Interview with Eloise Williams
author of ‘Elen’s Island’, published by Firefly Press
Hello Eloise, and welcome to the blog! Can I start by asking you if you had any favourite books as a child? Were they the reason you became a children’s writer?
I have always loved books and had the huge good fortune of living directly opposite a library when I was a child so my love of reading grew with frequent visits across the road. I suppose I didn’t think it was that unusual to be able to see into a library from your bedroom window and I certainly didn’t realise how lucky I was!
I had so many favourite books. All of the Enid Blyton’s – I believed in lands at the tops of trees and islands where mysteries occurred, but I spent most of my childhood in Narnia and that is what led me to write something for children so many years later.
My sister taught children in South Korea for a few years and during that time she made me a compilation to listen to, so I plugged my headphones in and walked the Pembrokeshire coast path listening to tunes that had meant lots to us both and then suddenly a recording of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came on and, although I know it sounds dramatic, I had an epiphany. That’s what I was meant to be doing with my life. Writing for children and Young Adults. It became clear in that split second and I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t realised it in the first forty odd years of my life. I literally stopped where I was and slapped my own head. Thankfully there was no-one else around to see me!
Where did you get the idea for Elen’s Island? Is it based on a real island or somewhere near where you live?
And where did the puffin come from? (and can I have one!)
The idea came from a stay on Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire where I was lucky enough to spend three nights in an old schoolhouse. It was such a magical experience. From the second I stepped onto the boat I was enchanted. There’s something very wonderful about being on a piece of land, surrounded by turquoise sea and cut off from all your problems and worries. At that time I had just moved to Pembrokeshire as I married a Tenby based artist and I had no friends there and was missing my family. If you read the book you will recognise these themes! I also went on a visit to Skomer Island and was over the moon to see puffins! So Elen’s Island is a mixture of Caldey and Skomer and imagination.
You can have a puffin! Skomer lets you adopt puffins and seals so you can have your very own and help the Wildlife Trust with their brilliant work. It also gives you an excellent excuse to visit Skomer so you can see them and the comedic way puffins land and smile at their funny faces!
How did you find out about ‘Firefly’ and what was the process of being accepted for publication?
I found out about Firefly when they ran a competition for a new children’s book. I’d already been writing bits and pieces and had a short story published by Honno (who publish some wonderful female authors including yourself (thank you! :-)) and the very impressive Thorne Moore) and some poetry and short stories placed in competitions, so I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t win (sadly) but they were interested in seeing more of the story and I went back to it and wrote the whole thing. It’s very different from the first piece I submitted for the competition and much, much better! I was completely shocked and overwhelmed with happiness when I got the email from Firefly to say they’d like to publish it – it really was a moment that changed my life.
We share an amazing editor, so I’m curious to know how you found the editing process.
Was it something you enjoyed, and did you feel it made you a better writer? And how do you think it made the story better?
We are very fortunate to have had the help of Janet Thomas and I agree she is AMAZING! The editing process came as something of a surprise to me if I’m honest. I thought it would be a case of the odd typo here and there and restructuring a few sentences. Little did I realise how much work was involved. I am very lucky that I’ve become good at taking constructive criticism through working as an actress for over a decade! It is quite a journey from the very first manuscript to the polished piece and I am so grateful that I have an editor who I not only like as a person (handy) but who has such a sharp eye and a brilliant understanding of how to tell a story. Elen’s Island was the first thing I’ve ever written for children and I really needed that guiding hand. It made the story tighter, funnier, with more rounded characters and really made me think about what I wanted the reader to get from the book. YES it has made me a better writer (I hope).
How are you enjoying your time to write from your Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary? Do you find it makes a difference being able to concentrate fully on your next book?
I am having the time of my life! It makes such a difference to be able to give my writing my full attention instead of grabbing time here and there between work commitments. It’s also a real honour to have the faith of such a great institution willing to fund my writing for three months (as you know) and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity.
Can you say something about your next book? And what are the plans for the future?
My second book Seaglass is a Young Adult ghost story set in Pembrokeshire. It’s a scary, thrilling page-turner which also has funny moments and is a story of survival and loss. Lots of lovely authors have read it in manuscript form and given me fantastic feedback so I’m very excited to see it land in the hands of young readers. At the moment it’s with my agent, the fabulous Ben Illis of The Ben Illis Agency, while he finds it a forever home.
My third book, and the one I’m using my Literature Wales Bursary to write, is called Gaslight and is again a YA but is set in Cardiff in the Victorian era. I’ve never written anything in a historical period so it’s yet another learning curve for me. I like to keep life interesting! Gaslight is a thriller which features lots of dastardly goings on, gothic stuff, pea-souper fog, ships, music hall, murder, midnight skinny-dipping and thieves. There is also a serious crush going on but the course of true love never did run smooth…
After that…. who knows?
I’ve already started work on another three books, all of which are for young people and again feature a female protagonist with a very strong voice. Now I’ve found what I should have been doing with my life I am never giving up!
Thank you, Eloise. I loved Elen’s Island, and I’m looking forward to ghosts and dastardly goings-on!
You can find out more about Eloise and follow her here:
Summary and reviews
When her parents send her to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows for the summer, Elen is furious. Gran lives on a tiny island and doesn’t want her to stay either – it’s not an easy start.
Gran’s idea of childcare is to give Elen a map and tell her to explore. Who is the odd boy on the beach with a puffin? After saving Gran in a storm, Elen finds a picture that she’s sure is a clue to hidden treasure. She investigates – and finds a very different treasure from the one she expected.
Early praise for Elen’s Island:
‘Wildly imaginative, funny and poignant, Elen’s Island keeps us hooked from the first scintillating sentence. You’ll fall in love with the feisty Elen, her phenomenal gran and a magical island, in a tale spun with craft and brio.’ Stevie Davies, novelist.
‘Elen’s Island is beautifully written and will stir the imagination of a generation of children. Children everywhere will be asking their parents if they can visit Aberglad.’ Kevin Johns, Swansea Sound.
‘An absolute treat.’ Jamie Owen, BBC newsreader.
‘With a plucky, driven heroine, a magical mystery and a pace that never lets up, Elen’s Island is a rollicking read that promises to keep readers enchanted and engaged.’
Guy Bass, children’s author, including the bestselling Stitch Head.
‘A meticulously crafted novel that will encourage the most reluctant young reader to keep turning the pages. Elen is a heroine every child will identify with.’ Catrin Collier, novelist.
‘A joyful adventure. Full of wonder and magic.’ Simon Ludders, actor, Renfield on CBBC’s Young Dracula
‘Eloise has crafted a beautifully written and magical tale that will keep readers, both young and old, enthralled from the first funny sentence right through to the final, poignant conclusion.’ BB Skone, Western Telegraph
‘I highly recommend it. This book has so many good ingredients. Together they make a fabulous book with a wonderful ending.’ Suze, Librarian Lavender
Eloise writes words. Lots of them. Sometimes in particular orders.Sixer of Pixies. Child of the 70’s. Survived encephalitis, pizza thrown in face, a decade as an actress, school, endless years of Heavy Metal abuse from younger sister’s room.
Likes confetti, bluebells, memories of Gran and Grampa, family, cwtches, the way ladybirds shelter in beech nuts, collecting seaglass on misty days, comfy jeans, stories about interesting things.
Spent too much money on ill-fitting clothes, too much of the 80’s planning marriage to John Taylor and/or George Michael, lovely times in Europe, one cold week in New York.
Lives in West Wales. Lives for the sea, love, repeats of ‘Murder She Wrote’, for as long as she can. Has dog called Watson Jones. Has husband called Guy. Both of whom are handsome devils.