SERIES / Themes & Premise

What is the Gist of Your Story? #17

A sound premise and compelling themes are undoubtedly the hallmarks of great writing. In another addition to the SERIES on literary themes and premise, I’d like you to join me in welcoming Sonia Marsh. She welcomes new friends, bloggers, writers and readers at: website /  Facebook / Twitter or email her at:

Author’s bio

story themesSonia Marsh is a “Gutsy” woman who can pack her carry-on and move to another country in one day. She’s a motivational speaker who inspires her audiences to get out of their comfort zone and take a risk. She says everyone has a “My Gutsy Story®” – some just need a little help to uncover theirs.

Her story, told in her travel memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island, is about chucking it all and uprooting her family—with teenagers— to reconnect on an island in Belize. Her memoir has received 7 Awards, including 1st Place, Gold Medal in “Autobiography/Memoir E-Lit Awards 2012/13.

Sonia has lived in many countries: Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, the U.S. and Belize, so she considers herself a citizen of the world. She holds a degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, U.K. and now lives in Southern California with her husband, Duke, and their rat terrier Cookie.

Sonia on her memoir

I have always wanted to become an international journalist as I’m curious and love to interview people from different parts of the world. Instead, I became a Gallup Poll questionnaire designer for European surveys.

Photo by OC Register Newspaper

Photo by OC Register Newspaper

After our family’s year of living in a hut in Belize, I knew I had a real story to tell that was unique and would spark people’s interest. When we returned to the U.S., I decided to take classes, attend writing conferences, and hire editors to mold my 660-page journal into a commercial travel memoir.

I like “connecting” with people and expressing my inner thoughts and honest feelings. I enjoy sharing part of myself and covering issues that I believe can either motivate or help people question and think about unconventional ways of taking action in life. If my memoir can empower one person to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk, I feel grateful to have connected with that person in some way.

The premise of Sonia’s story

Getting out of your comfort zone to a foreign country leads to emotional growth and change.

Sonia's Book Cover“A suburban family discovers that trading materialism for a simple life on a tropical island helps them reconnect in unexpected ways.”

Here is a brief synopsis that explains the premise.

What do you do when life in sunny Southern California starts to seem plastic, materialistic and just plain hellish?

For Sonia and Duke Marsh, the answer was to sell their worldly goods and move to an unspoiled, simpler life with their three sons in Belize, Central America, a third-world country without all the comforts and distractions of life in the developed world.

Sonia hopes the move will bring her shattered family back together. She feels her sons slipping away from her, and her overworked husband never has time for her or the boys.

This is the story of one family’s search for paradise. In her memoir, Sonia chronicles a year of defeats, fears and setbacks, and also the ultimate triumph of seeing once-frayed family ties grow back stronger from shared challenges and misfortunes. For Sonia, paradise turned out not to be a place, but an appreciation of life’s simple pleasures: a close-knit family and three well-adjusted sons with a global outlook on life.

The themes that drive Sonia’s story

  • The unconventional life
  • Escaping the materialistic world
  • Adapting to a new culture
  • Seeking adventure
  • Escaping the entitlement attitude of the developed world
  • Learning to live with less
  • Relationships
  • Family dynamics
  • Teenage defiance
  • The expat life
  • Searching for paradise
  • Reconnecting a family
  • Starting a business in a third-world country

Remember, effective book publicity relies on strong promotional messages, which are extracted from the themes contained in your writing that, collectively, make up the premise of the story. 

Promotional Opportunities for Sonia’s Book 

BookCoverFlipFlopsSunglassesI think it’s necessary to become a public speaker if you wish to sell your book. Most of us, including myself, are scared to do this, but if you attend conferences, listen to TED talks, and keep learning, your confidence will grow with time. We all make mistakes, including those whom we admire; the secret is to keep going and to adapt our strategies as we move along.  Here are some of the topics I cover during my presentations.

  • How to be “Gutsy” and Take Risks in Life
  • Life Lessons: How a Year in Belize, Changed My Family
  • How to Find Balance Within Your Family
  • How to Get Your Kids Away From Peer Pressures and Entitlement Attitudes.
  • From Materialism to Simplicity: Lessons Learned
  • Don’t Let Your Budget Get in the Way of Your Dreams
  • Be Gutsy: Live the Life You’ve Dreamed About
    • Be Gutsy and Find Your Passion
    • Secrets to Finding Your Paradise Within
    • Expat Life: What You Need to Know Before Living the Expat Life
    • How to Become a Gutsy Indie Publisher
    • Successful Blogging to Build Your Author Platform (your audience)

37 thoughts on “What is the Gist of Your Story? #17

  1. Sonia, it’s wonderful to have you grace the pages of My Rite of Passage again. You seem to be up to all kinds of new adventures in your life and career. Let us know where you’re at these days. I know you want to expand your public speaking platform.

    Thanks again for your contribution.

  2. Totally agree about public speaking, Sonia. I’ve sold stacks of books following speeches. To get beyond the anxiety, I approach each engagement as “just telling a few stories about growing up on the farm.” And I open the forum up to questions from the very beginning, asking the audience questions to get the dialogue flowing. The time flys by.

    • Hi Carol,

      Thanks for stopping by. Your comment is very encouraging. Can you list a few examples of venues/events to approach for book talks, please? How did you get these engagements you’re referring to?


    • Carol, Thanks for that information about speaking. I think I’ve made a few mistakes by giving away my entire book during a presentation. Now I’m thinking about changing the speech. Do you share a lot about yourself? How do you relate it to your audience?

