I’ve heard from so many other bloggers about how good Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams is that I’m devastated I have well over 850 books ahead of it in the review pile! However, when you haven’t had time to read the book, you can always interview the author and luckily Emily agreed to take part.
Published by Lutino on 17th February 2017, Letters to Eloise is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
Letters to Eloise
‘Receiving a hand written letter is something that always puts a smile on my face, no matter who the sender is.’ Flora Tierney.
When post-graduate student Flora falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year studies she hits a huge predicament; continue a recent affair with her handsome but mysterious lecturer who dazzles her with love letters taken from the ancient tale of ‘Abelard and Heloise’, or chase after the past with her estranged first love?
But will either man be there to support her during the turmoil ahead?
‘Banish me, therefore, for ever from your heart’, Abelard to Heloise.
Letters to Eloise is the heart-wrenching debut epistolary novel by Emily Williams; a love story of misunderstandings, loss, and betrayal but ultimately the incredible bond between mother and child.
An Interview with Emily Williams
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Emily. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi Linda, thank you so much for welcoming me so warmly to your blog. Okay, a little about myself! My name is Emily Williams and I am a thirty-something year old from a sunny seaside town in West Sussex. I started writing stories as a child, but these mostly consisted of pony related stories! I have always wanted to write a novel and have finally written my debut Letters to Eloise.
When I am not writing, I teach in a local primary school part-time and the rest of the time I look after my toddler, baby, and many, many pets!
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Letters to Eloise?
Letters to Eloise is an epistolary love story. Flora, the protagonist, finds herself pregnant and alone whilst completing her final year studies at university. She is desperate to reconnect with her past love, River, but has become entangled in a relationship with her university lecturer. He tantalises her with quotes taken from the ancient love story Abelard and Heloise and Flora is swept off her feet.
Flora is torn in so many directions, and finds comfort by writing down her experiences and reliving her past in letters to her unborn child.
What made you choose an epistolary format for your debut novel?
I have always enjoyed receiving a hand written letter; I feel it is a more personal touch. I also wrote diaries as a child, but the diary format has been used quite a lot in novels so I chose letters. Flora, the protagonist, also had a purpose to her writing and someone to pour out her emotions too. I researched different novels with the same format to see what worked, and what didn’t, and how to weave the story through the letters.
You have a degree in psychology. How far has that impacted on your approach to writing Letters to Eloise?
Subtly, my degree probably did influence my writing approach and there are references to psychology throughout the novel. I have always been interested in human behaviour and character traits and this enables me to hopefully create rounded, real characters. My university experience impacted on Letters to Eloise as Flora is a university student at the time. Although Flora is now studying teaching, as I did, both her and her housemate Brooke talk about their experiences with undergraduate psychology and biology.
Mr Wickham, the university lecturer in the novel, teaches Educational psychology at the university. This is an area that I am greatly interested in and an area I hoped at one point to pursue as a career! I fulfilled my career aspirations through fictional characters!
You teach and have a young child of your own. How far has this influenced your themes in Letters to Eloise?
Before I wrote Letters to Eloise, I wanted a child. I had always wanted children, but I got to a point in my life when I really, really wanted a child. I was not, however, in the right circumstances to have children, and had been told from an early teenager that due to a medical problem, conceiving could be a problem or even impossible. I think I used the novel as an outlet for this and wrote as if I was expecting a baby (which I wanted more than anything).
Unexpectedly, and totally amazingly, I fell pregnant shortly after finishing the first draft. I put the novel aside for a couple of years, as I found that I couldn’t read the words whilst pregnant. You’ll understand why when you read the novel! I continued editing after the birth of my second child, a daughter, last July.
I wove the teaching element through Flora’s character. Flora had just finished her undergraduate degree and was starting her PGCE at university when she fell pregnant. A few anecdotes and teaching references slipped into the novel!
So, with a young family, what are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I do most of my writing in the dark, on my laptop, sitting in bed! The writing part was straightforward, but the initial ideas bit was different. I covered a wall of my room with reversed Christmas wrapping paper and then drew a huge timetable across it. Any ideas that came to me, I would post it note and put up. After a couple months of ideas, I scaled it all down into a neat timeline to follow letter by letter. This part was the most time consuming!
To what extent do you think we should eschew email and return to handwritten letters like those in Letters to Eloise?
Oh yes, give me a pen and paper any day! Formally, for business and work place, emails are fine. However, I will always send a handwritten letter on special occasions. The speed nowadays is so different and we expect instant communication from each other with social media and texting, but always a handwritten letter gives the impression that you care.
