As a former UN peacekeeper, Lesleyanne served in Visoko, Bosnia in 1993/94. There she helped a friend send food to a young boy in Srebrenica. When the Canadian military pulled out of Srebrenica in March 1994, he sent her a green licence plate from the town as a gift. In the years that followed, Lesleyanne often wondered whether he survived the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. Grounded in historical events, Braco is her exploration of the boy’s possible fate.
I first met Lesleyanne two years ago when I had the great privilege of reading the first chapter of Braco as part of a writing workshop with Paul Butler. Her skill as an author was obvious, even with an unpolished draft. Her images are shockingly vivid, her writing style clean and uncluttered. And thankfully she knows when to step aside and let this compelling story tell itself.
So why then did she have so much trouble getting it published? I spoke with Lesleyanne recently to discuss just that.
When did you start writing Braco?
It started as a writing assignment for a university course – it was actually Lisa Moore who suggested that I turn it into a novel. So in July 2008, I sat down and wrote the complete first draft in three weeks. I spent the next two years revising it through various writing workshops and mentorships.
I know at one point you had an agent. Tell me a bit about that.
Well by summer 2010, I had a complete manuscript and was ready to start looking for an agent. In fact, the first query letter I sent out turned into an offer of representation from a major literary firm in Canada. I signed a contract and within a week my book was being shopped around to the big publishing houses in New York.
Some expressed interest and asked to read it. Unfortunately it was presented to them as a “Bosnian Kite Runner” – which it isn’t and it may have affected their take on the novel. It didn’t get picked up.
Were you given input into the marketing of your book?
No, not really. It all happened so fast … the agent suggested some rewrites based on the publishers’ feedback. I did make them – in fact I spent months editing and revising the manuscript. But it didn’t work. By January 2011, I parted ways with the agency and put the book aside for a while. I was pretty discouraged.
How did you connect with Breakwater Books?
While I considered pursuing another agent, I entered the Fresh Fish competition in June 2011, and won! I was actually in a McDonald’s in New Zealand a few months later, checking email on their free wifi, when I got a message from Breakwater Books asking me to come in to discuss getting the book published. They’d heard about it through Fresh Fish.
Had you ever considered self-publishing?
No, not really. My manuscript had gotten such positive reviews that I wanted to give traditional publishing a real chance first. I had planned to find another agent and try with some of the smaller publishing houses. Now Braco is going to the Frankfurt Book Fair – we’re hoping to pick up a foreign distributor.
You’ve had quite a publishing adventure – what advice would you give aspiring authors?
First, take lots of writing workshops and courses. It’s a great way to improve writing skills and meet other authors. Also, enter lots of contests – this will help you build your resume and get your name around.
And finally, what book are you reading now?
October 13, 2012: Coles, Avalon Mall (1:00-3:00pm) and Chapters, Kenmount Road (3:30-5:30pm)
October 27, 2012: Coles, Village Mall (1:00-3:00pm)
November 4, 2012: Costco, Stavanger Drive (2:00-4:00pm)