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Elizabeth Speller Interview

Posted on 12 September 2012. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to historical novelist, poet and travel writer Elizabeth Speller

Tell us all about your writing background- what youíve written, what youíre currently writing

Iíve written history, travel, a memoir, poetry and fiction. Theyíre all really about re-creating times or places. I finished my latest book two weeks ago and am missing it.

Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works/worked for/against your own writing

Iíve done copy-writing, mostly for travel companies, since before I was published and Iíve taught very part time at university for many years as well as running occasional workshops..

How, when and why did you first start writing?

As soon as I could write, really. I was an only child for many years and had a governess, so created imaginary worlds and friends in words. I think writing has always filled holes in my life and helped me understand where itís all going.

Who are your favourite writers/influences and why?

Books that have made me reconsider how to write historical fiction, include John Fowlesí The French-Lieutenantís Woman, and Russell Hobanís Riddley Walker (future rather than past!). They made me think about points of view and showed me that narratives could be manipulated or pushed to the limits - that the novel is a very elastic form. They also introduced me to the delightful idea of the unreliable narrator. One that made me realise that humour and tragedy could be combined is Rose Tremainís Towers of Trebizond. Louis MacNeiceís brilliant long poem Autumn Journal about the summer of 1939 and the sense of imminent war, is the very best illustration of the difference between reportage and an imaginative immediacy that fiction or poetry can provide.

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?

I was very lucky. I was quite a chaotic teenager and only went to university when I was nearly 40. I was accepted at Cambridge by Lucy Cavendish College which is for mature women students. A few years later I was a single mother, doing a PhD and completely out of funds. I had won some poetry competitions, written a couple of pieces on travel and several articles about Roman Emperors (my degree was in Classics). for the Erotic Review and was introduced to an agent who liked my writing by another writer,. She (Georgina Capel) took me on and sold a popular history book on the subject of my Ė about to be abandoned Ė PhD, to Headline.

Whatís the worst thing about writing?

The constant temptation to fritter days away and, to be honest, never having enough money or knowing where the next cheque might come from.

And the best?

The euphoria when youíre on a roll; when ideas just come from nowhere and go off in unexpected directions or connect up with themes you havenít even consciously introduced. And seeing the first published copy of every new book of course.

Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

Since my first novel, many more people contact me. Of course since I wrote my first book, 11 years ago, the range of the internet, social networking, websites and so on, mean that interaction is easy. I think the best bit is getting emails from countries where the book is in translation Ė some of them places Iíve never been to. Americans write really thought-provoking letters and Israelis have told me that a book about the aftermath of military conflict resonates with them and a still a shared experience. But itís always great to hear from readers-even when theyíre pointing out an error! I do read reviews and Amazon comments and if there are consistent comments I try and keep them in mind when writing the next book.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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