Last last year, I had a wonderful chance to interview Lisa Hale, who has been hard at work releasing her fantastic tale about a peculiar undersea creature. Aqua Maddas is certainly a labor of love, and you can see Hale’s passion’s come through. Below, you’ll be able to read about what the author has been inspried by, and what is coming next.
Tellest: Hi there, Lisa. I appreciate that you’re taking the time to talk with me. With all your undersea adventures, I’m sure it took some work to get you on dry land long enough to chat with me! In all seriousness, though, I’m looking forward to learning more about you and your new fantasy book.
Lisa Hale: Thank you for featuring me on Tellest.
T: So, your recently published book, Aqua Maddas, is obviously at least tangentially inspired by your obsession with undersea nature and your experiences there. But what really gave you the impetus to write a book about it?
LH: You’re absolutely right; I am obsessed with all things underwater. Honestly, I think everyone should be! The ocean is Earth’s last frontier of exploration; it’s weird, it’s beautiful, and we depend on it much more than we realise.
Freediving and snorkelling are my favourite ways to escape from the stresses of my land-life. Through exploring the sea, you feel as though you are in another world. However, I began to understand just how much damage humankind is doing to aquatic wildlife. On almost every dive, I have had to remove plastic rubbish and drinks cans.
During my psychotic episode last year, one of my delusional thoughts involved a belief that the ocean was ‘communicating’ with me and telling me that ‘nature’ had had enough. I felt like I needed to do something within my power to remind people of how beautiful and important the ocean is. The idea behind the aquatic humanoid, Aqua Maddas, was based on another delusion – I believed myself to be a sea creature, with a purpose to ‘save the ocean’.
This year, what with COVID restrictions hampering my travels, I could not do any snorkelling or freediving. I had always wanted to write and publish something, so I decided to combine notes from my psychotic episode with a need for an ocean escape. Then, I mixed that with my desire to raise awareness of how humanity can better protect the ocean. I also knew that so many cooped-up ocean lovers could use a refreshing break from reality. All these things are what motivated me to write Aqua Maddas.
T: Do you think you would have been able to—or have been inspired to—work on Aqua Maddas if it weren’t for the kind of world that we’re in now? Would it have come out eventually anyway?
LH: Even if 2020 weren’t full of lockdowns, I would have written the book anyway. Before the first lockdown, I was prepared to give up my usual weekends of socialising to complete Aqua Maddas. I admit lockdown did make it easier to focus by removing social temptations entirely.
T: Water and the sea aren’t the only inspirations for your book. There are a few shades of religious influence in the book as well. They don’t overwhelm the reader, mind you; it’s more a veil that lays over top of the story. What led to those elements being included in your story?
LH: I have Jewish ancestry on my Mother’s side, and while it’s something I’ve always been aware of, I had not looked into it too much until relatively recently. Indeed, in my teenage years, I experienced various forms of anti-Semitism upon revealing my Jewish heritage and felt it was something I needed to keep hidden.
In 2018, upon connecting with a few people from London’s Jewish community, I decided to research my ancestry. Looking through my Jewish family tree, I found so many incredible, inspiring and fascinating stories. My Mother’s side can be traced all the way back to the Sephardic Jews who were forced out of Portugal and Spain, to the rich history of Jewish Amsterdam, and to the fascinating lives lived in the Jewish East End of London.
The Jewish influences in my book are my way of subtly paying respect to those ancestors who fought so hard and struggled through so much adversity. I am very proud of my heritage, and publishing Aqua Maddas is my way of promising never to be silent about it again.
T: Aqua Maddas also explores some key mental health concepts. The book covers a lot of ground. Did you find anything challenging in the writing or the research?
LH: As mentioned previously, I had experienced delusional thoughts and psychosis. A bipolar manic episode triggered it, and I found myself hospitalised last year. Although writing and publishing Aqua Maddas was my way of ‘owning’ my recovery, it was tough to re-live some of the situations that feature in the book. Everything from the dangerous encounters with other patients, perceiving friends to be ocean creatures, and the challenges mental health nurses face are based on real, lived experiences. I hope that Aqua Maddas can reach others who have had similar ordeals and who could benefit from feeling less alone and isolated. There is still so much stigma attached to bipolar mania and psychosis, and I hope that talking openly about it will eventually break that stigma.
Regarding the historical stories; these were inspired by delusions about visiting particular events in the past. I was, and still am obsessed with influential people who have been forgotten about in modern history textbooks. Indeed, I carried out thorough research to provide good quality adventures to readers, and hopefully, I have provided some interesting insights.
