Interview with Frances Mensah Williams, novelist, executive coach and consultant
Frances Mensah Williams is a novelist, executive coach and consultant. She is the author of the FROM PASTA TO PIGFOOT romance series.
Selected by WH Smith as one of the top 25 of its 100 Summer Reads, FROM PASTA TO PIGFOOT explores contemporary middle-class Africa and the humorous clash of cultures arising from mixing English cream with African spice.
An award-winning entrepreneur and Executive Coach, Frances has also written two non-fiction careers books.
What’s your career background?
My professional background is Human Resources Management, and over the years I worked for companies in the UK as well as two banks in Ghana, West Africa. I held senior roles and really enjoyed the challenge and variety.
Although I’d never really considered working for myself, I eventually made the decision that I needed a change. As I couldn’t find a job that I really wanted and which fitted in with my responsibilities as a mother, I decided to set up my own consulting, training and coaching organisation.
Working for myself also gave me the opportunity to focus on writing and I published two non-fiction books before turning to writing novels.
How did your career change after having children?
Having children totally changed my priorities. It was a key reason for wanting to leave the ‘9 to 5’ and create a more flexible set of career activities on my own terms.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My business idea was a natural extension of my career background and my interest in training and coaching people. However, becoming a novelist felt even more natural. I’ve been scribbling stories since I was a child, and to see my work develop into books was absolutely mind blowing!
How did you move from idea to actual business?
With my ‘corporate’ business, it was all about creating a business plan and talking to lots of people to get ideas about how to avoid the pitfalls. For my writing career, I had to invest time to write the books, work with editors and really understand how publishing works.
There are various options available to authors and as a hybrid author, I’ve had novels published by a traditional publishing house, but also independently published non-fiction and now fiction. It’s been a huge learning curve, but really rewarding as I’m investing in my own business once again.
What’s your USP?
I think what sets my books apart is that I write stories that take traditional British women’s commercial fiction – or rom-coms, if you like – into different settings. Contemporary Britain is so diverse, and my novels reflect that.
While my protagonists may not physically look like Bridget Jones, they are smart, sassy women of colour facing their own challenges and trying to attain their own goals. My latest novel, Imperfect Arrangements, for example, is set in Ghana and features the intertwined lives and loves of three best friends, one of whom is a British expat who’s taken a huge gamble by moving to Ghana with her husband to start her own PR business.
Who’s your target audience?
For my consulting and coaching, women (and men) trying to reach their professional goals and looking for guidance and support. As a writer, my target readers are (predominantly, but not solely) women who love feelgood stories that champion women, diverse and international settings, and a style of writing that explores important issues in a humorous and accessible way.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Most of my professional work comes through referrals and word of mouth. As an author, I try to keep up with social media to spread awareness of my books. My website has details of my books and I also send regular newsletters with updates to readers who register on the site to join my readers’ club.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
As an author and publisher, I try to invite book reviews, speak at literary and other events and engage with my readers. In terms of my other business, active networking has been invaluable.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I’m still trying to find balance between my different work paths and being a mother. Although my children are older, they still seem to need almost as much attention!
And your proudest moment so far?
Several, really. Launching my own business in 2003, seeing my first book on the shelf in WH Smith in 2015 (and watching people buy it!), and receiving a CBE in the 2020 New Year’s Honours list for the many projects and programmes I’ve led in the UK and Africa.
Why is work so important to you?
Writing allows me to fulfil my creativity and tell the kind of stories that I enjoy reading but really don’t see enough of. My coaching and training work allows me to contribute my bit to building skills and developing talent, particularly for young people.
Who inspires you?
My father, without a shadow of doubt. He’s incredibly hard-working (he didn’t retire until he was 85!), successful, smart, funny and the ultimate family man. I’m also inspired by successful Black women like Oprah Winfrey who have created their own path and taken ownership of their work.
How do you balance your work with your family?
Not very well, I’m afraid. That is still definitely a work in progress.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
I’ll focus on the writing, here. If you love the idea of writing, I’d encourage you to just do it. Too many times, we dream about something and never get around to making it happen. So, go ahead and put pen to paper, and let your imagination soar.
Secondly, be ready to work long and hard, to seize time whenever you can get it, even if it means cutting back on some of your socialising.
Thirdly, read a lot! The best writers read in their genre and know what readers expect and enjoy. In my case, my readers love reading about women who learn about themselves, face challenges and grow – with a bit of humour and spice thrown in for good measure!
You can find out more about Frances on her website.