No Walk in the Park - Jemma Chawla on Self-Publishing

Mother, Poet and Mum Poet Club Member Jemma Chawla (@new_stanza) shares with us how she came to publish her debut poetry collection: No Walk In The Park – Stumbling Through Motherhood.

 It was September 2020. The combination of being mid pandemic and the stark realisation that my firstborn was about to start school was what really pushed me into writing. I had dabbled as a child with basic poetry and short stories, and as an early teen I would often scribble down lyrics for songs (in my head they were the next Top Of The Pops hits… never made it). But this time, as an adult, I had found an outlet that was unbelievably cathartic.

I wrote about a variety of experiences, from light-hearted happy memories to much deeper, darker moments as I attempted to process emotions from past trauma. But consistently I found myself coming back to the ups and downs of motherhood itself.

My notes app on my phone initially housed these words… verbal tears and emotions poured out. And it was a little while before I tentatively ventured online and created a poetry account – under a pen name, as I was nervous about the potential reaction from friends and family. But I shouldn’t have worried; they couldn’t have been more supportive when I started to share my work more openly with the world.

 I soon stumbled across the Mum Poem Press on Instagram and began writing to their prompts. I shared more and more online, experimenting with new forms and poetry styles. Amazingly, there were other Mothers in very similar situations doing exactly the same thing – who knew!?

 I jumped at the chance to sign up to the Mum Poet Club and began submitting my work for peer group feedback. This was (and still is) an extremely valuable tool for growing as a writer and improving my poetry.

 Newfound friendships developed and people started suggesting I collate my poems into an anthology. I was extremely flattered, but imposter syndrome rang loud and I didn’t really consider the idea seriously until my best friend Philippa Davies (also a professional copywriter, editor and children’s author) encouraged me to go for it. She also kindly offered to be my Editor should I decide to pursue the idea.

 I sat on it for a while. My Mum begged me to handwrite my poems into a chapbook (sorry Mum, never going to happen!). Then up popped some poets I really respected via a Mum Poem Press workshop (Samantha Nimmo, Author of Conversations with the Sun and Jen Feroze, Author of The Colour of Hope), who were offering tips and advice on how to publish your own book. They openly shared their inspirational journeys, shedding light on the whole process and jargon busting for us less experienced poets.

It was after this workshop that I finally decided to take the leap. And I thought, even if it’s just me and my Mum buying a copy, it will be worth it.

I chose the Amazon KDP route to self-publish my book. For me, the slick system, low upfront costs and reduced financial risk (compared to bulk printing and hoping I made sales) – as well as the distribution network – made it an ideal choice for my first attempt at publishing a collection.

The Amazon KDP suite has plenty of helpful resources, including tutorial videos and community forums. I found I was able to navigate the journey with minimal stress (apart from the night I tried loading my file and spent hours, in tears, desperately attempting to finalise the layout process, only to then read – at gone 1am – I had simply uploaded the wrong file type!).

There was lots of back and forth with my Editor (yes, I took Philippa up on her offer), where we ploughed through the document, discussing which poems to include (or leave out), making stylistic improvements,  finalising the format and polishing the grammar. This took a good few weeks, but Philippa was amazing and I couldn’t have done it without her. And I’ll be really honest – grammar is not my strong point. So I feel I’ve been on a mini crash-course with her during this project. En-dashes, em-dashes and hyphens, come at me!

I designed the cover myself using Canva. The image of my daughter and I felt like the right fit, as it has so many personal connotations for me (my son did ask where he was, and he’s inside the book FYI). Obviously it’s me and my daughter, with the treasured double buggy that was my saving grace when I had two under two. But I’m also walking towards the beach in my hometown of Whitley Bay. I miss the area deeply, plus this photo was taken during a summer of personal trauma and unexpected change – so it’s a poignant reminder for me that we made it through.

If you’re considering publishing, I would suggest reaching out to those in the community who already have. Everyone I personally spoke to offered a supportive ear and amazingly constructive words of experience. A few of you have mentioned that you may produce your own book, and I really hope you do. Imagine… a Mum Poem Press bookshelf stacked with different titles from the vast talent within our community – what a collection!

No Walk In The Park is an honest and moving collection of poems and prose about the highs and lows of being a Mum. From anxiety, depression, self-doubt, rage and loneliness to heart-warming nostalgia and moments of deep joy, Jemma’s debut anthology is the perfect companion to anyone who finds themselves… stumbling through motherhood.

You can order your copy of Jemma’s book here:

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