Back in 2017, Anna McNuff was on the edge of the world’s largest salt flats in Bolivia, researching poisonous bites on the Internet. Deep into a six-month, 5,500 km adventure across South America, her good friend and cycling partner Faye was screaming and hopping on one leg with a scorpion hanging from the end of her toe. “Back then, I knew as much as you do right now about what to do when your friend gets bitten by a scorpion,” Anna laughs.
The bite turned out to be harmless, and Anna couldn’t help but feel both relieved and grateful for the anecdote, which now lives on in her prize-winning book Llama Drama. The hilarious and heartfelt travelogue met stiff competition at the Kindle Storyteller Awards, but on 20 October, at the virtual prize ceremony, Anna was crowned 2020’s winner by Claudia Winkleman. “I was just so shocked,” Anna explains. “I’d muted my computer. I was waiting to clap and smile at the winner, and then… it was me!”
The Kindle Storyteller Award is a literary competition celebrating the outstanding writing of authors who self-publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The winner, selected by readers alongside a panel of expert judges, is awarded a prize of £20,000, plus mentoring support and a dedicated marketing campaign on Amazon.co.uk. This year, the judging panel included Claudia Winkleman, best-selling authors L.J. Ross and Mark Dawson, and last year’s winner, Ian W. Sainsbury.
A long journey
For Anna, the journey to this moment has been as long and hard-fought as any of her intrepid adventures. “I loved writing when I was little,” says the Gloucester-based author. “I have so many poetry books from when I was about eight years old. Once, I wrote a poem about Twiglets!” Growing up, she dreamed of going off to university and studying English to become a lauded author. “When I did my AS Levels, though, I got a D in English after getting an A* at GCSE,” she explains. “It shook my confidence, and I shelved all of my writing dreams.”
Fast-forward ten years, Anna found herself working in marketing. “One day, as I was trying to line up text boxes in a presentation, I had an epiphany,” she says. “I just thought - I’m not supposed to be here. I need adventure in my life.” Her first real adventure, riding through every US state on a pink bike, started to take shape in her mind. She took on a weekend job in a cycling shop, and worked seven days a week for nine months, saving up funds for her exuberant plan. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she recalls. “But it helped me answer a crucial question: just how badly do I want this? Badly enough, it turned out.”
As Anna settled into her new nomadic life, she found herself going back to her writing, keeping a blog as she travelled. “Suddenly, I had all of these stories to tell,” she says. She returned home determined to write a book, both as a way of processing what she had experienced and, hopefully, of funding her next trip. Despite being armed with a great story and a literary agent, Anna struggled to find a publisher. “It’s really disheartening to hear ‘no, it’s not for us’, or 'can you write a slightly different book?’” That was when she decided to give self-publishing a try.
Adventurer, speaker and mischief-maker
“In hindsight, those initial rejections were the best thing that’s happened to my writing career,” she laughs. “KDP was so liberating. I discovered that self-publishing suits my personality: you just roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. Plus, there’s always something to learn.”
Anna now boasts four published books in her oeuvre, three of which are dedicated to her explorations around the world. Her first book, The Pants of Perspective, was an early best seller, telling the tale of her 180-day solo running trip across New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometre-long Te Araroa Trail. She can now legitimately claim to make a living from her journeys, doing speaking and brand ambassador work alongside her writing. On her author page, her self-coined job description reads ‘adventurer, speaker and mischief-maker’.
Anna will be making the most of every opportunity that her recent win has afforded her. "The main challenge for a self-publisher is figuring out how to increase your visibility,” she explains. “The mentoring scheme Amazon has offered me will be very helpful in this respect.” But, for now, she is just taking some time to let her victory sink in and figure out what to do with the prize money. At seven and a half months pregnant, she beams as she considers future escapades: “One thing is for sure, we are going to need a camper van. Yes, we’re buying an adventure wagon!”