Straight from London comes Daphne Kapsali, a writer, a reluctant yogi, an eternal optimist, and an avid coffee drinker. Although born in Athens, Greece, she identifies as a Londoner. A Londoner who wasn’t afraid to redefine herself as a writer, giving up everything to spend 100 days of solitude on a small island in order to learn exactly what that meant.
Check out what she had to tell us below:
Your first book, “100 days of solitude“ was written while you spent several months isolated on a remote Greek Island. Can you tell us a little more about what inspired this project?
It all began in the spring of 2014, when I decided to it was time to stop talking about writing and actually do it. I quit my job in London, stored all my things in my friend’s attic, and moved to Greece (because I have family there, so I could stay rent-free), to try living as a writer for a few months. This eventually brought me to a small island called Sifnos, where we usually spend our holidays, and the idea of staying past the end of the summer, on my own, in order to write full time. The plan was to write a novel, but I needed a way to get started and some measure of accountability in order to ensure I wrote regularly, so I set up a blog, called it “100 days of solitude”, and promised my imaginary readers that I’d write a post every day, for 100 consecutive days. Except, by some crazy stroke of luck, I had actual readers, even from Day 1, and the project gained momentum, and what began as an exercise in self-discipline became the writing I did every day, and eventually turned into a book.
The book tells 100 different stories about your life there. Are these stories all nonfiction? A type of memoir? A self-help book? Or simply a mixture of a little bit of everything?
“100 days” is a strange book, and I always struggle to describe it. It’s partly because of the way it came together, completely unplanned and, as a result, unrestricted by form or style or any expectations. It’s not a journal, and not quite a memoir; it’s mostly true accounts of my experiences while living in Sifnos, but certain parts are fictionalised or embellished. Some posts are just thoughts that occurred to me, and I followed to wherever they took me. It was never meant to be self-help, but many of my readers are treating it that way, and I can see why. The issue at its core is taking the space and time to be yourself, to figure out what’s important to you and what you can do without, and find a way to live the life you want and do what you love. But it’s not about me teaching anyone anything; it’s me learning all these things first hand, through this experience of living alone in an unfamiliar environment. So yes, I think you’re right: it’s a little bit of everything, thrown together.
People often say that they would love to write if only they had the time. You made your own time. But are you worried at all about what will happen when you’re off the island for awhile and faced with the distractions and noise of the city again?
Yes. I’m actually back in London now, and I’m faced with this challenge every day. How do you avoid falling back into old routines and habits, and getting caught up in the city mentality? I’ve been back a month and I’m resisting, but I can feel myself being drawn into that default state of stress. And it is stressful, because I don’t actually know how to sustain a full-time writer lifestyle in London. But I’m determined to make it work. I think the trick is in how you set your life up. We often try to fit the important things (like writing) in around our regular, “making a living” activities, and it just doesn’t work. I had to take my life completely apart and put it back together, with writing at its centre. And now, everything else needs to fit around that. And it will work, because it has to. Because I can’t imagine going back to a life that’s centred on just paying the rent, and dreaming of the “one day” when I’ll have time to write.
On your site you say that #100daysforeveryone “simply stands for claiming the space and time you need to find yourself.” Do you feel like solitude is necessary in order to be your most authentic self?
Not at all. Not physically, anyway. I don’t think you have to take yourself away from everything and everyone in order to figure out who you really are. But you need to find that space somehow, within your own life, in the way that you can. To turn off the noise of other people’s preconceptions and expectations for a little while, so you can confront your own. To give yourself the time and the permission to question and re-evaluate certain things that you take for granted, and make changes. And it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as taking yourself off to remote islands. You could just go for a walk. You could disappear inside your own head for a little while. Whatever works for you and the circumstances of your life.
Was there anything about living a solitary life that really came as a surprise to you?
I think it’s fair to say most things came as a surprise to me during that experience. The first shock was that it was a lot easier than I expected. I’m very good at being on my own, but it seems I’m even better at it than I thought! But also, and in contradiction to this, I was surprised by how un-solitary my solitary life turned out to be. There was very little loneliness. I was connected to the entire world through the internet and the phone, and my anti-social self met her sociable counterpart, as the lack of an established social circle to fall back on (and hide within) forced to open up to new people and experiences. I’ve always considered myself quite shy, but by the end of my stay on the island I was talking to everyone! So overall, the biggest surprise was being surprised by myself. Being faced with my own preconceptions about myself and the world, and realising that none of them were set in stone.
