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By Sarah Gill
29th Oct 2022
Author’s Bookshelf: Melanie White on writing from real life experience, and creating her debut memoir, ‘Behind Ocean Lines’

Author and former superyacht crew member Melanie White on her favourite books, her writing process, and realising that her own day to day life was so bizarre and fascinating that other people wanted to read all about it.

Earlier this week, we shared an extract from Melanie White’s debut memoir, Behind Ocean Lines: The Invisible Price of Accommodating Luxury, and today we’re catching up with the author to hear all about the life experiences behind the words, the book she always comes back to, and the joy of being a friendly narrator.

Melanie White

Did you always want to be a writer/author?

Yes, but I guess not in an overt way. I loved creative writing as a child, and I’ve always regretted not reading English Literature at university. I always knew there was a book in me… but I expected it to be a novel, not a memoir!

What inspired you to start writing?

I tried (and failed) to write a novel in my early twenties. Thankfully I stopped writing the novel (it was awful) but kept journaling. Working in the luxury yachting industry, I realised what I was writing about in my daily life was so bizarre and fascinating that other people might actually want to read it. By the time I had 34,000 words, I – almost unintentionally – had the bones of a book!

Where did the idea for this book come from?

Real life! I started writing it for myself – to come to terms with the decline in my mental wellbeing, but by the time I finished I realised I was writing it for every person that wakes up and feels like they can’t do life anymore.

What comes first, the plot or the characters?

Characters. I am and will always be a people person. So my creative process is always surrounding the people. The plot is secondary.

Melanie White

What did you learn when writing this book?

That self-criticism gets me nowhere. My writing style is very chatty; sometimes I would wonder whether I should be intellectualising more or crafting “clever” sentences. But that just isn’t my style. Through the writing and editing process I was able to realise that no one can tell the story in the way that I can, because it is mine. That liberation helped me write however the hell I liked! Now I think my writing style helps make me a friendly narrator and easy to read. Some people have even expressed this in reviews! It’s funny how sometimes the things we initially see as flaws are really our gifts.

Three words to describe your writing process:

Indulgent, caffeinated, holy.

Do you have any quirky habits when writing?

I only write in 700-word blocks. It just works for me and I have no idea why. I get the best out of my writing and it alleviates the pressure of it needing to be perfect or long winded. It also stops me procrastinating.

The first book you remember reading is…

The BFG by Roald Dahl.

Your favourite Irish author is…

Marian Keyes. I don’t even think it’s her writing… it’s more her personality. (As I said before: people person!)

The book you gift everyone is…

Period Power by Maisie Hill.

Three books everyone should read:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The Choice by Dr Edith Eger

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Melanie White
Melanie White’s to-be-read pile

You overcome writer’s block by…

Going for a walk and returning to writing another day.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, mainly because I will just sing or think about the lyrics rather than write. I’m incredibly noise sensitive. Though music without lyrics is okay to write to, or coffee shop chatter.

The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…

An A4 beige Moleskine notebook that I was going to “write my novel in”. It’s 85% blank pages, saltwater damaged and has a poem about a lighthouse in the back. But I refuse to throw it out. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the beginning of my writing journey.

The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

A quote you love is…

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137)” – Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali

The book you always return to is…

The Shack by Wm Paul Young. It always gets me thinking, and I also love that it is a self-publishing success story. Imagine self-publishing and selling 1 million copies!?

Seeing your book in shops is…

Mind bending.

Melanie White

One book you wish you had written is…

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because the descriptive use of colour always gets me, but also Death being the narrator is just incredible.

How do you use social media as an author?

By sharing my daily life to my stories. I try to be as authentic as possible. I’m not one to batch create content and schedule it to post automatically. I’m not organised enough for that!

Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?

I think partially. Book covers really do matter. I worked with my publisher. She found the illustrator (Valentyna Cheshenko) and then we created a mood board, the two of us, to focus on what themes we wanted to come through, with which to brief the artist. We then tweaked and refined it collaboratively to get it to where it is now. I’m really happy with it.

Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?

I don’t find it hard because writing is what I fit into my spare time. I have to squeeze it in, which means there is always a time limit and that helps me stay productive!

The best advice you’ve ever gotten is:

Someone else can’t make you feel anything. Your emotions are your own.

Your work space is…

A café. Well, it was a café. But now I have a baby it is my kitchen table while he sleeps upstairs!

Your favourite literary character of all time is…

Sophie from The Sophie Stories series by Dick King-Smith. I used to listen to them as audio tapes as a child and I loved how determined and wild she was.

Behind Ocean Lines: The Invisible Price of Accommodating Luxury by Melanie White is on sale now.