      • I’ve been to one of Alexandra Fuller’s book signings (author of Don’t Let’s Go Out to the Dogs Tonight) and was so impressed by the way she just rambled on and on about her childhood in Africa and her eccentric mother without actually reading from the book.

          • Yes, I had the same experience regarding the endorsement of Out of Sync. I’ve even had that experience with some of my previous mentors, so I’ve developed a big issue with the ‘untouchable’ aspect of celebrities and ‘mentors.’ This is the one thing that’s so different in the Indie world; no-one is assuming they’re ‘above’ anyone else.

  3. What an inspiration Sonia is and how helpful to have this list of topics. I need to make a similar list to put on my website. I think speaking on topics related to the book but not directly about the book work best. At least I enjoy them most. If we give audiences inspiration and helpful stories they can use themselves, we don’t have to sell books. They will buy the book as a result of enjoying the talk.

    Would you agree?

    Thanks, Belinda, for a useful post to all of us about to plunge in to the speaking circuit.

    • Shirley, I definitely agree with you about the principle of speaking on related topics as opposed to a hard-sell of the book – that’s why it’s important for writers to identify the main themes of their story and know the needs of their target audiences.

      Thanks for stopping by, and please stay in touch.

    • Shirley,

      You’re so right. I mentioned to Carol, above, that I was giving my entire book away, as I didn’t want people to feel “cheated.” Now I know that’s a mistake I need to correct. Can’t wait to hear your speeches on YouTube.

  4. Sonia … a nice summary. I think you’ve done an excellent of identifying some strong themes, both in the book and in your presentation. The benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone and how easy it is to do more with less come through very effectively. Well done!

  5. Sonia is a trailblazer and a gutsy woman extraordinaire who has already inspired me and given me so many tips on how to market my own memoir and speak up for myself. I keep hoping our paths will cross one day. And that goes for you, too, Belinda. Oh, the stories we three could share as ex pats bringing our unique experiences and viewpoints to the table! Write on my gutsy friends.

  6. Sonia, I remember when you were starting out and even then you were way ahead of the pack with your enthusiasm, perseverance and spirit of adventure.Now, look at you. You have paved the way for all of us and are continually showing us the benefits of stepping out of our comfort zones and being gutsy. I see how public speaking has helped you to get your message out in a very effective way. When people get excited about your message ( and the color turquoise!), they naturally want to read your book. You have built your marketing platform around your themes. I hereby dub you “The Marketing Maven of Memoir” :-) Thank you for showing us the way.

    Belinda , I can’t say enough about how informative and inspiring this series has been. I see an e-book on themes in your future!. Thank you for featuring Sonia.

    • My dear Kathy, you too are a great inspiration and your book has not even been published – that tells me it’s going to be a winner! Yes, I’m thinking of some kind of case study publication … got a couple more topics to explore, though I think I might only do that after my upcoming vacation :)

  7. It looks like my site might be having trouble. Sonia is trying to access my blog to reply to everyone’s comment and she’s not being successful. I’m also having the same trouble on someone else’s blog. I’m posting in as an outsider now to try and determine what’s going on here at WordPress.

      • Belinda,

        I’ve had the same problem with people not being able to comment since 7/11 in the evening?? Maybe it is a WordPress issue. So frustrating and hope it gets resolved soon.


        Sent from my iPad

        • Yes, I know – I’ve now tried four times on your blog! Have you recently changed anything about your blog? In the past I used to ‘sign in’ to your blog, but now as soon as I click on ‘reply’ it automatically recognizes my WordPress identity, provided I’m signed in at the time, of course.

          Kathy, thanks for letting me know; I was thinking maybe the problem is on my side, but I agree with you that it must be a WordPress gremlin. And it’s not easy to contact them, because their site guides you to a user’s forum instead of giving you the ability to send an email to a ‘Help’ center. Ugh!!

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  9. ‘Gutsy’ is a very telling word and a perfect descriptor for Sonia. T^his post brings up so many important points about life and the way so many of us succumb to the mundane pressures and demands instead of reaching out and taking control of our own destiny. I love it!

    ‘Stepping out of her comfort zone’ amused me as that’s how i felt coming back to UK after years working and living much as she had in Belize, in simplicity. Europe is all rush and pressure and even now, years later, I still don’t really feel at home here. A bit of me will forever roam free in the desert or the African bush, where life is vibrant all around you and the spirits fizz in the atmosphere.

    As Sonia so rightly says, Paradise is a state of mind. It’s all about attitudes and expectations. A bit of poverty does everyone some good and having to do without isn’t really difficult, it’s just a different paradigm.

    You’re so right about the need for public speaking, Sonia, and it needn’t be stressful. So many people convince themselves they’re not good at it and so it becomes a problem. The secret is to imagine yourself talking to your best friend, (350 times over). She’s always easy to talk to and you have no problems. So do that when you get up on stage. It works a dream.

    By the way, what are TED talks?

  10. Hi Ian,

    Sonia is The Book Promo Chief; she recently got Costco (a major US wholesale/retailer) to stock her book. You should submit a Gutsy Story to her series.

    There’s some information about TED below. There’s an annual conference in Scotland – you should go … an opportunity to wear your kilt. :)

    “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.”

    I hope your book sales are doing well.

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  12. Wow! That experience sounds so gutsy. I’m glad you wrote it all down so non-gutsy people like me can read it and wonder how you stayed sane.

I welcome comments, and I always respond.

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