You call yourself a reluctant yogi and even have a book out titled, “This Reluctant Yogi: Everyday adventures in the yoga world.” What does it mean to be a reluctant yogi?
In simple terms, I love yoga, and I know it does me all kinds of good, in all kinds of ways, but I’m sometimes very reluctant to actually do it. On a deeper level, the Reluctant Yogi thing is a reaction to the extremes people often go to when they come to yoga, extremes that are just not sustainable, or even useful, within the context of our Western lives. To me, being a yogi is more about finding a balance within yourself, looking after yourself mind, body and spirit, so that you can be a positive presence in the lives of those you come into contact with, then going to class seven days a week, standing on your head and eating raw leaves while chanting in Sanskrit.
You are your own publisher, marketer, agent, and PR department. That’s a lot of hats to wear. What do you find to be the most difficult part of the whole process?
For me, personally, it’s the promotional and marketing part. Talking myself up doesn’t come naturally to me at all, and I really don’t like attention, but being an independent author means self-promoting shamelessly and relentlessly, if you want to have any hope of selling your books. The reclusive author fantasy ends here, at the point where you put your work out there. You have to be out there with it, fighting its corner, as uncomfortable as it makes you feel.
What advice would you give to authors who are attempting to go through the publishing process alone?
Let go of the fantasies now! Finishing a book, seeing it listed on Amazon, holding the first paperback copy – that’s all very exciting stuff, but the rest of it is nothing like you might expect. And it’s very easy to become disheartened if you keep holding on to those expectations. I was shocked by how much work was involved in promoting my books; like most of us, I had thought writing the things was the hard part! The way I’ve dealt with it is to turn it around, and embrace the marketing as just another part of being a writer. I do it enthusiastically and I do it with love and, most importantly, I do it as myself, in my own way, rather than just blindly following marketing formulas. And I look at it as an adventure, a learning experience in itself.
Another thing I’d say is don’t do it alone. I’m lucky enough to have the skills to do my own editing, typesetting and cover design (and even so, my books are still flawed), and even luckier that I have a very supportive boyfriend who’s been through the whole process with me. But if you don’t have the skills, delegate. Find the right people to take on the tasks you’re not proficient in, and give your book its best chance. Cover design matters. Descriptions matter. Good spelling and punctuation matter! Don’t get sloppy at the last minute, and don’t attempt to take on everything yourself. And try to have people around you who’ll support you, and take an interest in what you’re doing. You’ll need that, in the low moments. We all need that, regardless of what we do.
How do you find your courage? A lot of new writers are scared of putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. What advice would you give to them?
I’ve been called “brave” several times since I started on this journey; I always say I’m not brave, I’m lucky because this is the best thing I ever did. It does take courage to make changes, to step out of the known and into the uncertain but, actually, living a life that doesn’t quite make you happy is a lot harder than at least trying for the things you want. And judgement from other people is nothing compared to how we judge ourselves – for not putting ourselves out there, for not taking the chance. I have a theory that everything works out once you start doing the right things for yourself, and it’s been that way for me: ever since I started on this path, everything has literally fallen into place. And it’s not because I’m particularly special: I’m just someone who, at some point, may a choice to try. I don’t think there is any excuse for not trying.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
These days, I’m spending most of my time promoting my books on the social media, and trying to come up with new marketing strategies. I have a few ideas about new writing projects that are going round and round in my head, but I don’t think they’re ready to come out yet. So I’ve no idea what’s next, but I’m really looking forward to finding out!
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
A very tentative bit of advice, from someone with no particular qualifications to give it: find out what it is that makes you happy, and do it. Whatever it is.
This interview was definitely one of the most inspiring we’ve done. When most would doubt themselves, and question their path, Kapsali flourished. Rather than doubting, she took the time to put things into perspective, and she came out better on the other side.