Ella Harper walked away from a high-flying career in the city to follow her dream of becoming an author. Here, she talks about making the switch from writing racy, glamorous, fun, family-based romances to the more serious Pieces of You, which was published earlier this month.
These days, now that I am writing issues-based women’s fiction, I look for inspiration amongst friends, in magazines and in real life. Emotional issues that women can relate to, that will provoke some sort of a mental debate at a dilemma. I really enjoy exploring the emotional reactions of my characters with the hope that readers might connect in the same way. Aside from the issues, I am very focused on the romantic side of my novels. All of them must have a magical story of some sort at their heart, which should hopefully unfurl as the emotions and issues play out.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
My average writing day involves getting two young children fed, dressed and off to either nursery, school or to a child minder or grandparents if it’s the holidays. I then come back and immediately do a work out (otherwise I’ll never do it) and then I get to work at around 10/10.30am. I am more productive in the afternoons, which is extremely aggravating as I often get properly into my stride just as it’s time to go and collect my girls. As much as possible, I try to treat my day the way I would in an office so I break for lunch and eat outside if it’s sunny but I am strict with my time and I am back to my desk an hour later, writing, writing, writing…
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I have done in the past…not so much with famous people but with people I know. I would describe it as ‘shades’ of a person creeping in…not a one dimensional copy of someone. Just certain aspects that suit a particular character I’m involved with. With Pieces of You, I would say that characteristics of myself seeped into both Lucy and Luke, oddly – even though their story is very much their own.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I’m going to say Wuthering Heights because it moved me immensely. I wouldn’t necessarily re-read it endlessly but still. And What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. A huge inspiration for me when I was changing genre.
What female writer has inspired you?
Oh, so many! Jane Austen for being the queen of restrained romance… Emily Bronte for portraying intense, soul mate passion so beautifully. In a more modern sense, Jilly Cooper was always a huge inspiration for me…just for the sheer openness of her writing. Lianne Moriarty (read her, you must and that goes for all of the following), Adele Parks, Fiona Walker, Veronica Henry, Jojo Moyes, Lisa Jewell…I’ll stop now.
Can you give us three book recommendations?
I can indeed. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (quirky, unique, laugh out loud funny), The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green (original, sweet and lovely) and The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, by Lucy Robinson. I’m reading this one at the moment and it’s so warm and funny, you’re pulled into the writing in an instant.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
My writing process is very…organic. I am fairly airy-fairy in the beginning (most annoying for my editor) but mostly because I get a ‘sense’ of a story before I get all the details through. I usually get the ‘love’ part coming through immediately, followed by the characters and their set up and the emotional stuff comes to me last – although this part holds me and I am very much governed by this when I am writing. I plan first (but everything is subject to change) and I aim for a chapter structure then a first draft which will then be rewritten/tweaked as many times as necessary once my lovely editor has got her expert hands on it.
What was your journey to being a published author?
My journey to becoming a published author was reasonably long and drawn out. I wrote my first novel on my commute into London, left my banking job to focus on writing, had two books rejected, then wrote a third under the guidance of my very patient and splendid agent. This was then published (Changing Grooms, under the same of Sasha Wagstaff), followed by three others of a similar vibe (racy, glamorous, fun, family-based romances). I then felt the time was right to attempt something more serious and emotional which was partly governed by the changing book market and partly driven by my own desire to write something different. It took me a few years to get into my stride and Pieces of You is the result. And I am more proud of it than I can properly describe.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we all earn an absolute fortune for not doing a great deal! Crafting a novel (in my experience, at any rate!) is a long, tough process which requires commitment and dedication. Authors earn different sums of money for this process – but ultimately, it is about hard graft. Lovely, enjoyable hard graft, admittedly but still. (One of the best jobs in the world though. I can’t deny it.)
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Without sounding glib, just do it. Please. If you feel you need to write, write. It’s pointless ignoring an urge like that and you will never know if you can do it unless you try. And don’t be downhearted. For as many authors you might read about who had a relatively uneventful journey towards publication, there are just as many, if not more who struggled, who endlessly re-wrote and who dealt with a considerable amount of rejection. If it’s your passion…keep going.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my second novel as Ella Harper. A whole new set of characters, a romantic angle that I am hugely excited about and some emotional issues that will have me exploring the very depths of my soul (and that of the internet) to ensure that they are portrayed accurately and sensitively. I can’t wait to get stuck in.