NATALIE VELLACOTT: I COULDN’T LIVE BACK IN THE WEST
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Natalie Vellacott released her first novel They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? in August. It’s a non-fiction story, which is taking place in Philippines. Don’t you know much about this part of the planet and how the life is rolling? Let’s get some clues in our next feature author interview.
– What is your book They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? about?
– It is my true story detailing how I boarded the Logos Hope Missionary Ship in 2011 and was forever changed when, in the Philippines, I unexpectedly encountered and fell in love with a group of street teenage boys addicted to a solvent called “rugby.” The book details the highlights and lowlights, ups and downs, trials and tribulations, successes and failures of myself with other Logos Hope crew as we defied local attitudes to slowly and carefully befriend this sidelined and often detested minority. You will read of hospital visitations, breaches of trust, criminal activity, gang fights and numerous disappointments, but ultimately you will read of the changes in the lives of just a few of the boys who decided to leave the street and the solvents for better future lives. It goes without saying that these small changes made the heartache and struggles worthwhile. A true story of Christian hope being brought to the hopeless in the Philippines. . .
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I felt that the story needed to be shared in order to try and inspire and encourage other people to get involved in helping those in the Philippines and in other countries. Solvent abuse is rampant in third world countries as it temporarily gives relief from hunger pangs. I also wanted to find a sustainable source of income for my charity to continue supporting the boys that are the subject of the book. For this reason all the author royalties go straight to my charity “Olongapo Christian Help and Hope.” I felt that the story was fairly unique as I hadn’t read anything like it before and I wanted to share the successes and failures with others who might also want to try and help these boys. I also wanted to encourage Churches to be more involved in helping these children and to try and start to change local attitudes that these boys are a nuisance or a bllght to society.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– I think it was trying to find the right balance between giving a lot of detail to keep readers interested but also protecting the boys confidentiality. This was partly why I changed the names of the boys. Also balancing how much to reveal of my own heart and emotions and potentially exposing too much especially as I have included my own personal testimony at the end of the book. The feedback from one of my pre publication readers was that in places my own emotions were too explicit and that I should tone it down a little as it was obvious how I would’ve been feeling due to the circumstances described. This was good advice and I followed it.
– Which is the tougher part of writing a non-fiction novel?
– Doing the story justice and ensuring I reflected events accurately. This was especially hard as I hadn’t kept a journal or diary so I had to try and recall small important details from memory alone. I had sent bi-monthly newsletters to my supporters in England so I used some pointers from these to jog my memory but it was still hard especially remembering the order of events.
– Tell us something more about your main characters?
– There are around 15 main characters in my book with some appearing more frequently than others. After our initial work with the boys we were left with a core group of around 8 boys that we continued to work with beginning a feeding ministry and other longer term options for them. Paul was probably the boy I was closest to and I’m still working with him in Olongapo now. In fact our charity has recently rented a house for him and another boy Joel to live in. There are details and updates about all of the characters on our website in the section “Rugby Boys News”
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– Actually not very long. I had some unexpected free time in April this year so I probably wrote the first draft within a month. Although I was in the Philippines at the time I have a brother in law who works in IT and a sister who trained in Graphic Design. I sent them the documents probably in May or June and they did the research and publishing part for me via Lulu.com in early August after all the final editing etc.
– Who are you?
– I am a 33 year old female from West Sussex in England. I enjoy reading, writing and all types of sport and other outdoor activity. I also enjoy watching police and crime drama series on TV.
I am now an Independent Christian Missionary Evangelist currently living and working amongst street homeless people and solvent abusers in the Philippines. I was a Police officer in the UK for 10 years before i left my job to join the Logos Hope Christian Missionary Ship in 2011 and later returned to the Philippines to continue the work that started when I was on the ship.
– What are your writing habits?
– I tend to spend a long time thinking about whether I should write a book but once I decide to do it I just keep writing until it’s finished sometimes staying up late at night. I think a book flows more naturally if there are not as many stops and starts. This is especially true in non-fiction and as it is a true story I try and put myself back into the events and remember them as they occurred.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book?
