Laura Elliot: my advice? Develop a stiff spine, hard neck and broad shoulders
‘You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to bed with satisfaction’
Laura Elliot’s novel The Thorn Girl is published by Sphere. As June Considine, she has also written extensively for children and young adults.
Tell us about your new work and how it came about – the story behind the story.
The Thorn Girl is a work of fiction and was not inspired by any one particular event. However, it was inspired by every story I’ve ever heard or read about women made powerless by circumstances beyond their control. I set the story in a more recent era than the Magdalene laundries but exploitation does not need a time frame to flourish.
Adele, my main character, is born as the result of a gang rape. Reared by her grandmother, she only discovers the truth when her grandmother dies. She is determined to find her father and bring him, along with his accomplices, to justice. The Thorn Girl also explores the impact this search has on the wives of these men, who are now pillars of their community.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Tom Sawyer. I’d been reading avidly for years but Tom Sawyer made me laugh, cry and be awakened, as Becky Thatcher was, to the possibility that boys had other inclinations besides throwing stones at girls and calling us names.
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was fascinated by Mary, even when she being obnoxious.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
Hard to choose. I’m currently reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it came out in the Eighties. The story stayed in my memory and I was equally fascinated by its adaptation to television. Other favourites: Light Between Oceans by ML Steadman, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Mischling by Affinity Konark. I could go on and on….
What is your favourite quotation?
“If you plan to build walls around me, know this – I will walk through them.” Richelle E Goodrich
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale, also Celie from The Colour Purple.
Which Irish author should everyone read?
Bernie McGill, author of The Watch House. I love her exquisite prose and nail-biting tension as she explores a way of life on Ratlin Island at the end of the 19th century when technicians arrive to experiment with Marconi’s new Morse code technology.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
One of my own novels, Stolen Child. My daughter had it bound in leather, embossed and boxed as a present to me for one of my significant birthdays.
Where and how do you write?
My garage has been converted into a writing room. The real world stops at the door…when possible! The unknotting of plots takes place as I walk along the Broadmeadow Estuary where I ponder and stare at the swans.
I write a broad outline of my new book in the beginning, which I discuss with my editor. I try not to dwell too much on the initial draft and the book only begins to take shape when I begin the second draft. I usually redraft four or five times before I’m satisfied. Until it’s dragged from my fingernails, I’m still editing.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
What book influenced you the most?
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Who influenced you the most?
Daphne du Maurier
If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?
Can that apply to a grandchild? If so, anything by Roald Dahl, but, particularly, The Witches.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. A young girl stands up for education and is shot by the Taliban. A book of our times.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Make a conscious decision to allow a set time to write and try, as much as it is possible, to be disciplined. Respect your words but don’t be afraid to edit them. Before your idea, and that initial creative spark fades, get your story down. Don’t worry too much about how it looks. You’re only at the beginning of a journey. The real work begins on the second draft.
Rewrite and edit, cut out the passages that make you go “Wow”. Sadly, they are usually the superfluous ones and can clog the narrative. If you can’t bear to part with them, file them away for another occasion. Inevitably, as I’ve discovered, it will never arise. Write the story you want to tell, not what is trending at the current time. Develop a stiff spine, hard neck, broad shoulders. You’ll need them. Most important, love what you do and believe in yourself.
What weight do you give reviews?
I appreciate the trouble a reviewer takes to read and review my books. If the review strikes a chord with me and touches on something in my work that made me uneasy while writing my book, I take that criticism on board. Amazon, Goodreads and blogs have made it possible for everyone to be reviewers so authors and their books are now under intense scrutiny. Whether the review is in print or online, it is someone’s opinion and I take the negative and positive with equal equanimity. The jury is still out on whether or not reviews drive or inhibit sales.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
The popularity of audio books continues with major publishers securing the services of top-quality actors to voice their books. Ebooks are an important addition to the print publishing industry and will continue to attract a wide readership. Self-publishing has become more professional with authors developing digital skills to market and promote their books. Digital platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing and others offer established authors opportunities to revitalise their back lists in e-book formats. Ghost writers continue to be in high demand as celebrities and politicians want to tell all.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
It has opened me up to other worlds, perspectives, perceptions, directions. It has allowed me to enter imaginary spaces but also to realise that real life seldom imitates fiction and re-entering reality is a must.
What has being a writer taught you?
Discipline. The ability to create an imaginary world and build characters from ghostly forms. A respect for words and their importance. A belief in my own abilities. A respect for anyone who relies on wisps of imagination to create a work of substance.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Margaret Atwood for her insights, Maeve Binchy for her humour and empathy, Roald Dahl for his mischief, John Irving for his wry imagination, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her ability to enlighten, Stephan King for his wicked ingenuity, Terry Pratchett for his fantastical mind, Toni Morrison for her wisdom, Mary Shelly for her courage , Emily Brontë for her passion.
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
Has to be from Little Children by Tom Perrotta and his humorous but wry take on life in suburbia with all its boredom, illicit liaisons, intrigue and secrets.
Do you have a favourite poem?
Eavan Boland’s beautiful poem, Night Feed
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would you choose?
Mother Jones, otherwise known as Mary Harris Jones. Born 1837 in Cork, she emigrated to Canada and ended up in the United States. She was named ‘the most dangerous woman in America,’ for her role in organising unions and leading a group of exploited child workers on a marathon march from Philadelphia to New York city to highlight their working conditions.
Which sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?
When Rosa was happy our house was filled with music. I could never imagine the silences returning. The light in her studio burned through the night. One summer she painted Corry Head. The gorse blazed like a fireball. Purple heather covered the rocks. She painted it with the mist falling down and hiding all of the colour. I wondered if that was what her life was like. Always trying to escape from behind the mist.
To Dream of White Horses, a short story I wrote for an anthology.
What is the most moving book or passage you have read?
Strumpet City by James Plunkett. Poor Rashers…
Who do you most admire?
I belong to an advocacy group called Freedom to Write. I’ve heard many stories about writers who put their liberty and, sometimes, their lives on the line to write truth. Unfortunately, the list is long – but these imprisoned writers are the women and men I most admire.
Where is your favourite place in Ireland, and in the world?
In Ireland it has to be west Kerry which I visit every year. In the world, it has to be Sedona, Arizona.
What is your life motto?
You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to bed with satisfaction. - George Horace Lorimer
Laura Elliot’s novel The Thorn Girl is published by Sphere. Aka June Considine, she has also written extensively for children and young adults.