean, you can put, you can put together a PowerPoint presentation, put it on Amazon, get them to make a cover, which is free, and there is literally no cost to you apart from time. So they have a cover creator within KDP, which a lot of people don't realise and it's actually really easy to use. Amazon is very, not only user friendly, but the KDP group or the staff will talk to you personally on email, if you're having any kind of issues, the stigma with self publishing, unfortunately, even if it's an amazing book, if it doesn't look like a regular book, people go Yeah, self publishing is a bit crap, isn't it? I say to anybody, if you're going to self publish, please save up some money and hire a cover designer because it will make all the difference. So the art is never going to be as perfect as going with like random houses, you know, printing company, but it's pretty darn good. And now KDP is doing hardcover options and you can have matte option glossy option. So it's becoming very it's becoming easier for people, but still, it's work. You know, you have to just kind of figure it out. So I found my cover guy in there through a A company called 99 designs, and you can hire freelance graphic designers for anything. And I specifically wanted somebody who's worked on book covers, and I really liked his past work. So I talked to him and he basically takes my sketches and my ideas and makes them into something. And I was really proud of Motherland. And that was the money that for me was well spent, I saved up, I use that for the cover everything else I did through Amazon. I would like actually to be in independent bookstores. And that's what you get with an, you know, with an agent and a publicist, you get to kind of filter out your books into lots of different places, I would much rather an indie bookstore, but right now, this is my option, you know? Yeah, no, it makes sense. So we started, we touched on conversations with grief. And you've continued that with a few other books. Tell me about the next ones. Okay. So conversation with grief came out last. I don't know April. No. Maybe, oh, God, I forget, oh, my God, it's 2021 22. It's just like when I forget my children's names. And so after that came conversation with motherhood, I wanted to play books based on universal themes. So motherhood came quite easily to me. I got really tired of seeing very typical tropes within motherhood, it's the lazy mother, it's the messy mother, it's the drinking mother. It's the party mother, it's the young mother, it's the trendy mother, it's the mama boss mother, like so over it. I think you can be a mother without even having kids, you can have mothering, you can have a mothering energy, you can mother, the people, if you're a carer, for the elderly, you are a mother, you know, like that we are all mothers in different ways. So I wanted to write something that was all this human side to motherhood, and there's grief in motherhood, this is a thing, like all of these things are kind of intertwined. You know, and after motherhood, I thought the most universal thing that we need to be reminded of right now is love. And that's the one that's coming out next, in February, right before Valentine's. And love is not the absence of grief, it is a marriage with grief, we cannot experience love if we have not experienced grief. You know, it's all of these things are so intertwined. And that has been the absolute joy of me writing these books, because they're like little companions, you know. So I just think, to have something that's portable, to have something they can dip into and out of, to have pieces that resonate in different ways for different people. I'm just really honoured to be able to do that. And I love love doing it. Yeah, brilliant. So do you call yourself an author now? Yeah, I didn't for a long time. I didn't even call myself a writer when I started. And my husband, he is always a firm believer in. If you have the energy of believing in something that you're doing, people will respond to that energy. If you feel it, and you believe it, you will be it. So the energy that I had I when I started writing seriously the the novel in 2015 16. I was just Oh, yeah, um, you know, I'm writing something. Are you a writer? No, you know. And then finally, my husband's like, what? What do you do you write, and when you write, you might make yourself an author. So just put, and that's why my handle changed even on social media. So now it's testing on a rights because that's what I do. You know, but it's only when I when I published motherland, and it was very successful. And it you know, it still makes me money. And I was so proud of it. But I still I wasn't there yet. I'm like, can I be an author? But then I was like, but I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do. I have just published my first book, I'm an author. And the thing is, is that as soon as you start believing that you're a writer, or that you're an author, like suddenly the energy shifts a bit and you are more confident in producing more work and publishing more work and talking to other authors and writers because suddenly you're like, I'm not less than they are. Just because I self published or just because the publisher didn't buy the book from my agent. I'm still an author. I'm still as valid as you are. I may not have won any awards and I may not be on any short lists are long lists, but I'm still an author. And I'm really proud of my work. And I think people really connect to that. I want to get people to believe in themselves more doesn't matter what stage they are in their career, there's always going to be that debilitating imposter syndrome. But I think you just you have to believe in your work and kind of shut up the noise sometimes. Brilliant, absolutely agree. I'm so bossy. Saying it, like it should be said. So tivity ethos, they're all summed up very nicely, thank you. We touched on the fact that it's 2021 22 At the moment, and we've all been in a slightly different way of living because of lockdowns and pen, the pandemic, obviously, do you think that's affected your writing flow? Or Is that any way impacted your creative flow? Definitely. But perversely, I think it's been a good thing. And I say that, as somebody who always has to keep busy, I always have to keep writing, I always think, Oh, I have to set up my next book and stuff. But I think it is absolutely unnatural, or it's becoming unnatural for creatives to be expected, or to force themselves to produce every single day. I don't know what the reasoning is. But I will say that social media has absolutely exacerbated that. Because in a pandemic, who do we turn to? What do we turn to artists, art, books, painting, music, movies. But as creatives, we cannot put that all the time on ourselves, because I think it takes away from our work and our art. And I think that has to be separate. I genuinely think that so many creatives right now are saying I'm going to take a break from social media. Why? Because they're burnt out. And that's not healthy for the work that you ultimately are doing and should be doing the work. That is you. I see so many authors out there that maybe conflate the, you know, their work with social media posts, and I get that that's maybe part of their job to kind of push their book out there. But that's not who they are. I don't associate their work with their social media engagement at all, genuinely. And stepping away from me was really good. Because I had to work in a notebook. Sometimes I forced myself to just write on my blog, pieces like and I think, also, it forces you to think actually, Twitter and Instagram are very small slices of the world, really. I think if you are proud of your work, reach farther, do something that will nurture you do your work outside of these little boxes. Because if this did not exist, hopefully you would still be doing what you're doing and be proud of it. Definitely. Thank you, Tetyana, how can people contact you or connect with you? So being a media? Well, yes, I am quite heavily on social media. So I'm on Twitter. As Tetyanawrites, I am on Instagram. As Tetyanawrites, I have a website, Tetyanadenford.com , which has book updates, other updates, places you can buy my books. I am on YouTube with the craft and business of books, which is a show that interviews editors, agents, authors about what the process is to be either self published, traditionally published kind of lifts the lid and goes behind the scenes, which I very much enjoy. And I think it's been in development for a while. And I'm going to create little courses for people on self publishing. And also, if you're going to approach agents to get traditionally published, I'm going to cover things like how to motivate yourself, what drafting is, like, how to set up query letters, how to carry yourself on your social media as somebody who wants to be taken seriously as an author. So all of all of that I'm like really excited to do there'll be like little mini courses, maybe half an hour long. So and it's basically an offshoot of the craft and business of books. So if people go on to their they'll get a sense of kind of what I'm like, brilliant. Thank you so much. Oh, you're welcome. This has been a joy. Thank you for me too. Creativity found isn't openstage Arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please subscribe, rate and review. If you would like to contribute to future episodes, visit K O hyphen F phi.com/creativity found podcast. If you contact any of the artists featured, sign up to their workshops or buy their products don't forget to mention creativity found podcast on Instagram or Facebook. Follow us at creativity found podcast where you'll find photos of our contributors artwork and be kept abreast of everything we're up to