So nice to have Ellie here today, just forty eight hours before we’ll be meeting again at the Manifold Queer Company event.
Eleanor, what inspired you to start writing?
It feels like I’ve always been writing – I used to dictate stories to my mum when I was about four years old. Nothing complex or groundbreaking, but still, I was writing before I could write! I think I’ve always enjoyed creating worlds and people in my head, but daydreams can get sort of lonely. When I realised that writing stories was a way to invite people into those worlds, in the same way that reading allowed me to escape into other people’s, that just really appealed to me. I love to explore these other lives, and I’m glad to be able to share them with other people!
What does it feel like watching your first solo book fledge and leave the nest?
It’s taken me a few attempts to answer this question, because I get too excited and lose the words! It’s an amazing feeling – I’ve wanted to get a book of my own published for at least 12 years – and I can hardly wait to hear what people think of the characters I’ve come to know and (mostly) love over the time I’ve been working on the book. That said, it’s a bit scary, too – what if my little fledgling falls? But as much as I’d love to see everyone love the story, I’m realistic enough to know that everyone has different opinions, and that’s fine by me. If one person likes it, I’ll be thrilled! Not so long ago, I couldn’t imagine that people would be reading my book, so to see it out there is just the best feeling.
Are you character or plot driven? What do you do if one of your characters starts developing at a tangent?
Usually, I follow that tangent! I’m very character-driven, and I find that once I have the right group of characters, they create their own plot. In fact, Submerge came about because I was asked to make a tutorial on how I use video game character creators to build up my characters. I sat down with one simple purpose in mind: make some throwaway characters you’ll never use again. Easy, right? Even I can do that.
So I created this guy called Jamie with killer makeup game and a nosy streak. And a man in a bowler hat (randomly added by the game I was playing with), who I named Miles. Addie and Gina, in their original forms, soon followed, and that was the end of the tutorial. I knew I would never revisit these characters (after a quick demonstration of their use in a short story), so I encouraged people to have a go at their own interpretations of them.
I’m sort of glad nobody did, though, because it was probably only about two months later that those characters had become the central cast of Submerge.
If you were in a tight corner and had to rely on one of your characters to save you, which would it be and why?
Rachel Fairburn, without a doubt. She’s a secondary character in Submerge, and she may be small but she is mighty. In internet meme terms, she looks like a cinnamon roll, but she could actually kill you (probably). And in less internet-centric terms… her friends don’t call her ‘Mighty Mouse’ for nothing. Failing that, Jamie has some good rescuing qualities.
We were in ‘Pride of Poppies’ together. What made you want to write a contribution for that project?
I was beetling around on the Manifold Press site, trying to work out which book I should get next, and I saw ‘Call for Submissions’, so I clicked it. When I found out that the topic for the anthology was the First World War, my thoughts immediately rushed to the German side of the conflict – my great-great-great-grandfather came over to England from Germany a couple of decades before war broke out. My London-born great-great-grandfather therefore spent the war in an internment camp with other Germans who’d been living in the UK at the time – they were seen as people who couldn’t be trusted to be on our side. So I was keen to represent that aspect of the war, as much as I could. Then it occurred to me to wonder whether being called up for war work might actually be an opportunity for self-expression for women who these days might identify as transgender men, so I had to write that idea, too! The fact that proceeds went towards the very worthy work of the Royal British Legion was the clincher, really. I couldn’t submit fast enough!
Is there a classic book you started and simply couldn’t finish?
I started a couple of Dickens books and just couldn’t contend with all the misery, to be honest – and although I adore The Hobbit, I’ve never got past the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings. I know, I know – I’ll hand in my geek card if I have to – but I always get lost around page 4 of the description of the mountains.
What’s your favourite LGBT book? And why?
Oh, that’s a cruel question. I’m lucky enough to have read works by a range of authors in the genre – I quite like this one author called Charlie Cochrane, for example, of whom you might have heard – and even to have got to know a handful of them. I think there will always be a soft spot in my heart, though, for The Butterfly Hunter by Julie Bozza. It was the first book I bought from Manifold, who are now publishing Submerge, and really the first LGBT book I went out of my way to find. In many ways, this stage of my journey started with The Butterfly Hunter, and it’s such a beautiful book…
What’s your next project?
Well, I’ve already got the first draft for another story involving the cast of Submerge, so I’ll have to see how the second draft of that comes out and whether anyone’s interested in reading a sequel (though honestly, I’ll finish it for myself no matter what). And, er, the outline for another one, because I really like these characters.
Right now, however, it is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo for short – so I’m doing something different. NaNoWriMo in 2011 sort of proved to me that I could write a story long enough to become a novel, and subsequent years have given me the kick I needed to keep writing and form good writing habits. I like to try to take part each year – even if I don’t “win”, I’ll always end the month with more words than I started with, and that’s good enough for me! This year, I’m having a go at a historical novel (my first) set in 1950s Cambridge. Wish me luck!
Charlie’s note – we will indeed!