T: So, you mentioned destigmatizing the psychotic break, and I think that feeds into a better understanding of and appreciation for mental health and what we do to preserve it and treat it. I also want to commend you for your honesty. I feel as though many people would hide their hurt, and it’s refreshing to see people who are willing to talk about things that other people might be going through on their own. Do you think Aqua Maddas has reached other people and helped them through some of their issues? Has anyone contacted you to let you know you’ve made a difference for them?
LH: Yes. When I first publicised Aqua Maddas, I began a journey of honesty regarding what I had experienced. Several people have since contacted me and thanked me for being so up-front. Sometimes it feels as though when people come to me and share similar experiences, they breathe a sigh of relief. Like, they are no longer alone. I’m trying to make it ‘normal’ to be open about psychosis, bipolar mania and delusions so that those who have been through it no longer have to feel isolated or ashamed. It happens to more people than you realise, so there really is no need to let stigma add even more suffering to an already challenging life experience.
T: Would you consider this first book as having come to a complete end, or is there room for some sort of follow-up? There’s a certain definitiveness to it, but also hints at something that goes just beyond.
LH: There’s definitely room for follow-up, and I am currently organising ideas for a sequel. Part two may include space exploration, a bit of time travel, and will expand on the Listener’s back-story. However, whether or not that sequel gets made depends on how well Aqua Maddas does. If enough readers want more, I will provide.
I am also currently working on a comedic fantasy novel that I plan to publish in the next two years. It may come sooner than planned due to the many boring lockdown weekends likely ahead of us.
T: It sounds like the comedic fantasy might be your next published piece. Is there anything you can tell readers about what they could expect there?
LH: So, no way would I compare myself to the talented, late Terry Pratchett. However, I am undoubtedly obsessed with his particular writing style and comedic fantasy in general. I’ve always wanted to write something to help people escape from reality and provide a good laugh in the process. Expect something with action and mysticism, but with much tongue-in-cheek dialogue1. I want the experience to feel as though you’re watching a couple of drunks playing a table-top warfare game.
1It may even include footnotes
T: What did you find more challenging: writing your story, beginning the publishing process, or the marketing?
LH: Writing my story was the most challenging. I’m not going to lie; it takes determination, discipline and sacrifice to create something that people will genuinely enjoy reading. There were dark days when re-living my hospitalisation got too much for me, but those were worth it now that readers tell me they appreciate my honesty and now feel less alone if they have had similar experiences.
The publishing process was certainly complicated – with getting the right front cover being the biggest challenge for me. I am incredibly grateful to have a friend in the talented designer Jacqueline Lau. She and her sister Jane Lau provided me with a fantastic cover, and I am very proud of their work. At this point, I should probably mention that I self-published through Amazon KDP, which I think is perhaps less stressful than traditional publishing. However, you have to do cover design, editing and marketing yourself or pay for freelance professionals.
Regarding marketing, this has been somewhat difficult too. I’m still learning about what works and what doesn’t. Again, perseverance is vital. Book reviewers like yourself do help a lot, I must say.
T: Even though you’re new to this, you’re doing a great job. You’ve experienced a lot of the process already, and you can see that you’re passionate about storytelling. Do you have any advice for others who are starting their own writing journey?
LH: Yes, I do. Firstly, decide on the backbone of your story and work out who would be your target audience. Then, importantly, commit to your writing and make time for brainstorming, daydreaming and weaving together your ideas. Finally, work out your publishing and marketing strategy and set yourself concrete deadlines for finishing your work. I have written about my writing and publishing process in my latest blog post if you would like some more detail:
T: This one is an important question: how long can you hold your breath while you’re freediving?
LH: I would certainly not consider myself an elite freediver, but I have managed a personal breath-hold record of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Although after lockdown, I dread to think what my abilities are now. Hopefully, I can still just about swim.
T: Where can people find out more about you and your stories?
LH: Here’s a list of places where you can find out more about me, my books and anything else I’m working on:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Maddas.Aqua
If you’d like to contact me, the best thing to do would be to send me a message via my Facebook page.
T: Lisa, thank you so much for spending your time letting folks know what makes you tick and giving us some insight into your work.
LH: Thank you for featuring me on Tellest! The world really is in our hands! 😉
Once again, I would like to thank Lisa for taking some time to chat about her latest book, those which are coming out soon, and everything in between. With everything going on in the world, it’s great that we are able to connect in ways like this, and I’m so appreciative of Lisa’s candor and advice.
Don’t forget to check out her new book, Aqua Maddas on Amazon today!