I live in Oxford with my husband and two sons, and have written stories since knee-high socks. My school reports said I was a bit of a daydreamer, but that’s because I was too busy thinking up stories.
Some of my many jobs have included school photographer, film extra, potato-peeler, and barmaid. I also worked within the media industry for both local radio and newspapers, but it was a visit to the Oxford Literary Festival that rekindled my passion for writing. Listening to authors and illustrators talk about their work ignited the imagination in my long dormant brain.
Nowadays I like to think of myself as a professional daydreamer, and am often found in the Plotting Shed at the bottom of the garden, where all my ideas germinate.
Top Tip: If you share a plotting shed with lots of woodlice, give them names - it makes them less scary.
My woodlice are called
Barry, Angelo, Mildred &
WHY I LIKE TO WEAR HATS
Aside from the fact they keep my head warm, lend me an air of mystery, and can hide a snack, it's mainly because:
Symptoms: More severe than Bad Hair Day, Author Hair occurs when author rushes straight from bed to Plotting Shed without so much as a sniff of a comb. In particularly bad cases a family of robins might move in. Warning: Do not answer the door with Author Hair - posties can be turned to stone just from the shock.
Standard Treatment: Wear a hat until deadline is met, and then soak in shampoo for six years.
Alternative Treatment: Dye it pink to create a diversion.
Long-term outlook: Great - IF YOU BUY A LOAD OF HATS.
MY WRITING JOURNEY
I have been writing ever since I was a small-year-old.
Most of my school reports said 'Elaine is quiet, she is a daydreamer' , as if this were a bad thing, but excuse me, I was too busy thinking up stories thank you very much. In my head were soaring plashbabbles, deadly horrabillies, and scary cacklehags. I was a happy introvert, who loved reading and writing and living in (as Gene Wilder so beautifully sang) a world of pure imagination.
I've since learned that daydreaming is an essential part of my author life - without it I wouldn't be able to build characters, sort out plot holes, or cultivate the tiny shoots of an idea. One of the first things I tell assembly halls full of children is: daydreaming is good.
My very first stories were about talking fruit. They were my version of the Mr Men books, and about as extensive. Seriously, there were loads of them. I then moved on to vegetables. This was followed by hearty-adventure-story Four Typical Gals, written in lashings-of-ginger-beer-Enid-Blyton-style. And then I started to write an epic C. S. Lewis fantasy, which was going to be all snow and magical creatures and people called Prue. Only I wasn't to finish it just yet...
By the way, copying how other authors write is a great way to start - it helps you develop your writing and language, and is the journey towards finding your own voice. Lots of authors discuss 'finding your voice', and it can sound a bit mysterious, but it's basically the way a book talks to you when you read it. For instance, Mr Gum is quirky, fun, and bounds along hilariously, nudging and winking at you along the way; whereas The House with Chicken Legs sounds like a tale told around a fire, long ago, as the stars twinkle above and the dark wood draws in around you. I love both of these books, even though they seem completely different, but what they do have in common is this - their voices hook you from the start.
At school, I loved English best, thanks to some inspiring teachers who were not as restricted by the curriculum back then. Homework was fun, and I spent lots of my lessons writing stories and learning how to improve them.
Here are some I wrote when I was about 10. I had a chatty style which one teacher said was like 'two old women having a natter over the fence'. So another thing I learned was this: you have to practise at writing.
My stories went to the NEXT LEVEL when I found out how to bind them into little books (thanks to Mrs Braybrook and her amazing beehive hairstyle).
Each one had a dedication, with illustrations throughout, and blurbs such as 'they were doomed - or were they?' (spoiler alert: no). Each one was lovingly covered in cling-film. Yes. This is what people used to do before technology.
I didn't just write stories either. I wrote song lyrics with my sister about sitting by the electric fire. It went like this:
'Sitting by the fire with a glow in your eye,
The red hot flames go passing by.
The flames are orange, yellow, and red,
Touch them and you'll be very dead.'
That's an Ivor Novello award-winner right there.
At school I penned a whole album of songs for my friends which we used to sing in the playground with choreographed routines. The catchy I'm Not Winning My Hockey Match was autobiographical, mainly because I was in goal.
Then there was the angsty teenage poetry (I wore a lot of black and gave up bacon). Somewhat alarmingly, I made up an Indie band called The Imps, and filled a whole rough book with biographies, interviews, and song lyrics. I did tell you there was no technology didn't I?
All the while hidden among my cassette mix-tapes in a dusty loft was the fantasy novel waiting to be finished...
Typical 80s notepad filled with angsty poetry and song lyrics
Once I had a family, I didn't write very much, but I did read. We couldn't get enough of picture books and visited the library to borrow ten at a time. Reading is the other side of the coin to writing. To use a dodgy dancing analogy: if writing is a dance class, reading is watching Strictly Come Dancing, where you get to see different styles, be wowed by talent, applaud your fellow dancers, and become inspired. Ultimately it's this that makes you keeeeeeeeep dancing! (or writing, obvs).
By reading I don't just mean books either - anything that uses your eyes to drink in the world counts as inspiration, and that can be films, TV, conversations on buses, school plays, supermarket queues, stories in newspapers. Read the world. Which is where libraries come in, otherwise it can get a bit pricey...
IMPORTANT NOTE ON LIBRARIES:
I love a library. We had a mobile one that used to pull up on the gravel by the garages and I would borrow My Naughty Little Sister and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I was convinced I could will myself into Pauline Baynes' Narnia illustrations just by staring really hard at Mr Tumnus.
Then there was the school library with its creaky wooden floor, which I can't think about without remembering The Woodlanders and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and where I read A Kestrel for a Knave, wiping the tears on my jumper before I left for Chemistry.
Anyhoo, you can get through so many more books if you go to a library (just don't read Kes until you're at home locked in your bedroom).
All this reading led to the Oxford Literary Festival where we listened to authors and illustrators talk about their work - and a little spark ignited, like something had switched on again. I have since watched countless YouTube videos, read articles, and sat in groups of writers and illustrators. Their enthusiasm rubs off, and you never stop learning about the process. It's one of my biggest inspirations to write.
When my children were old enough to wipe their own noses and bottoms, I started writing again. I blew the cobwebs off that unfinished fantasy novel and wrote, in my own style this time, until I finished it.
Although I'd love to be able to tell you that it went on to be published and become an acclaimed bestseller with a cover quote by George R. R. Martin, it was actually rejected a gajillion-bajillion times. But... I didn't give up.
On the left, a book I wrote aged 14 called Do You Believe in Magic? On the right, a book I wrote aged 45, my debut children’s book. Yes I do believe in magic. But I also believe in not giving up.
I wrote another book, then another (which almost made it), then another. Suddenly the planets aligned, and a different journey began - you can read my Timeline to Publication here.
Dreams can come true. But it took a truck-load of self-belief (not always easy to come by), lots of support from those around me, and sitting in the chair and staying there until it was done. I was the first person my agent had taken on in 18 months. If I'd known that beforehand, I wouldn't have rated my chances too highly. So my last words come from the marvellous Harrison Ford:
Mr Ford once said, 'success is tied to not giving up'. He also said, right before going through an asteroid field in the Millennium Falcon, 'never tell me the odds'. Good advice even if you're not a scruffy looking nerf herder.
I can type at almost the speed of light
If I drop things, I can pick them up with my monkey feet
Walking through a wood helps me solve plot issues
I was born on Halloween, so just watch it alright?
My youngest son has freckles shaped like the Plough on his right cheek
Hot cups of tea
Wind (both types)
Pluto not being a planet