Welcome to the one hundred and fifty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with literary and women’s novelist, poet and article writer Elle Amberley. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Elle. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Elle: I’m bohemian at heart, I find it hard to settle anywhere after having lived in so many countries as a child. I homeschool my children partly because I want them to have a rounded education, one that isn’t limited by curriculum’s constraints but also because I can’t bear to be away from them for too long.
Morgen: Ah, that’s nice. I feel the same about my dog… not the quite the same I know but… You write a variety of genres, is there one you generally write and is there another genre you’ve not written but have considered?
Elle: I have written Literary but have switched to Women’s fiction for my current projects. I also write poetry and the odd article. If I get round to it I might write a children’s book one of these days, another project squatting my brain.
Morgen: I have a few of those. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Elle: Yes, I do. In fact, I’m using a new pen name for my current project. It would take a long time to explain the reasons for this, but by reading “Nowhere Left To Hide” you might get a clue. Let’s just say it started way back when I was in need of protecting myself.
Morgen: Well, I like the one you’ve chosen; it’s very women’s and literary… soft. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Elle: Yes, good question. I don’t know much about the process as my publishers take care of this. Many people say it’s very easy, I’m not so sure. I must admit I prefer paper books for the simple reason I spend enough time looking at a screen already. I’m not against it but I love bookshops.
Morgen: Me too. I always say I spend more time buying books than reading but I hope to free up some time next year to change that ratio. I’m also going through the eBook process so I’ll let you know. I’m quite teckie but whilst I would love “very easy” I’d be grateful for “easy”. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Elle: Yes, of course. You always wonder. Well, I do. I have a need to write. I’ll never get tired of readers getting back to you, such a wonderful feeling to know you’ve provided escape or touched someone through your writing. First acceptance to spring to mind is my teacher at school, praising and pushing. It didn’t mean anything to my parents but I was thrilled.
Morgen: “need to write” I love that (me too) and it started early. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Elle: We all do. I wish I was thick-skinned but I’m not. That’s life! You just have to get on with it.
Morgen: You do and really that’s the only way to handle them. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Elle: “Nowhere Left To Hide” is coming out this Autumn.
Morgen: It’s a lovely cover; simple. Very Dorothy Koomson.
Elle: My next project after that is a story based in Paris which I’m currently editing. I have another two on the go plus a French novel. I have far too many ideas popping up in my head, I file them until I can go back to them.
Morgen: Ditto. I have a dozen display books just filled with newspaper cuttings so that doesn’t include the scraps of paper that have my brain output on. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Elle: I do write most days. If I don’t get it out, it haunts me during the night until I switch the light back on. I have “manic” periods like last Christmas, I wrote the first draft of my Parisian novel in one week while we all had the flu. I was burning up but couldn’t stop.
Morgen: Wow. A NaNoWriMo in a week. This next question doesn’t sound like it applies but here goes… do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Elle: Writer’s what? LOL It must be dreadful. I dread it happening to me. I’d be devastated, lost.
Morgen: I’m lucky too. If I get stuck on something I switch to something else, writing or otherwise, and usually figure it out quite quickly. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Elle: I’m a messy writer, I have notes everywhere. I get an idea and it all just pours out. It’s a very emotional process. I get my best ideas while I’m in the shower or swimming. I once told this to a journalist and got sent a box of pens you can use in the shower by a fan. There’s a warning for you, be careful what you say… No seriously, it was really sweet!
Morgen: Oh wow. I got my first piece of ‘fan’ (e)mail the other day… I was truly thrilled. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Elle: It’s more of a vision. They live in me, through me.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Elle: My husband and my best friend who is also a novelist.
Morgen: Wow, how lucky are you? A live-in (and free) editor. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Elle: With time you find your style and rhythm.
Morgen: You do. It’s all about ‘practice’ (like painting / playing the piano). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Elle: I used to write my first drafts in notebooks. Now I pour it all on my Mac. I do some of the editing on paper though, I need the contrast.
Morgen: Ah, a fellow Mac owner. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Elle: I love Kings of Leon, but I have many favourites. I have far too eclectic tastes to list them all. Plus I have my secret desert island disc…
Morgen: Ooh… tell me later. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Elle: I like both, it depends on the story. I could write a story using second person but that would be for one special person only and it would have to be in French.
Morgen: Ah now you’re just showing off. (je parle un peu Francais mais mon allemand et espagnol son mieux). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Elle: Yes, but not for my current novels. I don’t use them very often as most people skip them. They need to be short and throw the reader in order to work, otherwise not much point really.
Morgen: They do. I used to skip the prologues until I wrote one but I admit I still skim them. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Elle: Favourite is writing, least favourite is all the promotional stuff. I love interacting with readers but dislike the “look at me, buy me” element.
Morgen: As do the readers. A LinkedIn thread once said ‘90% useful:10% promo’ and I’d say that’s a maximum. If I’m following someone on Twitter who has nothing else to say, I hit that ‘unfollow’ button without hesitation. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Elle: Discovering things about me and family members. Writing has provided “lightbulb” moments and given me better understanding.
Morgen: When I’m out and about I see everything as book covers now and always have my camera with me thinking “ooh that’s nice with lots of space for the title / name”. It does give you a different perspective, and of course listening in on other people’s conversations is dialogue development. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elle: Get on with the writing. Don’t get distracted by the Internet.
Morgen: er… guilty as charged.
Elle: Listen to your instinct and don’t believe everything you read.
Morgen: Unless it’s our fiction. What do you like to read?
Elle: I like to be surprised. I don’t want to read the same stories all the time. I read in English and in French. I’m currently reading Tatiana De Rosnay and Yoko Ogama.
Morgen: New ones to me. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Elle: I read and I spend an awful lot of my time travelling. Mostly I look after my children and I’m a music addict and I swim everyday even when it snows.
Morgen: I have once… we don’t get much snow… or have any outdoor pools so that doesn’t help really. I know you’re on a couple but which forums or networking sites are you on? How invaluable do you find them?
Elle: I use Twitter, Linkedin and more recently I joined Facebook. I’m also on Google and a lovely community called Women on the Verge.
Morgen: I really must get on Google, I’ve heard good things. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Elle: Yes, I’d like to thank you for welcoming me here. I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.
Morgen: Ah thank you. I always say in my Q&A intro that the author can skip as many as they like but am always chuffed when they answer almost all, if not all. I think if they didn’t enjoy them I’d get half a dozen back. Is there a question you’d like to ask me?
Elle: What motivated you and made you want to write?
Morgen: The short answer (because I’m good at giving long ones) was that I’d read a lot as a teen, dabbled with limericks in my 20s but it was a college prospectus in my late 30s (partly as a way to meeting more people as I’m not from round these ’ere parts :)) that got me writing seriously and it’s steadily hooked me ever since (to the point of giving up my job at Christmas!). Thank you Elle. I know you’ve been poorly recently and so I especially appreciate you taking your time to do this.
Elle is a British author who likes to dabble with words in English but also more recently in French. She’s a bohemian at heart, the result of having lived in several countries as a child. She often writes articles on subjects she’s passionate about such as children and women’s issues. NOWHERE LEFT TO HIDE is her forthcoming novel, coming out soon.
Update July 2012: Since the interview, Lost in your time was published. My first French book was released this week, Billets doux. Another book is coming soon, poetry and short fiction. And a new novel, later this year.
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