– Not yet really. I have had very positive reviews from everyone who has read it, Christians and non-Christians, which surprised me, but I still feel as if I’m waiting for that big break as I think if I had the visibility people really would enjoy reading my story. I am grateful to those who have purchased and read the book already though. I’ve also only recently released some Ebooks and at the moment they are all PDF only. I’m still working on this as I’m not really very technical. I hope when this is sorted it might increase sales. I also have just agreed my audio version of the book which will be completed early next year.
– You are planning your next book to be once again a non-fiction, about your work in Sussex police. Tell us more about the project?
– After writing my first book and hearing peoples comments the recurring feedback was that it was very “readable.” My newsletters also received similar feedback. This encouraged me to write about my police experiences which were often very entertaining and at other times very difficult to deal with. My new book isn’t meant to “expose” the police but it will uncover a lot of the bureaucracy and nonsense that goes on behind the scenes. I hope people will find my stories amusing as I have included many mistakes that I made personally which sometimes caused chaos. I have finished the manuscript and am awaiting feedback from 3 current officers who are reviewing it. I am also seeking a Traditional Christian Publisher this time so that I have a comparison with Self Publishing.
I am also beginning to write a sequel about the “rugby boys” with “what happened next?” as this is the question I am most frequently asked.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– In relation to my first book I’m using social media networks mainly because I’m in the Philippines so I can’t do much on the ground. Actually my book isn’t yet available in the Philippines which is one barrier that I’m hoping to overcome soon. I was in the UK recently and was interviewed by my local radio station as well as local newspapers. I also sent promotional material to all of the independent book shops that I could find in the country. I have sent a few hard copies for reviews in some magazines and am waiting for a Wholesaler to consider stocking my book.
I am also running a Giveaway on Goodreads now which ends at the end of November!
In relation to my second book. I am just blogging about it at the moment. I will release an excerpt from my book once a week via my Goodreads blog. I don’t want to send too much promotional material out yet as I’m not planning to publish it until next year as legal checks may need to be done first because of the subject matter.
– How you decide to work in Philippines?
– I may have answered this already but I volunteered to work for 2 years on a Christian Missionary Ship called Logos Hope. The ship travels around the world to bring Knowledge, Help and Hope to the people in each place. There are 400 volunteers from 65 different countries. I joined the ship in 2011 and in 2012 we spent time in the Philippines where I fell in love with the street teens, the people and the country. I had never heard of the Philippines when I joined the ship!
– You’ve been a Police Officer back in UK. What are the best and worst memories of such a dangerous job?
– Well really you should wait for my book or check out my blog to find out about this but I always found dealing with death very difficult especially road crashes as my younger brother died in a road accident in 2002. The best memories are definitely of working as part of a team or supervising a team as I became a Sergeant later on. There’s nothing quite like experiencing such a variety of things with colleagues who become good friends. And of course I LOVED the police driving.
– Not many of Europeans and Americans people know about the live in Philippines. Would you describe from your own experience the beauty and the ugly sides of this part of the planet Earth?
– Again I would encourage people to read my blog as I’m documenting the harsh realities of life here in the Philippines from a Western Viewpoint. The Filipinos can teach us a lot about community life, sharing when they have little and about faith. There are few atheists here and most people have never doubted the existence of God. The sad side is definitely the poverty and need everywhere you go. The government corruption means that there is no money available for healthcare and provision for the elderly or children. The frequent floods and typhoons wash peoples houses away and they have no money to rebuild them. It is a harsh reality yet the people remain cheerful.
Personally i couldn’t live back in the West as I would judge people unfairly due to the materialism and waste. I think people have to experience these things for themselves to really understand as watching them on TV you just become immune to it over time. I would encourage people to pay a visit.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
– What is the most important thing in your life and how does it affect your writing? I am a born again Christian which means that I believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay the penalty for the sin that I have committed and will commit. My faith is the most important thing in my life and motivates everything that I do. My books will always have an evangelistic message and contain my personal testimony in the hope that others will find what I believe to be true that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you WILL be saved.” (Romans 10 vs 9)
Take a look at her book:
They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know?