Several members of my family still write handwritten letters and receiving a letter from my late grandmother or my aunty was very special. I hope I will keep up the tradition! The price of stamps is another matter!
Letters to Eloise is an emotional book. Did it affect you as you wrote or were you able to detach yourself from the emotions presented?
At the time of writing, although I wanted a child myself and wrote as if I were Flora, I didn’t really ‘get’ how being pregnant and having children changes you and makes you feel. As soon as I fell pregnant, I couldn’t detach myself from the emotions at all and literally couldn’t read the book. It was put aside for a very long time! Reading it again was a very emotional experience and enabled me to give the book extra depth when I came to editing. Luckily, several beta readers and relatives had read the book and left copious notes whilst I detached myself from it, so it wasn’t a totally wasted couple of years!
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
As far back as primary school. It just took another thirty years to get there! I first started writing and keeping my stories from around 6-7 years old.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
I love photography. I submit my photographs to the stock photography website ‘Fotolia’. My border collie, Tia, is the subject that has sold me the most photographs. I took some lovely ones of her in the bluebells in the local Angmering park, Sussex. I also used the draw and wanted to illustrate my own children’s books, but I haven’t drawn for a while now so would probably be quite rusty! My parents, both teachers, were also both creative and my mother makes stain glass windows, and has a weaving loom. They are also both musicians, sadly a trait that didn’t pass to me. Actually, I did play the violin!
(My husband submits his photography to Fotolia and says you should try Shutterstock and Alamy too!)
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I had a couple of friends pregnant at the time of writing Letters to Eloise so I asked them to keep notes of the journey for me. After having children, and when I returned to the novel, I went through and changed many details I had wrong about being pregnant. There were several other people I contacted during the research (I won’t give plot spoilers!) but they provided valuable information and personal experiences. The historical references were thanks to the translations from ‘Sacred texts’, and the local history links thanks to the local Heritage Journal.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Once I had the idea of Letters to Eloise the story practically wrote itself. I find the ideas stage the most difficult. I currently have ‘ideas block’ at the moment, where I just can’t get past this stage onto the actual writing!
I enjoyed writing speech, I could just imagine in my head what the characters were saying to each other and picture them in that moment in time talking and chatting, or arguing!
When you’re not writing, do you have time to read and if so, what do you like?
At the moment I read hundreds of picture books to my son! But when he is safely tucked in bed, I do enjoy a romance novel or a contemporary story. I have a broad range of genres that I will try, depending on my mood. I enjoy a crime or psychological thriller on occasion. I am currently reading The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve, an ARC curtsey of Net Galley. My son Elliot is also lucky to get to be read a copy of Julia Donaldson’s new book for children Giant Jumperee, which I love too.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I have a large number of animals, at last count around forty! So many an animal does slip into my writing! I have a pony and a horse; I have always been a massive horse and pony lover from a very young age and I love writing about horses. At home, we also have two dogs, a collie and a Springer. They get me out and about into the countryside, which features in my stories too. Flora’s parents were based on a farm, so I could slot a few animals into Letters to Eloise!
Before I had children, I was an avid runner. Sadly at the moment I don’t have much time, but Flora was passionate about running too!
If you could choose to be a character from Letters to Eloise, who would you be and why?
Flora’s personality is probably the most similar to my own but I would probably like to be Brooke. Her sense of humour would make life very interesting!
If Letters to Eloise became a film, who would you like to play Flora and why would you choose them?
In my mind, as Flora is small and petite with glossy black hair, I always imagined someone like Natalie Portman playing the role. She is independent and able to stand up for herself, but is emotional and thoughtful.
When I planned the novel, I went through a magazine and cut out characters that fitted the descriptions in my head. I know that readers might picture someone completely different in their heads, so I don’t want to spoil that for them! It’s always the way when a book is made into a film that it ruins the image in your head slightly. Then eventually the film makes that actor/actress become that character. Now you couldn’t imagine Bridget Jones as anyone else, for example!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Letters to Eloise should be their next read, what would you say?
I am not very good at selling myself, so I will use some words taken from the lovely reviews that I have received, and rearrange them into one sentence!
‘Beautiful and highly emotional read. A complete emotional rollercoaster that will astonish and devastate you.’
(Which takes me back to my earlier comment about hearing great things about Letters to Eloise from other bloggers!)
Thank you so much, Emily, for your time in answering my questions.
Thank you so much Linda for having me on your blog today, I have very much enjoyed answering your questions!
About Emily Williams
Emily Williams lives by the seaside in West Sussex with her family and a large menagerie of small pets. After graduating from Sussex University with a BA in Psychology, Emily trained as a primary school teacher and teaches in a local school. Letters to Eloise is her debut novel.