Saturday, November 29, 2014

Interview with Mary-Lou Stephens, author of How To Stay Married

Mary-Lou Stephens studied acting and played in bands before she got a proper job -in radio. She writes whenever she's not behind the microphone or heading off to a meditation retreat.

Mary-Lou has garnered rave reviews for her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation, the true story of how she changed her life, saved her job and found a husband, all with the help of meditation. She lives in Australia with that very same husband, their dog and a hive of killer native bees. 

How To Stay Married is the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation and is the truth behind the happy ending.

Mary-Lou is a blogger for The Huffington Post, a columnist for Holistic Bliss and a regular at writing festivals and events.

Visit Mary-Lou’s website at

Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a radio presenter for the ABC on the beautiful Sunshine Coast, the Australian one not the Canadian one. I also love to cook, except for the times when I have to.

When did you start writing?

I wrote songs for years when I used to play in bands. I didn’t think about writing prose until about 12 years ago when I went on an overseas holiday and came back with a few out of focus photos taken on a disposable camera. A friend said “Clearly photography’s not your thing. Why don’t you write about your holiday instead?” So I did and I’ve been writing ever since.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

Taking six months leave without pay to write. Up until then I’d written newspaper columns and short stories but never anything longer. I wanted to know whether I could write an entire book and then having done so if I ever wanted to do it again. The answer to both questions was yes. Oh, and landing my first publishing deal that was definitely pivotal.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I’d return to Chamonix-Mount Blanc. I live by the ocean in a flat country. We have hills but not really any mountains. Chamonix-Mount Blanc is the opposite of the geography I live and work in, the balmy sunny days, the endless sandy beaches. I love the drama of the alps and the extremes of the seasons. Those giddy heights, the different languages. And the Orangina.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

Walk on the beach for an hour, read for another, write for an extra hour and then do as little as possible for that last remaining delicious hour.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I have plans for three novels at present. One set in Scotland, one in New York City and the other in the wilderness of south west Tasmania.

Back to your present book, How To Stay Married, how did you publish it?

I guess I’m what you’d call a hybrid author. My first book was with a major publisher and now I’m self publishing How To Stay Married. I’m thrilled about it. I’ve been on a steep learning curve and I’ve had lots of help along the way. One of my frustrations with Sex, Drugs and Meditation was, and still is, that I had no control over the pricing of the ebook. My publisher has never done a special on it or dropped the price. I’m in negotiations to have my World erights revert to me so that I can tie it in with How To Stay Married, do bundles and specials and deliver value to my readers.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

Yes, around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand, all with cabin luggage only. When my husband and I returned home my friends told me I should write a book about how to travel light. I didn’t think that subject alone would make an interesting book until I saw it as a metaphor for my marriage.

Why was writing How To Stay Married so important to you?

When I read self-help books I turn straight to the case studies, the stories. I think human beings are hard-wired for stories, we love them. When I realised my life read like one of those case studies I wondered if other people would be interested in my story. My early attempts to write my first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation weren’t successful. A literary agent read some of it, saw potential but told me I had to get really, really honest if I was to continue. I wasn’t brave enough at the time so put the manuscript away and write a novel instead. When I found my courage I rewrote Sex, Drugs and Meditation and eventually landed a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan. How To Stay Married is the sequel.

Once again How To Stay Married, is a brave and personal book. It touches on areas in a relationship that not many people have the courage to expose. My husband has been my biggest supporter. He gave me permission to write anything I needed to, even though some of it was very tough on him. I’ve been toughest on myself though, often not painting myself in a very good light, but that’s what being honest is about.

Our early married life was a nightmare to tell you the truth. But the lessons I learnt and the hurdles we overcame to get to where we are now make fascinating reading. We’ve just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary and are happier than ever.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

Meditation has been the biggest source of my creativity. In the fast-paced world we live in we don’t give ourselves time to sit and do nothing. Meditation is the perfect excuse. In that doing nothing time the mind has the chance to unfurl and imagine. Yes, I know in meditation we’re supposed to observe the thoughts and let them go. But why not benefit from those thoughts before letting them go.

Any final words?

My wish for my readers and the ones they love is for happy trails and many adventures along the way.
While How to Stay Married isn’t your regular ‘how-to’ book, it is about creating the kind of relationship you want.  There’s a list of Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage (and one from my mum) at the end of the book and by the time you’ve read the book you’ve seen how these tips have played out in my own relationship. But really it’s the tip from my mum that sums it up best:

On her deathbed my mother gave our marriage her blessing. “Remember darling,” she said. “Love is a decision. Every day you make the decision to love the person you’re with. Keep making that decision every day and you’ll have a long and happy marriage, even when it’s not all that happy.”
With the help of all these tips and with everything we’ve learned, The Hubby and I continue on our journey with hope and with love.

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