So, having signed both Ellen and Steven within a few days of one another, we’ve asked them to tell us a little about themselves. Today it’s all about Ellen.
Tell us a little bit about you, what do you do during the day, the night (ooo errr!) and time in between?
Hi, I’m Ellen. I’m from Northern Ireland, married to a Scot and living in south Wales. (Keeping it Celtic, oh yes.) In my non-writing life, I teach English to 11-18 year olds in a lovely secondary school. My days are primarily filled with PowerPoints, marking, looking at data, working out how we move forward with Government initiatives, sorting out photocopying, chasing up members of my form for various bits and pieces, building confidence, improving skills, setting consequences for poor behaviour and somewhere in there I do a bit of teaching. I jest (mostly). Even with all the extras that come with teaching, I still get to do my favourite thing all day and I get to help the next generation of people be the best that they can be. Every day is exciting and challenging (some days more than others) and I love it.
Evenings are filled with more marking and planning but when that’s done I still manage to fit in time for my husband and my social life. I love to sing and I am a member of my local church choir. The Church plays a huge part in my life. I’m part of the committee for the women’s group which meets monthly and organises gatherings for women from every part of the community to come together. When I’m at home, I spend evenings with my husband, usually catching up on American television or playing games. Weekends are spent trying new things, like new foods or restaurants or building Lego sets. We have a close knit group of friends that we meet with on a regular basis to geek out on awesome things and traipse around different conventions.
I also love to cook and bake. I like to make things for the people I love and take care of them.
Favourite TV show and why?
It changes all the time. At the moment it’s ‘Once upon a time.’ It’s well written and has a strong female lead in Emma Snow. I love it because ABC is owned by Disney and it is quite happy to play with the conventions of fairy tales, having princes rescued by princesses and having a complex villain rather than the usual ‘this is a bad person. BOOOOOO!’
Favourite book and why?
‘The Vampire Lestat’ by Anne Rice. I could read that book again and again until I went blind. It balances humour, individual development and an epic storyline which is really hard to do. Lestat is a really interesting character and rather than the out and out ‘bad guy’ of ‘Interview with the Vampire’ we learn how he came to be ‘bad’. He is wickedly funny and bratty which sadly fades in the later novels. I hope it comes back in ‘Prince Lestat’.
We’re lovers of cats here at Grimbold, what are your favourite animals?
Guinea pigs. I currently have 7 but in total we’ve had 10. I love their little faces and their noises. Mine are super fluffy and affectionate.
What are you afraid of the most?
Spiders. They are Satan’s favourite children and they are not welcome in my house.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I do. Every first draft is written by hand, usually in a really beautiful notebook. It helps it feel more real for me, writing by hand. Once it’s finished, I put it in a drawer and leave it alone for at least a month. Distance is important; it allows you to come back and edit with a critical eye. I try to write something every night, even when I’m exhausted.
We’ve in an elevator and you have 30 seconds to tell me about Cruelty… go!
What? I’m Irish, we talk forever. Ok, um, right. It’s set in the countryside of Co. Dublin and revolves around a magical Irish family. Eliza McTir is my main character who has no power and decides to leave home, basically because she is getting bullied by other members of the Family for it. She gets caught by Cornelius, the Family assassin, and he has to punish her. She makes a deal with him to sleep with him to avoid it but the sex wakes up her magic, which she has to hide. When they get home, people realise that something is different about her. They bring it up with Faroust, their god who lives under their house and it all unravels from there. Eliza discovers something awful and needs to set it right.
Your favourite character in the book and why?
Cornelius. I love him. He’s a little bit of a rogue without being too stereotypically bad-boy Irish. He’s very charming, funny, loyal and strong. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty or to take risks. Like Eliza he’s a bit of an outsider and wants to improve his situation, even if it is by slightly dodgy means.
Any pitfalls or struggles when writing Cruelty?
I’ve discovered that there’s a phrase or an action that I keep repeating over and over when I want to show worry or desire. I’ve fixed that now. As for Cruelty, I think at first I was too eager to get to the heart of the story and should have enjoyed revealing it slowly. Every part needs to make sense and come together, reactions from people need to be realistic, minor characters can’t just be pushed once you’ve given a glimpse of who they are.
5 books you recommend:
The ‘Skullduggery Pleasant’ series by Derek Landy.
‘The Vampire Lestat’ by Anne Rice.
‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R Tolkien.
‘Watermelon’ by Marian Keyes.
‘The Ocean at the end of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman. In fact any book by Neil Gaiman. All the things by Neil Gaiman.
A taster from ‘Cruelty’ (unedited):
It was no good. Faroust was lost, his face twisted with rage. As his fury gathered pace, his Fae form began to emerge: great horns, like a stag’s, burst out of his temples, his skin glowed green and gold, his eyes dissolved into blackness and his teeth became sharp and jagged. The earth trembled beneath them as he changed.
Swirls and whorls of green and blue carved themselves into his skin. His shoulders widened jagged spikes of bone pushing out of the flesh. She screamed as she caught the reflection of his back in the mirror. A pair of wings, black like a raven’s, tore their way out of his body, ripping the skin as they grew. His blood, green-black blood, poured from the wounds, pooling on the floor. His grip tightened on her neck as the wings spread out, blocking out the meagre light from the hall.
I’m going to die. He’s going to kill me. He lifted her up, scraping her back against the slate of the wall. The horns glinted menacingly at her and his huge black eyes burned in fury. She tried to kick him but the effort was wasted. She didn’t even make contact with him.
‘Is this what you wanted Eliza?’ he roared, as if with the voices of thousands. ‘Is this the power you seek?’
She shook her head. ‘Please. Please. Sir, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.’
He brought his other hand up. Talons, long and black as onyx, grazed her cheek. He pressed one to her forehead.
‘I’ll cut your head open and see what secrets you’re hiding. And then I’m going to go upstairs and eat your Cornelius’ heart.’
Eliza tried to fight, tried to get away but she couldn’t breathe. She was fading. As her vision dimmed, she became aware of the magic inside her, of the power of the Family, of her own gifts and the ones she’d stolen. For the first time, she really connected with it and from it garnered the strength to fight back. It flowed from her belly, throughout her whole body and up her arms. With one great effort, she dug her nails of both hands into his wrist.
‘Let me go!’ she barked. ‘Faroust, stop this. Stop it now!’
Faroust’s head snapped back, like he’d been slapped. The rage instantly vanished from his face and he dropped her. He stumbled backwards as she lay gasping on the bathroom floor. He closed his eyes and leant against the wall, panting and groaning.